This weekend, many will say goodbye to Chautauqua Institution’s grounds as the 2016 season ends. But they will say a couple more permanent goodbyes, including to the presidency of Tom Becker, and to the Amphitheater: an iconic building that’s been a part of Chautauqua since 1893.
At 8 p.m. August 28 in the Amphitheater, Jared Jacobsen will perform the final Sacred Song Service of the season: “Within This Tent.” The service will be the last performance in the Amphitheater before it is rebuilt for next summer. At its close, Becker will deliver the traditional Three Taps of the Gavel address to conclude the 143rd assembly. This speech, his last as president, is titled “At the Growing Edge.”
The Amphitheater is meaningful to many, but especially to Jacobsen. It’s where he heard Massey Memorial Organ performances when he was a kid, which eventually inspired him to become a pianist, organist and later work at Chautauqua.
“Chautauqua has for so many generations represented stability, especially as the world is changing faster than we can imagine,” said Jacobsen, Chautauqua’s organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music. “People count on coming to Chautauqua and walking these walks and going to programs in these buildings, but especially in the Amphitheater — feeling and looking and sounding and smelling like it has for the entire time we’ve been coming here.”
Jacobsen said the building is more than just steel and wood — it’s been an icon for eight generations of Chautauquans. His job at the end of the summer at this last service is to help people begin the five stages of grief as they leave Chautauqua, but also as they say goodbye to both Becker and the Amphitheater.
The first program space on the grounds of Chautauqua was a tent used for summer paintings, and the first cottages built were also tents. These eventually turned into cottages, many of whose original foundations still support Chautauqua cottages today.
“The whole tent image is very important to me, and so I wanted just to put us inside this great, amazing wooden tent where we’ve done so many things since 1893, and try to say goodbye to it,” Jacobsen said. “And it’s open-ended by nature, but all I’m trying to do is help people to begin to say goodbye to the amphitheater.”
The service’s theme “Within This Tent,” commemorates this part of Chautauqua’s history, but also is a play on Stephen Caracciolo’s piece “Within These Walls,” which Jacobsen will play Sunday.
Caracciolo wrote this piece for the Washington National Cathedral, and Jacobsen frequently listens to it in his car on his commute to work. He thought the piece would be fitting for this week’s Sacred Song Service.
“I realized that if I change the words slightly to ‘Within This Tent’ it speaks exactly to what we’ve been doing in the Amphitheater since 1893,” Jacobsen said. “We’ve been praying, we’ve been praising, we’ve been worshipping, we’ve been celebrating, we’ve been grieving, we have been pondering, we have been fighting, we have been wrestling, we have been agreeing, we have been reconciling — everything you can possibly imagine.”