A ‘Pilgrim’s Hymn’ for Chautauqua: Sacred Song to bid farewell to season

Jared Jacobsen, Chautauqua's coordinator of worship and sacred music, plays the Massey Memorial Organ during Sacred Song Service Sunday, August 19, 2018 in the Amphitheater. RILEY ROBINSON/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The Three Taps of the Gavel Sunday night will mark an end to Chautauqua’s 2018 season as Chautauquans look toward colder months and Christmas celebrations. For Jared Jacobsen, Chautauqua’s organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, translating this goodbye into a music service is a delicate process.                 

“At this closing service, we’re really torn at where is home for us,” he said. “If you’ve been here more than a couple of days, Chautauqua has become home, almost always. So you’re saying goodbye to home, but you’re also looking forward to going home. The energy is very strange. But the Sacred Song Service and President Michael E. Hill help us accept that.”

At 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26, in the Amphitheater, Jacobsen, the Chautauqua Choir and Hill will present “Pilgrims’ Hymn — Final Chautauqua Thoughts” for this year’s closing Sacred Song Service.

Jacobsen will be playing the final service on a grand piano, due to a small electrical fire on Tuesday, Aug. 21, that left the Massey Memorial Organ out of commission for the last days of the 2018 season. No part of the evening’s repertoire will be changed; as a trained pianist, Jacobsen said he would “have to turn in my fingers” if he cannot do the selections justice. As always, Jacobsen promised, the service will include “Largo.”

The title for this service comes from one of the songs the choir will sing, “Pilgrim’s Hymn,” composed by Grammy Award-winning musician Stephen Paulus. Jacobsen said once he selected this piece, he built the rest of the service based on the idea of Chautauquans as pilgrims.

“Stephen Paulus wrote this piece and it caught fire in 1997, and it is used for all kinds of occasions,” Jacobsen said. “So that’s the title of this (service) because we are sort of pilgrims when we come here. Part of the word ‘pilgrim’ implies journeying from some place to get here and then going on out of here to some place else. I like the imagery of that.”

The text, written by Michael Dennis Browne in 1997, is not what Jacobsen would call “exceedingly Christian.” However, he said this final service is a celebration of all faith traditions and should reflect the many belief systems within the Institution.

“It’s a sacred text, but it’s not necessarily a Christian text, and that’s OK with me,” he said. “This is the night where all of our worlds collide for the last time. Even people with no faith tradition or people who are still looking for answers show up this closing night because we all want to say goodbye to this place.”

In addition to celebrating all Chautauquans as pilgrims, Jacobsen also intends to close the service with prayers from various faiths.

“At the end of the service, where we normally just do this Christian prayer, I realized it needed to be bigger than that,” he said. “This is where I also pull out a goodbye in Hebrew from the Jewish tradition, and a goodbye in the Arabic tradition. I think this particular night we need to pay homage to all those people.”

The service also includes “Heaven Hill,” a piece written and composed by Chautauqua Choir member Marjorie Thomas. Jacobsen said the song represents Thomas’ close connection to the Institution and its character.

“It really captures the seasons very well, about what’s Chautauqua like in the summer, winter, spring and fall,” he said. “It’s a nice piece of music, and the choir loves singing it. It’s a trademark of this closing night.”

Other musical works include “Beautiful City,” arranged by André J. Thomas, and “The Spheres” by Ola Gjeilo. Jacobsen selected these pieces to create balance in a service built around nostalgic farewells.

“I want the choir to have one more chance at singing just for fun,” he said. “It helps lighten the mood, because this service is pretty heavy duty and it needs a little comic relief.”

But even with lighter music, Jacobsen said the purpose of this service is to help Chautauquans reflect on the season and contemplate the uncertainty in the coming months until they return again in 2019.

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen to them in the next 10 months before you get back,” he said. “It could be happy, like a child or grandchild or wedding in the family, and it could be not-happy stuff, like a treatment that has to be repeated. A lot of life is going to happen in the next 10 months before we open Chautauqua again, and we don’t know what that is. So I’m trying to help people wrestle with that.”

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The author Julie Ciotola

Julie Ciotola is reporting on the Interfaith Lecture Series and Sacred Song Services. She is an Akron, Ohio, native and studies journalism and history at Ohio University. Next year, she will serve as editor-in-chief for Backdrop Magazine, a student-run campus publication. This is her first time at Chautauqua. Contact her at or on Twitter.