Upcoming Assessment to Likely Raise Property Values


The Chautauqua Property Owners Association discussed the upcoming tax assessment —  joined by Town of Chautauqua Supervisor Don Emhardt — and addressed grounds safety concerns at its general meeting at last Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy.

The Town of Chautauqua will be conducting a tax assessment of private properties on Chautauqua Institution’s grounds after the 2019 summer season. The last assessment took place in 2015.

Emhardt said the assessed value of properties on the grounds are likely to rise; developed properties’ values will rise 7% to 9%, while vacant land will rise 25% to 30%. Assessments are based on square footage and market values of comparable properties.

“This is all state motivated,” Embardt said. “It’s all driven by what we’re paying for properties and the state tracks this.”

However, this is not an indicator of an increase in property taxes.

According to Chautauqua’s Chief Assessor Kevin Okerlund, the town budget is not expected to rise significantly for 2019-20 and a tax increase should not be required; rather, there is a possibility that the rise in assessed values will result in a tax-rate reduction.

In New York state, Okerlund added, roughly one-third of property owners see an increase in property tax rates, one-third remain the same and the final third see a decline in tax rates during a typical property revaluation. Additionally, New York state law caps any yearly town tax increase at 2%.

The revaluations will take place September through December; assessors will only assess the square footage of houses, not physical appearances or conditions, and they will not enter homes. Assessments will be mailed in March 2020, and disputes can be filed between March and May of the same year. Formal hearings on appeals will be held on May 26, 2020, according to Embardt.

During the second half of the meeting, attendees voiced concerns about lack of appropriate road signage at unsafe intersections; bikers riding without lights at night; Institution vehicles going too fast after 8:15 p.m. Amphitheater performances; and areas with insufficient lighting.

The next CPOA meeting will be held at 9 a.m. Aug. 10, in the Hall of Philosophy, for the organization’s annual business meeting, preceding the Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees Open Forum.

Board of Trustees Open Forum Focuses on Strategic Plan and Community Concerns


At the season’s first Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees Open Forum, President Michael E. Hill and Board Chair Jim Pardo discussed the strategic plan and addressed questions and concerns from attendees.

Hill and Pardo — who also lead the Strategic Plan Information Sessions with Strategic Planning Working Group Chair Laura Currie — opened last Saturday morning in the Hall of Philosophy with an in-depth look at 150 Forward, a series of key objectives aimed at launching the Institution into its sesquicentennial in 2024. 

“The vision was really about setting the stage so that Chautauqua could create an informed, engaged and renewed public that fosters, and actively contributes to, a more civil society nationally and within our various communities represented by our individual constituents and partners,” Hill said.

The first objective essentially seeks to improve the in-season Chautauqua experience; the second objective is to broaden and expand programming to outside the grounds and during the off-season.

“If we do this second objective right and we’re building brand for Chautauqua, and we’re helping more people understand what happens here, it should help us with that first goal of bringing more people here,” Hill said.

The final objectives are: to improve the health of Chautauqua Lake with science-based methodology and to grow revenue. Underscoring these objectives are four cross-cutting imperatives: strategic partnerships, mobilization of technology, labor and talent solutions, and IDEA — inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility.

“When we talk about diversity, we’re not just talking about bringing more African Americans to the grounds,” Hill said in response to an audience question about diversity. “There’s nothing more insulting than saying, ‘We want diversity, so we need to bring down gate passes and provide subsidized housing,’ as if white people only have resources.”

These objectives were identified by the 13-member Strategic Planning Working Group, chaired by Currie, after more than 18 months of community querying and data mining. A trustee committee is implementing the plan, led by incoming board chair Candy Maxwell and Chief of Staff and Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Shannon Rozner.

During the second half of the morning’s proceedings, Pardo opened the floor for Chautauquans to ask questions or comment. Concerns were raised about sustainability, including eliminating single-use plastics and regulations for solar panels on private homes.

Hill said administrators are working with a group of young Chautauquans on an “environmental audit” to identify areas of improvement. John Shedd, vice president of campus planning and operations, said the Institution is revisiting its policy on solar panels, which currently prohibits private homes from installing solar panels if visible from roads or sidewalks.

New Trustee Richard Osborne Talks New Appointment and Hopes for Strategic Plan

Chautauqua Institution trustee Richard Osborne is shown July 14, 2019 on the porch of his home on Center. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Richard Osborne wanted to buy a house in the mountains of North Carolina. Instead, he found himself six states north, mountain-less, surrounded by a lake, an Amphitheater and rows of 19th-century houses.

Osborne — a newly appointed member of Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees — was enamored with the arts and intellectual stimulation he found on the grounds, and has returned every season since.

After three decades, Osborne retired from North Carolina-based Duke Energy Corporation, where he served as chief financial officer and chief risk officer. Aside from Chautauqua’s board of trustees, Osborne serves on Charlotte Ballet’s board of trustees and is president of the Chautauqua Dance Circle.

How did you discover Chautauqua?

I was invited to Chautauqua by friends of mine who had been coming for many years. At that point, I came for four weeks a season and stayed at the same house. I actually knew a number of people who came to Chautauqua, but that was the first time I could come myself — that was in 2011.

I loved it as soon as I got here. … It’s just a different kind of summer, and it has all the kinds of activities I like: intellectually challenging activities and entertaining and artistic kinds of activities. It was clearly something I was going to pursue.

What’s your Chautauqua elevator pitch?

I think the shorthand description I’ve heard — and I won’t take credit for this — is that it’s summer camp for geeks. I think that’s a good description; it is summer camp and there are activities and there is relaxation and there is an opportunity to do as much as you want.

I think that’s part of the chemistry, or the magic of Chautauqua; it does permit you to create the program that you want and personalize it in a very real and significant way.

What does being a trustee mean to you? How do you perceive your role on the board?

I was very honored; I was very flattered when they approached me about being on the board, and I’ve served on other boards and I still serve on other boards, so I’m generally familiar with the responsibilities and the aspects that are enjoyable and challenging, and the aspects that are not so enjoyable.

This is a different kind of board because Chautauqua is so different; this is, to some large part, like most nonprofit organizations are but it has a wholly-owned, for-profit entity — the hotel. It also has aspects that are really much more like a town, or a city, or a municipal operation than like a traditional nonprofit. So, it is very different in some respects than other boards I’ve worked.

I was surprised and flattered to be approached, and I have really found it very interesting. The board is engaged — in my mind — the way a board should be, looking at oversight and strategy and leaving the daily operations … to President Michael E. Hill and his team. I think that’s a healthy way for a board to operate.

I have been very pleased with the level of discussion and engagement by the other trustees and the really positive, constructive spirit with which people approach the challenges and the questions, because there are serious challenges facing the Institution.

Our challenge as Chautauquans and as the board is to guide the development of the Institution.

How do you think 150 Forward accomplishes or aids the board’s work?

I think the strategic plan is the most obvious and specific result of those considerations. That is the road map that the trustees have come up with after querying the community and Chautuaquans.

And that was a very thorough and arduous process that (Strategic Planning Working Group Chair) Laura Currie led and that is now being implemented. I think the strategic plan really is the road map forward.

It will change; there are some things in there that will probably prove to be impractical or wrong. That’s the way it is with any strategic plan — it’s a plan, but you go forward and you start to implement and you figure out what’s really right and what’s somewhat wrong or sometimes really significantly wrong.

We’ll do that, and I’m confident that we’ll make changes, and hopefully we’ll make them in a timely and appropriate way.

How much have you been involved with the strategic plan?

Well I wasn’t on the board for most of the development; I only came on the board in the final stages of the strategic plan, so most of it was pretty vague. Now, coming to Chautauqua I was aware that there was a strategic plan being developed, and I remember going to (meetings).

But when I came on the board it was mostly done; there was fine-tuning up until the very end, up until it was put-to-bed and printed. I really was impressed with the degree of ownership that the board had for it, the seriousness with which the trustees approached it, and of course bringing (Chief of Staff and Vice President of Strategic Initiatives) Shannon Rozner on, really specifically for the implementation, was I think a sign of how important Michael and his team view getting this right.

How do you think your professional experience is going to translate to your committee assignment? 

My professional experience is mostly in finance and accounting, and then to some extent in public policy and regulatory policy and lobbying. I think a lot of that is directly applicable here; Chautauqua is a public entity in so many respects and so etched in the political world, in New York, in Chautauqua County, in the lake.

The whole challenge with Chautauqua Lake is to some extent constrained and guided by the legal and regulatory world in which we live. … You’re dealing with what appears to be red tape, and it’s well-meaning red tape, but it’s red tape.

I worked for a very large utility for 33 years, so I know about red tape.

And then on the financial end, I do think Chautauqua has financial challenges. We’re fortunate in that there’s no burning platform right now and that … everything is going fine. … Yet if you look at the financial and demographic projections, if you just keep doing what we’re doing, you’ll go right off a cliff — well, you’ll just go down a slow grade.

So I think the challenge we have is to create a sense of urgency — not a sense of alarm. There’s no reason to be alarmed but there is a reason to address the situation with urgency and figure out how to preserve the best aspects of what we’re doing and enhance them in ways that are more relevant for the world we live in.

And I think that’s part of what the strategic plan is trying (to do), and it’s trying to do it in a thoughtful but urgent way, and I think that’s appropriate — that’s exactly what we should be doing.

What are your hopes for your first full season as a trustee?

I think we’re having a good launch of the strategic plan; I hope that continues to go well and unfolds in a way where Chautauquans recognize it as reflecting what they told the committee and the board of trustees, and that the trustees tried very hard to incorporate that in a cohesive plan.

The success of the plan will depend upon the community’s willingness to grab it and say, “this is our plan, and this is where we want to go.”

Filmmaker Christine Herbes-Sommers to Screen ‘Coming of Age in Aging America’

Christine Sommers

Christine Herbes-Sommers was mentoring and helping a fellow filmmaker as he was creating a documentary about his two grandmothers — one who was in vigorous health and the other who was declining. They worked together with a geriatrician who authored a book about the stages of end of life.   

“In making the film and talking to him, we started talking about how urgent the issue (of end of life) is,” Herbes-Sommers said. “In an aging population in general, it’s something that we don’t think about.”

She said people are living longer, but there’s an underlying notion that older generations are a burden to the rest of society.

From there, Herbes-Sommers created her own film that examines the challenges and opportunities of aging as people live longer in the modern world.

At 3:15 p.m. today, July 16, and Wednesday at the Chautauqua Cinema, Herbes-Sommers will screen her film, “Coming of Age in Aging America,” and hold a Q-and-A immediately following the film. 

In this film, distributed by American Public Television, Herbes-Sommer said the story emerged gradually after talking to experts and doing research.

“You start with an idea and then all of a sudden the idea gets really complicated,” Herbes-Sommers said.

Herbes-Sommers knew she would soon be in the age group the film highlights, which is part of the reason she made the film now.

“It’s not incidental, but I was 64 at the time,” Herbes-Sommers said. “I knew that most films take about five years to make and by the time I was done with this I would be 69, so I would be in that cohort and be living it.”

The documentary delves into the greater longevity people are experiencing and society’s view on longer lives. Experts in the film discuss the popular opinion that the world can’t afford the extra years.

After research, networking and fundraising, she brought the project to Norcross, Georgia, to the town coffee shop. There, Herbes-Sommers and her team interviewed people about aging and the film’s themes.

In Atlanta, Herbes-Sommers worked with the deputy mayor and explored the community in a similar way.

“I could say it was challenging, and it certainly was, mostly to get normal people to think about their lives,” Herbes-Sommers said.

She wants people in any stage of life to think about the current expectations and fears about aging.

“This is the main theme of the film: There’s a way to think about modern life with greater longevity as a cycle that can shift the norm that we currently impose on life,” Herbes-Sommers said.

Herbes-Sommers said this will be her last film as she begins exploring other ventures and attends art school. There wasn’t a pivotal moment in Herbes-Sommers’ life that led her to filmmaking, but as a political science major at Knox College, Illinois, she found herself entrenched in the political climate of the time. The “flavor of the day” movements and societal problems pushed her toward filmmaking.

“In fact, my first film had to do with the feminist movement — that was timely,” Herbes-Sommers said. “There was a gradual and strong increase of desire (to be a filmmaker).”

She began her career as an animator, and after graduate school she created Red Cloud Productions with a colleague. She was also on staff at WGBH, a public broadcasting station in Boston. But Herbes-Sommers said at her core, she is an independent producer and director. 

Many of her films are shown in college and high school classrooms, but “Coming of Age” brings a different perspective to audiences of all ages. Herbes-Sommers said she creates her films for the next audience — the “community level, social change audience.”

“In some ways, I hope that the Chautauqua audience comes away saying ‘people should know about this stuff and how can we adjust our community,’ ” Herbes-Sommers said.

Get Close & Personal with Butterflies at Monarchpalooza with Lori Stralow Harris

Lori Stralow Harris

Lori Stralow Harris, who raises butterflies and bees in Western Springs, Illinois, found herself in a bit of a pickle last fall.

She had been raising 200 monarch butterflies at her Salt Creek Butterfly Farm for a fundraiser at a nature conservancy, and was keeping them in a flight house at a nearby retirement community. Just four days before the fundraiser, the butterflies were gone — released by a resident who was concerned they were trapped.

Running out of time, Harris started to look high and low for the monarchs. She went to a nature preserve she knew had plants that would attract butterflies. She called all of her friends and colleagues who knew anything about the creatures.

“Long story short, I had to shift gears and quit thinking about it as a disaster and think, ‘what would a monarch do right now?’ ” Harris said.

She will tell the rest of the story at a Bird, Tree & Garden Club Brown Bag lecture at 12:15 p.m. today, July 16, in Smith Wilkes Hall. The talk is titled “The Monarch Bridge: A Story of Lasting Connections.”

Harris said she has been raising butterflies for nearly 10 years now. She first got interested in the trade when she volunteered at the Chicago Academy of Sciences. She became fascinated by the wide variety of butterflies that had come from all over the world.

She continues to be fascinated by monarch butterflies’ annual migration of thousands of miles to Mexico, where they spend the winters.

“I think they’re both really resilient and fragile at the same time,” Harris said. “They have to go through an awful lot to make that migration and still, they do it.”

The monarchs’ migration is getting more difficult because of human interference. Butterfly-friendly habitats are more sparse than they used to be, and butterflies are often an unfortunate casualty of bug spray.

“In addition to putting chemicals on the yard to get rid of the plants butterflies need, people spray Talstar that kills larvae of every kind,” Harris said. “We’re killing off bees and butterflies for our own convenience.”

To support butterfly populations, Harris said, people can use more natural mosquito repellent methods, such as planting rosemary, marigold and other plants that give off a fragrance mosquitoes do not like.

In addition to her talk today, Harris will help BTG facilitate its Monarchpalooza from noon to 3:30 p.m. Thursday at Lincoln Park. Chautauquans will be able to enter a tent and interact with 200 butterflies that Harris will bring.

Smith Memorial Library Smith Celebrates 88th Birthday with Library Day

Chautauqua Residents celebrated Smith Memorial Library’s 87th birthday with a Kazoo Chorale on Thursday, August 2, 2018 outside of Smith Memorial Library. HALDAN KIRSCH/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Stereotypically, libraries are quiet spaces. But when bibliophiles gather on the front steps of Smith Memorial Library to celebrate Chautauqua Institution’s annual Library Day this morning, the scene will be anything but silent.

“We’re not a quiet library,” said Smith Director Scott Ekstrom. “We’re available to people for study and research, but we’re also a community center, and we really emphasize the community aspect.”

This year’s festivities, running from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. today, July 16, at the Smith, mark the library’s 88th year of operation.

The morning will include birthday cake, refreshments, and at 10 a.m. Ekstrom will lead more than 100 kazoo-armed Chautauquans (kazoos will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis) in the fifth annual “Kazoo Chorale.” Bestor Plaza will be serenaded with kazoo covers of popular television jingles and patriotic standards.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Friends of the Library President Bijou Miller. “People enjoy it and get into it, and we attract a lot of attention that way.”

Friends of the Library has been sponsoring the event for more than a decade, though not without some changes along the way.

“Back in the day it was a more formal thing,” Ekstrom said. “We and the Friends of the Library have transitioned it to be a fun day.”

The event serves as a fundraiser for the Smith. Friends of the Library will accept cash or check donations of any amount, which in the past have gone toward upgrades like improved technology, new outdoor chairs and tables, furniture repair and expanding the library’s digital collection.

“(The Friends of the Library) have given us things that maybe don’t fit into our general operating budget, but would be good to have,” Ekstrom said.

The Institution has expanded the day’s scope to celebrate libraries and librarians of all kinds; local public and school librarians as well as library trustees are offered complimentary morning and afternoon gate passes for the day.

“Hopefully there will be a lot of librarians on the grounds,” Ekstrom said.

Miller sees Library Day as a celebration of the unique position the Smith holds within the Institution.

“We’re trying to promote well-deserved support of the library,” she said. “It’s a wonderful library; it’s the only one I know that’s open on the Fourth of July and on Sundays.”

Weekly 150 Forward Informational Sessions Continue



During Week Three’s strategic plan and related information sessions, community members engaged with top administrators on issues of diversity and accessibility at Chautauqua Institution.

At Monday’s IDEA — inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility — Listening Session, hosted by Shannon Rozner, chief of staff and vice president of strategic initiatives, attendees narrowed focus on the Institution’s lack of digital accessibility.

Chautauqua raised specific concerns about mobilizing technology — one of four cross-cutting imperatives that underscore the whole of the strategic plan — and older Chautauquans’ difficulty using some digital programs or functions. One woman suggested hosting Twitter workshops, as questions for lecturers are accepted on the platform, as well as on paper.

Institution President Michael E. Hill stressed the importance of technology as a medium to boost Chautauqua’s brand awareness and ease of access — both challenges identified by the Strategic Planning Working Group.

“We haven’t kept up with technology, and we haven’t figured out the best way to integrate our technology,” he said at Thursday’s Strategic Plan Information Session. “There are so many ways we can make accessing the Chautauqua experience easier if we simply, smartly invest in strategic technology.”

At both the information and listening sessions, concerns about age diversity were pinpointed.

“I love it when Chautauquans say ‘We would love young people to come, but quiet hours are at 10 p.m.,’ ” Hill said.

Board of Trustees Chair Jim Pardo said the lack of millennial Chautauquans hints at a larger issue of the changing nature of work and family structures.

Hill said this is being addressed, particularly with the Dr. Robert R. Hesse Welcome and Business Center in partnership with NOW Generation, an organization for Chautauquans ages 21 to 40.

To elevate this seemingly systematic issue, Chautauquans suggested creating more young-adult centric spaces — as part of the Campus Master Plan — income-qualified gate passes and offering more academic classes for late-high school or college-aged students.

Additionally, concerns were raised about the lack of diversity of political ideologies among community members. Suggestions were made to add Spanish or French to signs and closed captioning; indicate whether events are wheelchair accessible; and offer more scholarships and income-qualified gate passes.

The next IDEA Listening Session will be Tuesday; the next Strategic Plan Information Session will be Wednesday; and the next Master Plan Information Session will be Friday. All listening and information sessions start at 3:30 p.m. in the Hall of Christ.

Chautauquans can voice additional concerns or make comments at

CHQ Olympics Brings Out the Best in Everyone (Photo Gallery)


Week Three saw the CHQ Olympics — a series of fun, silly competitions much less serious than those in ancient Greece.

Throughout the week, Chautauquans of all ages were invited to participate or compete in over 25 different events all over Institution grounds. Everyone — from those at Children’s School and Boys’ and Girls’ Club, to their parents and grandparents — were able to get involved.

Starting the Olympics on Sunday, Chautauquans were welcomed by a kick-off carnival, complete with a bounce house, a tie-dye station and carnival games right on Bestor Plaza for everyone who passed by to enjoy.

However, this was just the tip of the iceberg. As the week continued, events ranged from poetry and healthy living competitions to Chautauqua-wide scavenger hunts, and from kayaking down at Sports Club to putt-putt competitions at the Chautauqua Golf Club.

Aquatics had a large influence on some of the Olympic programming this year. Sports Club Director Deb Lyons said her staff was happy with event turnout and was pleased with the weather cooperating — to an extent — throughout the week.

Despite possible thunderstorms looming on the horizon, the weather held, and water events like kayaking, paddle boarding and the giant inflatable swan race went on.

Even Thursday, when the morning gave way to on-and-off rain, it wasn’t enough to stop Chautauquans from coming out for the new annual tradition of the Beach-to-Beach Color Sprint.

Up until the race’s start, people signed up for one of the most memorable events of the season. One young Chautauquan even arrived minutes before the start of the race, asking his mother if the colors would ruin the cast on his arm. His mother said the cast would be OK, so he entered the run and ended up winning it all — cast covered in bright neon paints.

The Chautauqua Boys’ and Girls’ Club held its annual Water Olympics competition Friday at Club’s waterfront. After being postponed due to possible thunderstorms, children came out with twice as much energy, ready to compete and win for the Red or Blue teams, especially after last summer’s Red victory in a tiebreaker cheer-off competition. Whoops and cheers could be heard along the waterfront from counselors and children as young as first grade, rallying to stay ahead to take home the title of Water Olympics champions.

As the teams worked through games like free throw shooting, kayak races and Tug-a-Melon, other groups were playing Inner Tube Pull and beach volleyball. While scores fluctuated throughout the day, the Red team eventually pulled ahead to take the win once more, edging out the Blue team 225-184. As the competition ended, friends shared ice pops between teams and laughed about the day.

The CHQ Olympics has come to a close, and the week is rolling into the next. While inflatable swans and obstacle courses have been deflated and paint-stained shirts will go into the laundry, they’ll be ready for a spirited return next summer.

Week Four Letter From the President


Welcome to the fourth week of our 146th Assembly.

From last week’s exhilarating experiences in partnership with National Geographic Society, we now turn to a different kind of exploration, namely what our world and society might look like if the average human life span continues to increase. Week Four brings us into an exciting conversation with a first-time programmatic partner, the Stanford Center on Longevity, as we explore “The New Map of Life: How Longer Lives are Changing the World.” In this week, we look at some very heady questions: Do we really want to live forever? While being “forever young” may still be the stuff of dreams, longer lifespans are a reality of modern life. Living to 110 years old — at least — means new challenges for both individuals and society; how we meet those challenges will have lasting ramifications. What issues do longer lifespans present? We examine the political, the financial, the biological, the emotional. Where the scientific meets the ethical, we ask: We can live longer, but should we? Will longer lives exacerbate existing inequities? This isn’t a question for future generations — this is a question for us, right now. How are you going to adapt in this changing reality?

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we welcome someone dear to my own heart, Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM. As many of you know — because I plug my alma mater every chance I get — I attended a Franciscan university, St. Bonaventure University, and Fr. Richard is a celebrated Franciscan throughout the world. During a week focused on the increasing lifespan of human beings, Fr. Richard will be our guide to what he calls the “further journey,” a voyage into the mystery and beauty of healthy spiritual maturity. Revisiting thoughts from his book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Fr. Richard helps us to understand the tasks of the two halves of life and teaches us what looks like “falling down” can largely be experienced as “falling upward.” 

There are so many other programs to be excited about this week. Chautauqua Theater Company travels outside our gates to share a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with our regional neighbors at Jamestown’s Riverwalk on Saturday, and at Southern Tier Brewing Company on Wednesday. On Sunday, the Chautauqua School of Dance will present a gala afternoon of performances, and the ever-brilliant Steven Osgood, general and artistic director of the Chautauqua Opera Company, brings us ¡Figaro! (90210), Vid Guerrerio’s contemporary multicultural adaptation of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. While there are so many other arts offerings, one of my favorites every year is our annual major inter-arts collaboration, this year also centered on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, on Tuesday evening in the Amphitheater. If you’ve never seen our resident companies and schools join forces, there is simply nothing like it, and it’s not to be missed.

There are two last highlights to share (among so many wonderful offerings). Aja Gabel’s book The Ensemble is the first Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selection I read this year. Her characters are complex, thoughtful, funny and soulful, and she masterfully brings you inside the delicate, delightful and intimate relationship that forms among people who make music together. Her talk about the book is this week, and while I’ll be presenting an update on our strategic plan at the same time, I’ll understand completely if you go see her speak about this wonderful piece.

I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid — you can see how well that plan went — and I was obsessed with “Star Wars.” If you notice a guy who looks like Chautauqua’s president in the Amphitheater geeking out this week, it’s because the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will provide the wonderful score while we all get to watch “Star Wars: A New Hope” in concert on Friday evening. I can’t wait. Oh, and we just happen to have a real astronaut on our lecture platform this week: Scott Kelly, also on Friday. 

Whether this is your first week at Chautauqua or the continuation of a journey with us this summer, may you find your own ways to explore our galaxy. It’s full of incredible treasures for you to behold, and I’m grateful I get to go on the journey with you.

Happy Week Four!

Michael E. Hill

After 1-day Rain Delay, Boys’ and Girls’ Club to Welcome Crowds at Annual Water Olympics


A Chautauqua Boys’ and Girls’ Club tradition is back for another season: the Water Olympics.

At 2 p.m. today, July 12,Club will be holding its annual Water Olympics at its waterfront as well as Sharpe Field. Clubbers will be split into groups — Groups 1 through 8 — by boys and girls in different grades for a number of activities throughout the day, playing for either the Red or Blue team. The Senior Athletic Club — a group of high school freshmen and sophomores — will also be participating in separate activities.

Groups 1 through 4 will begin on the water, while Groups 5 through 8 alternate between kayak races and group volleyball.

Throughout the day, all groups will participate in activities like the hula hoop relay, where a human chain must be made to pass the hula hoop down the line. The first team that passes the hoop to the end without breaking the chain wins the event.

A Club favorite is Tug-a-Melon, according to Alyssa Porter, director of youth and family programs. The game includes all groups, and players try to get a greased-up watermelon from the middle of the Club’s selected lake area back to their dock to score points. This game, when played by all the teams, is very high energy and a great time, Porter said.

Groups 1 through 4 will play games like Inner Tube Pull, in which a team member’s number is called, and that team member must swim out to the center of Club’s area of the lake to bring their team’s inner tube back to the dock.

As Inner Tube Pull rages on, other groups will be participating in the Sponge Relay, where group members swim out to collect as many sponges as possible. At the end of the game, counselors count the sponges and call the winning team.

From 2 to 3 p.m., Groups 5 through 8 will take turns in a timed kayak race, in which two team members race kayaks around a buoy and pass off the boat. Simultaneously, other groups will be participating in a beach volleyball game to earn points for their respective teams.

Later in the day, Groups 5 through 8 also get to participate in a 25-yard freestyle swimming race and play a water basketball free-throw game to collect points.

The day fosters competitive energy, Porter said, and in the end, the stress and planning of the day is all worth it to see the excitement of the hundreds of kids coming out for the event. As the day winds down, Porter said the excitement continues until the winner is finally announced.

“There’s a big anticipation at the end when it’s (announced), ‘and the team who wins is …’ ” Porter said.“All 400 kids and the adults that are here are silent, waiting. Then there’s a big burst of cheer for whichever team won.”

Mayville Native Amy Gardner Joins Development Staff and Focuses on Major Gifts

Amy Gardner

Amy Gardner is looking forward to her new position as the associate vice president for major and planned gifts at the development office and enriching the Chautauqua experience through her work.

Gardner is originally from Mayville, New York, and has been coming to the Institution since she was a child. She is excited to be back in Chautauqua and is amazed to see how much the community has changed over the years.

“It’s really exciting for me to come back; it’s kind of like coming full circle,” Gardner said. “I see it in a totally different light, and it’s really wonderful to see how much it’s grown and changed and evolved over the last 20 years. I’m excited to be a part of taking it to the next level.”

This isn’t Gardner’s first job at the Institution. As a young adult, she worked in numerous positions at the Institution and was involved in the Chautauqua community.

I grew up coming to Chautauqua,” Gardner said. “I was in the Boys’ and Girls’ Club when I was a kid. I worked here as a tour guide and at the Amphitheater.”

Gardner said that coming to the Institution still feels the same, though she now enjoys getting to share these experiences and learning opportunities with her husband and three sons.

“It was really interesting being back and knowing that I was going to be here for the summer, and seeing all of the things that I knew from growing up here,” Gardner said. “Coming into the grounds, it still feels the same. It still feels like this oasis of a place where you can do as much or as little as you want — you can learn as much as you possibly can even in a day.”

Gardner’s position is new to the development office, and she believes her experience and former positions have prepared her for this role at the Institution as a new strategic plan, 150 Forward, charts greater aspirations for new philanthropy at Chautauqua.

She previously worked at the Kennedy Center for a few years doing development, and then at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C.

After Shakespeare Theatre, I went to the University of Maryland where I worked in the College of Arts and Humanities for three years, and that’s where I was before coming here to Chautauqua,” Gardner said.

Gardner is going to be based at the Institution’s Washington, D.C. office during the off-season and will be at Chautauqua during the summer season. She said her previous training and experience will help her bring new ideas and solutions to Chautauqua.

“I feel like I can bring a lot of creative solutions and ideas to really make this an operation that’s going to take us into the next campaign, the 150th anniversary, and the next 10 years for the strategic plan,” Gardner said. “To me, it is really exciting to have that plan in place and to be able to look at it and think, ‘OK, where do we go from here?’ and to have a voice on how that’s going to happen.”

Gardner is looking forward to Chautauqua’s 150th anniversary. She said the sesquecentennial will create an opportunity to spread the story of Chautauqua outside the Institution’s grounds and introduce people to the experiences offered here.

One of the best things about coming here is not only that it’s Chautauqua, but that it’s a place I love and care about and want to support,” she said. “It’s also a place where I can have a voice and where I can have an impact.”

Chautauqua Fans Support & Celebrate U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team



For a moment, no one breathed. The Hall of Christ was filled to the brim with soccer fans on the edge of their seats, eyes glued to the projector screen. People squeezed their hands together, as if in prayer, and murmured comments of confidence to their team.

Midfielder Megan Rapinoe stood ready for the penalty kick, eyes on the goal. It was the 61st minute of the game — the final chance for the United States Women’s national soccer team to hold the world championship title for the second World Cup in a row, or for the Netherlands to take the title for themselves.

Every four years, soccer fans all over the world watch the most suspenseful match of the FIFA World Cup — the final. The tournament enraptures the world, exhibiting the strength and passion from each country. At 11 a.m. on Sunday, Chautauquans gathered in the lobby and sun room of the Athenaeum Hotel and the Hall of Christ to view the U.S. Women’s Team fight for the championship title.

The whistle blew, Rapinoe kicked and the ball flew straight into the right side of the goal. The U.S. Women’s Team scored the first goal of the game. And the fans went wild — standing, jumping and cheering, almost on the brink of joyful tears.

The game began as all soccer games must, with the national anthems of each team and then, the kick off. In the Hall of Christ, soccer fan, coach and referee Lito Gutierrez sat in an aisle seat so he could get an unobstructed view of the game. He didn’t look away from the screen, cheering in support of all the players as they sprinted down the field.

For Gutierrez, women’s soccer isn’t an afterthought. He spoke of his daughter and said women’s soccer is an important way for women to show strength.

“The fact is that now, all over the world, women’s soccer is coming through,” Gutierrez said. “And it’s coming through just gloriously.”

He said as a man who grew up with men’s soccer in Argentina, the women’s game is much stronger than the men’s.

“The women’s game is much cleaner and much more fluid than the men’s game,” Gutierrez said. “There’s very little drama; if they get hurt, they get up and move on.”

Half-time rolled around with no goals scored by either team. The Netherlands just missed a penalty kick, letting U.S. soccer fans everywhere breathe a sigh of relief. The fans in the viewing party in the Hall of Christ had to get up and stretch the stress out of their joints.

From left, Sarah Raffinan and Mary Raffinan cheer after the United States women’s soccer team wins the FIFA Women’s World Cup being showed at the Hall of Christ Sunday July 7, 2019. SARAH YENESEL/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The game was intense as more shots on goal were taken, but the Netherlands’ goalie, Sari Van Veenendaa, was a force to reckon with for the U.S. Women’s Team. In the Athenaeum Hotel sun room, soccer fan Maggie Bauman dressed in the U.S. Women’s team jersey. For her and her family, watching soccer is a favorite pastime. She said it’s amazing to watch.

“I love seeing the work ethic that they all have in this team,” Bauman said. “They’re representing our country and they are also just working really hard for this — I think it would be awesome if they could pull out this win today.”

The second half quickly brought people to their feet as Rapinoe scored the first goal for the team. Soon after, midfielder Samantha Mewis sought out midfielder Rose Lavelle and passed the ball. Lavelle had nothing but space in front of her when she drove the ball straight into the goal.

The crowds in the viewing parties and on the screen cheered triumphantly. Gutierrez jumped in pure joy and put his hands in the air, clapping. He said the game was amazing and that each player communicates with others on the field, which is a product of good coaching.

“You have a player like Crystal Dunn who is playing from a defensive position — she’s all over the field,” Gutierrez said. “She’s up there playing with Rapinoe in the front area, and that’s superb.”

He said the communication on the field shows that the players are comfortable with each other, and that they have an incredible connection.

And there was a passion and  connection among the people at the viewing parties. Whether or not fans knew each other, there was a relationship, based on each person’s passion for their team.

Marsha Opalk, who was watching in the Hall of Christ, has been coming to Chautauqua for many years. She said the viewing parties are something she hasn’t seen before at the Institution, and it was exciting to watch with other fans.

“This is just one great added feature for Chautauqua,” Opalk said. “I mean, look at all the people that were cheering and yelling — it was great.”

In the last minutes of the game, Netherlands ran tirelessly to score a goal, but the U.S. tightened up their defense. Even as both teams substituted key players, the U.S. didn’t budge — they were intent to win. Rapinoe ran off the field and was replaced by Christen Press; everyone cheered in the Hall of Christ and on screen, giving Rapinoe a standing ovation.

The final whistle sounded. The U.S. Women’s team won the World Cup title for the fourth time in its history. Each viewing party erupted with the sounds of cheers, excitement and whistles. In the stadium in France, American fans chanted “equal pay.”

The U.S. Women’s Team brings more revenue and wins more games than the U.S. Men’s Team, but the U.S. Women’s Team is paid much less than men in all areas. Particularly, in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the total prize money was $30 million, and champions walk away with $4 million. In the 2018 Men’s World Cup, champions won $38 million from a total of $400 million.

Sunday’s win was about more than a trophy; it was a showcase of strength and passion in women’s soccer.

“(The U.S. Women’s Team) played together very well — the passion is just incredible,” Gutierrez said. “I love it, I just love it.”

Laura Currie Talks Strategic Planning Working Group’s Processes and Results

Laura Currie

Laura Currie has served Chautauqua Institution for over a decade; first on the board of trustees, then the Chautauqua Foundation Board of Directors and, most recently, as an instrumental part in the making of the 150 Forward strategic plan.

The strategic plan is a series of objectives and cross-cutting imperatives synthesized by a 13-member Strategic Planning Working Group, which Currie chaired.

The process took 18 months of data collection, deliberation and presentation. Now, the plan is on full display at weekly Strategic Plan Information Sessions at 3:30 p.m. Thursdays in the Hall of Christ. Additionally, Chautauquans can voice concerns, leave comments or ask questions about the strategic plan through the online forum at

Can you talk about your time at Chautauqua and the various leadership positions you’ve held?

I actually grew up here. I am a native — I went to Chautauqua High School. So my parents brought me (to the Institution) as an infant. We lived across the lake in the winter and here in the summer until I was in fourth grade, and then in fourth grade they sold the cottage … and the house across the lake and bought a house on the grounds.

We have come back every year, … and then 10 years ago I was asked to go on the board. I served two four-year terms on the board of trustees, and six of those eight years I also was a trustee director, so I was on the Foundation board as well.

I had been off (the board) a few months when Chair Jim Pardo and President Michael E. Hill called and asked me if I would chair the Strategic Planning Working Group, which is a great committee. It was really neat — it was half staff and half volunteers made up of current board directors and former board directors.

What was the working group’s process? How did you gather and consolidate data to create what would become the strategic plan?

We really wanted to hear from Chautauquans, so Michael started listening tours in January 2018, when he did his off-season traveling. … We hired a consulting firm that helped us design a survey that went out to all the primary addresses in Chautauqua’s database. We got 1,300 to 1,700 responses, which our consultants were just amazed by — that’s a huge response.

The consultants also did for us a series of small group listening sessions that were really categorized; we had people who had small children, … people who were first-time Chautauquans, people who were longtime Chautauquans, people who were renters, people who are owners. We tried to get a group together with our consultants within each of those segments to really drill down deep into some issues that they felt we should be thinking about.

There were 51 individual one-on-one interviews that the consultants did on our behalf. And then Michael, Jim and I did listening sessions last summer every week at the Hall of Philosophy, and then the two trustee open forums on Saturday mornings were turned into listening sessions.

So we really got all that input before the committee did really much work at all. We met and went over what the consultants were going to help us with and the process of what we were looking at. Then we pulled all of that data together as well as all of the things Michael and the administration were doing with IDEA and the campus master plan. We took all of that and began our deliberations over everything and shifting through what came out.

What were the overarching themes that came out of the data collection?

The lake, diversity and the grounds.

People are interested in their experiences here, but there is a lot of interest in, “If I can’t be here the whole nine weeks, how can I still feel connected while (the season is) going on,” or “How can we all be connected outside of the nine weeks?”

How much of the plan is administrative goals versus community input?

The actual goals themselves came from the community; the measures of success, … those came from the administration. So how it will be operationalized is coming more from the administration with the oversight of the board, but really what we’re doing and what needs to happen came from the community.

For someone who has not read the full plan, how would you concisely sum up 150 Forward?

We have four main goals and then four — what we finally ended up terming — cross-cutting imperatives. … (These) are imperative; we have to bring those four things into our DNA. IDEA — inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility — has to become part of our DNA in a bigger way.

Technology — we’re just behind, and we need to catch up. … Labor and talent — huge — for during the season and then the off-season, and strategic partnerships. We’ve been really good at partnerships in the past, but I think that’s going to be the key to a lot of different things.

Goal-wise, the lake stood alone because it’s imperative that the lake be saved. Even though we have a small footprint on the lake, … we have a unique ability to be able to convene all the voices around the county and hopefully have a concerted scientific effort toward solving its problem.

That came from the community; IDEA came from the community, not “messing this place up” — that’s what we heard all the time; “don’t mess this place up” — came from the community … and taking us outside the grounds and making sure we are financially stable way into the future.

Through this whole process, what was your role in chairing the working group?

Really just being that lead person, but then bringing the diverse voices together with the committee and being the liaison between the administration, the consultants and the committee.

We had several in-person meetings in D.C. — just the committee did — and then we came up for the board meetings as well, and then we had — I can’t even remember how many — video conference meetings.

It’s a fabulous committee; they were just great. And then Shannon Rozner, the new vice president of strategic initiatives, joined us …  and has just been fabulous to work with.

One of my big things I want to get out is that this is a plan for all of us — it’s not just the board, or this committee or the administration — this is all of Chautauqua. Our voices are in it, and we also have to be a part of it to make it work.

Now that the working group’s job has wrapped up, what’s your role?

There is a new committee formed with just board members, chaired by Candy Maxwell, the new incoming board chair, that’s looking at the actual details of the goals and working with Shannon, Michael and the administration on how they are going to prioritize and (oversee) it.

I’m not in that process since I’m no longer on the board. So my part is wrapping up, and they are taking what we did and moving it to the next step.

How have Chautauquans responded to the plan?

It has been very positive at the two Strategic Plan Information Sessions we’ve had so far and just in my everyday conservations with people. … People have been really pleased from what I’ve heard.

Ideally, what does Chautauqua look like to you when it reaches its sesquicentennial?

I hope that we really have a more diverse audience. … I hope we have reached out more to the Chautauqua community. I would love to know the lake is on its way, by that time, to being saved.

Hopefully maybe even tucking away a few of those cross-cutting imperatives.

What’s next for you?

I’m just going to enjoy being here, going to a little more programming this year.

I’m just happy to have been a part of what I have been.

Week Three Letter From the President

Michael Hill
President Michael Hill

Welcome to the third week of our 146th Assembly! I am writing this column on the Fourth of July, one of my favorite times here at Chautauqua. From the Children’s School parade, where our youngest Chautauquans participate in earnest in a time-honored tradition, to the sounds of the Chautauqua Community Band playing patriotic favorites, it’s a slice of Americana that lifts the soul. Equally dynamic, however, was the morning lecture by Risa Goluboff, dean of the University of Virginia School of Law, who walked us through issues of free speech after the Charlottesville riots, where white supremacists and neo-Nazis clashed with protesters. It’s one of the best examples of what Chautauqua does at its finest: Rather than duck the issues, respectfully tackle them in dialogue, across difference, seeking solutions. I couldn’t have thought of a more fitting way to celebrate our nation’s birthday.

A similar moment happened at a reception at the President’s Cottage this week. Someone asked a question about how we might diversify Chautauqua, and one guest’s response elicited a counter-response from someone of another race, questioning the assumptions made. Instead of screaming or ducking the question, they publicly and respectfully challenged the premises and afterward sat with one another to find a deeper sense of shared meaning. This is the Chautauqua we hope to most lift up.

Which brings us to Week Three of our assembly, one that celebrates one of our most dynamic partnerships, that with National Geographic. This week we join our friends at NatGeo in exploring “A Planet in Balance.” In response to a rapidly changing planet, National Geographic is leveraging its legacy of exploration, innovation and vibrant storytelling to further solutions. From funding cutting-edge technologies to leading advancements in science communication, we’ll uncover how NatGeo is using 21st-century tools to shape the future of exploration and to address the greatest challenge our world has ever faced. Together we’ll look at:

  • The status of the planet, and how the most advanced conservation technology is being deployed to show how nature and culture are changing in real time;
  • How exploration and the communication of science work in tandem to protect the environment so that all species have a shot at survival;
  • Earth’s last wild places, to learn about the efforts to protect and restore those habitats before it’s too late;
  • The planet’s extreme environments, and seek clues offered there for surviving the impact of the changes we are facing; and
  • our own choices, discovering how we can reduce our human footprint.

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we honor the practice of exploration by examining “What Archaeology Tells Us about Biblical Times.” Christians and all peoples of the world are drawn to Biblical sites in Israel, tracking the historical Jesus. These sites are not only vibrant centers of pilgrimage and faith, but monuments of archeological significance as well. Through recent work in Israel titled “The Search for the Real Jesus,” National Geographic, for example, has discovered a way to help us see that the scientific and the spiritual can and do coexist. We look forward to a week of walking between those two ways of seeing the world.

Speaking of exploring the impacts of faith and the journey of discovery, Peter and I had a chance to see Chautauqua Theater Company’s production of The Christians this past week. If you haven’t done so, it’s a thought-provoking piece and worthy of a look.

As always, there is so much in any given week to hold up as something “not to miss.” What has become an annual favorite tradition during my tenure is the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra’s performance alongside a Harry Potter film, this one “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” Peter and I are so excited to take our nephews and have them fall in love with the symphony through this vehicle. And then there’s also the CHQ Olympics. So much fun is packed into a week that includes the incredible work of our artistic companies, preachers, teachers and speakers. Whether you’re with us for the first time this week, or continuing your own Chautauqua journey from the week prior, I hope that you allow your spirit to be filled with the many offerings that this magical place provides.

And even more so, I hope what we have discovered on platforms, stages and porches so far this summer — the notion of engaging across difference — gives you hope for our society. As Dean Goluboff said Thursday, if you want to know how to engage with someone who thinks differently than you, start with a question of understanding, versus a statement to be heard. Imagine if we could all do this here, and then take it out across the country. Then, perhaps, there is hope.

Enjoy Week Three and one another,

Michael E. Hill

Trustee Nancy Gibbs Shares Hopes and Excitement for First Season on Board of Trustees

Nancy Gibbs is serving her first season as a member of the Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees. Gibbs was previously the editor-in-chief of “Time” and is a lifelong Chautauquan.

Nancy Gibbs wears many hats: journalist, educator, wife and mother, lifelong Chautauquan and now, trustee.

The former editor-in-chief of Time — and the magazine’s first female editor-in-chief — is one of two newly appointed Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustee members who will serve four-year terms.

In the off-season, Gibbs directs Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy and is the Edward R. Murrow professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She has co-authored two best-selling books: The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity and The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House.

The Presidents Club was a finalist for The Chautauqua Prize in 2013.

But before her nearly 40-year career as an author and journalist, Gibbs found her love for writing in the Daily newsroom, she said, covering everything from the Children’s School to the morning lectures.

What was it like growing up at Chautauqua Institution?

This is the one place where I have friends I literally have known since birth, and we remain friends and we still see each other every summer.

I think that’s one of the truly remarkable things about Chautauqua; whatever directions our lives took us since coming here, this is where we come back to. This is ground-zero for our families, our professional lives in many cases — in my case, in journalism, and in my brother’s in music — all had its roots here. I think that’s one of the reasons it’s been so important in my life and our families’ lives.

How would you explain the Institution to someone who has never been here or never heard of it?

College, summer camp, mental health retreat, nature preserve — it’s all of those things. It’s like a gymnasium for your heart and your head and your soul.

Can you explain what a trustee and what the board of trustees does?

I’m still learning because I am a new trustee. … My older brother was a trustee, my father chaired the board of trustees, and so I’ve been watching the Chautauqua (Institution) Board of Trustees for as long as I can remember. It’s a fascinating experience now to get to join it and understand where its influence begins and ends.

I think it’s important the board draw from both the experience and the expertise of its members, inside Chautauqua and outside Chautauqua — what we do when we’re here, what we do the rest of the year — and bring that experience to the challenges and opportunities here.

So what I love about the board is it is such an interesting mixture of people and skill sets, and I think that’s what makes it a successful resource for the administration here.

You’re on the marketing & brand strategy committee. How do you think your professional expertise will translate into that committee?

Well, to the extent that my professional life has always been about storytelling, which is the heart of journalism and in some ways the heart of politics and essential to successful leadership for Chautauqua — to figure out how to tell its story to people who might want to be part of this place, and how to understand its mission both here in this place during the summer, but also outside of the summer and outside of the gates.

I think that aligns fairly obviously with my life as a journalist and my life trying to see patterns and understand what people are curious about, what they want to know more about. I’m hoping I can help Chautauqua where it needs to tell a story for the 21st century that fully draws on values it has held since the 19th (century).

What’s your biggest hope for your first season as a trustee?

Just to keep learning. I think new trustees obviously bring fresh eyes to the challenges, but there is so much we don’t know about the immense amount of work that goes into making this place seem natural and organic and effortless, as though it all just magically happens, as though these grounds just take care of themselves, as though that program just appears on the Amphitheater stage and a million other places around the grounds.

So much work goes into making this happen that I’m still learning an enormous amount about how it operates and how Chautauquans — trustees and not — can help make the place as healthy and successful as possible. 

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Once a reporter always a reporter; I get up to find out what happened overnight. I’m horribly attached to my devices, so unfortunately about the first thing I do is look in my inbox and read the papers, read 50 newsletters that have appeared. That’s always been true to some extent; it’s particularly true now when we’re in such a fateful political season.

Do you miss being a reporter or being in the thick of the news?

I’m still writing. … And what I’m teaching is so directly connected to — not just what’s happening in journalism — politics and the health of democracy itself. While I’m not responsible for making real-time coverage decisions — and I don’t miss that — I don’t feel like I’ve stepped out of the conversations happening in newsrooms.

What are you most excited about this season?

This feels like a moment when Chautauqua’s almost 150-year mission is needed more than ever, and not only needed, but people are aware it’s needed — of a place where people actually physically come together, actually put down their phones and talk face-to-face or listen to a lecturer or an artistic presentation that challenges them.

I think there’s a mindfulness now that there’s something that has really disrupted the way we talk to each other and think about each other. … The fact that this is a place where people can come and have an actually civilized disagreement — it’s not that everyone comes here and agrees with each other, hopefully people come here and disagree with each other — but in a way that reminds them that it’s okay and that you can still get along and solve problems together.

I think there’s a hunger for that — for modeling that, for experiencing that, for taking some of that back into the rest of our lives — that’s actually new, even though that’s been a mission of this Institution since 1874. I’m excited about the ways in which this place is urgently adapting to the need right now and seeing where that takes us going forward.

Massey Mini-Concert to Salute American Organists and Composers

Organist And Coordinator Of Worship And Sacred Music, Jared Jacobsen, directs the Chautauqua Choir during the inaugural Sacred Song Service Sunday, June 23, 2019, in the Amphitheater. VISHAKHA GUPTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

According to Jared Jacobsen, Chautauqua’s organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, some of the most interesting music in America was written by the modernist composer Charles Ives.

“Ives had a very unique way of looking at music,” Jacobsen said. “His father was a bandleader who was very well-known in New England, and (organized) these huge festivals in their town. He would invite bands to march into the town square at the same time from every direction.”

Hearing the sounds of multiple bands overlapping each other as they played became a crucial part of Ives’ childhood and deeply affected his musical composition process, Jacobsen said.

You would hear two bands playing the same piece but not in the same rhythm,” he said. “Or you would hear two bands playing the same piece but not in the same key. Or you would hear two bands playing the same piece but not really in tune.”

Jacobsen said Ives incorporated bands playing over one another into his music, leading the way on compositional concepts like bitonality, polyrhythmia, altered tunings and altered scales.

At 12:15 p.m. Wednesday, July 3 in the Amphitheater, Jacobsen will showcase distinctly American composers, like Ives, on the Massey Memorial Organ in the mini-concert “The American Organist.”

“These are all the pieces that I, as an American, play on this American organ, in the most American place in America,” Jacobsen said. “Ironically though, the idea for the (Massey) Organ was conceived in Canada and funded by a Canadian family.”

But, he added, the Massey Organ is “essentially a part of American history.”

Jacobsen said he designed the musical program for this mini-concert to complement the rich history of the Massey Organ, which is over 100 years old, and to anticipate Chautauqua’s Fourth of July celebration.

American Composer Dudley Buck’s “Concert Variations on ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ ” is one piece Jacobsen said he included specifically because of the Fourth of July.

He’s important because he grew up in New England and got a really good American music education,” Jacobsen said. “Then he was sent to Europe by his parents to get the European stamp of approval.

According to Jacobsen, people in the late 19th century believed that unless a composer had studied in Europe, they couldn’t be any good.

“They thought that since this was the Colonies, we didn’t know anything about making music,” he said, “which was totally bogus.”

Yet when Buck returned from Europe, according to Jacobsen, he became one of the first American organists to have a career as a touring concert artist, traveling up and down the Eastern seaboard.

“Dudley Buck’s piece, which is a blast to play, is a classic 19th century variation for the keyboard,” he said. “Variations involve starting with a tune, gently playing with it for a little bit, and then getting more adventurous with the rhythms or the chord structure. Because this is an organ piece, there’s always a part that shows off what your feet can do on the organ.”

Variations like Buck’s have a uniquely American flavor to them, according to Jacobsen.

I just love playing American music,” Jacobsen said.
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