close

Homepage

In Sacred Song, Jacobsen, Hill to declare camp meeting over

081819_SacredSong_AW_08
Choir Director and organist Jared Jacobsen plays the organ and leads the Chautauqua Choir  Sunday, Aug 18, 2019. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Sunday’s Sacred Song Service promises to be both nostalgic and haunting.

“At the end of it, the president gives his annual ‘state of the union’ message of what happened this summer at Chautauqua,” said Jared Jacobsen, Chautauqua’s organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music. “It’s already dark outside by the time the service starts. The fact that we’re sitting in the dark before we even sing a note is a little bit creepy.”

At 8 p.m. on Sunday in the Amphitheater, Jacobsen, the Chautauqua Choir and Institution President Michael E. Hill will declare that the “Camp Meeting Is Over,” in the last Sacred Song Service of the season. At the end of the service, Hill will draw the 2019 season to a close with the traditional three taps of the gavel.

Jacobsen said he’s drawn on Chautauqua’s history as a “camp by the lake” in seeking inspiration for Sunday’s program.

“There were songs that were specific to each person’s experience at camps, things they learned around the fire, and then they get remembered the next year when they went back,” he said. “One of these is an early American song from the 1800s, called ‘Camp Meeting Is Over.’ So I found an arrangement of that for the Choir.”

An addition to the service this year are readings of past letters to the editor of The Chautauquan Daily, as a way of inspiring whimsy in Jacobsen’s audience.

Michael Hill

“I also came across a wonderful piece called ‘I Am in Need of Music,’ by David Brunner, that I did with the kids at my school,” he said. “It’s all about what it’s like to make music, so we’re going to do an anthem-setting of that. The Sacred Song Service is all about making music, and it’s not just the Choir who’s made the music all summer long — it’s the congregation that made this work.”

According to Jacobsen, if it had been the congregation without the Choir or vice versa, it “wouldn’t have been as rich an experience as it is with both.”

“One of the anthems we’ll do is written by a Chautauqua Choir member, Marjorie Thomas,” he said. “I knew her for years on the Choir, and never had a clue that she would have composed anything. I found it in our library and pulled it out, and she was smiling as we played it the first time through with the Choir. She timidly put her hand up and said, ‘I wrote this. I never thought I’d hear it again.’ ”

Jacobsen said “that’s part of what the closing week has to be about — remembering things, and celebrating our own innate gifts here.”

Rock ’n’ roll royalty Etheridge, Benatar, Giraldo to close season

Benetar_Etheridge

When Melissa Etheridge — a Grammy and Academy Award-winner, as well as the singer-songwriter responsible for the six-time platinum album Yes I Am — pitched her first record to radio stations, those in charge would respond in a similar fashion.

“They’d say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. We can’t play her — we’re already playing a woman,’ ” Etheridge told Fredda Gordon in an interview for InFocusVisions Music Magazine. “But, you know, it’s still difficult. You have to work really, really hard. It’s one of those last men’s businesses, especially rock and roll. We just do the best we can.”

In the final evening performance of the 2019 Chautauqua Institution season, Etheridge and four-time Grammy Award-winner Pat Benatar — another trailblazing rock ’n’ roll icon — headline a 7:30 p.m. performance Saturday in the Amphitheater. Guitarist Neil Giraldo, Benatar’s collaborator and husband who helped produce the sound that led to Top 10 hits like “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and “Love Is A Battlefield,” joins the pair onstage.

Deborah Sunya Moore, vice president of performing and visual arts, is “excited” to conclude the season with “two women that have made such a musical mark on America and beyond.”

“The double bill is just going to be thrilling for Chautauqua,” she said. “Talk about going out with a bang.”

In 2017, after returning to Billboard’s Adult Contemporary Chart for her ballad, “Dancing Through the Wreckage,” Benatar reflected on her first Hot 100 hit, 1979’s “Heartbreaker,” in an interview with Fred Bronson for Billboard.

“It was such an exciting time,” Benatar told Bronson. “Neil and I would wait at our local newsstand to get a copy (of Billboard) the day it came out and check the chart positions. Seeing it in print made it seem more real.”

She revealed to Bronson that she and Giraldo have a song list “lovingly” dubbed “The Holy 14.” According to Benatar, if they fail to incorporate that collection of songs into concerts, “they risk a barrage of Facebook unhappiness.”

“We do our best to include them, while inserting deep cuts and new compositions,” Benatar told Bronson. “(Giraldo) is always messing with the arrangements. He’s a mad scientist in this department. Nothing is out of the realm of possibilities. I love it, because it keeps things fresh for us as well as the audience.”

With a career that spans across three decades, Etheridge had to navigate the music business while remaining faithful to her own artistic pursuits. She discussed that balance with Gordon in the InFocusVisions interview.

“I’m grateful that I can make a living off my music,” she said. “Yet I believe, and I truly understand, that my fans want me to make the music that’s in my heart and soul. They don’t want to hear a hit song. They want to know my music. They have followed me. They have taken this journey with me for 30 years, and they want to stay on it like I do.”

In the Billboard interview, Benatar reacted to being characterized as a “role model” for the women artists that followed her.

“I try to help people understand that, as an artist, you do not spend time analyzing how you got to be who you became or when it happened,” she told Bronson. “You were simply being. I wasn’t thinking about the bigger picture, not until much later. I was completely self-absorbed in expressing how I was feeling as a young woman in the 1970s. … I was feeling the general unrest that most American women were feeling. I was simply part of the sisterhood that was emerging from the earlier women’s movement. Those women were the role models.”

Biographer Eig to talk about Ali’s life in final CWC forum of season

082419_cif_JonathanEig

Word by word — page after page — chapter upon chapter. And finally, book following book. The bookwriting process requires guts to start and grit to finish; personal and professional integrity to get it right; and excellence to win awards.

Author, biographer and journalist Jonathan Eig has completed this process repeatedly. Beginning with Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig, Eig has written five nonfiction books. He is currently working on his sixth, a biography of Martin Luther King Jr.

EIG

Eig has also served as an expert for two Ken Burns films — “Prohibition” and “Jackie Robinson.” And with cheerful tenacity, he convinced Burns to find the time to make a documentary about another topic Eig has become an authority on, Muhammad Ali, and to hire Eig as a consulting producer.

At 2 p.m. on Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy, Eig will present the concluding lecture of the Chautauqua Women’s Club’s 2019 Contemporary Issues Forum. Titled, “Life of Muhammad Ali,” it draws on his extensively researched, multiple award-winning, New York Times best-selling biography, Ali: A Life.

Eig has taught and spoken about his work at Chautauqua Institution several times since he first set foot on the grounds during the 2010 season. On Thursday, he gave a talk about Gehrig at the Sports Club.

“A friend of mine (from Chicago) … thought I would like (the Institution) and suggested that I come talk about Lou Gehrig,” Eig said. “And he convinced the Cinema to show ‘The Pride of the Yankees’ (about New York Yankees first baseman, Lou Gehrig) and then have me speak about the movie after it was over. And then Mark Altschuler invited me to co-teach a baseball class with Special Studies. So these friends just sort of found a way to get me engaged here.”

Since then, Eig has served as a prose writer-in-residence at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center three times.

“What I hope to do (on Saturday) … is to not just talk about Ali, but to talk about the responsibilities of writing a biography, and how that connects to our theme of the week, which is bridging cultures,” Eig said.

When “you read or write a biography, you’re basically engaging in an act of trying to understand someone other than yourself,” he said. “That’s by definition. I think that’s such an important part of what the lectures this week have been discussing — thinking about what you’re missing.”

Eig got an early start making a career of trying to understand others well enough so that he could write wisely about them.

Born in Brooklyn, he grew up about 30 miles to the north in the Rockland County hamlet of Monsey, and enjoyed being a reporter for his junior and senior high school newspapers so much that he wondered what else he could do.

“I just called the (Rockland County Journal News) and asked if I could do anything,” he said. “I didn’t know anybody. I’d never met a reporter. But … I just thought … ‘I’ll call the sports department and see if I can get any work over there.’ ”

The Journal News hired Eig when he was just 16, to telephone coaches, find out the scores of the games and then phone all of the scores in to the newspaper’s sports desk. Eventually he was asked to come into the office, and later to go out and report on local games.

“When I got my first chance to go out and cover a game and get a byline, that was huge,” Eig said. “I can still remember who played — it was Clarkstown North High School vs. Ramapo High School.”

Certain that journalism was what he wanted to do, he enrolled in Northwestern University’s high school journalism program, was accepted at Northwestern for college, and “absolutely loved it.” 

“I worked at the school paper every day from freshman year to senior year,” Eig said. “And I mean every day. And then … I had (summer) internships. … The first was in Westchester, New York. Then I got an internship at the L.A. Times in their Washington, D.C. bureau. I actually got to cover Ronald Reagan White House press conferences.”

The New Orleans Times-Picayune hired Eig straight out of Northwestern, and he stayed for nearly four years, from 1986 to 1990. He said that initially he was assigned to the suburbs, but after a year, he requested the public housing beat — though such a beat didn’t exist.

“I asked if they would give me that beat because I just thought it was so interesting and … 10% of the city … lived in public housing and nobody was covering it,” Eig said. “And it was like another world to me. I’d never seen anything like it — the poverty, and … the size of those communities, and their density. … I mostly covered crime and urban affairs … and public housing.”

Moving from New Orleans to Dallas, Eig worked for The Dallas Morning News for five years. For a short while, he covered the education beat, then poverty and social services.

“I also volunteered to be the jazz critic … because they didn’t have a jazz critic,” Eig said. “So I just raised my hand and I got to cover jazz. And I met all these great legends and I interviewed them — Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald and Sonny Rollins.”

To be near his girlfriend (and later his wife), who had decided to earn a master’s degree in public policy at the University of Chicago, Eig moved to Chicago without a job. He said he freelanced for a year “for anybody” in order to earn a living — including jazz magazines, Cosmopolitan and the magazine owned by the tobacco company Marlborough — before landing a full-time position as a staff writer at Chicago magazine.

Freelancing helped Eig think entrepreneurially about how to come up with ideas for stories he could sell. And magazine writing got him started on longer-form — 6,000 to 7,000-word — stories. Both would become important for book writing.

At Chicago magazine, Eig said he wrote stories about crime and a profile of Michael Jordan at the height of the basketball legend’s career.

“One of my favorite stories was about … one of my real mentors at Northwestern, … a professor named Leon Forrest, who wrote what I consider the greatest unknown African American novel of them all,” Eig said. “It’s called Divine Days. And he called me when he was diagnosed with cancer and asked if I would basically come and interview him because he wanted to be remembered. He felt like his work was unappreciated.”

Eig said that he spent the last few months of Forrest’s life writing about his attempt to finish one more novel.

“I learned a lot from that experience and from being with him,” he said. “And asking anybody, when you interview them, to share their life story is a big commitment and a big request, but when somebody is on their deathbed and wants someone to listen to them, that’s an awesome responsibility.”

And Toni Morrison was Forrest’s editor.

“She’s the one who said to me: ‘Someday his work is going to be appreciated, and make sure you save those tapes of your interviews with him,’ ” Eig said. “Which of course, I did.”

In 2000, Eig left Chicago magazine for the Wall Street Journal, where he wrote about major food companies until he was allowed to write what he wanted.

“It was while I was at the Wall Street Journal that I had an idea for a book,” Eig said. “I did the Gehrig book almost entirely while I was working full time at the Journal. I took, I think, three months off at the end, which coincided with my daughter being born, so I got paternity leave.”

Luckiest Man was published in 2005.

He returned to the Journal for about a year, before taking a leave to work on his second book, Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season, which came out in 2007.

Thereafter, Eig decided to focus on book writing full time.

Get Capone: The Secret Plot that Captured America’s Most Wanted Gangster came next in 2010; followed by The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution in 2015; and Ali: A Life in 2017. 

Eig said he met filmmaker Lynn Novick when she interviewed him for Burns’ documentary, “Prohibition.” At the time, he was in the process of writing Get Capone.

“I became their Capone expert,” he said. “I loved the process of learning about how they made these films and I wanted to learn more about it, so I just began suggesting ideas to them.”

When they made “Jackie Robinson,” Eig was again involved as an expert.

“I suggested to Ken that Ali would make a great subject for a documentary, and then I just began bugging him a lot,” he said. “… And after a while, they came around. And now they are really doing it. … It’s probably three-quarters done, and I’ve been a consultant on it.”

Meanwhile, Eig’s podcast series, “Chasing Ali,” provides a fun way to learn about some of the challenges he faced while researching Ali, including getting an interview with Ali himself.

To Eig, editing film transcripts and writing lengthy books feels like journalism.

“I’ve never really done anything else,” he said. “Since I was 16, I’ve been doing the same thing. … I’m gathering facts, I’m interviewing people and I’m writing it up. It’s the exact same thing I did at 16, when I covered Ramapo vs. Clarkstown North. It’s longer. It’s like running the ultra-marathon instead of running down the street.”

JLCO, Marsalis bring “Ever Fonky Lowdown” to Amp stage

082219_EverFonkyLowdown_AW_09

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra performs Wynton Marsalis’, “The Ever Fonky Lowdown,” alongside dancers, vocalists, and Wendell Pierce as the money-loving Mr. Game during the performance on Thursday, Aug 22, 2019 in the Amphitheater. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Chautauqua serves up local fare in third annual Food Festival

081819_FoodFestival_SY_01

Volunteers continue tradition of monitoring Chautauqua Lake

081819_LakeTesting_AW_14
Doug Conroe, Executive Director of the Chautauqua Lake Association, pulls up the sonde used to collect multiple types of data from Chautauqua Lake during the biweekly lake test on Sunday, Aug 18, 2019. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Jane and Doug Conroe sped in their motorboat from their Maple Springs home into the northern basin of Chautauqua Lake, the nose of the boat lifting above the water.

There had been thunderstorms last weekend, but suddenly, at 11 a.m. Sunday, there was an opening to go out to perform tests on the lake. Another storm loomed in the afternoon’s forecast.

They loaded up the boat with testing instruments and zoomed out to a spot off the northwest side of Long Point State Park. They didn’t need a GPS to find the location. They know this spot well, since they have been coming to it every two weeks in the summer, nearly every year for the last 34.

The tests the Conroes perform collect data for the Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program, a statewide lake monitoring program run jointly by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Federation of Lake Associations since 1985. The Conroes’ involvement is a labor of love for the place where they have made their home for the past 40 years.

“She is a living ecosystem,” said Jane Conroe, referring to the lake. “And we, people, have all asked a lot of her. We live here, we love it, we enjoy it. It’s beautiful to look at, it’s fun to play in, it’s great fishing. But, since we all ask so much of her, I feel like I need to help a little bit, do a little bit of anything that I can to help.”

The Conroes have both been dedicated servants to the lake for decades. They have belonged to the Chautauqua Lake Association, where Doug Conroe is now the executive director, since the 1980s. Doug Conroe is the Institution’s former director of operations, and Jane is a retired Maple Grove Junior/Senior High School science teacher. She works with the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy to educate people about installing rain gardens and shoreline buffer zones to slow and filter water before it enters the lake.

CSLAP exists at Chautauqua Lake thanks to the Conroes, who started volunteering for the program soon after its conception in 1985. In 2019, more than 400 CSLAP volunteers surveyed 176 sites on 157 lakes in the state. They perform biweekly tests that measure water clarity, pH and dissolved oxygen levels. They also collect water samples that they freeze and send to the lab for further testing.

Doug and Jane Conroe collect and extract a water sample from Chautauqua Lake using a Kemmerer water sampler during their biweekly testing of the lake on Sunday, Aug 18, 2019. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

For a lot of the lakes in the program, this is the biggest, longest data set they have, said Nancy Mueller, manager of NYSFOLA. With more than 7,500 lakes in the state, the limited DEC staff could not possibly test each of them, and especially not in the routine way that CSLAP volunteers are able to.

“(The volunteers) are the eyes on the ground. We’re not there,” Mueller said. “They’re the people who live on the lake, they’re the ones who see changes happening. They’re the ones who see invasive species, they report the algal blooms.”

NYSFOLA runs the day-to-day operations of the program, and the DEC is in charge of processing all the data. CSLAP data was used by the DEC to designate Chautauqua Lake as impaired in the early 2000s because its phosphorus levels were, and are, too high.

CSLAP data says phosphorus is increasing, although the rate at which it has been increasing has decreased slightly over the past few years. However, there is no way to know if this trend will continue. It is also very difficult to figure out why the increase in phosphorus has been slowing.

“There’s so many factors,” Jane Conroe said. “In the science world, you do a science experiment and you control all the variables and you change one thing and you see if your thing made the difference. In lab experiments, you’re totally in control. You can put it in a chamber and keep the temperature perfectly stable. Well, out here, Mother Nature just gives it to us.”

Lake associations were first founded to organize social events like picnics and fireworks, Mueller said. Now, they perform important management functions. The CLA runs the mechanical weed harvesting operation on the lake, along with a watercraft steward program that checks boats at public launches for invasive species that might be attached to the boat or trailer. Lake associations use the CSLAP data they collect to inform management decisions.

“From where I sit — and I’ve been here for over 20 years — the level of understanding by most lake associations is so much higher than it used to be,” Mueller said. “It’s so incredible to see the sort of transformation.”

That understanding comes from a routine battery of tests performed every other week in the summer — for a total of eight times. Once the Conroes reached their usual spot on the lake, Jane Conroe used a Secchi disc — a circle cut into quarters that are alternately colored black and white — to test water clarity. She lowered the disc into the water on the shady side of the boat until it disappeared from her vision. Then, she measured the depth of the disc — 1.8 meters — using the tape measure attached to it.

Next, Doug Conroe lowered a sonde — a tube-shaped tool with sensors at the bottom —  into the water. As he fed the cable attached to the instrument into the water, Jane Conroe sat on the bench in the back of the boat and read the changing depths from the meter out loud. They stopped and took readings at multiple depths, typically every two meters.

Doug Conroe, Executive Director of the Chautauqua Lake Association, begins to fill out the recordings from the day’s lake testing on Sunday, Aug 18, 2019. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Last, the pair used a Kemmerer bottle, which snaps shut when a weight is sent down its cable, to capture water samples at 1.5 and 10 meters.

The couple worked quickly. They had completed these tasks many times before.

Through their years with CSLAP, the Conroes have become point people for data collection on the lake for the DEC. Over their decades of service, they have added tests for arsenic and harmful algal blooms.

While sometimes tedious, the task of data collection is surmountable for the Conroes, who have a boat and a lakefront property in Maple Springs. Jane Conroe pointed out that participating in CSLAP might be inaccessible for some people who don’t have these amenities, which is part of the reason she says it is difficult to find volunteers.

The Conroes enlisted the help of their son-in-law, Jeff Moore, to do collection in the south basin.

But they don’t know how long they will be able to continue to volunteer for CSLAP. They took a break in 1996, when it all felt too overwhelming, Jane Conroe said. The next year, they started right back up again.

“Data is important, and if you don’t get it, it’s lost,” Doug Conroe said. “You skip a year, you don’t know that year’s data.”

They hope to train new people who can continue the data collection on Chautauqua Lake when they cannot anymore.

“It’s all about the volunteers. They put in so much time, so much commitment to the program, and it doesn’t happen without them,” Mueller said. “I find it pretty remarkable that we don’t have a huge turnover of volunteers. We have people who do it for 20 years.”   

Later that evening, after Moore brought the water samples from the south basin, they would pour the water into smaller bottles and pour some water onto a special filter paper that would collect the algae in the water. They roll up this paper and place it in a test tube. Doug Conroe ships everything the next day.

Doug Conroe has spent at least part of every summer of his life on Chautauqua Lake, now owning their home, in addition to his grandfather’s former cottage next door. Both professionally and personally, the Conroes have worked to protect and improve the lake they call home. This year, Jane Conroe installed a rain garden with native plants designed to provide habitat for insects and catch and filter water before it drains into the lake.

“I think that there’s times that people want to know, what was it like before? They say, ‘It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it, (or) it’s the best I’ve ever seen it,’ ” Jane Conroe said. “All of those anecdotal observations are true; they are what the people are seeing. But then, when we can go back to a body of data that says this is what it was like, this is what it is now, we have a basis for comparison.”

After 2 seasons at literary arts helm, Atkinson to move to Catapult

Atom_Atkinson

On the first Sunday of the season, the Poetry Makerspace at the Hultquist Center hosted the inaugural “Poems on the Porch” of the summer, emceed by Director of Literary Arts Atom Atkinson and Wick Poetry fellow Sony Ton-Aime. Wielding a portable mic, the two literary arts staff members traded poems with the Chautauquans who convened on the porch that quiet afternoon, reading their own poetry and listening while others shared theirs.

That brief time leading the weekly event with Atkinson was a summer highlight for Ton-Aime. But it was what Atkinson did during the “Poems on the Porch” gatherings of the following weeks — when only Ton-Aime served as the official facilitator — that, for Ton-Aime, epitomizes them as a leader.

ATKINSON

“We hosted that first reading together, but they came back every Sunday to write a poem, use the Emerge app and read a poem with everyone,” Ton-Aime said. “They didn’t need to be there. They had a lot of things to do. But they took the time to come and write a poem and share the poem with everyone else. Those moments were, for me, the best moments.”

Atkinson, who has served as director of literary arts at Chautauqua Institution since 2017,  announced Wednesday they would be stepping down from that position. In two weeks, they will begin a new professional opportunity as director of writing programs for Catapult, a New York City-based literary arts organization that oversees an interwoven network of books, courses and a namesake literary magazine.

At Catapult, Atkinson found a community that is, like Chautauqua, committed to cultivating the literary arts inside a more everyday experience.

“I am not interested in work that doesn’t feel crucial, resonant and really ambitious for meeting the world in as many ways as possible,” they said. “That’s what drew me to Chautauqua, and that’s what’s drawing me to Catapult, too.”

Atkinson’s colleagues, like Ton-Aime and CLSC Octagon manager Stephine Hunt, commended their vision and energy — qualities that, according to Hunt, have become “entrenched” in the overall mission of the literary arts at Chautauqua.

“I think Atom has really taken the literary arts programming to a new level for Chautauqua,” Hunt said. “They’ve brought some really great faces, and sometimes challenging reads, to the community, and I think the (Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle) needed that. In the past couple of years, we have had a much more diverse group of CLSC authors — in race, age, gender and sexuality. It’s all work of outstanding literary merit that generates great conversation on the grounds here. I’m really appreciative of that.”

During Atkinson’s two-year tenure, the Institution has formed new partnerships with The Paris Review, Kent State University’s Wick Poetry Center, The Academy of American Poets, Just Buffalo Literary Center and Catapult, among others. At the 16th annual Writers’ Festival this June, Atkinson “took risks” and saw, as a result, “more and more people connecting to what they experienced” inside the four days before Week One. By spearheading “rewarding” work with the literary arts interns and scholarship students, they ensured that an attention to diversity extended beyond faculty and guest authors, to workshop and book discussion participants. And, on Aug. 7, they graduated from the CLSC with their mom. 

“I think that is really exemplary of Chautauqua’s egalitarian spirit,” Atkinson said. “Yes, I’m the director of literary arts, but that role is not designed to be about authority. Every role at Chautauqua is about the capacity for anyone to be a leader, a teacher, a student, a speaker, a listener, a host, a guest, a donor, a beneficiary — all of us can occupy these roles in one way or another. Even if we’re just donating cookies. That was something that I was really excited to take part in as a student, through reading with my mom.”

Atkinson, who leads the seasonal literary arts staff within the Department of Education, said that they “will miss working alongside the hardest-working team of colleagues (they’ve) ever, ever worked alongside.”

“We end up all being examples for each other in terms of work ethic and, very specifically, the drive to make this really impossibly utopian idea as close to a positive and generative an educational experience for people as it can be,” Atkinson said.

Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, described the experience of serving alongside Atkinson as “among the most impactful and satisfying work” in his time at Chautauqua.

“While we will miss them greatly as a member of the education team and as a member of this community, we’re also grateful for Atom’s contributions to the larger work of this Institution and for their leadership in positioning the literary arts for even greater impact,” Ewalt said.

For Atkinson, Chautauqua is a place where individuals “of all manner of pedigree” and those “who might otherwise feel intimidated” can convene in community to discuss contemporary challenges and good literature.

“If that doesn’t happen in a book discussion group or creative writing workshop, I don’t know where it happens,” they said. “I’m really proud of the fact that it’s so evident to so many people that, now as much as ever, the literary arts are a place where we can see that it’s really a false choice between choosing between Chautauqua’s traditions and Chautauqua’s potential.”

Marsalis’ ‘The Jungle’ creates mosaic of ‘American truths’

082019_JLCOWyntonMarsalis_AW_08
Conductor Cristian Măcelaru directs the combined Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra for Music Director Wynton Marsalis’, “The Jungle,” during the concert on Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019 in the Amphitheater. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“The Jungle,” Wynton Marsalis’ Fourth Symphony, is a shock effect of sound and ideas, as authorities around the country continue to close what is home for many, closing in Ithaca, Seattle and San Jose. Colorful, dense parcels of land, poached by men and women and children with nothing, these hard-scramble places are still sites for stories and the music of freedom, as they have been since the end of the Civil War; places for disposed and the subsequent waves of immigrants, near the docks or the tracks or the raw meat market historically recorded in book-length by journalist Upton Sinclair in Chicago.

In 1906, President Teddy Roosevelt called Sinclair “a crackpot.” Later, Sinclair won the Pulitzer Prize.

Maestro Wynton Marsalis, also a Pulitzer medalist, awakens the ear’s mind with vision that follows history’s Jungle into our time. It begins with the genocide of Native Americans, and through the horror of slavery and into the struggles of Americans since. The music of “The Jungle” is inclusive of these painstaking times, their manners and means of expression, from hand-clapping to a wailing, free-wheeling jazz.

Marsalis is an American genius, a juggler of ideas and a poet. He is a family man who plays a trumpet like no one else. He is a leader, who, with his music, models for a higher ground. His book, among others, is heartfelt and smart: Moving to a Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life.

Marsalis describes “The Jungle” as “a dense mosaic of all kinds of people everywhere, doing all kinds of things.” His launch for music is New York City, where he lives and directs Jazz at Lincoln Center and its orchestra, performing at Chautauqua on Tuesday with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. The symphony was under the baton of Cristian Măcelaru, director of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, and now the WDR Symphony Orchestra in Cologne, Germany. He is a frequent guest conductor at Chautauqua and a frequent collaborator with Marsalis, a leader in realizing complex new work.

“The Jungle” may sound as a quiet sax on a rooftop at night, or as a scream, city-wide. It changes tempo and key suddenly, startling quotations from ragtime, bebop and the blues, a symphony that calls forth from these expressions the linkage of racial and ethnic inequality, prejudice, corruption and survival of the fittest. Yet such suffering, these denials of human rights, harvests joy as well, told by the urban legacies of Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Les Brown, and other greats. 

Black Elk, a 19th-century Oglala Lakota medicine man, conveys another legacy Marsalis cites from outside the cities, a bequest from the plains. Black Elk knew the secrets of the Ghost Dance, and at 13 years old, fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn and subsequently survived the Wounded Knee Massacre. Black Elk told his story to his son, who shared it with John Neihardt, the Nebraska poet laureate, who wrote, in 1932, the book Carl Jung admired, Black Elk Speaks. Marsalis also listened.

“The Jungle,” in its first movement, calls out Native tradition, and over an hour, divides into six varied movements a powerful scatter shot across the bow of American truths. The composer names them:

“The Big Scream (Black Elk Speaks),” which comes on suddenly, with a driving beat — plucked strings, a hard piano, relentless horns and any clangorous device hidden in percussion. The horror right up front, and soon drums summon a Native voice, a call for presence. The reeds are scat singers at 1/16. They could eat violins but are restrained. Someone shouts. Someone has created a crow’s call. Someone is going to bite their reed. Oh piccolo, how can you sound so tough? Bells ring. Oh jazz ancestors, remember players on this Amphitheater stage.

“The Big Show,” and cymbals announce. A flute takes it to the air. Sounds like a hustle, then soft violins for Big Band musical theater or a Blue Book formal dance. A changing palette of memory. Was that Show Boat passing? Calling on bebop, ragtime, early century immigrant dances.

“Lost in Sight (Post-Pastoral).” This is personal, withal one man’s lens and ear. Post-Pastoral is in Marsalis’ city. That solo from a rooftop, so sweet it could be movie music, and the cellos add a haunt from a European tradition, a classical remembrance. A siren brings startling recognition; a reminder of troubles, the homeless everywhere, disposed, beaten down and out. How can it be so in the midst of unimaginable wealth? This is lost in sight — the reason for that doleful trombone from some lonely place. The everlasting blues upon which jazz takes shape and draws its breath with hollow sounds from the piano and insouciant interruptions: The wah wah of a capped trombone. Skeletal.

“La Esquina,” a street corner meeting place for the deep spirit of an Afro-Latino neighborhood. A huge cymbal interrupts, and a sax solo brings on dissonance, the blues and a hammer of wood on wood, knocking, a vulgar interruption. Violins attempt to bring order from another place.

“Us”: This is for all to hear — phrases from Les Brown and his Band of Renown’s “Sentimental Journey.” The words do not need to be sung: “Gonna take a sentimental journey / Gonna set my heart at ease …” The trombone stands for a solo. Action is before us all, Marsalis wrote, “with, against, and up against …” We stand on an edge of transformation; pay attention, jazz proclaims.

“Struggle in the Digital Market,” a hot wire in high register, a quickened pulse brought into mid-tones by winds and reeds, still with loosened edges on a shifting margin. In his notes, Marsalis declares that the struggle questions us: “Will we seek and find more equitable, long-term solutions?” There is false ending, a climax and a pause and the audience begins applause. Then a single instrument brings it back, the voice of an individual.

This ending solo by Marsalis is from the middle of the stage, seated as the fourth trumpet, a humble position. His improvisation begins as a scream, returning to the opening movement, but within a framework established in the 2016 premiere in New York City. An improvisation declares a personal freedom, while searching for a common ground with its listeners

This solo will be sustained as a masterpiece of sound and wisdom, built upon the call of an anthem and hints of New Orleans, then upon a subtle bed of strings and a challenging duel with the tambourine. Marsalis sits in his chair, virtually hidden. The bell of his instrument is capped, handheld, opened like a valve.

I interrupt in the spirit of “The Jungle.” Let me be personal.

I have heard the sound of a dying fawn, the cries from deep in her throat, under attack by a neighbor’s dog, just outside our window. I have not heard such a sound since, until Marsalis’ penultimate phrase. I will not forget that sound: Sharp, hard, guttural cries that chill to the bone. Where did this sound come from? Where does it lead?

It leads to an awful silence, Marsalis answered, leaving open the trumpet’s valves — his instrument registering only the sound of his breath. A series of three: Breath. Breath. Breath. And repeat. Again.

Then a long silence, audience composing its witness and standing gratitude.

Dr. Anthony Bannon is a critic who served as a newspaper and magazine journalist and as a director at George Eastman Museum in Rochester, and the Burchfield Penney Art Center at SUNY Buffalo State. His recent book, Portraits: William Coupon, features a commanding image of Maestro Marsalis. A launch and discussion about the book, published by Damiani Editore, will be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 26, at the Burchfield Penney.

Morning panel examining race, culture to conclude Week 9

Panel

A cure to the social and cultural ills of 21st-century American life lies within its people — at least, so says Wynton Marsalis.

The only catch? Each of us has to help find it.

“We’re ultimately responsible for the well-being and vision of our nation,” said Marsalis, a world-renowned trumpeter, composer and the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. “There’s a lot of it to go around. If enough people think there shouldn’t be this type of prison population, there won’t be. If enough people think there shouldn’t be housing discrimination, there won’t be. And no one person is going to decide that.”

At 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, Marsalis will close Week Nine discussions on the state of race and culture in the United States as part of a panel that includes Iliff School of Theology’s Miguel A. De La Torre and Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture Curator of Latinx Studies Ariana A. Curtis. Robert Franklin, president emeritus of Morehouse College and former director of religion at Chautauqua Institution, will moderate.

“With Robert as our guide, we want to unpack Thursday night’s (‘Ever Fonky Lowdown’) performance with Wynton, but also hear reflections on the performance — and the week — from two of our other contributors to the weeklong examination of race and culture in America,” said Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education. “As we close our week, and our summer assembly season, we also want to consider what work and conversations we carry with us as we return to our home communities.”

Marsalis considers the music and tradition of jazz to be inextricably linked with the national conversations on race that have happened throughout U.S. history.

“The music was a cause,” he said. “People like Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, and later Duke Ellington and Fats Waller, that generation of musicians, they knew it was a cause. And the white musicians who played knew it was a cause, too. Bix Beiderbecke knew it was a cause.”

According to Marsalis, early 19th-century jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman was another particularly significant example of a white musician who advocated for racial justice.

In 1936, Goodman hired pianist Teddy Wilson as a member of his group, one of the first times a black musician performed onstage with a white band.

“Even white people had a consciousness about it,” Marsalis said. “Now that’s decreased as the time has passed, because white consciousness has basically gone away in jazz. But it used to be there.”

Nowadays, white jazz musicians don’t advocate enough for racial justice, according to Marsalis.

“Who’s a white jazz musician today that’s really conscious of civil rights and a champion of them like Dave Brubeck was, or Benny Goodman?” he asked. “Name them, and what is their body of work?”

But the real question, the one Marsalis said he’s been asking himself since the 1980s, is why that development has taken place in music that has its own roots in slavery.

“There’s a reality out here of apathy,” he said. “Why? I don’t know. I’m not indicting people because they’re not (a champion of civil rights), I’m just saying there’s a paucity of figures.”

Claims of ownership over jazz — and music in general — are false when they are based on race, Marsalis said.

“Black and white are constructs for America, and we use them because it helps us negotiate what it is,” he said. “But music is beyond that. I would not relegate our racial problems to our music. John Coltrane said that in the book Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music by (Frank) Kofsky. I read that in the ’70s, and I thought, ‘Damn, they put Trane on the cover of this, and he’s refuting the premise of the book.’ ”

For Marsalis, jazz is about joy. about things coming together — a process that he compared to the experience of a kid asking if they can play basketball with local players.

“After you start scoring baskets, (the players) are like, ‘Oh, shit, this is my man,’ ” he said. “Based on your ability to play, now your relationship with them has changed. You don’t even know the guys. Well, there you go, that’s jazz. It’s very natural. Nobody’s hanging up a sign, there’s no philosophers out there. If you know the rules, you can play.”

With ‘Masterworks of Duke Ellington,’ JLCO to explore jazz giant’s oeuvre

082019_JLCOWyntonMarsalis_AW_10
Music Director Wynton Marsalis plays the trumpet alongside the combined Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in playing the National Anthem before playing Marsalis’, “The Jungle,” during the concert on Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019 in the Amphitheater. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Chris Crenshaw began playing the piano at age 3. At age 11, he earned a perfect score on his school’s musical aptitude test, and so was granted the privilege of selecting an instrument of his choice from the array provided by his school’s band program. He settled on the trombone.

“I looked at my long arms and said, ‘I can do that,’ ” Crenshaw said.

Thirteen years later, the trombonist joined the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. In 2007, he received his master’s degree in jazz studies from The Juilliard School.

Crenshaw, along with saxophonist Victor Goines — who first picked up a clarinet as a kind of therapy for his childhood asthma — and the rest of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will perform “Masterworks of Duke Ellington” at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater to conclude Week Nine, “Exploring Race and Culture with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center.”

After a week of “digging into and unpacking deep issues and conversations,” Deborah Sunya Moore, vice president of performing and visual arts, said she is excited for a “celebratory” finale for Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s week at Chautauqua Institution. 

“We planned ‘Masterworks of Duke Ellington’ for Friday evening because we knew it would be a celebratory and joyful way to end the residency,” Moore said. “We wanted to end the conversation with music.”

Although, according to Crenshaw, the orchestra will not have a specific setlist solidified “probably until the night of,” Chautauquans can expect to hear a wide variety of pieces from Ellington’s expansive career — more than 50 years of music covering everything from his early Cotton Club era, to the recordings from the ’40s featuring bassist Jimmy Blanton and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, to 1968’s Grammy Award-winning Far East Suite, an album inspired by a State Department-funded trip to countries in Asia and Eastern Europe. Exploring the span of the composer’s oeuvre material requires agility, Crenshaw said.

“You have to get into different mindsets,” he said. “You have to be prepared for anything.”

For Goines, a composer with more than 50 original works to his credit and a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the Wynton Marsalis Septet since 1993, Ellington “embodies everything that American jazz represents: celebration, swing, the blues, democracy and collaboration inside the music.” 

“There are very few people who have studied (Ellington) as well as we have,” said Goines, who grew up with Jazz at Lincoln Center Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis. “It’s important to keep that thread alive. To be in that legacy is a tremendous opportunity.”

While Goines described Ellington’s work as all “extraordinary masterpieces” that are fulfilling to play, Crenshaw is partial to “The Mooche,” a jazz song that features the atypical “jungle style” that Ellington pioneered. 

“In the ’20s, people heard a lot of hot jazz and sweet jazz,” Crenshaw said. “Duke had a way of combining the two (to develop ‘jungle style’). It was just a different color — Duke was really about colors. He was a painter, after all.”

As the leader of his own quartet, Goines admires Ellington’s democratic approach to producing art. The band was Ellington’s instrument, he noted, yet he gave his musicians the opportunity to impact the music.

“Duke Ellington was the master of originality,” Goines said. “You had to strive for independence and individuality — always be yourself and personalize your part.”

By featuring different members of the band with individual opportunities to ad lib, “Masterworks of Duke Ellington,” is a sparkling salute to a force of American music.

“Everyone will like it,” Crenshaw said. “You get most of what Duke was about, no matter what time period.”

Annual ‘5 Giants’ program to close Oliver Archives Heritage Lecture Series

Giants
BOB AND CAROL REEDER

Chautauquans give back to the Institution in different ways — whether it’s financially, spiritually, emotionally or physically — and each season, five “great Chautauquans” are recognized for their positive impact on the community.

“I think it’s a nice thing to recognize the people who have made a contribution, but also to have a wide range of people who do that recognizing,” said Jon Schmitz, Chautauqua Institution’s archivist and historian. “The people chosen can be living or dead, they can be well-known or unknown — they just have to be perceived by someone to have been making a significant contribution to Chautauqua.”

At 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Schmitz will lead the presentation of “Five More Giants of Chautauqua,” to close out the 2019 season of the Oliver Archives Heritage Lecture Series.

The presentation, now a Chautauqua tradition, started in 2006 when five Chautauquans were each asked to talk about someone they felt made a positive impact on the community.

This year’s outstanding Chautauquans are: Jeffrey Simpson, presented by Sylvia Faust; Norman and Nancy Karp, presented by Suzanne Aldrich; Anna Shaw, presented by Joana Leamon; Mark Russell, presented by Bill Bates; and Bob and Carole Reeder, presented by Robert Selke.

SIMPSON

Simpson, who passed away in August 2018, spent every summer of his life in Chautauqua. He was the author of several books, including his memoir, An American Elegy, a Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selection in 1997, and Chautauqua: An American Utopia, a CLSC selection in 1999.

“Many people buy (Chautauqua: An American Utopia) as an introduction to Chautauqua,” Schmitz said. “(Simpson) represents a period of Chautauqua’s history, so when he died, it was significant. It was like a passing of an era for many of us, so I think it’s important that we remember him.”

Simpson’s involvement in Chautauqua ranged from being a member of the CLSC Class of 1974, an honoree of the CLSC Class of 2009; serving on the Institution’s board of trustees; the program committee; education and youth recreation committee; and the marketing and planning committee.

“I hope the attendees will come away with an appreciation of his influence in reporting the history of Chautauqua,” Faust said.

NORMAN & NANCY KARP

Nancy and Norman Karp have been very active in the Chautauqua community through the Bird, Tree & Garden Club, PFLAG and CLSC. The Karps are year-round Chautauquans who have also been instrumental in maintaining a year-round readers program.

“I think there are a lot of individuals who quietly contribute to Chautauqua; (the Karps) do it quietly without a lot of fanfare, but are definitely a real core of the success to Chautauqua,” Aldrich said. “We know about the important folks, but the day-to-day, year-to-year works sometimes don’t show.”

The Karps donated furniture to the Smith Memorial Library, a place in which they spend lots of time through the year, as they thought Chautauquans could benefit from more seating and created a space to make people feel more welcome when they get there.

Shaw was a leader in the women’s suffrage movement and one of the first ordained female Methodist ministers in the United States.

SHAW

Schmitz believes that Shaw is the most important suffragette at Chautauqua, even though she is often forgotten, and emphasized the importance of remembering her — especially with the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment approaching next year.

“Shaw’s exceptional oratory has endeared her to us as a teaching institution,” Leamon said. “Her regular visits to the several Chautauquas around the nation was an important part of the Suffrage Movement and should be celebrated.”

Russell, American political satirist and comedian, who is best known for his parody music, concluded his 60-year career in 2010 with a performance at “one of his favorite venues”: the Chautauqua Amphitheater.

Schmitz, whose family loves Russell, said the star has been “extremely involved” in Chautauqua over the years, and while Russell has been featured in the Heritage Lecture Series before, Schmitz said his contributions made him well worth another highlight.

Both Bob and Carole Reeder have been involved in various Chautauqua-based organizations, with their main focus being the PFLAG group; though Bob passed away in July 2018, Carole remains active in the Chautauqua community. More than their physical involvement on the grounds, Schmitz said the couple will be remembered for being “genuinely kind” people. Schmitz recalled Bob’s generosity in particular, such as when he framed archival material for Schmitz to assist in preserving it for future Chautauquans. 

RUSSELL

“(Bob) always insisted on doing it for free, even though I tried to convince him to at least let us buy supplies or materials,” Schmitz said. “He did an excellent job framing things in a way that they would be protected.”

Schmitz experienced the couple’s collective generosity himself before he even became an Institution employee. Schmitz said the Reeders opened their home for him during his Chautauqua interview process.

Selke, who has worked with the Reeders within PFLAG, is excited to pay tribute to some “wonderful Chautauquans,” who he feels lucky to be able to call his friends.   

“There are people that really put their heart and soul into this Institution — either financially or emotionally or work-wise,” Selke said. “For the Reeders, it was work. They always had their door open. Carole has this thing, if you go by (her house) she bakes chocolate chip cookies every day and leaves her door open. So I lived in a house in Wahmeda and we would walk by her house every day.”

According to Selke, these “five giants” embody some of the best ways to give back to the Chautauqua community and create friendships with the people one will, hopefully, spend summers with for the “rest of their lives.” And Schmitz said that is exactly why the presentation is a perfect fit for the end of the season.

“It’s nice to be able to thank everybody,  recognize a few people, and I know a lot of people appreciate it,” Schmitz said. “I think it’s a good way of ending it.”

In final Interfaith Friday, Candler to bring liberal Christian perspective

Candler_Samuel_082319

The Very Rev. Samuel Candler is contemplative.

“I appreciate the presence of God in silence and in the outdoors,” said Candler, a lecturer and the dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. “I grew up on a farm, so I still appreciate being outside. To me, there’s something about the early morning darkness that speaks of God’s power.”

And God’s power is exactly what Candler will speak on today.

At 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Candler will conclude Chautauqua’s Interfaith Friday lecture series with another unique Christian perspective on the problem of evil in religion. Candler will be joined in conversation by the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Chautauqua’s vice president of religion and senior pastor.

“It’s a familiar problem,” Candler said. “And it gives me a chance to collect one of my most provocative talks on that subject.”

Candler has included his liberal view on Christianity and his sense of optimism in lectures all over the world, including in England, Costa Rica and Canada.
“A lot of times, people want to hear from a different culture,” he said. “There are a lot of different attitudes towards the United States these days, so I consider myself a spokesperson for the progressive Episcopal Church.”

One message Candler champions in his preaching and lecturing is the importance of interfaith relationships.

“I enjoy interfaith relationships,” he said. “I believe the future of spirituality is to understand and to appreciate different faith traditions.”

Along those lines, Candler is a member of The Faith Alliance, the interfaith network of the City of Atlanta.

“That group was especially active after 9/11,” he said. “It was important for people from different faith traditions to appreciate each other, especially during accusations of violence. We went on some trips with Christians, Jews and Muslims together: 10 Christians, 10 Jews and 10 Muslims living and traveling with each other.”

Candler said that those relationships are critically important “to understand people and to understand people’s sense of faith, so that when issues come up, we have a sense of something in common — as opposed to antagonism.”

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis to Present Second-Ever Performance of ‘Ever Fonky Lowdown’

082019_JLCOWyntonMarsalis_AW_09
Music Director Wynton Marsalis, center, plays the trumpet alongside the combined Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in playing the National Anthem before playing Marsalis’, “The Jungle,” during the concert on Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019 in the Amphitheater. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

 

Pierce

To Wynton Marsalis, playing jazz is like playing basketball: Anyone can put the ball through the net if they work at it, the same way anyone can solo over a blues progression so long as they practice their scales.

These pursuits don’t belong to any single person or group; the only barriers to entry are the ones people put on themselves.

“You say, ‘Hey, man, can I play with y’all?’ ” said Marsalis, an American trumpeter, composer, educator and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. “You see people with a ball standing around, but you don’t know them. But you want to play. So you ask them if you can, and after you play, they try to assess: Can you play?”

Marsalis’ comparison of an art form to a game is one he returns to in his full-length composition, “The Ever Fonky Lowdown,” which had its world premiere at Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2018.

At 8:15 p.m. Thursday, August 22 in the Amphitheater, Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will perform “Ever Fonky” for the second time ever, as part of the Week Nine theme “Exploring Race and Culture in America with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center.”

“(‘Ever Fonky’) features four soloists and a spoken word portion by Wendell Pierce, the actor,” said Damien Sneed, a pianist, organist and conductor who worked with Marsalis on the piece. “It has three female soloists: Camille Thurman, a young singer named Ashley Pezzotti and Christie Dashiell, who was featured on the NBC television show, ‘The Sing-Off.’ ”

Pierce will play a character named Mr. Game, a musical master of ceremonies and self-described hustler, who serves as one of the vehicles for Marsalis’ critiques on culture and society.

While not performing in the piece himself, Sneed said he has helped Marsalis as a coach for the “Ever Fonky” vocalists.

“It’s very interesting because the fourth soloist is the guitarist, Doug Wamble,” Sneed said. “So he’ll be singing some of the songs, like ‘I Wants My Ice Cream.’ (‘Ever Fonky’) deals with a lot of issues that people don’t talk about, such as not liking people who are fat or black or Jewish. The words in the libretto could be considered politically incorrect.”

The work is a continuation of a decades-long tradition by Marsalis to compose pieces that deal with issues like race, democracy and social consciousness.

“Each time it’s a different configuration or theme,” Marsalis said. “ ‘The Ever Fonky Lowdown’ uses an abstract version of the language from my album Black Codes. It’s a kind of funk baseline, something that uses funk principles, with really abstract melodic language on top of it.”

Marsalis said he looks to his past compositions, like his Pulitzer Prize-winning jazz oratorio Blood on the Fields, in order to find inspiration for his newer works.

A major theme in “Ever Fonky” is the rejection of pinning all of society’s ills on one group or person.

“Why does (President Donald Trump) come to make the whole trajectory of a nation different?” Marsalis asked. “We were better before him. All the problems we see — the housing problem, the segregation of our schools, Bush’s technological eavesdropping, which Obama maintained — they don’t have anything to do with Trump.”

Marsalis said “Ever Fonky” — which will also feature dancers Ian Klein, James Cabrera and Muata Langley — is highly complex.

“It’s by design that it’s like that,” he said. “I have a bunch of postcards that I put the (opera) on, like 70 of them. It’s still a little long, but I don’t know what to cut. I went through it time after time — I was looking at the chords last night. Even the notes I have for it are extensive.”

Marsalis said he “doesn’t know if (Chautauquans) will learn anything” from “Ever Fonky,” but that he’d like to provoke them to “think that we have to participate in the future of our country.”

“It’s going to cost us,” he said. “It won’t be free. It won’t just be getting online. It’s going to cost something.”

In Final 2019 CLSC Lecture, Poet Laureate Joy Harjo Finds Poetry in Grief

Harjo_Joy

Harjo

Atom Atkinson, director of literary arts, invited poet Joy Harjo to speak at Chautauqua Institution long before Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden appointed the award-winning writer and musician to the United States’ 23rd Poet Laureateship, a role that counts Louise Glück, Natasha Trethewey and Tracy K. Smith among its alumni. All Atkinson knew was that the collection on which they had asked Harjo to speak — Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings — was “extraordinary.”

“She is considered by many to be the greatest living Native American poet,” Atkinson said. “We can look to the recent anthology, New Poets of Native Nations, which takes as part of its framework (the question), ‘Who are the poets who came of age and started publishing after (Sherman) Alexie and Harjo?’ as evidence of that (belief).”

Harjo, who is of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation, is the first Native American to serve as U.S. Poet Laureate. She will commence her official consultant duties in the fall, marking the beginning of the Library’s annual literary season with a reading in the Coolidge Auditorium in Washington, D.C., four weeks after closing the CLSC’s 2019 programming with a reading from Conflict Resolution, her 10th collection.

As the final CLSC author of the 2019 season, Harjo concludes a season of “Collaborations” at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, August 22 in the Hall of Philosophy. Inside a final week interrogating the intersections of race and culture, led by Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center, Harjo — who is herself a vocalist and saxophonist who has toured with the Arrow Dynamics and Poetic Justice bands — reminds the American public of the crucial role that Native Americans play in the history of jazz.

“I think it’s exciting any time you are able to hear from a U.S. Poet Laureate in person,” Atkinson said. “But (the collection and the week’s theme) have come together to make it a triply exciting occasion. The very best part of all is that living at the center is a poetry collection that I would recommend any Chautauquan to read, regardless of CLSC selection.”

Stephine Hunt, manager of the CLSC Octagon and one of the leaders of this week’s Brown Bag conversation on Conflict Resolution, has read the collection twice, most recently in a one-hour sitting before Monday’s discussion on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall. She described the book as a convergence of poem, song and prayer — a slim book that “isn’t dense” but still encompasses everything from a “strange pastiche of hurt and rain” to an island “formed / from desire and fire.”

Divided into four parts — a number with sacred significance for the Mvskoke/Creek Nation, Hunt noted — Conflict Resolution subverts popularly held conceptions of jazz and the blues, considering the latter as both a genre and a color reclaiming the synergistic relationship between song and poetry.

“Traditionally, poetry and the performance and production of poetry was musical,” Hunt said. “(Harjo) challenges those connections by adding an indigenous element; she strays away from Western canonical notions of poetry, and reshapes it through conversations about indigenous ceremonial pieces and through indigenous structures and lyricism.”

In the poem, “In Mystic,” Harjo writes, “There is still burning though we live in a democracy erected over the burial ground. / This was given to me to speak. / Every poem is an effort at ceremony.” It is within this effort that Hunt finds a “stunning” intertwined history of the human and more-than-human world.

“There’s a very prominent line of conversation and thought (in Conflict Resolution) that’s addressing the idea of coming home and finding home both spiritually in the soul, in yourself and as an indigenous person who’s been displaced from her homeland … through physical displacement or, historically, through genocide,” Hunt said. “So what does that mean to come home, to seek a home if it may no longer exist in some capacity? That (idea) is just peppered throughout this collection.”

The collection’s title piece advises readers to remain connected to ceremony and to home, and to avoid enacting violence on the world and the beings who inhabit it.

“(Harjo) is really saying that the resolution for these human conflicts, and conflicts beyond the human, is to listen and to listen broadly,” Hunt said.

Like Atkinson, Hunt hopes that one day, Harjo’s band will play the Amphitheater stage.

“If you ever get the chance to listen to some of her music on YouTube, do,” she said. “It’s worth it. There’s a small part of me that really hopes she brings her saxophone.”

Bird Runningwater Spotlights Importance of Indigenous Filmmakers and Stories

082119_Bird_Runningwater_DM_01
Bird Runningwater, director of the Sundance Institute Indigenous Program, delivers his lecture “Indigenous Perspectives on Cinema” Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019 in the Amp. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

As director of Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program, N. Bird Runningwater travels the world in order to amplify indigenous stories. Ultimately, he wants all Americans to see these stories on their movie screens, as well as in their textbooks.

“I really feel like there’s still a lot of history, a lot of wisdom, a lot of culture and a lot of perspective — especially from those of us coming from matrilineal, matriarchal societies — that can contribute to the learning and ongoing development of our country and society,” Runningwater said.

At 10:45 a.m. on Wednesday in the Amphitheater, Runningwater gave his lecture on “Indigenous Perspectives on Cinema” as part of Week Nine, “Exploring Race and Culture with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center.”

“At this point, what I call my life’s work has been dedicated towards really dismantling this notion of invisibility that we, as indigenous people to North America, seem to exist within in our larger American media and popular culture system,” he said.

His work has also been dedicated to exploring representation, but also “dismantling the history of misrepresentation.”

Before introducing Chautauquans to generations of indigenous filmmakers and artists, Runningwater began his lecture with a background of his ancestry, with a geographic range that spans the entirety of North America.

On his father’s side, Runningwater’s Chiricahua great-grandfather was born as a prisoner of war in Vernon, Alabama. Upon release in 1930, the Chiricahua were told they could share land with the Mescaleros in New Mexico, but they could not return to their ancestral land. In a similar vein, Runningwater’s maternal great-great-grandmother, White Buffalo Woman, was forcibly relocated from Colorado to the Cheyenne land in Oklahoma.

Runningwater was raised on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico, and grew up speaking Cheyenne and Apache. Recently he returned, for a 12-day, coming-of-age ceremony, to sing young women into womanhood.

“We sing all of our songs going back to the creation of the universe and the Earth from the Apache perspective, going back to our first person who was created, … White Painted Woman,” he said. “These young women basically reenact her life, and they’re given that honorary title during that ceremony.”

According to Apache belief, White Painted Woman’s two twin sons told the Apache to migrate south from Alaska, to where the tribe settled near the present-day U.S.-Mexico border.

“I think under today’s immigration policies, we probably wouldn’t be let into the country, even though it’s our own land,” he said.

Unfortunately, Runningwater said that this Apache story is not communicated in American education systems or in cinematic history.

Runningwater’s desire to communicate indigenous stories is shared with his boss and Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford, who purchased the land in Utah that would later host the Sundance Resort after he was asked to audition for a Native American television role.

“(Redford) was particularly appalled by that, and so it kind of led him on a personal quest,” Runningwater said.

Redford began inviting Native filmmakers, writers, directors and actors to meet and discuss filmmaking. Together, with Chris Spotted Eagle and Larry Littlebird, among other collaborators, the Sundance Institute was born.

For the first 20 years, Runningwater said Sundance struggled to gain traction with indigenous work.

“It was around 1992 when they finally brought on Native staffers who had relationships with Native communities to carry out the work,” he said. “That’s when it really took off with creating very specific workshops and labs to support Native filmmakers.”

Now, Sundance has cultivated four “generations” of Native filmmakers.

The first generation, which includes Spotted Eagle and Littlebird, largely focused on documentaries because filmmakers could secure funding from the Public Broadcasting Service and other organizations.

“They all had aspirations to eventually work in fiction film,” Runningwater said. “Of all these people, only one, Merata Mita from New Zealand … she’s the only Māori woman in New Zealand to direct a dramatic feature film.”

The second generation of Native filmmakers saw more fiction films, such as “Grand Avenue” by Greg Sarris and “Smoke Signals” by Sherman Alexie and Chris Eyre. The latter’s script was rejected six times before Sundance finally agreed to film and finance the project. “Smoke Signals” went on to become the second-highest-grossing independent film of 1998, and won the Filmmaker’s Trophy and Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival.

“Smoke Signals” served as a major inspiration for the third generation of Native filmmakers. As members of this third generation began their filmmaking journeys, Runningwater joined Sundance and broadened the Indigenous Program to support more filmmakers from around the world.

Two notable filmmakers from this third generation are Seminole-Mvskoke director Sterlin Harjo, who directed “Four Sheets of the Wind” and “Barking Water,” and Māori director Taika Waititi from New Zealand, who directed “Eagle vs Shark” and “Boy” before being tapped by Marvel Studios to direct “Thor: Ragnarok” in 2017.

“These two scenarios are ideal for us in terms of our position as filmmakers,” Runningwater said. “We can identify them at the short film stage, give them an interesting script, put them through the Sundance writer’s lab incubation process, spit them out the other end with a feature film and then, ideally, the industry would take notice.”

Another example from the third generation is Sydney Freeland, a Navajo, or Diné, trans woman who directed “Drunktown’s Finest” and recently directed episodes of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.”

“That’s a major accomplishment, I think, to have a Navajo director have two prime time episodes of episodic TV on a major network,” he said.

The fourth generation of Native filmmakers has been focusing on short-form content and has pushed Sundance to explore immersive media projects, including virtual reality storytelling.

“They’ve grown up with technology, but they’re also balancing a commitment to their culture, a commitment to language, but also a commitment to technology,” Runningwater said. “They’re really unlike any generation, I think, that has come about, so we’ve really been able to create some great work.”

The fourth generation is also the first, Runningwater said, to predominantly feature women.

Among these female filmmakers are Amanda Kernell, a Southern Sami director from Sweden; Peshawn Bread, a Comanche director who is currently working on a film about a Native dominatrix; and Ciara Lacy, a Native Hawaiian director whose documentary “Out of State” examines how Native Hawaiians have reconnected with their culture while in prison in Arizona.

While Sundance has helped foster greater indigenous representation in film, Runningwater said there is still a long way to go to combat a canon of misrepresentative cinema.

“Our indigenous filmmakers carry much more of a burden than other filmmakers do, because we have 100-plus years worth of cinema that we have to deconstruct in our work,” he said. “But then we also have to create something authentic and innovative and new.”

According to a study conducted by IllumiNatives, a nonprofit dedicated to authentic depictions of Native communities in popular culture, between 0% and 0.4% of all characters in prime time television are Native American. Furthermore, 87% of state-level history education standards fail to cover Native people in a post-1900 context. 

“So basically, we’re erased from history books, and we’re also erased from the screens,” Runningwater said. “I fan the flames of creativity, and I’m cheerleading and encouraging our young talent to keep going and fighting against the system, (so they know) there are these opportunities that they can really create something new and help contribute to the cultural fabric of this country.”

Another challenge for Native filmmakers, he said, is convincing film distributors that there is an audience interested in Native stories.

“A lot of times they’re part of those people who have come from this education process where we haven’t been represented, and so they look at an indigenous film and are at a complete loss,” Runningwater said.

Fortunately, Runningwater said digital platforms like Netflix have helped Native filmmakers somewhat circumvent this hurdle. Additionally, Runningwater was recently invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; in the role, he would be granted an Oscars voting position, as well as a voice in the nomination process.

“I think I’ve had seven filmmakers that have come through my program that have also been invited to join the Academy, so the steps are incremental,” he said. “They’re small, but we’re all on the same page. It’s kind of a given value that so many of our indigenous filmmakers, not only in the United States, … continue to fight to be represented in our own countries.”

The Rev. williams Talks Myth of Race and ‘Social Madness’ of Whiteness

082019_RevAngelKyodoWilliams_SY_01
Author, teacher and founder of Center for Transformative Change Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams speaks about how culture and a social construct uphold racism in America as part of Week Nine’s Interfaith Lecture theme of “Exploring Race, Religion, and Culture” Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019 at the Hall of Philosophy. SARAH YENESEL/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“This is at least 2.0, if not Advanced Placement,” said the Rev. angel Kyodo williams, prefacing her afternoon discussion on the intersection of race, religion, history and culture.

A multiracial, black and queer Zen Buddhist teacher, williams delivered her lecture, “Race in America: Myths, Madness, Redemption & Belonging,” at 2 p.m. Tuesday, August 20 in the Hall of Philosophy, continuing Week Nine’s Interfaith Lecture Series, “Exploring Race, Religion, and Culture.”

“We often think about race and racial justice in terms of the law and … advocacy,” williams said. “But we all know that, actually, human beings don’t shift so much around the law as we do around hearts and minds. We have never had a conversation about race in America; we’ve had a lot of talking at it, we’ve had a lot of talking about it. … A conversation is where hearts and minds get changed.”

Heralded as “the most intriguing African American Buddhist” by Library Journal and “one of our wisest voices on social evolution” by “On Being with Krista Tippett,” williams has been transforming society through transforming individuals’ inner lives for over 20 years.

“Love and justice are not two,” williams said. “Without inner change, there can be no outer change. Without collective change, no change matters.”

America, williams said, rests upon myths deeply embedded in institutions, which leave out marginalized people who — metaphorically and physically — built this nation.

“We leave these people out of our history, and so we are left with the myth of an America that is and has been founded upon meritocracy,” she said. “The myth of our country is a country that has come about as a result of meritocracy, the hard work of people — a limited number of people — most often defined and relegated to a small corner of heterosexual, white, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon males.”

With a nearly 400-year history of oppression in this country, williams said that these myths are blindly supporting ideas of opportunistic nationalism and freedom in the United States. This renders people confused and dazed by ignorance, she said, wondering: “What is wrong with people that are not able to take advantage of those opportunities?”

However, the metaphorical “race” — as williams put it — was never equal. People who are slow to cross the finish line are deemed incapable, ill-equipped and untalented; conversely, those who win the race, are dubbed talented and “endowed with great capacity,” she said.

“We have this enormous gap, not just in our sense of a race divide, but actually in our imagination of who each other are and what it is we are capable of — no one acknowledging the fact that, actually, the race began and the firing gun went off and a certain set of people were allowed to run and run, and run further,” williams said. “But before they were allowed to run and run further, they tied up the other folks. … They got to tie them up first, bind them, leave them behind the finish line and start running — 200 years, give or take.”

The result is a narrowed view of the “fruits of the meritocracy”; the success of some is to the detriment of others, she said. This is now imprinted in American culture, and “culture is not so easily unsettled,” she said.

The remnants are left in U.S. institutions like the justice system and even the U.S. Constitution, which intended to exclude women, people of color and immigrants — nearly 30% of Tuesday’s Hall of Philosophy attendees, she argued.

“(The Constitution) certainly didn’t intend for us to be in this space together,” she told the crowd. “And it certainly, certainly didn’t intend for me to be up here in front of you. We continue to reference this document and pin all our hopes and prayers, our sense of possibility and potential, on a document and the system and the myths, as if that does not … degrade us.”

Such a circular approach created a sense of madness for williams — that she continues to participate and pin her hopes and optimism in a system set out to belittle nearly 50% of the population. Such a system positions “whiteness” as the “height of human achievement,” she said — an unscientifically supported claim that has indoctrinated a population.

“It has created, for my white siblings, a reduced inability … and induced them into a kind of social madness, so that we’re not able to actually see and recognize that the brokenness in our society is — and not primarily a brokenness that affects people of color — a brokenness that affects all of us. … This is a large-scale social illness that has kept us from each other and kept us from being able to recognize and relate to each other with a … capacity for humanity that is our birthright.”

Comparing this phenomenon to taking a pill that would remove all feelings of empathy, compassion and humanity, williams said that “pill” has been passed on for generations, and such emotions are now obsolete. The pill has been so prolific, she said, that society can’t remember when it was “seduced” into the idea of whiteness.

“We no longer recognize, even though it’s written in the history books, the ways that laws were set up to induce us and participate in a system of enslaving human beings and treating them as property to be traded like currency,” she said. “We no longer, therefore, recognize that we have reduced our collective humanity to a system, to an idea, to a myth, that exists for no other reason but for profit or gain.”

But dismantling these myths is greater than tackling racism — it’s about attacking a culture rooted in celebrating whiteness, she said. Above the scholarly works, historical evidence, media, lectures and seminars, williams said the answer is an internal conversation.

“If we’ve been seduced into an idea of who we are …  or who we are not, I don’t know how it would be possible to be the fullest expression of ourselves or step into the fullest expression of our humanity, if we don’t actually know who we are,” she said. “If we’re happy with the pill that has induced us into this myth, then we should just carry on. But if we’re just a little bit curious as to what it would be like to not have the myth of race obscuring our vision, our sense of possibility, our sense of promise, … then we owe it ourselves to ask these questions, be in these conversations and redeem ourselves and generations behind us.”
1 2 3 57
Page 1 of 57