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Pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk opens the CSO season with Tchaikovsky

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Anyone lucky enough to wander into Alexander Gavrylyuk’s studio while he’s practicing might be surprised to find Tolstoy instead of Tchaikovsky on the music rack.

As a young student, Gavrylyuk quickly got bored with technical etudes. To keep himself at the piano, he set his mind to work on Dostoevsky and Chekhov while his hands worked on scales and arpeggios.

Gavrylyuk continues this habit not for entertainment, but to train his mind for performance.

“When I’m practicing, I do other things,” Gavrylyuk said. “So my mind is divided in two.”

Gavrylyuk will join the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra as it opens its 89th season with a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 at 8:15 p.m. Thursday in the Amphitheater.

Keeping his mind separate from the physical and emotional aspects of playing is central to Gavrylyuk’s performance philosophy. While the Tchaikovsky concerto requires amazing feats of physical endurance — the first movement alone is roughly 20 minutes of fast octaves in opposing directions, massive chords, and rapid arpeggios — Gavrylyuk said physical ability is just one dimension of performing any piece.

Performance, according to Gavrylyuk, requires a careful equilibrium of mind, body and emotion.

“You have to have a very cold mind that’s never taken by the fire coming from your soul, to control it all and keep this balance,” Gavrylyuk said.

The body, of course, has to be healthy and strong enough to “produce the physical side of actually playing.”

What Gavrylyuk refers to as “the drive” comes from the emotional content of the music.

“And then the body has to cope with that,” Gavrylyuk said. “That’s why you practice.”

CSO Music Director Rossen Milanov said the concerto’s physicality is one reason it’s so popular with orchestra audiences.

“It’s one of those pieces that puts the soloist in the position of being like a superhuman who can display an enormous amount of virtuosity,” Milanov said.

The piano’s bombastic opening chords across the range of the keyboard set a precedent for a level of playing in the piece that Milanov described as Titan-like.

But that’s not to say the concerto is all muscle. People familiar with Tchaikovsky’s ballet music might recognize his signature lyricism and lightness.

“The melodies are so beautiful and so catchy,” Gavrylyuk said. “It will touch people who are music connoisseurs, and it will also touch people who have no idea about music.”

There’s also something voyeuristic about the concerto’s appeal. Speculation about aspects of Tchaikovsky’s turbulent and troubled life, including anxiety and repressed homosexuality, raise parallels in the music. The music’s winding path from dark, minor keys to a triumphant, major apotheosis is an attractive metaphor for overcoming life’s challenges.

“You have to have a very cold mind that’s never taken by the fire coming from your soul, to control it all and keep this balance,”Alexander Gavrylyuk said.

“That’s the point, I think. It’s a B-flat minor concerto which results in a B-flat major concerto. The reality of life is B-flat minor,” Gavrylyuk said. “But, what am I going to make out of it?”

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, which makes up the second half of Thursday’s concert, follows a similar recipe. Milanov is skeptical about how much meaning should be derived from what amounts to a common musical device.

“He’s not the only one who does that,” Milanov said. “Pick any big symphony that starts in minor, and chances are it’s going to end in major.”

If Tchaikovsky’s music hints at the life of a troubled genius, Milanov said such clues carry more weight in his later works.

“He was not afraid to give us a peek into his emotional richness,” Milanov said. “But whether there’s anything more personal than that, as far as his sexual orientation, I’m not entirely sure it would be displayed in this piece. This was 1876.”

Tchaikovsky certainly wrote music of his own time, though not always of his own culture. According to Milanov, the first movement of the symphony adopts some techniques from German opera, like using a memorable snippet of music to symbolize a character or concept. In this case, the ominous horn call that opens the symphony becomes a recurring stand-in for fate itself.

“The way Tchaikovsky does it here is similar to what Berlioz did in his Symphonie Fantastique, or what Liszt would do, or certainly what Wagner would do with his leitmotifs,” Milanov said.

Yet, the rest of the symphony is quintessentially Russian. The scherzo movement is an almost Mahler-esque collage of clippings from Tchaikovsky’s native folklore.

“There are all of these kaleidoscopic themes passing by,” Milanov said. “At one point you’ll hear a little marching band, and then a shepherd playing a happy melody at the middle, and then there’s the piccolo who’s kind of a show-off peasant playing his flute.”

The string players play the entire third movement without using their bows. Instead, they pluck the strings, “sort of like a big balalaika orchestra,” Milanov said, referring to a traditional Russian string instrument resembling a triangular guitar.

Tchaikovsky, whether out of musical obligation or a desire to communicate something deeper, ends both the piano concerto and the symphony with a triumphant bang. But his personal struggle with fate is never far.

“That’s often the case with Tchaikovsky,” Gavrylyuk said. “He’s always searching for that resolution, for the exit.”

IBM’s Lisa DeLuca Discusses Her 600 Patents, The Process of Invention and Fly Fishing

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Growing up in Montana, Lisa DeLuca spent her days playing in the backyard with her siblings, where they “had to use (their) own imaginations to bring (their) toys to life.”

Now, years later, DeLuca is IBM’s most prolific female inventor and has close to 600 patents to her name. But that childhood drive to turn her imagination into reality has continued unabated.

Speaking Wednesday morning in the Amphitheater, DeLuca explored the nuances of her life as an inventor. During the “nights and weekends” when she’s not doing her day job as a software engineer, she finds that inventing — which she views as “more of a hobby” — is “a great way for (her) to escape.”

In that way, it is much like another hobby she grew up with.

“I’m going to compare inventing to fly fishing,” DeLuca said, introducing an extended metaphor that would serve as the through-line for the rest her lecture.

“Just like fly fishing, being an inventor takes some skill,” DeLuca said. “If you’ve ever seen an experienced fly fisherman, it’s almost like watching art. … And a lot of inventing is that way. As you do it, the more you do it, the more you recognize the little things that can make you successful.”

In that regard, inventing is just as much a skill as fly fishing. And as with any skill, one’s talent speaks for itself.

“The only thing that matters is your idea,” DeLuca said. “And all of those ideas, there’s no biases about who you are; that idea has to stand on its own.”

Recounting an early fly fishing experience with her siblings right after finishing college, DeLuca described how her older brother asked her to collect insects in the area around the river. He then chose which fishing fly to use based on what the real flies in the area looked like, knowing that this was what would attract the local fish.

“If it were me starting out, I would’ve grabbed the hot pink fly with the feathers on it … not realizing that comparing the bugs to the fly was an opportunity for success,” DeLuca said.

In much the same way, she has found learning from others to be a massive help in the inventing process, “building off existing technologies” just as she built off her brother’s fishing expertise. Describing an invention she developed after getting annoyed when house guests kept asking her for the Wi-Fi password, she noted that all the technologies involved in her social media-based solution already existed. Though the idea was novel, it still built off of the work of those who’d come before her.

But friends don’t just create the problems for which DeLuca innovates solutions; they are also a vital part of her creative process.

“Of my 600 inventions, I’d say less than 10 percent of them are (made) alone,” DeLuca said.

Just like a fly fisher sometimes requires a partner to steer the boat while they cast their line, DeLuca likes to “share (her ideas) with other people” to improve on them and generate more.

DeLuca also emphasized the importance of mentorship in all areas of life. From her father teaching her which rocks the fish tended to congregate behind, to more experienced people in her profession helping her not make the same mistakes they did, “it’s really important to have a mentor.”

In a similar vein, she noted the importance of developing expertise and “inventing around the topics that you’re familiar with.” For instance, her background in software engineering enabled many of her inventions, including location-based push notifications and dynamic taxi ads that change based on the direction from which they’re viewed.

But the invention process is not just success after success; DeLuca has faced her share of roadblocks, too. Like a fishing trip that gets rained on or fish that just aren’t biting, inventing can be “frustrating” — especially for DeLuca, a self-described “impatient patient person.”

“That’s probably why I’m so prolific with my inventing,” she said.

It takes upward of four years to get an individual invention approved by IBM and then protected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, so DeLuca likes “to have ideas at all the different phases of the inventing pipeline, so that (she doesn’t) get so concerned about the fact that it’s not moving as fast as (she wishes) it was.”

Getting an invention proposal approved by the IBM review board is a game of give and take, like trying to reel in a fish without either yanking out the hook or letting the catch get away. Sometimes it ends in disappointment, with a rejected idea or one that someone else has already gotten. But successful or not, “every new idea becomes a story that (DeLuca) can share with other people” and that “makes (her) unique.”

Sometimes, DeLuca has circumvented that process and gotten patents on her own. An idea for venue seating priced proportionally to time spent in the seat (inspired by nosebleed seats at a baseball game) initially got rejected by the Patent Office. But after talking it over with the examiner and resolving issues with the application, she got the concept approved — all without the help of IBM, or even a lawyer.

“I really encourage everybody to pursue your ideas,” DeLuca said. “Go do them, and share them with other people.”

That advice is not just for adults. Referring to her own children, two sets of twins, DeLuca said that she and her husband are “always trying to encourage them to learn new technologies and play with things because it’s all about getting your hands dirty.”

Daniel Bergner to share journey of opera singer Ryan Speedo Green with CLSC presentation on ‘Sing for Your Life’

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Amid discussions of virtual reality, moonshots and the future of design and technology, Daniel Bergner’s book Sing for Your Life: A Story of Race, Music, and Family may seem like an odd choice for Week One’s theme of “Invention” at Chautauqua Institution.

It tracks the meteoric rise of singer Ryan Speedo Green, who went from juvenile detention to opera stardom.

But Sherra Babcock, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, said it offers a different window into the theme of the week: it’s a book about reinvention.

Sing for Your Life is the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selection for Week One, and Bergner will discuss his work at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the Hall of Philosophy for Week One’s CLSC Roundtable.

Babcock said Sing for Your Life speaks to the message of Chautauqua and the role art can play in transforming a life.

“This is a warm book, and it’s an inspirational book,” Babcock said. “It’s a book that says, ‘It’s not too late.’ ”

In 2010, Bergner, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, was covering the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, which are meant to discover and develop young opera singers. He followed the early rounds of the competition across the country. When the semifinalists arrived in New York, he met Green for the first time.

Green was one of the five winners of the auditions.

“Within weeks, I began to think there was a lot more here than could fit into the long magazine story that I was going to write,” Bergner said.

Bergner said Green initially wanted little to do with him, and didn’t think he had a story to tell.

Green grew up in Suffolk, Virginia, and had a complicated and often troubled home life. He was sent to juvenile detention when he was 12 after threatening to stab his mother and brother, and was placed in solitary confinement.

Green was reluctant to talk about his past at first, Bergner said, but the two got to know each other slowly and built a sense of trust.

Bergner described this hesitancy on Green’s part in Sing for Your Life.

“The best way to move forward was to focus forward,” Bergner wrote. “The benefit of looking away from the past was that you were less likely to repeat it, less likely to be tricked — and trapped — by it. … (There) were plenty of moments when he seemed to say, ‘I don’t want to take this risk. I can’t afford to.’ ”

Once their rapport was established, Bergner followed Green for almost a year. He interviewed Green and observed his voice lessons. Bergner also made trips to southeastern Virginia to meet figures from Green’s past: family members, friends, teachers — everyone he could find along the way who could provide insights into his journey.

Bergner also had a moment of “sheer luck,” he said, when he received a record of Green’s time in juvenile detention. He said it helped him understand what it was like for Green to be a 12-year-old in such an intense situation.

Completing the book was a long haul, Bergner said, especially considering the timeframe. He started following the opera contest in 2010 and turned the book in at the end of 2015.

Green’s reaction to the book was worth it, though. When Bergner handed over an early set of page proofs, he said Green only took issue with “maybe five words” of the story.

“Otherwise, he felt that I’d captured his story,” Bergner said. “When you’re working that closely with the person you’re writing the story about, there’s hardly a better feeling than the sense — his sense — that I’d been faithful to the essence of his journey.”

Part of that journey, for Bergner, was the way his understanding of Green deepened as they worked together.

“The person I first got to know was radiant,” Bergner said. “Literally that. It wasn’t so much that my present-tense perception of Ryan changed. It was that I had this infinite question to answer, which was: how had he traveled from the person he’d been at 12 — taken away in shackles — to the person I was seeing and hearing, and the person who continued to grow as an artist over the time I knew him and was preparing to write the book?”

In a time when the role of art is being questioned, criticized and devalued — an example being the Trump administration’s March proposal to eliminate all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts — Bergner said that Green’s story is “relevant and powerful” because it represents an intersection of art and race. He said these issues are “at the heart of the book.”

“It’s about breaking boundaries, it’s about recasting expectations, it’s about changing the way we think about identity. The intensity of the racial aspects of Ryan’s story were a big part of making me want to put myself at his side for five years and write this book.”

Bergner said he was also drawn to the way that Bergner carved out a place in the world of opera and within the Met, creating a new home for himself.

“That’s no easy task,” Bergner said. “That’s a very demanding world.”

Bergner said that opera is an “exacting” art form, but he was impressed by the way Green was able to become a part of the community.

“He managed, in that intense world of art, to create a circle of allegiance that helped sustain him and take him from a promising but pretty raw artist to the artist we’re going to talk about,” Bergner said.

The world of opera may be intense and exacting, but it’s also a small one. That’s how Steven Osgood, general and artistic director of the Chautauqua Opera Company, first heard of Green.

Osgood was conducting for New York City Opera when Green won the Met competition. He said his colleagues came back from the auditions raving about Green.

“All of them said that the real star, the real standout was this guy, Ryan Speedo Green,” Osgood said. “ ‘Remember that name,’ they said. ‘He is so talented. His infectious personality just radiates off the stage.’ ”

Osgood got to experience that exuberant presence firsthand when he and Green worked together on The Death of Klinghoffer and La Boheme.

He said Green’s singular personality became apparent when they worked together on The Death of Klinghoffer. The opera, written by John Adams, follows a group of terrorists who hijack a passenger ship. Osgood said it’s a “brutal story,” and one that tends to draw its cast close together. Green played one of the terrorists.

“The really wonderful colleagues of yours that are playing terrorists and shooting machine guns at everybody — they’re in as horrible a situation as the people playing the victims of it,” Osgood said. “And Ryan couldn’t have been more gregarious and outgoing and professional.”

Osgood said he knew bits and pieces of Green’s story, but reading Bergner’s full account was “eye opening.” Osgood said after reading Sing for Your Life, he questioned whether it made him remember his experiences working with Green differently.

“I don’t think it does,” Osgood said. “It deepens the respect that I have.”

Osgood said he was struck by the way Green was able to both forgive and challenge himself, and by how he finessed his talent. Osgood said vocal chops and training are necessary to get a foot in the door with opera, but other skills are crucial, too.

“The more facile you are with Italian and the intricacies of how the language works, the more you’re going to be able to unlock the character in the music,” Osgood said. “And it is about the details. That being said, if you only have the details, but don’t have that radiance that comes through — you’re not going to have a career.”

Despite not having the early training with Italian that many opera singers do, Osgood said that Green has an “it” factor and drive that has propelled him to success.

“The radiance, the technical chops and the willingness to push yourself as far as he did, to get the details, to never stop chasing it — because none of us will ever have it all — that’s what makes a really, truly successful artist,” Osgood said. “And that’s what you see in the book.”

Bergner said this dedication and persistence makes Green’s story a great fit for a week focused on “Invention.”

“It would be hard to find a person who is more transformed, who has gone through a more profound transformation than Ryan Speedo Green,” Bergner said. “And if that’s not reinvention, I don’t know what is. He reinvented himself, and that is the story of Sing for Your Life.”

Innovation evangelist George Kembel returns to Amp stage

George Kembel

Buckle up and prepare to look at things a bit differently — apostle for creativity and advocate for innovators George Kembel returns to Chautauqua Institution at 10:45 a.m. Thursday in the Amphitheater, bringing with him a renewed message of inspiring latent innovation in everyone.

Kembel is no stranger to Chautauqua. After speaking here in 2009, he returned two years later, bringing with him his family. His wife and three boys, now aged 8, 10 and 12, accompany him again this week.

“I wouldn’t want them to miss this wonderful experience on the grounds,” he said. “This is such a special, unique place.”

After a successful career with startups and entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley spanning two decades, Kembel, an alumnus of Stanford University, returned to his alma mater to launch a program that eventually became the d.school. The school places a higher value on learning than on expertise, experimentation over planning and collaboration over individual excellence, according to its website.

Kembel described the d.school as “more of a crossroads than a silo.” He said its emphasis on personal growth and practical labs over lectures has set it apart from Stanford’s more traditional departments. The “d” could mean design, but that isn’t particularly important to its co-founder.

“It could stand for ‘different,’ ” he said. “There is a strong interdisciplinary character to the school.”

In his childhood, Kembel moved frequently with his family.

“Being a twin with my brother meant several important things to me,” Kembel said. “I was always linked to someone in my endeavors. Often, it has been my brother, who is also an entrepreneur. As we looked to create what became the d.school, it was my former professor who was my collaborator.”

Being a twin also meant a constant search for what was truly within him, Kembel said: his own unique, individual essence.

“I have learned to listen to my inner self, especially at times of change and transition in my life,” Kembel said. “I watch for signals and signs that I may be ready for something new.”

Being a father to three sons has offered its own challenges and opportunities for Kembel.

“As we watch them grow, my wife and I witness how the boys see things so differently than do adults,” he said. “We have a goal to align ourselves to who they really are as they develop. We can learn so much from children.”

Kembel recalled a sabbatical he took via a nautical semester at sea, traveling around the world with his family, students and fellow faculty members.

“I watched as my boys reacted on a bus trip in Ghana, looking out the windows at shanties lining the road,” he said. “ ‘It’s amazing,’ one of them said. ‘Look how these people have managed to build places to live out of trash.’ ”

Kembel moved his family three years ago from Silicon Valley to Boulder, Colorado, sensing that he would find there a “more life-growing place for all of us.” His wife, a speech therapist, has just completed a memoir of her life with Kembel and her three sons.

“I call cities like Boulder ‘global ecosystems,’ by which I mean places inhabited by innovators,” Kembel said. “In Boulder, we found creativity and new thinking in areas such as biotechnology, food and atmospheric research. Based partly on the presence of the University of Colorado in Boulder, the area has become a research hub. And it is a place of wellness. And – the Rocky Mountains are in our backyard.”

Kembel sees forces of innovation and creativity moving beyond centers such as Silicon Valley to global ecosystems. In addition to Boulder, he named Berlin, Beijing and Shanghai as emerging examples of new incubators of innovators.

Along the way, as Kembel forged an entrepreneurial career involving a succession of startups, he began to realize why investors decided to believe in him.

“I think they saw in me three things: A capacity to learn, empathy, and, in some cases, how I revealed myself in failure,” he said. “We formed our second startup when I was 27 years old. It lost $17 million. I had to lay off friends and trusted associates. What happened afterward? One of the biggest investors offered me a job in his company.”

Kembel has done his share of corporate consulting and offered some views on Google, a company he admires for its dedication to creating a workplace where innovators are nourished.

“I do think Google needs to watch that they don’t succumb to their scale,” he said. “Firms in general need to avoid placing too much value on economic growth at the cost of other things, like project-based learning.”

Kembel recalled, as an illustration of his approach, an exercise involving many senior frequent-flyer corporate executives. They had traveled so much for work that airports had essentially become invisible to them.

“As soon as they arrived on campus, we got them right back to the airport,” he said. “Their challenge was to completely redesign that airport. They learned that the most experienced are often the most blind.”

President Michael E. Hill has identified two Institution priorities: attracting more younger people to the grounds and improving relationships with the county outside the gates. Kembel said the Institution should look at “central challenges in the realm of thought and ideas.”

“I believe millennials want to have an impact and want to see that impact,” Kembel said. “The various arts and literary disciplines represented on the grounds could become secondary to intergenerational focus and collaboration.”

To improve “town-gown relations,” Kembel suggests placing a focus on empathy and face-to-face meetings.

“There is common ground,” he said. “It’s important to find it.”

Ailey II’s final performance features three new works

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A trio of new works, including a piece choreographed by an Ailey alum, will conclude Ailey II’s residency with their final performance at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday in the Amphitheater.

“Stream of Consciousness” is a 23-minute piece choreographed by Marcus Jarrell Willis, an alumnus of both Ailey II and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Troy Powell, Ailey II’s artistic director, said it’s reflective of some of Willis’ experiences as a student at The Ailey School, down to the costumes, which resemble private school uniforms. A stirring, capricious rendition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by Max Richter accompanies the piece. At times, the dancers’ movements are delicate and flowing; at others, they are choppy and rigid, creating an artful mélange of modern, hip-hop, ballet and other styles.

“It’s a very interesting, sort of dark piece,” said Powell, who remembers teaching Willis as a young dancer at The Ailey School. “Stream of Consciousness” moves through different elements of “the stream,” the turbulent monologue that goes on inside of a person’s head. Daydreaming, sleepwalking, insomnia and other states of mind are all communicated within the piece.

“Circular” is a 28-minute piece choreographed by Jae Man Joo that blends classical and contemporary ballet to capture a broad range of human emotions. The piece, which was commissioned by Ailey II and is less than a year old, makes use of over five different classical pieces, including compositions by George Frideric Handel and Edison Denisov. Martell Ruffin, one of the dancers, describes “Circular” as both technical and quirky.

“It’s all about starting at that one point and us circling around to working together,” Powell said. “I think that that’s important especially for a dance company because, yes, we’re our own individuals, but we’re working up to working with each other as a community.”

The company is known for its commitment to community outreach and engagement, even while touring around the world. Outside of its evening performances at Chautauqua Institution, Ailey II has offered three master classes, two lectures, and performed on Bestor Plaza. This afternoon’s lecture at 5 p.m. in the Amphitheater features a demonstration by the dancers, of different techniques used within some of the pieces performed during their residency.

Ailey II features an ever-changing ensemble of dancers who are trained in ballet and well-versed in modern, contemporary and other styles of dance. The dancers, who typically range in age from 18-30, stay with the company for two years before moving onto the next step in their career.

The performance closes out with “Sketches of Flames”, a 25-minute piece choreographed by Bridget L. Moore, Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s new artistic director. Moore drew from flamenco, African-American and contemporary dance aesthetics for the piece that is propelled by a series of Latin folk songs and “Gipsy Flamenco” ballads.
“It really talks about how, yes, we dance with our bodies, and yes, we move with our bodies, but how we can become a paintbrush and how can we sketch on this canvas with our bodies,” said Powell, who likened the stage to a canvas. “It’s so powerful, so well-choreographed.”

The eight-section work explores how love can oscillate between jaunts of joy and sorrow.

“We’re always excited to perform and we’re always excited to touch people,” Powell said. “When we perform, we celebrate.”

Jesse Schell talks virtual worlds and using technology to bring magic into the world

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Over the course of his life, Jesse Schell has been interested in a lot of things. Math. Hacking. Role-playing. Optical illusions. Boomerangs.

But ultimately, all of these pursuits trace back to a singular lifelong passion: Every single one of them is about trying to bring magic into this world.

Schell, now a distinguished professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center, has created a career in which he has been able to do just that. During his Tuesday morning lecture, Schell spoke about entertainment and education, and the cutting-edge virtual reality technology with which he is blurring the lines between the two.

Schell got his start with VR in the ’90s, first working with it at Carnegie Mellon and then later getting to apply it to real-world projects as part of the Disney Imagineering VR studio. While at Disney, he met computer scientist and The Last Lecture author Randy Pausch, who invited Schell to come teach with him at Carnegie Mellon. They began co-teaching the VR class “Building Virtual Worlds,” which Schell has continued to do ever since.

In addition to his professorship, Schell is founder and CEO of Schell Games, which describes itself as “one of the largest independent game studios in the U.S.”  There, he has continued to explore the boundaries of VR technology, even as the wider public questions whether such technology is possible.

“A lot of people are wondering, ‘is this a technology that is even here yet?’ ” Schell said.

In response to such skepticism, Schell recited a quote from science fiction author William Gibson, saying that “the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”

Indeed, much of Schell’s work involves making the future, at least as far as VR is concerned, more easily accessible for everyone. While the cost of the hardware is right now “a little high,” he predicts that within two to three years it will break “into the mass market.”

Following a brief survey of the mechanics of VR, Schell outlined the distinction between true VR (in which the world is completely simulated), augmented reality (in which simulated objects are overlaid onto the real world) and mixed reality (in which the two are “blended”).

At the end of the day, though, Schell is more interested in the storytelling capacities of these tools than the science underlying their operation. Playing a video of an augmented reality game some of his students designed, in which the player takes the role of a parent caring for a sick child in the hospital, Schell said that “the power of a medium like this is that you are looking at the real world, but there are also virtual characters overlaid upon it, and it is hard not to be compelled by it.”

Although Schell has dedicated his life to this medium, he recognized that not everyone was sold on the merits of this emergent technology.

“A lot of people have become skeptical about systems like this,” Schell said. “And they have a lot of skeptical questions.”

The first such potential point of contention is that VR technology had existed in some form since the 1990s; if “it didn’t work back then, why would it work now?” But Schell said that technologies do not develop quickly. For instance, 43 years elapsed between the preliminary invention of the television in 1884 and the 1927 invention of the cathode ray tube that finally allowed television to become “a mass market.”

It was also 43 years between 1968, when Ivan Sutherland developed the first VR prototype, and 2011, when Palmer Luckey sold his VR technology to Facebook for $2 billion.

“No new technology, when it comes out, takes off right away,” Schell said.

Another area of potential skepticism Schell noted was the relatively recent failure of 3-D televisions to take off in any meaningful way. But VR is not the same as 3-D TV, he said.

“When you take 3-D into the realm of virtual reality, something very different happens: a phenomenon that we refer to as ‘presence,’ ” Schell said. “People who engage in the three-dimensional virtual reality display find that their mind accepts what it is shown as if it was reality.”

The same is true of fears that VR use will induce motion sickness; although older systems did cause such symptoms, recent changes in frame rates, display refreshment speeds and the amount of virtual versus physical movement involved have cut down on the phenomenon.

But perhaps the biggest area of skepticism surrounding this technology is that of applicability. Put simply, “Who will actually want to use a system like this?”

To Schell, the number of potential answers to that question is nearly endless. Presenting a series of videos and advertisements from real-life industries and professions into which VR and augmented reality are already being incorporated, he made clear that there are several different uses for this technology.

In the realm of what he called “enterprise,” Schell presented the use of augmented reality to design and test a truck in real time, more cheaply and quickly than traditional clay-based prototyping methods. Similar applications extend to architecture, medicine and the military. As for entertainment, the most traditional realm in which video games have existed, Schell noted not just his own company’s commercial game releases but also the addition of VR headsets to amusement park rollercoasters to create a virtually enhanced ride experience.

Art, too, has been impacted. In a video Schell presented, a traditionally 2-D painter used augmented reality to work in three dimensions, all of them virtual.

Yet Schell focused most on education. When he was younger, he struggled to learn about electronics, and he contrasted those difficulties with the modern accessibility of YouTube and other virtual education providers.

Quoting poet Dorothy Parker, he said “the cure for boredom is curiosity, and there is no cure for curiosity.”

Schell is no stranger to the didactic capacity of VR; on the Schell Games team, he has worked on a number of projects that utilize this new technology in the name of better teaching. One game, “Happy Atoms,” combines physical molecular models with an augmented reality phone app that helps students explore the properties of and relationships between different chemical elements. Another, “SuperChem VR,” allows students to train in a virtual chemistry lab without the costs or risks associated with real-life experimentation.

Education doesn’t just have to be factual, either. Schell emphasized the empathy-building capacity of VR, too. His students, for example, created a simulation that puts the player in the middle of a rapidly deteriorating arrest, forcing them to consider how they would act in the face of potential police brutality.

Suggesting the immersive nature of these virtual worlds, Schell noted that despite a lack of body sensors in the simulation, black players tend to put their hands up. White ones do not.

Schell said that VR still has a ways to go before it is adopted on a mass scale. He enumerated why “this isn’t going to happen overnight”: the technology is so new, it’s still changing rapidly, it’s not designed for shared use, it can be unhygienic and “schools are slow to adopt new things.”

In the end, though, Schell sees much potential for continued growth in the field, and anticipates that by 2025, VR home movies will be our most treasured possessions.

“If you do not grow up with a medium, you do not own it,” Schell said, but this generation of children is growing up with VR.

Noting the potential for everything from a virtual imaginary friend that doubles as a flawless tutor, to a simulation where one can experience firsthand “how … Emily Dickinson (saw) a butterfly, how … Albert Einstein (saw) a sunbeam,” Schell outlined how today’s children are going to have a completely different relationship with this technology than those who have had it introduced later in their lives.

“What these new technologies will do is give us the ability to see with shared eyes,” Schell said. “And so one of our most serious responsibilities (to) the next generation is we are going to build their new eyes. And we need to build them the greatest eyes the world has ever known.”

The Hot Sardines bring jazz and ‘grab bag’ of sounds to Amphitheater

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Responding to Craigslist ads doesn’t always work out this well.

But that was the catalyst for The Hot Sardines, whose lead singer Elizabeth Bougerol and bandleader Evan Palazzo both showed up to a jazz jam advertised on the site.

“We started doing open mics and the journey really grew from there, quite unplanned and really organically,” said Palazzo in an interview earlier this month with WAMC. “We’ve been pinching our cheeks and having a ball, going on our third year of touring.”

That tour has included recent stops at Tanglewood and the Blue Note Jazz Festival, and Chautauqua Institution, where the “little scrappy jazz band” — Palazzo’s words — will play at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday in the Amphitheater.

“We were just both two people who had always loved this music, had played it privately and were looking to do something with it,” Bougerol told NPR’s Scott Simon during a recent segment of “Morning Edition.” “And really, originally, … each of us wanted to find one other person … to kind of jump in the pool with.”

The band now includes eight to nine “sardines” (including a tap dancer), and a sound best described as simultaneously old and new. They’ve been lauded by JazzTimes, The London Times and Forbes, and their debut, self-titled album spent more than a year on the Billboard Jazz Chart.

Drawing on music of the early 20th century — Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller — The Hot Sardines are big and brassy, soulful and spirited. They tackle original pieces as well as covers, reinventing the classics (Oklahoma’s “People Will Say We’re In Love” becomes an up-tempo tango, for example, and a more recent classic — Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” — gets a swinging horn arrangement).

“We’re very aware that it’s 2017 and we try to present a high-energy show for modern audiences with all of our modern sensibilities,” Palazzo said to WAMC. “We’re not trying to reproduce the past so much as present it, because today I think it’s relevant, this kind of beautiful music (and) hot rhythm.”

In a press release for their 2016 album French Fries and Champagne, the band says the title is a reminder that “when the going gets tough, a little decadence is balm for the soul.” The title also indicates the duality of the band, Bougerol said: glamorous and gritty.

“When we started out as a band, we played illegal parties in these secret spots in Brooklyn. Down and dirty, and that was one of the reasons we loved it,” Bougerol said in the release. “Cut to a few years later and we were invited to play with the Boston Pops. We came up with the idea of half of the album being lushed out with strings, and on the other half, going back to our roots.”

The end result is a “grab bag” of the sounds they love, Palazzo told WAMC, “shamelessly” mixed together.

Palazzo said one of the core tenants of the group is that not everyone is playing all the time — except for “the big moments.” The result is a performance that can go “all out” or be brought down, depending on the song and mood. Improv, as in any jazz ensemble, is key, which means the audience in the Amp will have a singular experience.

“It’s usually our goal to try and feel how that audience is feeling, and then sort of meld with them,” Palazzo told WAMC. “We’ll sometimes change our setlist in the middle of the set because we realize this is the vibe that’s really happening tonight, not the one we planned, so let’s go with it. And that’s sometimes our best shows, when that happens. We’re open to anything. It’s a party.”

Annual Sing-In is a ‘walk through time’

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New and returning voices are ready to take the stage.

The 43 vocal students in the School of Music will sing hello to the community at 2 p.m. Tuesday in Fletcher Music Hall for the annual Sing-In.

“It’s incredibly nerve- wracking,” said Sarah Wofford, a voice student from Shenandoah University returning to Chautauqua Institution for her second year in the Voice Program. “You have a bunch of people staring back, and it’s just you.”

Each student picks a three- or four-minute solo piece to perform. Selections range from Baroque to 20th-century pieces.

“The Sing-In is almost a walk through time where you hear all sorts of things and you won’t hear the same thing twice,” Wofford said.

Students choose pieces that highlight their strengths, but their decision also makes a statement about their distinct styles as vocalists.

“It’s giving people a sense of your identity,” Wofford said. “It’s an opportunity to show who we are.”

The vocalists are not only greeting the public. While faculty have heard various students audition in person and by video throughout the year, the Sing-In is the first time the faculty hears all the chosen talent.

“It’s a nice way to get to know (the students),” said head coach Donald St. Pierre. “If they’re returning I get to see how they’ve improved, and if they’re new I get to see what they’ve got.”

The Sing-In plays a key role in the faculty’s decisions for the summer program. Hearing the range of talent allows them to plan the rest of the summer’s events, like the weekly recitals, operas, and an Aug. 9 performance of Carousel.

It’s also the first time many of the young vocalists are hearing one another. Voice coach Donna Gill said the kickoff event is a chance for the students, who hail from all over North America and beyond, to showcase their varied talents to their peers.

That is one reason Wofford finds the event exciting.

“Everyone is different,” Wofford said. “No two voices are the same.”

Rohinton Rivetna to discuss link between Zoroastrianism and Abrahamic faiths

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The Abrahamic faiths brought monotheism into popularity, but it is a little-known fact that Zoroastrianism is the world’s oldest monotheistic faith.

Rohinton Rivetna, a Zoroastrian leader, will discuss the connections between his faith and the origins of Christianity, Judaism and Islam at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Hall of Philosophy. His lecture, “Zoroastrianism and How It Shaped the Judeo-Christian and Abrahamic Concept of God,” will include a brief background on Zoroastrianism, as part of the Week One theme: “Inventing God? A Brief History of Religions.”

While there is no universally accepted date for the beginning of the faith, as it was first spread through oral tradition, experts and Zoroastrians agree that it could have begun as early as 3,500 years ago. Zoroaster, who lived in ancient Persia, is the prophet of the faith. While it is a complex religion, Rivetna said its ultimate goal is to seek and find peace.

“Our mission in life is to move creation to a peaceful state by eradicating evil,” said Rivetna, the founding president of the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America. “We strive to make the world a better place for all of us.”

Rivetna said this is evident in how Zoroastrians coexist in peace with different religions around the world. Although the faith began in what is now Iran, its followers faced persecution there after the rise of Islam and they fled to India, specifically Mumbai.

India is now home to the largest population of Zoroastrians, around 61,000 people, according to a 2012 poll conducted by FEZANA Journal. Although they are concentrated in India, Zoroastrians have migrated throughout the world.

More than 14,300 Zoroastrians live and work in the United States, and Rivetna said most have assimilated. While this allows them to blend in, it also makes them more likely to intermarry and leave Zoroastrianism, according to a Sept. 6, 2016, article in The New York Times. Much of Rivetna’s work focuses on preserving the culture and customs of Zoroastrianism as fears of the religion fading into obscurity increase.

“We need to sustain and survive and do everything possible to pass it onto our children,” Rivetna said.

An important part of Zoroastrian culture, however, is the reluctance to proselytize and convert, Rivetna said. This generally restricts the size of the religion to its current members and keeps Zoroastrianism relatively unknown.

The result, Rivetna said, is that people know of Zoroastrian traditions when he describes them because they recognize them from their own religions. However, they normally think that the traditions came from other cultures or grew organically from their own religion. For the most part, Rivetna said, the influence of Zoroastrianism is not recognized.

Rivetna made clear, however, that he and other Zoroastrians are not interested in promoting their faith at the expense of others. Their main priority is to promote peace and harmony, he said, which includes celebrating differences in religious beliefs.

“We are not going to go around saying that this is all Zoroastrianism because it lessens, not strengthens the people’s beliefs,” Rivetna said. “And we would be loath to do something like that. We want people to strengthen their own beliefs and their own systems.”

Jesse Schell’s morning lecture to touch on entertainment, education and VR video gaming

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For a medium with the word “game” in their name, video games aren’t just about having fun; they can also be powerful tools for education, exploration and empathy.

At least that’s what , CEO of the eponymous video game development company Schell Games, would say.

At 10:45 a.m. Tuesday in the Amphitheater, Schell will speak as part of Week One’s “Invention”-themed morning lecture series. As a distinguished professor at Carnegie Mellon University in the Entertainment Technology Center and a former top Disney Imagineer, he knows firsthand the potentially transformative power of video games.

“In the realm of education, video games have a lot of power that traditional educational media doesn’t necessarily have,” Schell said. “They’re a much better way to learn.”

But these claims don’t just exist in the abstract; Schell backs up his rhetoric with the concrete innovation manifest in his work.

Since its inception in 2002, Schell Games has become a major player in the game development industry. Touting itself online as “the largest and most successful game development company in Pennsylvania,” Schell Games has pioneered the combination of entertainment and education in its medium of choice.

The company’s output includes explicitly educational games as well as ones that mix self-improvement in with more conventional fun. Some are aimed at younger audiences, such as “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” (a multigame collection developed with PBS Kids and The Fred Rogers Company) and “Pixie Hollow” (a massive multiplayer online game built around the Disney Fairies franchise). Others have broader appeal across age groups, such as the Space Western adventure game “Orion Trail.”

“We reach a real breadth of audiences,” Schell said. “We make games for very young children, ages 2 to 5, and as well we make games for adults and just about everybody.”

But Schell and his company aren’t just passive members of the game development industry. Schell Games is also at the cutting edge of emerging video game technologies.

The company’s innovation is evident in some of the its more recent output. The educational 3-D puzzle app “Water Bears,” for instance, combines the flexibility and accessibility of phone-based mobile gaming with hands-on learning about “Systems Thinking concepts,” a mode of thought that emphasizes holistic problem solving.

Perhaps even more forward-looking is Schell Games’ work in the area of virtual reality, or VR, gaming. Taking advantage of new technologies like the Oculus Rift (a VR headset that surrounds the wearer with a simulated 3-D environment in which they can look around, move and interact), Schell and his team have been able to immerse players in virtual worlds with a degree of realism far beyond that possible with earlier hardware.

According to Schell, VR is only just beginning to play the enormous role in art and education that it will eventually have. When the age-old power of storytelling manifests through this emerging technology, he predicts it will allow for an unprecedented depth of user engagement.

“I can tell you what it’s like to visit Iceland, but it’s much better if I can actually give you the feeling of being there,” he said.

For Schell, better hardware isn’t just a shiny new toy with which to make traditional video game concepts more entertaining. These technological developments are all tools employed in the name of creating a more impactful user experience.

“The key is always to come back to, ‘Well, what problem does this solve?’,” Schell said. “And it’s not really solving the problem if … it’s just technology for the sake of technology.”

For instance, several of Schell Games’ VR projects have more explicitly educational aims, using the new technology to give students hands-on training to which they might not otherwise have access. One, “SuperChem VR,” situates players in a virtual chemistry lab where they can practice safe lab practices without the risks and costs of getting such training in an actual physical lab space.

Schell acknowledges there’s always the threat that a project like “SuperChem VR” will treat the incorporation of VR into traditional learning methods as an end-all-be-all to current problems with the way teaching is done. But he pushes back against the notion that “SuperChem VR” and its ilk use this new technology as a gimmick. He is careful to always ask his development team, “What problem are we solving?” before creating a new game or simulator.

That intent is clear in “SuperChem VR.” By putting chemical experimentation into a virtual context, Schell said, “the safety issue is completely solved, the issue of supplies is completely solved, and this means that students can experiment 10 times more and learn 10 times faster.”

Named one of the Top 100 Young Innovators in 2004 by MIT’s Technology Review, and the recipient of multiple awards from the likes of Carnegie Science Center and the CREATE Festival for his inventive entrepreneurship, Schell knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the importance of being an intellectual pioneer.

“One of the things we often say in the game industry is that every successful game is a mixture of something familiar and something novel,” Schell said. “Finding that kind of connection to the familiar is something really essential in the process of invention and innovation.”

Chautauqua Institution’s Week One theme of “Invention” asks whether “we (are) in the last age of American invention,” but to Schell, there is still far more to be explored, at least in his field.

Although he’s hesitant to make any concrete predictions for what the industry would like in five, 10, or even 25 years, he pegged “the rise of artificial intelligence” as an impending advancement that will fundamentally change the way humans interact with games. In particular, he said the ability for video games characters to not only speak but also intelligently listen to players would be a seismic shift in the way people think about storytelling.

Paraphrasing the researcher Chris Swain, Schell said “games will become the literature of the 21st century.”

“To be able to actually have a conversation with the characters in a story, and be part of that story at the same time; that has to be a more powerful experience than the traditional way that we engage with stories,” Schell said.

Let us begin. And let us be bold

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Good morning, and welcome home to Chautauqua.

It is my privilege to greet you for the first time in this beautiful new Amphitheater as the 18th president of Chautauqua Institution. To say that this day surpasses any surreal dream I might have had for my life is an understatement.

Thank you, Jim, and to the entire board of trustees for your faith and confidence in asking me to serve this sacred place. Thank you in a very special way to the members of the search committee, who journeyed with me for months before anyone else knew who I was or that I was even a candidate.

Thank you to the incredible staff of Chautauqua Institution; what a gift it is to serve with each of you.

Thank you, Father Francis (Di Spigno), for connecting my love for Chautauqua with my deep and abiding love for St. Bonaventure University and my own Franciscan journey. Your blessing will sustain me for all my days of service here at Chautauqua; you uniquely know what it means to me to have you here today. I’m profoundly touched and grateful.

And thank you to my family and friends who have assembled from near and far to join me today for what will be one of the biggest moments in my life. There is a line in my favorite television series, “The West Wing,” in which White House Chief of Staff C.J. Cregg exclaims, “You think I’m not aware that I’m living the first line of my obituary right now?!”

While I hope that’s a long, long way off, thank you to my dear friends Shannon, Steve, Deron, Richard, Lisa, Brian and Kristan, my godson Ben, my exchange son Alen and my partner, Peter, for helping me celebrate the start of what will, by any objective measure, be one of the greatest adventures of my life.

Headlines and Questions

There is a framed image on the wall in my office at the Colonnade that says, “Understanding God Never Reaches Final Destination.”

This was the last headline I wrote as assistant editor of The Chautauquan Daily in 1996, and I wrote it just days before I packed up my room in Alumni Hall and headed to Minnesota for graduate school, a decision that I had long weighed; the merits of which I was not perfectly convinced. In handwriting next to this final headline is a note penned from the then-editor of the Daily, Joan Clifford Hutter, which says: “Life is one headline after another.”

I came upon this memento as I was looking through old saved copies of the Daily while preparing for one of the interviews with the search committee, and then — and now — it gave me a moment to pause and to reflect on the meaning behind it.

What was I thinking then as I was about to drive across the country to continue my studies?

And what does it mean now as I begin this journey at Chautauqua?

How funny that in one instance I was being sent off from this place and now, I am returning home to these shores and this grove.

As I was preparing for today, I began to think of the headlines of my own life; those in which I have played a role, others I have written, and — mostly — those that are the result of difference-making decisions and challenges overcome.

And, now, as I join with the Chautauqua community at this point of celebration and eager anticipation — of dreaming and wondering about the 2017 season and all that will follow — I find myself asking: What will be the headlines of this season? What will be the headlines of the future that capture and characterize the mission of Chautauqua Institution? Who will read them, and what invitation to the world might they suggest?

Of course, as my predecessor Tom Becker will remind me, on both a Chautauqua president’s best and worst days, I don’t get to write the headlines anymore.

And before I continue, please allow me to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible generosity of spirit, the graciousness and care with which both Tom and Jane Becker have received me here. A new president could not ask for a more helpful and compassionate duo. I had a chance to share the stage with Tom on Friday for a celebration of the Promise Campaign that Chautauqua just concluded. It was an honor to do so and a greater honor to follow Tom in this role. He and Jane have my thanks for the many headlines they sculpted for Chautauqua.

But truth be told, I believe that all of us here and the thousands of returning and new Chautauquans who will pass through the gates of this sacred space — all of us —have the opportunity to play a role in shaping the headlines of Chautauqua’s future.

For those long-term Chautauquans present today, you might get a chuckle about ways that rumors start and race through our community — yes, even when you’re not present. One of my favorites is that I came here with a prepared 10-year plan for Chautauqua. If any of you has found it, can you please bring it to my office in the Colonnade?

Of course, as my predecessor Tom Becker will remind me, on both a Chautauqua president’s best and worst days, I don’t get to write the headlines anymore.

While I did not come with a decade-long roadmap, I did arrive here with a vision of the important role that Chautauqua might play for our world in this moment. I hope you’ll allow me to offer some suggestions about core commitments and ideals that can frame and shape this new era.

And in pure Chautauqua fashion, I hope that this beginning thesis might create even more questions and answers from which you and I, together, might realize a bold response to a world with Chautauqua at its center.

A Return to Our Founding Promise

Our founders, Lewis Miller and John Heyl Vincent, were onto something when they created Chautauqua in 1874. Their story —our story — is a familiar one to many Chautauquans, but if you haven’t heard it, imagine what was happening in the nation at the close of the 19th century. Leisure time was just becoming a possibility for many Americans, but to take a vacation would have been considered a luxury only for the wealthy, and even then, not in vogue.

Miller, the Ohio businessman and philanthropist, and Vincent, a Methodist pastor, would create an initial idea for a Methodist Sunday School Assembly that would quickly blossom into something much bigger. It would provide a training ground for preachers and teachers to come together, not for vacation, but for an experience of lifelong learning that would allow its participants to return to their home communities and do good in the world.

But what they really did was much more profound and, I would argue, provides clues to a reinvigorated vision of Chautauqua in a very different time frame in the world’s history.

Miller and Vincent gave us the blueprint for today, one which I believe can be boiled down into three promises, promises that I believe if we follow today might have a ripple effect on our collective tomorrows:

• A promise to listen and to learn.

• A promise to be responsible citizens in our communities.

• A promise to seek the best in human values, not for the pursuit alone, but to shape a better tomorrow.

A Promise to Listen and to Learn

Our promise to listen and learn starts with a reflection on our rich and storied history.

If Miller and Vincent’s hurdle was how society framed leisure time, I would posit that our challenge today is not how we spend our time but rather our ability to spend time together.

I was in Washington, D.C., the weekend of Jan. 20, and on that Saturday attempted to ride the Metro to a friend’s home in northern Virginia. This should have been a relatively quick trip, except that I had not taken into account that that weekend had just hosted two major events: the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States and the Women’s March on Washington.

One might argue that there may not have been in the recent history of our nation two events so divergent within 24 hours of one another. As I rode down the escalator into the Metro station, I was engulfed by hundreds of people waiting to take the train.

This petri dish of a sociological experiment is the perfect example of what we are facing as a society today, and not for the reasons you might think.

While certainly these two events might most simplistically be seen as great assemblies of the left and right, it was not, by far, that simple. What these two groups did represent was the complexity of America today. Each contained people from conservative and liberal walks of life, each contained people of means and those on the edge financially. There was a rainbow of colors in both groups, people with strong convictions of why they had shown up for either event.

But as I sat there listening to conversations, there was one pervasive question rolling across this sea of humanity on a concrete underground platform: “Now what?”

“Now what?”

If you’ll indulge me for a second, I believe the answer to that profound question has an answer dear to our hearts: The answer has been in our past and must be in our future: “Chautauqua.”

Chautauqua has often been called into service when the nation and its leaders couldn’t find an answer. When the world was in the midst of one of its worst conflicts, President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to this Amphitheater to give his now-iconic “I Hate War” speech.

And when the U.S. and then-USSR were most struggling with how to talk with one another, Chautauqua created the U.S.-Soviet conferences, bringing everyday citizens, along with thought leaders, together for three years to help explore a pathway to peace. As someone who most recently came from an organization designed to create citizen diplomats, I can attest to the power of this model.

So what is today’s prescription for society? I would argue that what Chautauqua must provide the nation is an example of how to listen — how to truly listen.

Krista Tippett, the journalist and host of “On Being,” writes in her New York Times best-selling book Becoming Wise that the moniker of civic dialogue is so often used and so seldom realized that the phrase no longer carries meaning. She advocates that if the world truly wants to come back together through dialogue, we better add some adjectives to the beginning of the phrase. My preferred adjective is that we need a “muscular” civic dialogue for this time in our nation.

Gaining muscle takes hard work, repetition and practice. It’s not the easy answer, and it doesn’t come in a day. At the heart of a muscular civic dialogue is the art form of true listening.

My question as we start a new season at Chautauqua is this: Can this community do what our nation seems incapable of at the moment? Can we mirror, model and practice this form of muscular civic dialogue? Can we graciously invite viewpoints at the polar opposites of our own with the patience and fortitude needed to truly understand?

Tippett continues, “Generous listening is powered by curiosity, a virtue we can invite and nurture in ourselves to render it instinctive. It involves a kind of vulnerability — a willingness to be surprised, to let go of assumptions and take in ambiguity. The listener wants to understand the humanity behind the words of the other, and patiently summons one’s own best self and one’s own best words and questions.”

She continues, “In journalism we have a love affair with the tough question, which is often an assumption masked as an inquiry and looking for a fight. The intimate and civilized questions we are living with in our time are not going to be answered with answers we can all make peace with any time soon.”

What a powerful statement: “The intimate and civilized questions we are living with in our time are not going to be answered with answers we can all make peace with any time soon.”

On the face of things, this type of listening and inquiry seems like what we always do here at Chautauqua, right?

As some of you may know, I crisscrossed the country these past six months trying to meet as many Chautauquans as I could before the season started. In each city or town I visited, I was quietly greeted by Chautauquans who consider themselves conservative, and what I heard from them was a yearning to join the conversation, and an acknowledgment that they don’t feel that Chautauqua currently is welcoming to that.

So what is today’s prescription for society? I would argue that what Chautauqua must provide the nation is an example of how to listen — how to truly listen.

In our efforts to be enlightened citizens of the world, can we start by acknowledging that all must be welcome at our table if the dialogue is to be fulsome?

Journalist Nicholas Kristof wrote in a recent column titled “A Confession of Liberal Intolerance,” “when perspectives are underrepresented in discussions, when some kinds of thinkers aren’t at the table, classrooms become echo chambers rather than sounding boards — and we all lose.”

There was a wonderful TED Talk I recently heard called “10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation” in which the speaker Celese Headlee asks, “What would happen if we entered every conversation assuming we had something to learn?” If we believe we have something to learn, we would focus more on listening and less on trying to emphasize our own point of view.

Stephen Covey agrees, saying “most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand. Most of us listen with the intent to reply.”

And the famed therapist M. Scott Peck heaps on to the prescription, declaring that true listening requires a setting aside of oneself. And sometimes that means setting aside one’s personal opinion. He said that sensing this acceptance, the speaker will become less and less vulnerable and more and more likely to open up the inner recesses of his or her mind to the listener. Again, assume that you have something to learn.

And isn’t that at the core of why Chautauqua was founded? This entire place is built on the values of discovery and learning. Can we, as Tippett asks, see that “there is value in learning to speak together honestly and relate to each other with dignity, without rushing to common ground that would leave all the hard questions hanging.”

We have a unique opportunity to practice this at Chautauqua, because among the many things we are, we are a community — some might say a family.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker addressed a group of new U.S. citizens in a November 2016 naturalization ceremony, in which she said, “In a family, and you are becoming part of the American family, we give each other permission to conduct honest conversations with one another. Assume each person you meet is a person of goodwill, who possesses many of the same hopes and fears you do. Try to leave room for their differences in the same way you want others to honor your uniqueness.”

I need to acknowledge that I join this community as your new president after some contentious debates about the future of our beloved Chautauqua. I’m reminded that people can get fiery when they care so deeply about something. Families are like that, aren’t they?

Rumi, the 13th-century poet and Sufi mystic, said, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” We are invited to see the light in all challenges; to learn their lessons and become a stronger, more engaged community as a result.

While I don’t think it’s helpful to re-litigate old debates when the outcome cannot or perhaps should not change, I do want to thank those of you who may not have always felt heard in our family. You helped me understand the rich complexities of this special place; may this be a season of healing and renewal for you. Not an easy thing to do always, but I have faith in the goodness of Chautauquans. I look forward to embracing the light together.

Poet Rainer Maria Rilke gives us a part of the answer on how we might best do this. He writes, “Love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far into the future, you will gradually without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

As we start a new season, I ask each of us to promise to listen — not for the affirmation of what we believe (if we do our jobs right at Chautauqua, you will find days where that happens and days when it does not), but rather to lean into those moments when that which we believe is challenged. Instead of clapping when a point we agree with is made, which sends a signal to those that don’t agree with us that their opinion isn’t valued, or booing when our invited guests challenge our own assumptions, can we instead lean into the question and truly try to understand? Can we consider those challenges not an affront but a blessing disguised as an opportunity to understand?

Can we pledge ourselves to a season of true civility? Of muscular civic dialogue? Will you take this pledge with me?

This reminds me of advice I received from a fellow Bonaventure alumnus — the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Dan Barry — who advised me in my role as editor of The Bona Venture student newspaper: “If I have any advice to pass on, it is to be skeptical, not cynical.” Dan will be with us during Week Eight when we investigate “Media and the News: Ethics in a Digital Age.”

If we could do this important work then perhaps we might make even greater strides than Chautauqua ever has.

A Promise to Be Responsible Citizens in Our Communities, Beginning with Our Own Backyard

Our promise to be responsible citizens in our communities reminds us that an organization of our size, impact and potential cannot rest on the laurels of our “economic impact” as the sole contribution we make to our local communities.

President Roosevelt in his “I Hate War” speech from our own Amp on Aug. 14, 1936, counseled us that “Peace, like charity, begins at home; that is why we have begun at home.”

It has been a true delight to watch the grounds transform from the quiet, beautiful, snow-covered calm of the winter season that greeted me in December to the unfolding beauty of the spring. I have watched, with great delight, porch wraps disappear, gardens come alive, and one by one, two by two — sometimes four by four — Chautauquans returning to their homes.

I have greeted so many who tell me that passing through the gates each spring is akin to a religious experience; a moment of renewal and rebirth. To many in this incredible Amphitheater — and many more joining us online — the gates of Chautauqua Institution call them to a place of intellectual and spiritual wonder, invigoration and exploration. Chautauqua’s 15th president, Dan Bratton, argued, rightfully so, that one need but enter the gates once to be considered a Chautauquan.

At the same time, our gates have, for generations, represented something very different to our region’s citizens, to our first-time visitors, and to the casual passers-by enjoying the beautiful Western New York landscape on a sunny afternoon.

To many, our gates speak of barriers; something that separates “us” from “them”; a siren that exclaims: Keep out. You are not welcome here.

I invite you to join me in envisioning what we can do literally and figuratively to transform our historic gates into gateways; to take active steps to diversify the community of citizens who consider themselves Chautauquans; and to overcome some of the economic and ideological barriers that gates sometimes represent.

As I have engaged with Chautauquans across this country, among the questions that seem to resonate most deeply is this: How can we claim to be the convener of some of the world’s most important conversations when so much of the world is not represented at our tables, pulpits, podiums or porches?

Transforming our gates into gateways demands that we open our hearts and minds to an experience of the other. Chautauqua must once and for all find a pathway toward achieving true diversity in our programming, on our grounds and in our conversations. And that diversity must be embraced in its most expansive form: by age, by color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, by people of all economic backgrounds, by people of all faiths and none, and by all walks of the political and ideological spectrum. We cannot only share dialogue with those who look and act like us if we intend to live into our mantra of exploring the best in human values. Human values are not monolithic just as human beings are not.

I recently spoke to the Jefferson Society in Erie where we unpacked some of the mysteries of the millennial generation. I continue to hear that young people won’t come to Chautauqua. Let me state without reservation that I simply do not believe this is true. And the statistics back me up.

Nationally, millennials are patronizing arts and cultural organizations in growing numbers. They are fans, and they are more likely than other visitors to return — and quickly — to an experience they enjoy. But young people don’t convene in the same ways than their more senior counterparts do. If we truly want to welcome and keep young people, if we want to ensure that successive generations come to these shores, then we need to re-examine our approach.

Allow me to share a story. I was recently visiting with a young person who had all the characteristics of a classic Chautauquan: loved the arts, intellectually curious, spiritual yet not religious with a deep affinity for exploring the complexities of the world and loved nature. I said, “Chautauqua is perfect for you!” He responded it was anything but. I was befuddled. I asked, “Well, why not?” He started by saying, “Well, first of all your name is Chautauqua Institution. We don’t trust institutions.” I responded that he might consider simply calling it Chautauqua and move on. I said, “OK, well how do we invite you in?” His reply: “You can’t invite us in. It seems too manufactured. We need to discover the place for ourselves and then we have to invite others like us in.” At some point, I had to confess to him that the generation behind him was not quite this difficult and he was making me consider that perhaps we might just skip a generation in our approach. After many more hours of conversation, he asked me a question that unlocked his approach. He said, “Where are most of the young people in their early 20s and 30s on the grounds.” I responded, “the Arts Quad.” He said, “Build a bricked plaza overlooking the lake with a perpetual fire pit and lots of Wi-Fi — and do not program it! We’ll find our way there and we’ll find our way into Chautauqua.” It’s a different way of building community and convening.

Becoming more diverse will also require us to become more affordable to a wider range of income groups. The coming years must provide a solution to affordable and varied housing options and fee structures. We must find a way to diversify our revenue streams while widening our reach and impact by significantly expanding shoulder-week and year-round programming.

As I have engaged with Chautauquans across this country, among the questions that seem to resonate most deeply is this: How can we claim to be the convener of some of the world’s most important conversations when so much of the world is not represented at our tables, pulpits, podiums or porches?

I believe that what happens during our nine-week season on the grounds will always be the purest manifestation of the Chautauqua ideal, but our work is too essential to be limited by its physical boundaries or only the warmest months in Western New York. We need to reach individuals and families who can become fourth-generation Chautauquans even if they’ve never set foot on the grounds.

If Chautauqua is the incubator for a new form of muscular civic dialogue, then technology is the amplifier. It lets us propel our ideas and approach beyond the gates, creating virtual tents in which seekers can hear and discuss provocative ideas and listen to and debate diverse opinions. In short, we must create a mental space that offers some of the same advantages as a physical place. Those words, “space” and “place” are not the synonyms nor can we look at our approach as if they are.

Imagine the good that Chautauqua could do if it found a way to create distinct, apolitical, digital experiences where we can present ideas, pose provocative questions, and engage people in genuine dialogue.

And as FDR reminds us, this work is best when it begins at home.

Chautauqua is located in one of New York state’s most economically depressed regions. As responsible neighbors, we must explore ways to invite more local participation inside the gates and to strengthen existing relationships with local school districts and nonprofit partners to enrich content.

Some of the most uplifting moments, some of the purest Chautauqua moments I’ve experienced, occurred when we welcomed hundreds of regional young people to the grounds for Battle of the Books, for the Young Playwrights Project, and during this past week to view the galleries before many resident Chautauquans returned.

I believe we have a moral obligation to serve our immediate community, to transform their idea of our gates into gateways for a brighter future for those that live closest.

Imagine what good we might do if instead of claiming that this is the place where they are not welcome, they believed, with good reason, that this is their Chautauqua that others borrow for nine weeks in the summer?

A Promise to Seek the Best in Human Values, Not for the Pursuit Alone, But to Shape a Better Tomorrow

Our third promise — a promise to seek the best in human values, not for the pursuit alone, but to shape a better tomorrow, is the centerpiece of Chautauqua’s “why.” This is why we were founded and it is why our mission is more important today than ever.

One of my great regrets of not being in place last year was missing Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center. Wynton certainly gave us an outstanding example of the ways in which the arts, and artists, are often the truth-tellers and guides for a society that has lost its way.

In a moving op-ed piece after the presidential election, (Marsalis) was asked about his feelings for the future. He wrote, “Now is not the time for leaders to disappear and allow the national dialogue to be shifted away from impossible negotiations of conflicting viewpoints that are essential to the well-being of democracy. Participation is the way to honor all of the sacrifices of our ancestors and to create the world we would like to bequeath to our descendants. Let’s be present.”

Dr. Anthony Bannon, a mentor, a friend and the leader of one of Buffalo’s largest museums, concluded in his reflections on a Chautauqua program in a piece of criticism in last year’s Daily, “Happy endings, outcomes for the good, are possible to those who aspire to great things, and are determined to get there.”

And my former boss and dear friend, Molly Smith, artistic director of Arena Stage, noted that the arts “involve a search for truth, not the hiding of it; a critique of power, not the exercise of it; an invitation to conversation and insight, not a shutting down of dialogue. … There has to be a diversity of voice to represent all of our views. Think about Lorraine Hansberry and A Raisin in the Sun or Lillian Hellman and Watch on the Rhine. Think of Tony Kushner and Angels in America or August Wilson and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. And yes, think of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton.

Just as our speakers will push us to examine hard truths, and our preachers will invite us to double down on a journey in faith toward a more harmonious society, I look forward to a season where our artists — young and old — invite us to connect to our deepest emotions.

Artists have always been some of the greatest commentators on where society might go, or a deep reminder that goodness and beauty are always present if we simply are open to them.

How do we get there?

If these are the three promises inherent in our founding, if this is the “why we do what we do,” then it’s only fair to reflect on just “how” we might consider living into these promises.

And as someone that values symmetry, please allow me to offer three broad mandates. We must strengthen this sacred space; meet our audiences where they are today and anticipate where they might be tomorrow; and grow our networks.

Strengthen This Sacred Space

As stewards of an American icon, we are honor-bound to pass Chautauqua on to the next generation better than we found it, and to ensure that we use the buildings, the grounds and the lake to maximum impact.

On Friday, we celebrated the successful conclusion of our Promise Campaign, which brought, among other important advances, this incredible Amphitheater.

But we cannot rest there. There is much left to do to preserve and refresh these sacred grounds, to more fully live into our Chautauqua movement. And that includes the conservation and stewardship of our beautiful lake, a source of recreation, contemplation and inspiration.

We need a healthy examination of what additional public gathering places will make it easier for guests to gather informally and extend the conversation.

We must improve the level of technology and information systems to support and sustain our 21st-century non-profit mission, and in a way that complements the pastoral setting that we all cherish. We have to make sure we have the right blend of plug and unplug. Today’s young people — and I would argue many others — depend on technology and lots of Wi-Fi.

It is time for Chautauqua to think out of the box and explore technologies beyond what may be readily available in the moment. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos suggests that organizations that aren’t considering how artificial intelligence and virtual reality impact their business model will be left behind — and quickly.

Just for a moment, imagine the breadth of possibilities. What if Chautauqua could:

• offer content for use in online learning platforms?

• encourage on-site guests to continue the conversation with online guests?

• offer up a body of work that doesn’t end after nine weeks but extends theme-related dialogues from one season to the next?

• hold a four-part lecture series on what makes a nation great; feature a segment on religion, one on civic discourse, the role of the arts, the central place of fitness in the exploration of wellness?

• develop an app that allowed you to read the bio of a presenter, buy her book and reserve it at the bookstore all while making your reservations for a table at Heirloom and tracking where the on-grounds transportation might be at any given moment?

• empower Chautauqua alumni to start online conversations in their own communities. The CLSC coined the model for this.

And there are still needed repairs and enhancements to our buildings and our natural environment.

We can find a way to use our convening power to bring thought leaders together in a peaceful, neutral setting. Chautauqua’s tranquil setting and inviting environment form the perfect backdrop for groups that need a quiet and immersive experience — not just for initial conversations but for the ongoing dialogue. Our Lincoln Series in Applied Ethics has for years called us to think about how learning, infused with intent, could and should lead to actions that make a difference in the world. Can we harness the vision that David Lincoln provided us many years ago and realize its power in the world? It’s time!

Strengthening our sacred space also demands that we re-emphasize our commitment to the sacred. Religious exploration was at the heart of our founding. Vincent writes in The Chautauqua Movement that “The theory of Chautauqua is that life is one, and that religion belongs everywhere.”

Our founders were prescient in many ways, and the modern adaptation of that is more critical today than ever before. Chautauqua not only must affirm its commitment to religious exploration, but it must also modernize its approach and open wide the gates to people of all faiths and none. At the heart of so many of today’s controversies is a lack of understanding that the central tenant of every major faith shares a common prescription for healing the world. While God may be called by many different names, the search for peace and justice and kindness is prevalent in all faiths.

Chautauqua must build interfaith coalitions, not to diminish our Christian heritage but to affirm that at the heart of that founding faith is a mandate to love one another and to seek understanding.

We need more artistic residency programs in the off-season. We have the facilities and the know-how, and we have a population who could thrive through access to the best in arts education.

The wish list is understandably limitless, as is the potential for what we might do with our beloved Chautauqua.

Meet Our Audiences Where They Are Today and Anticipate Where They Might Be Tomorrow

It is not enough for Chautauqua to be timeless. We have to be timely as well. To continue to attract a younger demographic, as well as recruit and retain a broader constituency across every dimension requires us to take a hard look at our brand, our programs, and even our vocabulary.

Fewer guests coming for the entire season makes reliance on entrance and performance fees problematic. We must explore and address the issues behind the attendance and renewal rates as well as create program options for shorter-term and weekend audiences that help make new believers and lovers of Chautauqua.

We can and must add more passion in programming and make it more connective year-round. Millennials are yearning for connection.

We must diversify our speakers and contemporize our offerings.

Chautauqua has long been a training ground for aspiring professionals in journalism, the arts, clergy formation and nonprofit management, but we lose touch with them when their pre-professional experience ends. It’s time to create a pre-professional alumni engagement strategy.

We have all the ingredients to transform our literary offerings and literary prize into a powerhouse brand-builder for the literary arts. We have one of the oldest book clubs in America. It’s time to claim that heritage and grow it more fully into a central part of Chautauqua.

And the tricky part is that we must do all of this in a way that “decodes” Chautauqua for first-time visitors.

Grow Our Networks

Chautauqua will never accomplish this ambitious agenda on its own. To amplify our voice and extend our presence we will look to expand our network of partners and grow the next generation of philanthropists.

Relationships with significant national partners, such as National Geographic and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, allow us to simultaneously deepen and broaden our programs in a way consistent with Chautauqua’s ideals while reaching new audiences.

A new President’s Advisory Council on Faith in Society will help redefine the exploration of faith and religion for the coming decades.

These early examples demand that we recruit partners in all of our program areas to strengthen our reach and our impact without breaking the bank.

And while we celebrate the incredible generosity that we have already seen at Chautauqua, we must strengthen philanthropic support in new ways.

The days when donor support was merely a boost to the bottom line are long gone. In today’s thriving organizations, philanthropy is a robust and essential funding resource. It is the margin of excellence that often turns good institutions into great ones because it confers the ability to seize unexpected opportunities, to invest in promising programs and ideas, and, perhaps most importantly for Chautauqua, to underwrite the cost of admission for hundreds who have the passion to attend but not the means.

Author Anthony Doerr reminds us, “Time is a slippery thing: lose hold of it once, and its string might sail out of your hands forever.” With that perfectly constructed caution, I will bring my musings to a close.

To paraphrase the words of President John F. Kennedy, this work will not be finished in a year, nor in a decade, nor perhaps even in a generation.

But let us begin. And let us be bold.

Or as Vincent and Miller once debated, “Is Chautauqua a place or a movement?” The answer is a resounding “yes.”

I tap the gavel three times.

Chautauqua 2017 has begun.

Ailey II brings diversity, culture and community to Chautauqua

Ailey II in Bridget L. Moore’s Skethces of Flames

Troy Powell thinks Alvin Ailey’s work “Revelations” is timeless.

“He created this work to evolve with the human race,” said Powell, Ailey II’s artistic director. “It’s not only a piece about African Americans, it’s a piece about people coming together healing, and whatever they believed in, whatever color they were, whatever economic status they were in, no matter how old they were, he wanted to create this work to celebrate it.”

Ailey II will take the stage at Chautauqua Institution for the first time at 8:15 p.m. Monday in the Amphitheater, performing “Revelations,” as well as the pieces “In and Out” and “Something Tangible.”

“Revelations” was originally produced in 1960 by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City as a 10-section piece performed for more than an hour, including a live vocal chorus. It was later condensed into a roughly 30-minute, three-section piece with a recorded original score that included African-American spirituals, sermons and a blend of gospel and blues. The work is derived from what Powell calls Ailey’s “blood memories,” his experiences growing up in the rural town of Rogers, Texas, and the Baptist church, as well as his desire to share, communicate and celebrate the African-American experience.

Ailey was born in 1931 during the Great Depression, a time colored by racial segregation and stark violence against African Americans, including the extrajudicial form of terrorism, lynching. Ailey moved to Los Angeles in the 1940s for junior and senior high school and became serious about studying dance by 1949. He began studying under Lester Horton, whose company, The Horton Dance Company, he joined in 1953. Five years later, Ailey founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. His signature work is “Revelations.”

“Revelations” moves through three distinct sections: “Pilgrim of Sorrow,” “Take Me to the Water” and “Move, Members Move.” Ailey wrote in his autobiography that the songs anchored within “Pilgrim of Sorrow” reflected “black people’s sorrow.”

“It talks about being stricken from your religion, talks about being bonded, talks about not being able to free yourself from your religion, let alone your race,” Powell said.

Songs that embody the purification and spiritual ritual of baptism compose the immersive second section, “Take Me to the Water.”

A processional of dancers dressed in flowing white attire move toward the water for a young couple’s baptism. A white umbrella carried by a female dancer is an iconic symbol within African-American culture and folklore, emblematic of joy and pain. It is ceremonious but becomes sorrowful as a man prepares for death during the solo piece “I Wanna Be Ready.”

The final section, “Move, Members Move,” harnesses the liberating spirit of gospel and music through a men’s trio in a subsection, “Sinner Man,” and ends with the lauded, jubilant “Yellow” subsection that is situated in a rural Southern Baptist church.

Powell took over the company in 2012 following 38 years of Sylvia Water’s direction, who served as its artistic director since Ailey II’s founding in 1974.

Powell joined Ailey II as a teenager and then became a member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1991. He spent 10 years touring with the company throughout the world before becoming a master teacher at The Ailey School and resident choreographer of Ailey II. Powell has performed “Revelations” several times himself.

“You have to approach this work in the most humanistic way possible,” Powell said. “That’s what Alvin Ailey taught me: to bring yourself to the movement and bring your own story to the movement — that’s the only way you’re going to grow, that’s the only way you’re going to touch people.”

In preparation for its Chautauqua residency, the company has spent the last week rehearsing seven hours per day. First-year dancers learned the choreography last July and second-year dancers nearly two years ago, so the week leading up to the performance serves as part bootcamp, part refresher.

“I love being in the studio,” said Martell Ruffin1, a 22-year-old second-year dancer. “We’re excited to bring it all to the stage. We’re a firm believer of ‘nothing to prove, only to share.’ ”

Ruffin said “Revelations” is his favorite piece of all time to perform. He credits “Wade in the Water” and “I Wanna Be Ready” as pieces that opened up his mind to think of dance as a career.

“Everyone can connect to it; it’s a living, breathing masterpiece,” Ruffin said.

Dancing with the company has enabled Ruffin to travel the world and exposed him to more than just dance on a professional level.

“I’ve never actually been out of the country until I joined Ailey II,” Ruffin said. “I’ve had the opportunity to go to Europe: Spain, France, Paris, Germany — opportunities a lot of kids my age, me being from the South Side of Chicago, don’t get a chance to experience things like this or even reach out and see all the culture and the things that are out there for them.”

His commitment and approach to dance and community engagement is inspired by a quote of Ailey’s: “I believe that dance came from the people and that it should always be delivered back to the people.”

“That’s major for me because, of course, we as dancers, we’re on stage performing, doing what we love. But we’re also there to inspire and to heal,” Ruffin said. “If I can touch someone, inspire someone, then I’ve done my job because now they can go on and do the same.”

The company has been working hard to incorporate and train two new dancers who weren’t part of the company’s usual seven-week summer choreography intensive that is followed by a series of seasonal tours.

“These dancers are dancers who can take a situation like this and really make it a very useful one by really putting all of their eggs in the basket,” Powell said. “They’re really, really connecting to what it is that they need to do in order to make these two performances in Chautauqua work.”

In addition to learning “Revelations,” the two dancers have had to learn the five other pieces that will be performed at Chautauqua.

“These young dancers are so passionate, these young dancers are all the way involved, these young dancers are dedicated and committed, that that alone draws you in,” Powell said.

The company is making the seven-hour trip from New York City by bus, an experience that Powell said helps the dancers bond further.

“We hope that people leave the theater thinking differently about dance, about Ailey, about these young artists as well, and most importantly, with a perspective on themselves,” Powell said. “We’re just going to come and we’re just going to celebrate and continue to celebrate Mr. Ailey’s legacy and hope that people can celebrate it with us.”

Men’s chorus Cantus uses music to talk about war

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Cantus is a choir with a conscience.

More so than similar groups, like Chanticleer or The King’s Singers, the group uses its touring concerts as a platform to address social issues.

At 4 p.m. Monday in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, the Minnesota-based men’s chorus will present a concert titled “No Greater Love Than This.” The program loosely follows a soldier’s journey from the excitement of going to war to the realization of war’s horrors.

“It’s not exactly a story, but there’s definitely a narrative,” said baritone David Geist.

The idea for the program came from a musical setting of the Latin Requiem Mass by former Cantus member Timothy Takach. The Latin text quotes a passage from the Book of John: “Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

When the singers were deciding on the program three years ago, they thought soldiers’ experiences formed a large part of American culture and identity.

“We wanted to share a multitude of different perspectives from the soldiers’ experiences throughout war,” Geist said.

To represent the initial excitement of going to war, the program begins with propaganda songs from the early 20th century. Songs like George M. Cohan’s “Over There” and Isham Jones’ jaunty “We’re In the Army Now” were designed to persuade young men to either enlist, or, when they had no choice, embrace the war with full-throated enthusiasm.

“And then we have songs where people realize how serious war is,” Geist said.

The subject of death in war surfaces early in the program with Richard Peaslee’s setting of the Alfred E. Houseman poem, “When I Would Muse in Boyhood.”

Cantus is sometimes criticized for framing its concerts with overt messages about divisive issues. A Minnesota critic earlier this year accused the group of “preachiness” at one of its Twin Cities appearances. Cantus had partnered with the local YWCA to present music addressing LGBT rights, race and gender equality.

“They had a mission that fit in well. We recorded interviews with them and made them part of the program,” said tenor Paul Scholtz.

Vocal music, more so than symphonies or chamber works, can be used to communicate a clear message to the audience because it incorporates text.

“Our mission is to give voice to human experience,” Scholtz said. “We think it’s important to try to not just represent the voices we hear most often.”

However, one of the inherent problems with existing war-themed choral repertoire is its limited point of view.

“When you look at the library of music about war, it is often from the male perspective,” Geist said.

And when it comes to a heavy, difficult topic such as war, artists sometimes risk glamorizing it.

“That’s a fear we have as artists. Have we captured this well enough?” Scholtz said. “War is a terrible, terrible thing. By singing about it, are we saying it’s not so bad because of all this pretty music?”

Scholtz said the group tries its best to convey the full force of the experiences that inspired the music and the text, “knowing that, invariably, we’re going to fall short.”

Our mission is to give voice to human experience. We think it’s important to try to not just represent the voices we hear most often.” – tenor Paul Scholtz said.

To get as close as possible to first-hand depictions of war, Cantus chose several pieces set to the words of actual soldiers. None of the group’s eight members have been soldiers themselves.

“We’re telling other people’s stories,” Geist said.

The second half of the program accelerates the trajectory from exuberance to sorrow and, ultimately, aspiration. After a medley of Army-themed tunes, the mood immediately shifts with Lee Hoiby’s “Last Letter Home.” The text is a letter Pfc. Jesse Givens wrote to his family from Iraq in 2003.

“My Family,” the letter begins, “I searched all my life for a dream and I found it in you.”

Cantus was one of several choirs that jointly commissioned the work in 2009. Hoiby’s work has quickly become a mainstay of the choral repertoire.

“You look out after the last notes of the piece and you invariably hear some sniffing and see some teary eyes,” Scholtz said. “But it’s really a pleasure to perform it because anyone can relate to it. He’s talking about his children, he’s talking about his love for his spouse. You can put yourself in the position of the child or the father or the spouse, and it’s just heart-rending.”

To address the depression that some soldiers experience after leaving the battlefield, Cantus commissioned a new work called “Beneath Thin Blanket.” Composer Jeff Beal, who wrote the score for the Netflix series “House of Cards,” used poetry by Vietnam veteran and retired Maj. Gen. John Borling. The poems were written while Borling was a prisoner of war in Hanoi for more than six years.

The concert also explores the intersection of LGBT rights and military service. Australian-American composer Melissa Dunphy wrote a piece based on the testimony of WWII veteran Phillip Spooner before the Maine Senate about a proposed marriage equality bill. The piece uses verbatim quotes from that testimony to consider whether the fight to protect American freedom extends to all citizens.

At the climax of the piece, a senator asks Spooner, “Do you believe in equality for gay and lesbian people?”

Then, silence.

Finally, Spooner replies, “What do you think I fought for at Omaha beach?”

“It’s a really powerful moment,” Geist said. “But it’s also a very beautiful, moving moment.”

Obi Felten aims big and relishes failure

Obi Felten

Everyone wants to talk about success. Obi Felten thinks we need to discuss the opposite.

“I don’t think we talk enough about failure, about how to deal with it in a graceful way,” Felten said.

At 10:45 a.m. Monday in the Amphitheater, Felten, director of X Foundry and head of getting moonshots ready for contact with the real world, will share her outlook on the importance of failure in innovation and how, if it’s done right, innovation will result in lots of failure.

Felten is the first morning lecture of Week One, the theme of which is “Invention.”

The mission at X, formerly Google X, is to introduce new technologies that have a positive global impact. This is done through the invention, production and innovation of moonshots, so called because they address huge problems, propose radical solutions and utilize breakthrough technology. They are ambitious, audacious, ground-breaking, and they often fail. Felten would know.

“When I was building my dream job, it failed,” she said.

Felten was working as the launch manager in Germany for internet start-up eToys.com in 2001. One week prior to its German opening, the company folded.

This was Felten’s first experience working with engineers, and she discovered she loved it. So when the company collapsed, it was a formative moment in her professional life. She said she didn’t really know what she was getting into with eToys, but in finding something there that she was passionate about, even when it failed, she had gained the confidence to jump into other unknowns.

When Google called on her to serve as head of consumer marketing in the United Kingdom, she jumped. She didn’t have consumer marketing experience, but after three years was promoted to director of consumer marketing for Google Europe, Middle East and Africa.

After successfully managing a contentious German rollout of Google Street View, she was invited to take another leap of faith and join X in Silicon Valley. Initially hired for a six-month trial period, Felten called her old boss after three months with the news that she was staying in California.

X has worked on self-driving cars, stratospheric balloons with internet-streaming capabilities, smart glasses and contact lenses, and energy kites.

At X, Felten joined a culture founded on two basic principles: aim big and celebrate failure.

X only works on projects that solve global problems. Globally, there are about 1.25 million driving deaths per year, according to the World Health Organization. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration attributed 94 percent of the traffic deaths that occurred in 2015 to human error. X’s self-driving car aims to fix this problem.

Another example: there are still large areas of the world that do not have regular internet access due to substandard infrastructure. Balloons that float on stratospheric winds and stream internet as they move could solve this issue.

With the big problems X tackles, innovation can be messy. And when step one is to figure out all the reasons why a project won’t work, as they do at X, it can get even messier.

“No one aims to fail, but let’s work out as quickly as possible whether or not something is going to work,” Felten said. “We’re trying to establish a culture where lessons from failure are cultivated and celebrated.”

This philosophy led Felten to pitch her idea of Foundry to X’s “captain of moonshots,” Astro Teller.

“With the development of Foundry, we want to take projects that are in the very early stage, maybe half a prototype concept but still fairly undefined, and build a team to de-risk both the technology as well as the business side,” Felten said.

Foundry gives most of its projects one year. Within that year, all possible risks that might lead a project to fail are rigorously examined as quickly as possible. This includes both technological and business risks. If problems are not overcome, the project is killed.

No one aims to fail, but let’s work out as quickly as possible whether or not something is going to work. We’re trying to establish a culture where lessons from failure are cultivated and celebrated.” — Obi Felten said

Felten understands that failure can have a serious negative impact on people, but acknowledging those potential failures upfront has changed the perception of failure at X. Instead of viewing their approach as trying to fail as fast as possible, the culture is to learn as fast as possible.

“It is very tempting to start by working on the problems you know you can solve because it gives you a sense that you are making progress,” Felten said in a presentation last year at a conference hosted by the Jacques Delors Institute. “But if you’ve spent a year working on all the easy things, only to discover in two years’ time that there is a problem you can’t solve which sinks the entire project, you’ve wasted all that time and effort. We’d rather find that out sooner rather than later.”

All those projects left on the cutting room floor mean one thing at X: the possibility to do something even better.

For Felten, part of this drive to do better has led her to act as mentor and angel investor for numerous start-ups and nonprofit organizations. She particularly looks to support women within technology.

“When I got to Silicon Valley, I saw how unfriendly it was to women,” Felten said. “Less than 30 percent of tech positions are filled by women, less than 10 percent of board positions and less than 5 percent of venture capitalists are women. If you excuse 50 percent of the world’s population from the innovation table, you’re short-changing the potential that is there.”

She approaches her mentoring and investing with a mindset born of her own experience.

“I had people throughout my career who took chances on me,” she said. “Now I want to inspire the next generation, to encourage women to hang in there. I want to make it better for those who come after me.”

Ninety-seven percent of the projects at X Foundry fail before they’re a year old. Of those 3 percent that succeed, the possibility of their financial windfall is as much a moonshot as their initial development. Profit is not the aim at X, or for Felten — developing innovative ideas that change the world is.

“I went through an art collecting phase, and a lot of people told me ‘Don’t buy art you think is going to make money,’ ” Felten said. “ ‘Instead, buy art you want to see hanging on your wall.’ ”

To find these pieces worth hanging on the wall, Felten and her team at X will continue to chase and embrace failure. Even if the invention is straightforward, its innovation can be anything but.

According to Felten, the willingness of those at X to fail again and again will always lead to better solutions to bigger problems.

“We will continue to take ideas from ‘Can that even happen?’ to ‘When is that going to happen?’ ” Felten said. “Immediately, the team was amazing. They’re insanely smart guys from all these crazy places doing some really amazing stuff.”

Jay Leno Opens the Season From the New Amp

Jay Leno

Jay Leno got his start in comedy performing at strip clubs.

He also played casinos, corporate events and college campuses. And, of course, Leno hosted “The Tonight Show” on NBC for more than two decades. These days, by his own count, Leno does more than 200 stand-up appearances in a given year.

“I guess I’m a populist type of comedian,” Leno said.

Leno will entertain Chautauquans at 8:15 p.m. Saturday from the stage of the newly rebuilt Amphitheater. He will be the first act of the season after singer Aretha Franklin canceled due to illness. Cleveland-based blues guitarist Austin Walkin’ Cane will perform an opening set starting at 7:30 p.m.

Leno said he’s never been the type of comedian who plays just one type of venue.

“We kind of live in an era where people find their audience and they just go there,” he said. “I like to play different kinds of audiences.”

Chautauquans may be more decorous than the crowds Leno entertained during his college years. The surroundings are certainly more idyllic. But as far as Leno is concerned, that doesn’t make a difference.

“You don’t prepare differently,” Leno said. “It’s not like you come out in a Nomex suit or something.”

Leno is very matter-of-fact about his work.

“As long as it’s got a sound system and people can hear, that’s really all you need,” Leno said.

According to Leno, most comics work that way.

“If the gig’s at eight o’clock and the plane lands at 7:30 and you get there a quarter to eight, you’ve still got 15 minutes to kill before you go on stage,” Leno said. “It’s really not that complicated.”

Leno conceded he thinks about what sort of material his audience might like, but only in general terms.

“Is it kids under 25? Is it older people? Is it a middle-class sort of audience with a mix of everything?” Leno said. “If it’s a family crowd, OK, you’re going to do this sort of stuff.”

After decades of experience with an array of crowds, Leno has learned to read the audience when he gets on stage. He anticipates having a good rapport with his audience Saturday, having grown up in similar surroundings.

“I came from a small town where once a month there was a town meeting, and the whole town would show up,” Leno said. “Nothing ever got done, but you got to interact with people.”

The last time Leno came to western New York, it was to headline the 2014 Lucille Ball Comedy Festival in Jamestown.

“I’m not a New York City guy. I like towns that are kind of half rural, half city,” Leno said. “That’s where I come from.”

That might partially explain Leno’s attraction to cars. (His CNBC show, “Jay Leno’s Garage,” will debut its third season in a few days.) Leno said he enjoys towns like Buffalo that have big industrial backgrounds.

“I’m a big car guy. Pierce-Arrow cars. I like the history of that town,” Leno said.

No matter where he’s performing, Leno believes comedy’s primary purpose is to bring people together. Shared experiences between the comic and the audience are what make humor possible.

“Comedy is funnier when you share it with other people,” Leno said. “I’m sure you can sit in a room and laugh by yourself watching something. But it’s not nearly as much fun as being in a crowded room and people are laughing around you.”

Leno has mixed feelings about new ways of communicating that are ostensibly designed to bring people together. On one hand, more people can use the internet to access ideas from outside their immediate social circles.

“Everyone has access to the same information now,” Leno said. “The idea that you go to the Midwest and there’s people in mountain bib overalls with a piece of straw in their mouth, that doesn’t happen anymore.”

On the other hand, digital communication sometimes becomes a surrogate for face-to-face interaction.

“People don’t really gather anymore,” Leno said.

Still, live comedy seems to be rising in popularity.

“I see more and more new stand-ups coming up all the time,” Leno said. “It sort of gets reinvented.”

Leno observed that different types of comedy still rely on “one human being communicating with other human beings” about something to which they can all relate.

“With stand-up, it’s the most basic kind of communication there is, with the exception of the microphone,” Leno said. “That’s the only new element to it.”

It’s impossible to know exactly what Leno will talk about at any given appearance. He might comment on American life in general, cars, or people you run into at the grocery store. He might talk politics, though likely not as much as other comics.

“Some people can do 90 minutes of politics,” Leno said. “I don’t.”

Whatever stories he decides to tell from the Amp stage, they will be pure, undiluted Leno.

“You just show up, and you start talking,” he said.

New Amp Welcomes Chautauqua’s 2017 Season

062417_Amp_file_07

The long wait is over.

Chautauqua Institution’s new state-of-the-art Amphitheater is up and running and ready to dazzle longtime Chautauquans and new visitors alike all summer.

Following a longstanding tradition, the Amp hosted the 2017 Jamestown High School graduation Thursday night, followed by a Chautauqua Foundation event Friday.

Now, everyone lucky enough to hold a ticket or gate pass will witness the first major entertainment show in the new Amp, as stand-up comedian and former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno takes the stage Saturday. Leno is a last-minute replacement for Aretha Franklin, whose health issues also forced her to cancel recent scheduled engagements in Chicago and Toronto. Formal inauguration of the new facility will be July 2.

For several years, Chautauquans have followed developments surrounding plans for the Amp, the crown jewel of the just-concluded six-year-long Promise Campaign, which raised more than $100 million for the Institution.

The new building, located on the site of the old Amphitheater, is strongly reminiscent of its predecessor in the front-of-house. There’s the familiar: the curve of the ceiling, the soft cream color scheme, the mighty Massey Memorial Organ. There’s also the new: a broad stage backing an orchestra pit.

There are still sturdy steel columns around the gradually sloping floor of the Amp, but fewer of them block the view of spectators, and the wide western end of the Amp is free of bleachers that previously obstructed view of the facility on approach.

In the back-of-house, interior stairways are wide and accommodating, and the new green room is spacious and welcoming. A freight and passenger elevator provides easy access to each of the four levels. Dressing, storage and rehearsal rooms for the choir and orchestra seem designed to meet every requirement. For guest stars, private dressing areas offer comfort and convenience, which was inconceivable in the old building.

Amp Manager Keith Schmitt and his crew have not been forgotten: Offices and break areas are there for them, too. Windows and other fixtures from the old building have been integrated at various points in the new back-of-house.

A completely redesigned loading dock will expedite deliveries exponentially. The new attic will still heat up in the summer sun, but with its dozens of heavy-duty winches and pulleys, futuristic light booth and heavy-gauge flooring, it represents another massive improvement for the crew.

Tony Korlowski surveys the progress of the construction on the Chautauquan Amphitheater on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. The construction is set to be completed by the start of the 2017 season and will present the community with an entirely rebuilt ampitheater. ERIN CLARK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Shedd Reflects

Although many have made major contributions to the fulfillment of the dream of a new Amp, few have matched the pivotal operational role of John Shedd, director of operations and administrator of architectural and land use regulations.

Shedd has managed to navigate the many shoals he encountered on this project, starting with years of briefings for Chautauquans in the old Amp and then in the Smith Memorial Library. As the largest public works project in Chautauqua’s modern history began to take shape, Shedd was promoted to directorship while retaining his role as the Institution’s capital projects manager.

The Institution received its certificate of substantial completion and temporary certificate of occupancy from local code enforcement officials on Tuesday.

“It looks good, don’t you think?” Shedd said. “We’re pretty close to being on schedule. It didn’t always look so sunny.”

Shedd recalled two periods when he was especially concerned about progress on the project. The first of these occurred in September of last year.

“We had demolished the old Amp and cleared out the debris,” Shedd said. “We were ready to start getting to work on the foundation of the new building, and among other things, the bowl had to be deepened.”

But the drilling contractor — a subcontractor to construction manager LPCiminelli of Buffalo — wasn’t ready.

“They had equipment problems, and I thought, ‘Wow, we’re really losing valuable non-snowy time here,’ ” Shedd said. “We had to rattle some cages.”

Former President Tom Becker intervened directly with Frank Ciminelli, the president of the Buffalo construction giant. Shedd said Becker and current President Michael E. Hill have been as helpful and involved as he could have wished.

“Both have been available whenever needed and willing to weigh in,” Shedd said.

Benches

The other problem Shedd cited was delivery of the new permanent benches, a concern that persisted for months, with work happening far from the tightly supervised main construction site.

Bench fabrication was contracted with Ratigan-Schottler, a well-known Nebraska firm specializing in hardwood bench and pew manufacturing. But when the time came to measure for bench construction, Shedd said, the firm only sent one man to do the work.

“This was in January and February, when concrete pouring began in earnest,” Shedd said. “Their man got his measurements wrong, and there followed a protracted back and forth with the firm, Ciminelli and, ultimately, us in the administration.”

After the first Ratigan-Schottler benches came in with wrong measurements, and after another attempt also failed, LPCiminelli sent in their own people to measure.

LPCiminelli also commissioned their own, correct measurements and sent them to Nebraska, Shedd said. But then Ratigan-Schottler fell behind on a production schedule revised to take account of time already lost.

“We had to get directly involved,” Shedd said.

An LPCiminelli representative joined Shedd and Sebby Baggiano, Institution vice president and chief operating officer, on a flight last month to Lincoln, Nebraska, to jump-start the process.

It was clear that Ratigan-Schottler could not produce the required 7,000 linear feet of benching in time for the opening of this season, so Institution and LPCiminelli staff searched for alternative solutions. At one point, chairs were considered to provide sufficient seating for an opening show that would be a certain sellout.

A local firm and an old friend came to the rescue.

Fancher Chair, of nearby Falconer, agreed to make substitute benches on an emergency basis to fill most of the anticipated shortfall. The Fancher benches can be manufactured much more quickly because they are made of plywood, but Shedd and others said they are excellent substitutes until the original Ratigan-Schottler order is filled.

A final source was tapped. Braydon and Brooks, the Texas-based firm that purchased for resale the old Amp benches from the Institution, still had a sizeable inventory in a rented warehouse near Warren, Pennsylvania. These benches populate the choir loft to begin the season.

As of Saturday, roughly 3,000 linear feet of benches will be from Ratigan-Schottler, a similar number from Fancher, and the rest from the old Amp.

Shedd said the benches will continue to arrive from Nebraska throughout the summer, and may be swapped in to replace substitutes as it is feasible to do so.

“What a mess that might have been, to start the season without bench seating for everyone in the audience,” Shedd said. “We dodged a bullet.”

Furthermore, the Institution will not incur any additional costs due to the bench delay and temporary seating accommodations.

The estimated seating capacity of the Amp is 4,400.

Collaboration

Looking back, Shedd offered appreciation to many whose assistance was critical as the project kicked into high gear last fall. He mentioned particularly:

• A seven-person board of trustees committee led by Chair Jim Pardo and including the board’s two architects, Bob Jeffrey and David Rosen, who visited often and provided oversight throughout the project.

• Presidents Becker and Hill. “Tom Becker, often with his wife, Jane, stopped by several times during the off-season, following developments closely,” Shedd said.

• Baggiano, who served as the administration’s off-season point man on the project. “Sebby knew the policy, the data and of course, the money,” Shedd said. “This allowed me to concentrate on the building.”

• Shedd also credited Vice President and Director of Programming Deborah Sunya Moore — “a passionate, informed advocate for artists and performers and music librarians.”

• The Department of Marketing and Communications, including director of communications Jordan Steves for his written correspondence and multi-media manager Ray Downey for his photography, received praise for regular updates to the far-flung Chautauqua community, as did Shedd’s deputy, manager of facilities and grounds Jack Munella. “We had lots of smaller projects during the off-season,” Shedd said. “Jack handled them for me, in addition to backing me up on the Amp.”

What’s Left

Shedd noted that tasks remain before the new Amp is complete.

“I doubt that all the rain garden handrails will be in prior to the start of the season. We have an acoustic wall in the plans and on order to muffle sound on the north side of the back-of -house, but it will be a while prior to installation. Some signage is still incomplete. But considering the size and scope of the project, this seems to me an acceptable punch list,” Shedd said.

The Amp Manager

Schmitt, the Amp’s manager, confesses to conflicting emotions about his new charge — a combination of excitement and nerves about learning how to operate in a new facility and workflow.

Schmitt manages another entertainment venue in Chautauqua’s off-season, and does not live in this area. But this year, he visited the grounds several times during the off-season to check on things and consult with contractors and administration staff.

“I think the first time anyone consulted me about what changes I might like to see in a new Amphitheater, the year was 2007,” Schmitt said. “I told them then that my first priority was to create a building with much better traffic flow. No more cramped spaces with people on vital missions running into and around each other. I think we have achieved that.”

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