On July 31, the stage of the Amphitheater will be adorned with 18 mirrors.
They may look out of place, but the mirrors are part of this week’s Sacred Song Service: “The Courage to Change,” which was organized by Chautauqua Institution’s Abrahamic Program for Young Adults. The service will be at 8 p.m. July 31 in the Amphitheater.
The mirrors on the Amphitheater’s stage will look like ordinary bathroom accessories, but serve a special purpose in the performance.
“[The APYA coordinators] feel very strongly that in order to change, you have to get a sense of who you are already now. From that sprang the idea of reflection — an actual physical reflection,” said Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music. “This service is all about looking at yourself in a mirror and reflecting on yourself, and then trying to come up with something that you would be able to ask for help [with].”
APYA organizes one Sacred Song Service each summer to support a mission of interfaith community. They examine how the family history of Biblical figure Abraham is the source of all three monotheistic religions represented in Chautauqua: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
“[APYA] is a living, breathing, evolving thing,” Jacobsen said. “And the night that this all comes together is this Sacred Song Service we do each year, where we focus in on some aspect of the fact that we are all together, living as the Abrahamic tradition.”
This year’s focus on self-reflection will be accentuated by the mirrors on the Amphitheater’s stage. Jacobsen said audience members who arrive early can come on stage and have an encounter with one of the mirrors.
But the idea of uniting Abrahamic traditions existed before APYA was created. Artist Nancy Chinn designed five large banners for Chautauqua’s denominational houses that depict members of Abraham’s family: Abraham, Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael. Chinn did extensive research into the figures’ iconography, drew the designs and then invited Chautauquans to help create them.
“People from all over Chautauqua came in and we taught them how to use X-Acto knives to actually cut out designs,” Jacobsen said. “And when they’re lifted up the light passes through the cut outs that the Chautauquans themselves have made.”
Jacobsen is excited about the Sacred Song Service, and said it’s in line with the original vision of Chautauqua: a place where people can experience different cultures and traditions.
“I love to hear the sound of Hebrew and Arabic being sung and chanted in the Amphitheater,” Jacobsen said. “I think [the Amphitheater] now is echoing each summer to the sounds of other Abrahamic traditions to help us get a sense of flavor, a taste of a culture that’s now our own. I think that’s a very important thing that Chautauqua does.”