Week Nine Column From President Becker

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The final week of the 2016 Chautauqua season is full of joy and pathos conveyed by blues, jazz, gospel, symphony, dance and folk. The smorgasbord of musical expression is enhanced by lectures, seminars, demonstrations and master classes. There is even a WeBop Family party designed to invite young people into the creative expression.

Week Nine is presented after the music schools, theater, dance and opera have closed their doors for the season. The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra closes its season on Tuesday of Week Nine. People have commented on the effect of the absence of those creative forces in the mix of the week.

This year, music will pour forth from nearly every program building on the grounds beginning at 9 a.m. (who knew jazz musicians could rise at such an early hour) and continuing through the final performance in the Amphitheater in the evening.

We produce that extravaganza with our partner, the great American institution Jazz at Lincoln Center, and its dynamic leader, Wynton Marsalis. Marsalis is not only a virtuosic artist but one of the most gifted rhetoricians I have ever heard. His ability to relate music to what it means to be human is simply without parallel.

I am delighted by the enthusiasm and shared sense of mission between the staff of Jazz at Lincoln Center and Chautauqua. The idea of music and art as something that drives to the heart of understanding the human condition and its value in the civilizing aspect of a civil society is one embraced by both organizations.

An indispensable partner in the creation of this body of work is Geoffrey C. Ward, co-author of Jazz. Many of you know Ward from his visit in 2014 with Ken Burns, when they discussed their work together on “The Roosevelts,”The Civil War” and the soon-to-be-released series on Vietnam.

Ward, Marsalis and the creative and education staff of Jazz at Lincoln Center have worked closely with Sherra Babcock, Deborah Sunya Moore and the staff of Chautauqua to create the offering you are about to experience. That work has spanned two years of effort.

Meanwhile Robert Franklin, Maureen Rovegno and Chautauqua’s Department of Religion have recruited the Rev. Dwight Andrews of First Congregational Church UCC of Atlanta as the week’s preacher. Rev. Andrews is a celebrated saxophone player having performed on some 25 jazz and new music recordings.

Finally, on Friday night, Calvin Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem will join the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the Chorale Le Chateau for a performance of The Abyssinian Mass, composed by Marsalis to help celebrate that church’s 200th anniversary. Butts will narrate the mass.

This is Marsalis talking about jazz: “Jazz music is America’s past and its potential, summed up and sanctified and accessible to anybody who learns to listen to, feel and understand it. The music can connect us to ourselves and to our better selves-to-come. It can remind us of where we fit on the timeline of human achievement, an ultimate value of art.”

He captures one of the core values of this Institution. We come here to listen, learn, feel and understand and to consider how we fit in the progression of human experience. In this final week of 2016 we use American music and the template for that experience. I hope you are lifted, enlightened and renewed.

Thomas Becker

The author Thomas Becker