Inspired by Statue of Liberty, Sacred Song Service will touch on contentious issues

Former United States president Theodore Roosevelt once called the Chautauqua movement “the most American thing in America.” Jared Jacobsen said he couldn’t agree more, especially this Fourth of July.

To kick off the Fourth of July festivities at the mother Chautauqua, Jacobsen has selected pieces for the Sacred Song Service to accompany “The New Colossus,” the poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty. A line from the poem, “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor,” is the theme for the service, which is at 8 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater. While the program has political connotations for Jacobsen, he said it is truly about American values.

“I want to make people think about it because Chautauqua’s role is to make people think,” said Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music.

The Fourth of July, the largest holiday Chautauquans celebrate together while on the grounds, is a big deal, Jacobsen said. There is red, white and blue everywhere, and the smells of barbecue waft through the air. For this week, Jacobsen said, Chautauqua becomes the ideal American small town.

This year, however, Jacobsen said he doesn’t feel comfortable with just celebrating, given all that is going on in the United States outside the gates. His sense of social responsibility, he said, drove him to choose a theme that was sensitive to this turmoil, and “The New Colossus,” by Emma Lazarus, inspired him. The poem, used to raise funds for the Statue of Liberty, depicts it as a beacon for immigrants.

“I’m not turning this into a political rally, but I am wanting to focus on what it meant to come to this country with nothing and be welcomed,” Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen has chosen three works to accompany Sunday’s service. “Freedom Trilogy” by Paul Halley, which is jazz-inspired, is the first.

The Chautauqua Choir will then perform “The God Who Gives Us Life, Gives Us Liberty” by American composer Randall Thompson from his multimovement work “The Testament of Freedom,” which was inspired by the writings of American patriots. They will wrap it up with “Unity,” composed by Glorraine Moone and the late Rev. Freddie Washington.

Although immigration issues inspired Jacobsen, he said he wants the choir and the audience to form their own interpretations of the service. He said that he would never want to make anyone uncomfortable, but he thinks the choir trusts him to make good selections.

Ultimately, he explained, he just wants to get people to talk.

“This may be the last place in the American cosmos where people still talk civilly to each other,” Jacobsen said.

Tags : AmphitheaterChautauqua ChoirJared Jacobsen

The author Delaney Van Wey

Delaney Van Wey is reporting on the Interfaith Lecture Series this summer. Although she is from Gowanda, this is her first time at Chautauqua Institution. She is studying journalism and international relations at Syracuse University, where she previously worked as assistant news editor at The Daily Orange. Contact her at or on Twitter, @DelaneyVanWey.