At first, Jared Jacobsen wanted to highlight general hymn-singing and anthems from the American tradition for this week’s Sacred Song Service.
“But as I’ve been working on this program, it’s kind of evolved into American voices that have been connected to Chautauqua,” he said.
At 8 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater, Jacobsen, Chautauqua Institution’s organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, will celebrate these musical connections with “American Voices!” The service will feature arrangements and compositions from songwriters like James Erband and Alice Parker.
Historically, Chautauqua has invited all manner of singers, poets and hymn-writers to perform and share their work with audiences, according to Jacobsen.
“We’ve had a fair number of composers come through here that’ve been in residence with us,” he said. “Often when they come, they’ll even write something for us that’s composed specifically in Chautauqua.”
Jacobsen said he intends to incorporate the stories behind the musical selections into the service itself.
Jane Marshall, teacher and 20th-century composer of choral music, will be featured in the service; and she has strong ties to Chautauqua.
Marshall, according to Jacobsen, wrote “My Eternal King” for the Highland Park Methodist Choir without having any background in musical composition.
“It has become the signature piece for her whole career,” Jacobsen said, “and we love singing it here.”
Jacobsen said Marshall’s visits to Chautauqua were a “wonderful resource” for the choir.
“She loved this choir,” he said. “She loved coming here and working with them and telling stories about why she wrote the stuff she wrote.”
Another musical figure to be honored in the service is Horace Clarence Boyer, one of the foremost scholars in African American gospel music and a prominent choir director.
“Three different times he came and spent a whole week with us here,” Jacobsen said. “One of the times he came, he brought an arrangement of a song called ‘It’s My Desire.’ It’s what I like to call ‘down and dirty black gospel.’ It’s gutsy, it gets under your skin, but it’s very simple. It’s the kind of thing where you hear it and you just can’t get it out of your head.”
Jacobsen said “It’s My Desire” is on the setlist for the service, in memory of Boyer, who died in 2009.
“One of the pieces we’re also going to do is a very interesting setting-up of ‘The 23rd Psalm,’ the ‘Lord is my shepherd’ song, by Bobby McFerrin of all people,” he said.
McFerrin, who performed at Chautauqua in 1990, wrote an arrangement of the 23rd Psalm that Jacobsen said was “such a fragile little thing, like holding a bird.”
“The first time (the choir) sang it, we almost didn’t want to touch it,” Jacobsen said.
Performing music like McFerrin’s arrangement, music that can elicit a personal reaction from audience members and musicians, is something Jacobsen said he values.
“Those are the experiences that I treasured growing up here,” he said, “and those are the experiences I treasure offering other people.”