Stuart Chafetz has had a lot on his mind.
With the Fourth of July being commemorated during a global pandemic, an economic depression and a national reckoning of historic and persisting racism, Chafetz faced a daunting question: How do you celebrate a nation in turmoil?
“You make it relevant — nothing less,” Chafetz said.
Chautauqua’s reinvented Independence Day Celebration will take place at 5 p.m. EDT Saturday, July 4, on CHQ Assembly’s Video Platform. It features Chafetz, principal pops conductor for the Columbus and Chautauqua Symphony Orchestras, as well as returning soloist Capathia Jenkins and newcomer Tony DeSare, a jazz singer, pianist and songwriter.
The evening’s setlist includes patriotic classics, such as the CSO’s socially distanced rendition of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
“We are going to end the program with that one because I think it will be nice for our audience to get to see some familiar faces on a day they look forward to so much,” Chafetz said.
The program also includes a brand new addition, “CSO Forever.” The piece is a march Chafetz had arranged by Sam Shoup, while Chafetz shifted his focus to writing the lyrics with his wife, Ann Krinitsky, who is the music director of the Marin Symphony Youth Orchestra. Shoup is an arranger for the National Symphony Orchestra at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C, as well as the New York Pops Orchestra, Houston Symphony and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra.
DeSare will be singing the “Chautauqua-centric” piece, Chafetz said. As someone who hasn’t missed a summer at Chautauqua since 1996, Chafetz said creating the march brought him “joy that filled the absence.”
“I am proud to say this is the first time I have been credited as a lyricist,” Chafetz said. “The goal is that it becomes a new tradition, just like popping the bags during the ‘1812 Overture.’ Everyone knows Chautauqua audiences are the best at singing and participating. I hope this brings them the joy it brought me.”
As a tribute to the state of New York, DeSare said he will sing Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.”
“Stuart, Capathia and I are all from New York,” DeSare said. “It has been hard to see all the state has gone through since it was hit so hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, a state all three of us love so much. We wanted to honor its strength, as I am sure those in Chautauqua want to as well.”
In addition, he will sing Frank Sinatra’s “Summer Wind.”
“We wanted to provide variety, and I definitely think that’s what the audience is getting,” he said.
For Jenkins, a Black musician and actor, this Independence Day celebration presented an opportunity she said she’s been “longing for.” Since the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who was killed by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest on March 25, Jenkins said she has been “fighting to get back into the light,” something she only knows how to do through song.
“There is a moment in the (recorded performance) where I just talk about how, with all of the civil unrest, I have been personally managing — managing a deep sadness, a frustration, an anger, a rage,” Jenkins said. “There have been days where I have just cried all day over the killing of unarmed Black people. My heart is just wrenched in a way I didn’t even know was possible.”
As a “healing balm” for “our souls and our spirits,” Jenkins said she will sing “Amazing Grace” and “What a Wonderful World.”
“Even with the unrest I just mentioned, I am deeply hopeful,” Jenkins said. “I am hopeful for our future. I am hopeful for our nation. As hard as it may be and as many scars as we may have, every time I have been able to stand with an orchestra for the Fourth of July, I am reminded that we live in a beautiful country. There is so much more ahead of us than what we have left behind us. I believe that. I believe that to survive. That belief is worth celebrating.”
Chafetz said Jenkins’ contribution to both the performance is “valuable beyond what words allow.”
“What she has to say regarding the moment in history we are in is extremely relevant and this summer, that is what this celebration needed to be — relevant to our country, relevant to our time,” he said. “I feel so fortunate to still be able to communicate that, the love of music and the love of the CSO, however brief it may be.”