Though it may have been a recording, the Miller Bell Tower rang out just as true as it always has on Saturday, marking the beginning of Chautauqua’s first virtual Bryant Day.
The Bryant Day ceremony — named in honor of William Cullen Bryant and his support for the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle — is an event that marks the official beginning of the new reading year for the CLSC.
At the virtual ceremony on Saturday, Aug. 22, Director of Literary Arts Sony Ton-Aime unveiled the first 2021 CLSC book selection after a rousing program including songs, poetry and pride. He began by acknowledging the challenges posed to the CLSC by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I am so proud to be part of this community of readers,” Ton-Aime said. “As we approach the end of the 2020 season, we are happy to announce that it was a great and successful season. You, the people of this community of readers, made it possible. Despite the difficulties of the pandemic, we came together around our mutual love of literature and lifelong learning, albeit virtually.”
Ton-Aime said the theme of the CLSC’s 2021 reading year would be “The People,” a theme borne from the “resiliency and ingenuity of (the world’s) people.”
“Next year, the CLSC selections will explore our contributions as people, our commonality, and what makes us human — without losing sight of the individual in each of us,” he said. “They will highlight the myths, fables and narratives of our humanness.”
With that, Ton-Aime turned the program over to Dick Karslake, the president of the Alumni Association of the CLSC, who began with the traditional poem written by Grace Livingston Hill-Lutz, read every year at Bryant Day.
“Your hillside by the quiet shore, / In hearts your watchfires burn, / With answering fire that shall inspire, / Still other hearts in turn!” Karslake read. “Fling wide your music, deep-toned bell, / From out your woodland tower! / Ring, clear, sweet bell, the story tell! / Proclaim the opening hour.”
From there, vocalist Amanda Lynn Bottoms and Chautauqua’s interim organist Joshua Stafford performed the first of two songs, “From Age to Age They Gather,” which was to the tune of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Then, after Lynn Bottoms and Stafford performed the short psalm “Bless Now, O God, We Pray,” Ton-Aime moved to reveal the first CLSC selection of 2021.
“Now is the moment I think you’ve all been waiting for,” he said.
After acknowledging the rising (virtual) tension, Ton-Aime lifted the Week Nine CLSC selection in front of his camera for all to see — the CLSC selection for Week Nine of the 2021 season.
“It is Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit, by Eliese Colette Goldbach,” he said. “It’s a book that recounts the years that Eliese spent working in a steel mine in Cleveland, Ohio, during the Depression. It’s the only book that we’re going to present now, but stay in touch — we are going to have all the selections revealed in the coming weeks, until we get to the season next year.”
And with that promise, Ton-Aime shifted the presenter’s screen to the recording of the Miller Bell Tower, ringing away.