Traditions old and new: MSFO and Voice Program come together for Fourth of July celebration


Timothy Muffitt, Artistic and Musical Director of the MSFO, conducts on Monday, June 28, in the Amphitheater. MEREDITH WILCOX/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER


The familiar tunes of “Stars and Stripes Forever” and “The Star Spangled Banner” will once again fill the Amphitheater for this year’s Independence Day Celebration, when the community can come together to celebrate the holiday and experience long-held Chautauqua traditions.

“It’s my first time here in Chautauqua, but to know this is a long-standing tradition — it’s always nice to be a part of something like that,” said Marco Gomez, School of Music bass trombonist. 

This year’s celebration is a little different. The Music School Festival Orchestra and select students from the Voice Program will be performing the annual concert for the first time ever, after just one rehearsal Saturday morning. The concert has always been performed by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Principal Pops Conductor Stuart Chafetz. However, this year guest conductor William Eddins will lead the young musicians at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, July 3 in the Amphitheater. Despite these changes, the community can still experience the iconic American Flag drop. 

Eddins has conducted professionally for 30 years, and has conducted at Chautauqua before, but this performance will be the first time he’s worked with the School of Music. The concert will kick off with “The Star Spangled Banner.”

“I’ve done ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ so many times in so many different settings,” said mezzo-soprano Lucy Baker. “It’s always so fun to perform it in a new way. I’m performing it here with an organ, which I’ve never done before.”

The program will then dive into a unique mix of other traditional pieces and exciting, different pieces that include “The Rainbow Connection,” pieces from The Sound of Music, “Some Enchanted Evening” from The South Pacific, and a special debut of “My Dad Was a Soldier” by Frances Pollock, the Chautauqua Opera Company composer-in-residence.

“What I’m looking forward to most is my personal request which is ‘The Rainbow Connection.’ I’ve always loved this song. It’s from my favorite movie, the original Muppets movie,” Eddins said. “There’s something so gloriously wholesome about this song. It’s just three minutes of the concert, but I’m going to have this big old smile on my face the whole time.”

Pollock’s piece “My Dad Was a Soldier” is one that the Chautauqua community has not yet heard. It will be performed by an all-female a capella trio. Pollock said it truly captures the meaning of Independence Day. 

“I had come across this poem that was from the perspective of a kid who had lost her father in the Iraq War,” Pollock said. “This piece is about kids whose parents are deployed by the military who go off and put themselves in danger. It’s about this process and about the kids who sometimes end up losing their parents. We have thousands of kids across the country dealing with this loss — that was my inspiration, and as a composer it was a personal reckoning. It’s literally about three voices going through a similar experience, in that their parents lose their lives defending this country.”

This year’s celebration will look a little different as there will be no performance of the “1812 Overture.” 

“I worked with members of the staff and (MSFO Music Director) Timothy Muffitt to put the program together,” Eddins said. “The worst thing we could have done is to panic and make a boring program, so we did try to think a little outside of the box. The problem with the ‘1812 Overture’ is that it calls for a huge orchestra and we just don’t have that at our disposal this year. We’re taking a year off tradition in that aspect. Adaptability and flexibility have been the buzzwords.”

However, finishing off with “Stars and Stripes Forever,” the community will still get to enjoy the iconic American Flag drop, so traditions both new and old will be on display as the community comes together. 

“In many ways, this particular program is a celebration of American song,” Eddins said. “Song is such a wonderful medium and it’s another way for us to communicate. I could have made this program four or five days long without even scratching the surface of the great American song tradition. Nonetheless, you have this great tradition and it’s something I’m looking forward to highlighting.” 

In the past, the students have been in the audience listening. However, this year they’re all excited to be the ones creating the music now. 

“I had no idea how important this tradition was when I first arrived,” said baritone Voice student Alex Mathews. “Canada’s birthday was on July 1, and I don’t get to be there this year, so it will be my little homage to both countries as a Canadian.”

Violinist Laura Herrera, who came to the States from Venezuela to study in 2015, is looking forward to this performance as well. 

“I’m just really excited to be playing in the celebration of Independence Day,” Herrera said. “The United States isn’t the country that I was born in — but it’s a country that has opened many doors for me and I’m building my future here, so it’s kind of my second home now.” 

Tags : Fourth of JulyIndependence DayMSFOstar spangled bannerVoice ProgramWeek One

The author Nichole Jiang

Nichole is a rising senior at Penn State University majoring in digital print journalism with a minor in Chinese. At PSU, Nichole served as a web writer for Valley Magazine and is currently an editor and writer for College Magazine. As a first-timer at Chautauqua, Nichole is excited to be working with the Daily and experiencing everything the area has to offer. Nichole loves going to the beach and trying out new recipes.