Creation at heart of Sacred Song set to open week on nature


Seven days in a week. Seven days of creation. Ending the first day of seven with the story of creation is Josh Stafford’s plan for the Sacred Song Service at 8 p.m. Sunday, July 3, in the Amphitheater.

Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, themed Week Two’s Sacred Song Service “Seven Whole Days: Songs of Creation.”

“That title is taken from a text by George Herbert from 1633, which was ‘King of Glory, King of Peace,’ ” Stafford said. “The third verse of that is, ‘Sev’n whole days, not one in sev’n, I will praise Thee.’ I took that as a starting point to come up with a service that’s based on the seven days of creation.”

Most of the service is crafted around James Weldon Johnson’s poem “The Creation,” Stafford said. Johnson is best known for writing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the African American national anthem.

Joeleen Hubbard / staff photographer Josh Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organ, warms up before the Sacred Song Service last Sunday in the Amp.

The service will start out with the Chautauqua classic “Day is Dying in the West,” following with a combination of readings, hymns and anthems, with texts from Johnson, Eric Milner-White, Emily Dickinson and others.

Stafford has goals for the 2022 season that he created at the end of last summer: bring in an organ scholar, return to a full choir and bring rehearsals back to the Amp and Hall of Christ. Having about 80 people in the choir for last Sunday’s service was “a pretty good showing,” he said, compared to last year’s 12- to-15 person choir. 

“It was so nice to have everyone back (and) so nice to hear hymn singing in the Amp,” Stafford said. “When ‘Day is Dying in the West’ started, it just transported me back to being 11 years old again, and hearing it in the Amp again was great.”

He brought in organ scholar Nicholas Stigall, and they returned to rehearsals in the Amp Wednesday. Stafford said he is unsure if and when rehearsals will return to the Hall of Christ.

Stafford said he is still getting into a rhythm for planning out Sacred Song. He’s only planned a few, but he has experienced many as a child throughout his years in Chautauqua.

“I look at what our theme is for the week, both the Chautauqua Lecture theme and the Interfaith Lecture theme, and see what I can get from those,” Stafford said.

He said he often goes down “rabbit holes” when deciding what to include and what to cut, usually tossing three-quarters of what he looks at.

“(I) try to condense it down into something that is a reasonably cohesive, hour-long service that speaks to the people, what’s happening in the world at the moment, what our traditions are, all of that,” Stafford said. 

Stafford said he’s had fun exploring the story of the seven days.

“It’s really a wonderful retelling of the creation story,” Stafford said. “We’re going through all seven days of ‘The Creation,’ comparing or reading one piece of music from each of those days.”

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The author Kaitlyn Finchler

Kaitlyn Finchler is a journalism and public relations graduate from Kent State University as of May. This will be her second summer at Chautauqua where she will cover literary arts, serving previously as the Interfaith Lecture Series preview reporter. In her free time, you can find her reading, cooking or flipping between “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Gossip Girl.” She’s most excited to see how many times she can slip the word “plethora” into her stories before Sara makes her stop again.