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‘Thurgood’ illuminates hidden story of American hero

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DAVID KWIATKOWSKI – STAFF WRITER

Chautauqua Theater Company Guest Artist Brian Marable rehearses for the one-man show Thurgood Thursday in the Performance Pavilion on Pratt. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

“We make movies about Malcolm X, we get a holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, but every day, we live with the legacy of Justice Thurgood Marshall.”

The Washington Afro-American published these words in an editorial at the news of Marshall’s death in 1993.

The legacy of Justice Thurgood Marshall will be on display at 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Performance Pavilion on Pratt as Chautauqua Theater Company’s production of Thurgood continues its run this weekend.

Director Steve Broadnax III learned more about Marshall through this work than he ever did while he was in school.

“I did not know as much as I should have known,” Broadnax said. “I knew he was a part of the Supreme Court. That was probably the extent that I understood about Thurgood and understanding what he has contributed to my everyday life.” 

CTC Managing Director Sarah Clare Corporandy said she immediately knew to bring Brian Marable to Chautauqua to play Marshall after she saw him perform at the Detroit Public Theater.

“Brian is particularly a very special human being and an artist,” Corporandy said. “The thought of him playing this role was an absolute no-brainer. I have seen him in four or five shows in Detroit Public Theater. … (He) brings the utmost vulnerability and humanity to the roles that he plays. I love to sit in the theater and watch him on stage over and over again.”

Props Director Cooper Nickels bought a little under 50% of the props for the show from Black-owned businesses.

“That was my own prerogative,” Nickels said. “I wanted to do it for Blood at the Root, but it was more complicated. With that show I didn’t have a lot (of) props to begin with, so sourcing all of that would have been way more time-consuming. I had more time with this show, because there were fewer props.”

With a show like Thurgood, there is an actual archive of his life and the possessions Nickels had.

“It’s such a specific period and such a specific person that you can do a lot of really detailed research that I wasn’t able to do in the first couple of shows,” he said. “It’s cool to actually get to see research about Thurgood and see what kind of briefcase he carried, or what kind of cane he carried specifically, so I could try to match those as closely as possible.”

Nickels got the chance to rent four leather chairs from the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown. The center is about preserving the legacy of Jackson and the Supreme Court and teaching people about important court cases throughout history.

“I started trying to find (chairs) around here, and I’d posted on (social media) asking if anybody had anything, and somebody just mentioned that they had some like that at the Jackson Center,” Nickels said. “I called them up and they were super friendly and super helpful. They did have some that were really lovely (and) way nicer than anything I was ever going to be able to afford. They were super excited about letting us borrow them and everything.”

Nickels believes there is something that every Chautauquan will have never learned before in this show that they will have wished they had known sooner.

“I think people are going to really connect with this and enjoy learning about the history and the legacy,” Nickels said. “There are so many things that we owe to Thurgood that we don’t really know about. He did so much for ending segregation in schools and with all these monumental court cases that have had a really big impact. All the stuff that’s in this show is stuff I wasn’t taught in school, but it’s definitely stuff I should have been taught. It’s talking about our American history and how we teach that history.”

Friends of Chautauqua Writers’ Center host virtual literary arts contests award ceremony

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SARAH VEST – STAFF WRITER

Friends of Chautauqua Writers’ Center literary contests coordinator Bethanne Snodgrass hosts the annual contest awards ceremony last Sunday via Zoom. ZOOM SCREENSHOT

Literary arts contests have been an annual event at Chautauqua for over 90 years and, even in the face of fully online programming and a pandemic, continued this year last Sunday via Zoom.

According to Bethanne Snodgrass, the event coordinator for the Literary Arts Contest, the contests first began as a part of the Chautauqua Women’s Club but are now being run by the Friends of the Chautauqua Writers’ Center. The contests have always been sponsored and administered by volunteer groups. 

There are two first place prizes in this contest, one for prose and one for poetry. The prizes are endowed through the Department of Education and are named in honor of two people who have had important roles in the history of the Writers’ Center. 

The first prize is the Mary Jean Irion Poetry Prize for Adult Poetry that is awarded to the first place winner. Irion was a poet, prose writer, essayist and teacher who published four books over the course of her life. In 1988, Irion founded and served as the first director of the Writers’ Center. She and her husband, Paul, were known to house the writers-in-residence in their home and worked to secure funding for the Writers’ Center. 

Bilgere

The judge for the Mary Jean Irion Poetry Prize was the Week Six poet-in-residence George Bilgere. His poems have appeared in Poetry magazine, Kenyon Review, The Best American Poetry and The Georgia Review. He has received the Midland Authors prize, the May Swenson Poetry Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Witter Bynner Fellowship through the Library of Congress, a Fulbright Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Grant and the Cleveland Arts Prize. He is the 2020 winner of the Editors’ Choice Award in Poetry from New Ohio Review. He teaches at John Carroll University in Cleveland.

The second prize is the Charles McCorkle Hauser Prose Prize, which goes to the best adult story, essay, memoir or other example of strong, creative prose. Hauser was a foreign correspondent for United Press International and later was the editor of The Providence Journal, which is the oldest continuously published daily newspaper in the United States. He joined the Writers’ Center Board in the early 2000s.

Felts

The judge for the Charles McCorkle Hauser Prose Prize was Susannah Felts, the Week Six prose writer-in-residence. Felts is the co-founder and co-director of The Porch, a literary arts organization based in Nashville, Tennessee. She has been awarded the Tennessee Arts Commission’s Individual Artist Fellowship in Fiction and the Tennessee Williams Scholarship to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, as well as residencies at the Ragdale Foundation, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences. Her work has appeared in publications like The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2018, Guernica, Catapult, and The Oxford American. Her first book is This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record.

This year, Snodgrass said, there were more submissions in both the prose and poetry categories than there had been in previous years. 

In the prose category there were three honorable mentions: Tracy McKee for “Captain,” Kennetha Bigham-Tsai for “The House” and Catherine Stratton for “Childhood is a Verb.” Erica Frederick was awarded second place for her work titled “This Is What I Know of You.” Frederick is currently a master of fine arts degree candidate in fiction at Syracuse University and was the 2019 VIDA Fellow for the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival, as well as communications consultant for Chautauqua’s African American Heritage House. Felts described her piece as “taut and surprising, with a beautiful turn toward the surreal.”

The winning piece was “The Importance of Running,” by Jody McClure. She is a recent graduate of the Essay Incubator at GrubStreet. In her writing she focuses on themes of grief, aging, queer life, nature and teaching. Felts said that she enjoyed the “sharp details” and how the “thoughtful reflection” draws the reader in more. 

For the poetry contest there were two honorable mentions: Kennetha Bigham-Tsai for “Earth” and Tracy McKee for “On Selling the House after Twenty Years.”Bigham-Tsai also wrote the second place poem titled “How to Walk in Stilettos,” which was described by Bilgere as “irresistible” due to its “swagger, rhythm and humor.”

The Mary Jean Irion Poetry Prize went to Faye Snider, for her poem “Cousin Lewie.” Snider is a retired therapist and has been writing poetry since her adolescence. She has completed a master of fine arts degree at the Solstice Creative Writing Program in creative nonfiction and has been at Chautauqua as a participant in the Road Scholar program for the past six seasons. Bilgere said he admired the poem’s “detailed and powerful imagery and the skillful way in which the poet places a powerful individual story against the sweeping backdrop of history.”

The awards ceremony concluded with the poetry honorable mentions, second place winner and first place winner all reading their works. This was followed by McClure reading her winning prose piece. All honorable mentions and winning works in both the prose and poetry categories will be available to read in the Smith Memorial Library. 

Chautauqua Prize winner Biss discusses ‘Having and Being Had’ in virtual awards ceremony

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SARAH VEST – STAFF WRITER

Michael I. Rudell Director of Literary Arts Sony Ton-Aime talks with Eula Biss, The Chautauqua Prize-winning author of Having and Being Had during a virtual ceremony Aug. 5 on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. CHQ ASSEMBLY SCREENSHOT

On Thursday, Aug. 5, the 10th annual Chautauqua Prize was awarded to Eula Biss for her book that examines capitalism, titled Having and Being Had, in a virtual ceremony on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.

The event began with Matt Ewalt, vice president and the Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, introducing The Chautauqua Prize. Ewalt said the Prize was created in 2011, first awarded in 2012 and that it was created to celebrate a “richly rewarding reading experience” for a published book of fiction or narrative nonfiction. 

According to Ewalt, a longlist of nominations is formed by a dedicated group of readers from the Chautauqua community from the pool of submitted books, which numbered over 208 this year. As a result of this process, no book is awarded the Prize without careful attention and enthusiastic support from Chautauqua’s community. 

One of the readers from this year described Biss as a “provocative thinker, who has constructed a book about possessions, economic systems, work, class and money that is lyrical in tone, and whose writing ‘encourages us to sit and think and uncomfortable psychic spaces,’ ” Ewalt shared. 

Sony Ton-Aime, the Michael I. Rudell Director of Literary Arts, then introduced the book by discussing its first line, which reads: “We are on our way home from the furniture store again.” The “we” in the sentence, Ton-Aime explained, is Biss and her husband. They could have been coming or going anywhere, but they went to the furniture store because their home dictated it. 

“They occupy the home, but they are at its service,” Ton-Amie said. 

This idea ties into the book’s themes of work and capitalism, and how ownership is supposed to add value to your life. However, according to Biss, value is an elusive concept. 

Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill then remarked on how wonderful it was to see The Chautauqua Prize continue to grow each year, not only in the number of submissions, but also in interest from the community as the number of Chautauquans interested in being readers for the Prize increases. Hill also remarked on the late Michael I. Rudell, who, along with his wife Alice, had inspired the Chautauqua Prize since its inception.

Hill then unveiled this year’s physical prize, an interpretation of the book’s themes by the artist Danielle O’Malley, who is in residence at Chautauqua Visual Arts. According to Hill, O’Malley said she was inspired by the precarity of a system like capitalism that Biss discussed in her book. The sculpture is of a house, held together by knots that are meant to be representative of the author not only trying to care for her home, but how we are all tied together in a system that seems inescapable. 

Biss began her presentation by saying how honored she was to have received The Chautauqua Prize and how honored she was to see another artist engage with the work in a deep and meaningful way and interpret it through their own art. 

Biss said Having and Being Had was a particularly difficult book for her to write, and revealed where the book first began to form. It comes from a passage in another of her books called On Immunity, which is about the politics of vaccination. It was the research for On Immunity that led her to think about how people’s relationship to the current economic system affects their attitude toward vaccination. 

She read an excerpt from a passage on autoimmunity. In this excerpt, Biss referenced Karl Marx’s idea that “capital is dead labor that, vampire-like, lives by sucking living labor and lives the more labor it sucks.”

The physical prize awarded to Eula Biss for Having and Being Had is a sculpture by artist Danielle O’Malley. CHQ ASSEMBLY SCREENSHOT

She said in ancient Greece and medieval Europe, vampires were depicted as sucking the blood from sleeping people and spreading plague, but after the Industrial Revolution, novels began to feature a new kind of vampire: The well-dressed gentleman. Biss referenced literary critic Franco Moretti, who said that what made Dracula terrifying is “not that he likes blood or enjoys blood, but that he needs blood.” In the same way that Dracula is driven toward blood, the wealthy elite in America are driven toward capital, she said, and the average person is justified in feeling threatened, and drained, by the idea that their interests are secondary to corporate interests. 

“Capitalism has already impoverished the working people, who generate wealth for others, and capitalism has already impoverished us culturally, robbing unmarketable art of its value,” Biss read. “But when we begin to see the pressures of capitalism as innate laws of human motivation — when we begin to believe that everyone is owned — then we are truly impoverished.”

The idea that capitalism might be undermining people’s trust in one another stayed on Biss’ mind and was the seed that sprouted into Having and Being Had. For her, it raised questions about how people internalize the values and assumptions of their economic system, and what the long term psychological and emotional effects of capitalism are. 

“I wondered, how are we trained from an early age to see some of the tenets of capitalism as natural or immutable, rather than seeing them as choices?” Biss said. 

To illustrate this point, Biss read an excerpt from Having and Being Had that features her son, Jay, who had started collecting Pokémon cards after being given two starter cards by another boy. Even though he doesn’t know anything about Pokemon, Jay soon wants more cards. They discover that a pack of them is $3 at the comic shop and that he can buy them with the money he gets from doing chores. 

“What the cards cost has nothing to do with what they’re worth,” Biss read. 

The value of any given card was determined by a group of children who would gather on the asphalt of the school’s playground. Some cards are valuable because they are shiny, others because the Pokémon is powerful. It is through the exchange of these cards that her son is beginning to learn the rules of capitalism.

“After Jay trades away his most powerful card for a less powerful card, I hear the babysitter asking him if he was a smart negotiator. She suggests that he might want to try to get more for a card like that next time,” Biss said. “Then he comes home with the entire collection of another boy, two years younger, who has traded it all for one card.”

Biss said that in her research for the book, she read what are considered  to be foundational texts in economics, which was a subject that she found to exist in the abstract, rather than the concrete world we live in. This is why she wanted to ground her exploration of capitalism and economics in a series of observations from her daily life, like her son and his Pokémon cards. She described it as working like an anthropologist, taking field notes on her own life. 

Biss wanted to examine what the current economic system was doing to people’s relationships with other people. One of her primary concerns was looking at and thinking about how relationships are undermined by capitalism. However, she also wanted to highlight all the ways that people find to build and maintain relationships despite capitalism. 

“For me, that’s the part of this story that is exciting and full of promise — that this isn’t just a soul-crushing system in which we’re all doomed,” Biss said. “It’s a system that inspires people to endlessly come up with ingenious ways of finding their way around the pressures and the constraints that the system imposes on our daily lives.”

One day only — CVA’s Art in the Park brings local, regional art to grounds

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JORDYN RUSSELL – STAFF WRITER

Chautauquans explore the stalls during the Art in the Park program, organized by Chautauqua Visual Arts and Friends of CVA, on July 7, 2019, in Miller Park. VISHAKHA GUPTA/DAILY FILE PHOTO

The Friends of Chautauqua Visual Arts will host a wide array of remarkable artists for the annual Art in the Park, featuring students from the CVA School of Art as well as artisans from across the region. The arts and crafts show will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday in Miller Park.

The open art fair will display more than 70 vendor tables this year, highlighting everything from fine art to mosaics. The artwork for sale includes hand-dyed silk clothing, organic cosmetics, paintings, ceramics, homemade soaps, embellished handbags, fine jewelry, pieces made of up-cycled materials and hallmark Chautauqua-themed trinkets.

The entrance fee for the event supports and provides scholarships for students at the CVA School of Art. Every student was awarded a scholarship this year.

Belinda Rogers, member of the Friends of CVA Board of Directors, expressed her excitement ahead of the annual event. 

“I was a vendor at Art in the Park two years ago, it is just so great for the artists and students,” Rogers said. “We had so many vendors reach out over the pandemic, local and regional artists that really look forward to this, as well as having access to the Chautauqua community.” 

Each year, the annual market is planned for Sunday, when admission to the grounds is free to all. Chautauquans, as well as members of the surrounding community, are encouraged to attend.

“Unique to this year, there is only one Art in the Park event this summer, instead of the usual two that we typically have throughout the summer,” Rogers said. “So, we really encourage everyone to come out and see what Art in the Park has to offer.”

Wendy Cohn, a fused glass artist, has been participating in the annual event for around 15 years, exhibiting earrings, pendants, bracelets, dishes, napkin holders, nightlights and spoon rests, all made out of glass. 

“(I) look forward to seeing all the people who come to the event, especially with the camaraderie between fellow artists,” Cohn said. “I really enjoy sharing (my) work with folks, especially those who return each year, sharing their stories about their previous purchases.”

Gotta have faith: Harry Connick continues ‘Time to Play’ tour with stop at Chautauqua’s Amp

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DAVID KWIATKOWSKI – STAFF WRITER

Connick

During lockdown in 2020, many people took the time to take up new hobbies or return to old ones. In the end, everyone just had themselves and the objects in their home to keep busy. 

Grammy and Emmy Award-winning singer and multi-instrumentalist Harry Connick Jr. was on tour in March 2020 when, like the rest of the world, he was sent home.

“As the weeks and months passed, I started writing some music to describe my feelings,” Connick said in an interview with Guideposts. “I was alone at my house in my recording studio, just surrounded by a bunch of instruments, and I just played them one by one. Over the next six or seven months, I had enough material for an album.”

His new album Alone With My Faith came out in March of this year and was entirely arranged, played and sung by him. The album acted as a journal and an outlet to Connick during the throes of the pandemic as he dealt with loss himself.

“For me, (this pandemic) really reinforced the importance of family and faith,” Connick told Guideposts. “We really didn’t know what was gonna happen. I personally had a rough time, because I lost a bunch of people in my life that were close to me, family members and friends. Most of them died as a result of complications from COVID, and when you’re not really able to have closure in a circumstance like that, you can’t really go to a funeral or mourn or grieve in a normal sort of fashion, it really kind of becomes burdensome.”

Connick kicked off his “Time to Play!” tour last week in Indianapolis at the TCU Amphitheater at White River State Park, and continues it at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 13 in Chautauqua’s Amphitheater. 

He is making stops at outdoor venues across the country with his seven-piece band to showcase his New Orleans influences featuring music from his vast musical catalog spanning a remarkable multi-decade career.

Although there are Christian songs on this album, Connick told CBN News that he wanted to make an album that deals with any phase of having faith.

“I wouldn’t call this the gospel album I had thought about making, only because it’s not a collection of spirituals that everybody knows. It’s got some original songs,” Connick said. “Quite honestly, some of the songs deal with struggling with faith as much as having faith, so when I was home, I found myself counting on my faith, or questioning my faith, or whatever it was, and I said, ‘I’m going to write about it.’ The album that I thought was going to be a gospel album years down the road turned out to be this album.”

Connick seeks to connect everyone in the belief that things will get better, because they have to.

“In every level of faith, whether you’re feeling doubtful about it or whether you’re super powerfully strong about it,” he said, “I think it gives us some words in our contemporary world, because this is a shared experience, so these songs are written for what we’re all going through together.”

Power in music: CSO to take stage with Simon’s ‘Elegy,’ ‘Carmen’ Suite, for Milanov’s last concert of season

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NICHOLE JIANG – STAFF WRITER

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra performs under the baton of music director and conductor Rossen Milanov last Thursday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

As the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra takes the stage for one of their last concerts of the season and the last concert under the baton of conductor Rossen Milanov, the audience will get to experience a program that will leave a lasting impact at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 12 in the Amphitheater. 

Composer Carlos Simon said he was driven to write his piece, “An Elegy: A Cry From the Grave,” by the feelings of hatred, discrimination and racism in today’s society. Opening up tonight’s concert, this piece “speaks to current events and events that need to be spoken about, acknowledged and recognized,” said concertmaster Vahn Armstrong. 

Music has always been a part of Simon’s life, and at a young age he realized the ability that music had to not only express emotions, but to connect people.

“I started writing music in my father’s church. I started playing the organ, and I would just improvise while my dad was preaching at services,” Simon said. “I just really saw the power of music, and how it connected people, and how it tapped into emotions in the church and congregation. I wanted to take that a little further and write music of my own, and write for the orchestra. It’s been a lifelong journey just to understand the orchestra and how to write for it, because it’s a very complex organism.”

Simon was named one of the 2021 recipients for the Sphinx Medal of Excellence. 

“I wrote the piece in 2014, and this was around the same time that it just seems like so many Black men and Black women were being murdered by police,” Simon said. “I remember vividly seeing the protests, and when the verdict came down, particularly Freddie Gray, then Trayvon Martin, I had so many mixed feelings, and I didn’t know what to do. … I was angry, frustrated and even confused, and so I went to music. This was the only thing that I knew would give me some sense of an outlet and release. That’s how I wrote the piece in 2014, and then here we are in 2021, and the same things are happening. And it really saddens my heart to see these things happen, but it’s why music is there — to have these conversations.”

The title itself represents the lives that were taken too early as a result of hate.

“These were young men and young women who had their whole lives ahead of them. And so I just imagined them crying; I was crying,” Simon said. “I imagined crying from the grave and  having so much life to live. … Racism and white supremacy and these elements are very much embedded in our culture and our society, and lives are lost because of it.”

Simon wrote the piece not only for victims of racism, but for himself as well. He is heartened by the discussions that the music has sparked.

“The very fact that people are talking about these issues and wanting to make change in the policing systems, it means a great deal,” Simon said. “The issues are still present, but there’s some progress happening, and I think one takeaway that I’d like listeners to engage in is to listen to the piece, but also think about the impact, and how we can change our society. That’s the whole point of why I write music. I want to see a better place. I want to leave this place better than I found it.”

The musicians of the CSO are looking forward to performing Simon’s composition in the Amp.

“It’s beautifully written, and it’s very tonal and melodic,” said violinist Ming Gao. “This piece is for the people that were wrongfully murdered, and as a human and as a musician myself, I can feel the expression and emotion. It has such great depth, and you can immediately sense the pain and emotion.” 

The concert will then end with a performance of Rodion Shchedrin’s “Carmen Suite” for strings and percussion, a ballet arrangement of Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen

Considered by many as one of the greatest operas, Carmen is set in Southern Spain and tells the story of a soldier, Don José, who falls in love with the titular Carmen. The pair run away, but just two months later, Carmen grows tired of the young soldier and turns her attention to a bullfighter named Escamillo. In a fit of jealousy and rage, Don José ends up stabbing Carmen. She dies in the arms of Escamillo. 

“People know the story, and you can imagine exactly what’s happening with the music,” Gao said.

Many of the musicians have played the original score of Carmen, if not Shchedrin’s suite.

“It’s very likely that we played Carmen in the youth orchestra,” Armstrong said. “It’s what you do, and so there are these licks that we’ve really been playing all our lives. … In this arrangement, they just get kicked up a notch or two, and just upping the ante on all of these tunes, so I am really looking forward to it.” 

This arrangement is not only unique because of its merging of Shchedrin’s style with the classic Bizet opera, but because of the pairing of the string section and spotlight on percussion. 

“I’m very excited to get to play this one,” said percussionist Pedro Fernandez. “I’ve known about this for many, many years, and it just hasn’t come up in the places where I have worked before. This one is very percussion heavy, and has all the main things of the opera Carmen. It’s very difficult, it’s very involved and requires a lot of individual practice.”

The instrumentation includes a huge variety of percussion instruments that result in textures, colors and sounds that the audience has never heard before. Fernandez himself is playing several different instruments, including the marimba, cymbals, tambourine, vibraphone and wood blocks.

“They’re not the sounds that you associate with a standard symphony orchestra, so it’s very exciting. A lot of Russian composers write excellently for the percussion section, so I’m not surprised that this arrangement is also spectacular in that way,” Fernandez said. 

This piece is fitting for the CSO’s last week on the Amp stage. Looking back on this condensed season, the musicians are happy to have had the opportunity to perform onstage together again. 

“I think we had a wonderful series of concerts this summer,” Armstrong said. “My colleagues and the Chautauqua Symphony remain an inspiration. They’re tremendous musicians from all around the world.”

CLSC Class of 2020

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SARAH VEST – STAFF WRITER

After a virtual celebration last summer, the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Class of 2020 finally got to have their Recognition Day live and in person this past Monday. According to their class president, Margo Stuart, the class chose the sunflower as their flower because it recognized the 100th anniversary of women achieving the right to vote. The yellow color represents strength and resilience, two things the class needed that year, though they didn’t know it when they picked it. Their class motto is “the past our legacy, the present our responsibility, the future our challenge,” which, according to Stuart, means that the class has “reflected on the list of (their) shared past, and held (them)selves accountable for the present, and embraced the risks and rewards of (their) future.”

Week Seven Letter from the President

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COLUMN BY MICHAEL E. HILL

How in the world did we get to the last third of our Summer Assembly?! It boggles the mind, but here we are in Week Seven, and what a week we have in store for you as we explore “The State of the Economy: Where Do We Go From Here?” To say that the last 12 to 18 months have been a rollercoaster would be an understatement, in all its dimensions, but on what ride did that rollercoaster take our economy? In this week, we’ll look at what’s driving the rebuilding of the economy in the wake of, and while still contending with, COVID-19. In the summer of 2021 — a year and a half after the pandemic plunged the U.S. into recession — we examine the state of “recovery” from Main Street to Wall Street; what has been lost and what has thrived; and what the crisis has laid bare in terms of necessary investments and structural reforms. How do we make our economy more resilient? 

During this week we consider what building a new economy can and should look like, beyond high employment and growing businesses. Do we want an economy that looks like the one we had on Jan. 1, 2020, or one that is more just in the distribution of wealth? What have we learned in the months following “reopening,” and what are we learning from the approaches of other nations? What — and who — have we deemed essential in this new and evolving economy? 

To help us unpack these complex questions, we’re joined by a “who’s who” of guides: American Public Media’s Nancy Marshall-Genzer; the new president of the American Enterprise Institute, Robert Doar; Raphael Bostic, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta; and Rebecca Henderson, one of 25 University Professors at Harvard, whose recent book may capture it best: Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire. 

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we ask an economic question about justice as we look at “Creating an Economy that Works for All.” A society failing to uphold justice for all is not a just society. A just society supports health care, work opportunity and wage justice, and bridges the divides that create life-diminishing inequalities in education and access to essential services. It bridges wealth gaps and promotes the opportunity to thrive for all. In this week, we’ll ask: How do religion and ethical humanism make demands upon economic policy, and what difference does this make? I’m so excited that my friend and Chautauqua favorite Sr. Joan Chittister will lead us off in this exploration. I’ve come to realize that there simply is not a thing Joan cannot dissect with great moral clarity and vision. 

Naturally, I’m ecstatic to welcome Harry Connick Jr. to our Amphitheater stage this week. I feel as if his music has been the soundtrack to my life. What a treat to share with you someone who made being a crooner popular again — he has more No. 1 albums than almost any jazz artist living today. What a joy to have him cap off our Week Seven. But don’t look past our arts offerings earlier in the week: the final performance of our 2021 Chautauqua Opera Company Young Artists during Saturday’s Opera & Pops concert with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra; the first gala performance of our amazing School of Dance students on Monday; the premiere of Chautauqua Theater Company’s Thurgood, starring Brian Marable, on Friday; and the incredible exhibitions at our world-class Chautauqua Visual Arts Galleries, including the work of the 2021 School of Art cohort. This week on the economy is truly rich and full of artistry as well. 

One final note as we start this week: I was so grateful to be with so many of you this past week as we celebrated Old First Night. Chautauqua turned 147 this year, and I think we’ve aged quite well. Thanks for being a part of this very special year and this very important week. 

No kazoos, no problem: Smith celebrates 90 years

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NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER

Smith Memorial Library

Bijou Miller remembers coming to the Smith Memorial Library when she was in elementary school and reading all the Agatha Christie books.

“I get excited because I think reading is so important. I feel like sometimes in this digital world, people are just on their phones. And you can read on your phones, but … I love the tactile; I love the smell of books,” Miller said. “I’m a book smeller.”

Miller is now the president of the Friends of the Library, and helps plan the annual Library Day. Today, Aug. 5, is the Smith’s 90th birthday, and though Library Day will look different than previous years due to COVID-19 regulations, Miller and Library Director Scott Ekstrom are excited to celebrate in a safe, Chautauqua fashion.

“Like any party,” Ekstrom said, “anything you do, whether it’s kazoos or cake — that’s just the gimmick, the occasion. The real attraction is each other, just to chat and be together.”

This year will feature a large, blown-up crossword puzzle on the front porch of the library, so Chautauquans can stop by and discuss answers throughout the day. A word search will also be featured so children can participate. 

“We hope there will be spirited debate about crossword puzzle answers,” Ekstrom said.

There’s the concept in sociology of a third place: You got your home and your work, and then you need a Starbucks or you need a church or community center, or something. We are that for a lot of people.

—Scott Ekstrom
Director,
Smith Memorial Library

People can talk to the Friends of the Library about their work and make a donation, and those who donate will be offered a free book of their choice. The library is also giving out “My Favorite Book” stickers people can write on. 

“The Children’s School and Boys’ and Girls’ Club both love those stickers. They get upset if they don’t get enough, which I think is really cute,” Miller said.

Library Day, however, will not have any shared food and drinks, such as pastries and coffee, as it did in years past. It also won’t have the annual Kazoo Chorale.

“We are not doing kazoos because the feeling was that there might not be a mutual level of comfort for that,” Ekstrom said. “I mean, the mechanics of kazoos involves spit, so we thought, ‘Maybe not yet,’ but I am sure they’ll be back next year.”

The Kazoo Chorale first started five years ago, when a band couldn’t be found to play on Library Day. Former president of the Friends of the Library Sue Zorn suggested kazoos.

“I thought it was crazy, and it was, but it also worked,” Ekstrom said.

Usually, 100 kazoos are given out to Chautauquans, and then they all play in the Chorale. Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill and General and Artistic Director of the Chautauqua Opera Company Steven Osgood have also conducted the Kazoo Chorale in separate years, according to Ekstrom.

Miller, Ekstrom and many other Chautauquans are grateful the library is open this year. 

“People are thrilled to be able to come into a building and browse live and be able to touch books and talk to real people. We are regaining our pre-pandemic sense of being a community center,” Ekstrom said. “There’s the concept in sociology of a third place: You got your home and your work, and then you need a Starbucks or you need a church or community center, or something. We are that for a lot of people.”

Donations will also be taken during the event. In years past, the money has gone to new furniture and e-books.

Hope & rebirth: CSO to premeire Pollock piece, present Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’

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NICHOLE JIANG – STAFF WRITER

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra performs under the baton of Music Director and Conductor Rossen Milanov Sunday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Darkness has been a prominent theme in everyone’s lives this past year and a half. Chautauquans can now experience both darkness and hope through music at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 5 in the Amphitheater with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. 

The opening piece for the concert, under the baton of Music Director Rossen Milanov, is both special and personal as it is the Chautauqua premiere of composer-in-residence: Frances Pollock’s piece “God is Dead, Schoenberg is Dead, but Love will come.” Pollock portrays a strong message of staying hopeful during times of darkness and taking a stand against nihilism through this piece. 

“I wrote this piece this past year when everything was really scary, especially in the field of the performing arts,” Pollock said. “There was a lot of uncertainty, because our field didn’t pivot. … There was a lot of nihilism that was going on, which was that this is never going to get better or things can’t improve, and this was my protest against that. I didn’t want people to just throw in the towel and give up.”

The piece also represents hope for Pollock after personal losses during this time — two people she was close with died by suicide.

“I  just felt that we were all in a dark place,” Pollock said. “(I’m) trying to say we need to push through this, and we need to look to tomorrow.”

The piece itself is short but includes technically challenging aspects and a haunting melody.

Illustration by Olivia Dutkewych / DESIGN EDITOR

“There’s a series of notes that don’t particularly lie underneath your fingers, so you have to keep moving your fingers back and forth, and it goes kind of fast and repeats quite a few times. For the audience, it’ll be just kind of an eerie and weird effect,” said Vahn Armstrong, concertmaster. “It’s also indicated to play it with the bow very close to the bridge, so there’s a glassy and a little bit scratchy sound. 

“It’s not quite a normal violin sound, and it’s going across the strings rapidly, so it’s kind of creepy.”

The audience may even recognize some melodies throughout the piece, as it samples some familiar tunes. 

“The hymn itself samples two big musical references in there, and they’ll be very obvious. I don’t want to give the second one away, but the first one is a French hymn called ‘Noël Nouvelet,’ ” Pollock said. “It has a winter application and a spring application, so I was thinking about starting in this very tumultuous stormy winter, and then moving toward spring.”

Pollock said she hopes the audience can recognize the hope within the piece that love will come again

“It’s my protest against nihilism,” Pollock said. “It’s me saying we cannot throw in the towel; we all have to work towards making the world better.”

The concert will continue with Mozart’s Symphony No. 38 in D major, K. 504, “Prague” and Stravinsky’s 1919 suite arrangement of The Firebird. 

Premiering in Prague in 1787, this three-movement piece takes the audience on a journey through Mozart’s appreciation for the country as well as his growing strength in technique and symphonic writing. The piece begins with a slow introduction that gives way to the main melodies. The piece then continues with a second movement that is more typical of Mozart’s other symphonies, then ends with a fast and lively third movement.

“They loved him in Prague. So he wrote the symphony — and it’s full of good stuff. I kind of think of him as pulling out all the stops during the whole thing. I just love the symphony,” Armstrong said. “Mozart, in general, is just wonderful, so I’m looking forward to playing that.”

This symphony is also unique in the sense that it heavily features the wind instruments in a way that wasn’t typical of compositions during Mozart’s time. 

“It has a very mysterious and mystical quality about it, and it’s actually my favorite Mozart symphony,” said Owen Lee, bassist. “But the writing for the bassoon is just extraordinary. You don’t hear many composers writing such exposed and beautiful parts for the bassoon, and he uses that instrument incredibly well.”

The concert ends on a grand orchestral piece: the 1919 suite from Stravinsky’s Firebird that goes back to the themes of hope and strength. One of Stravinsky’s most famous compositions, this piece tells an incredible story of heroism. Stravinsky used the Russian folk tale of the firebird for inspiration. The tale tells the story of Prince Ivan who defeats Kastchei with the help of a firebird. Prince Ivan had spared the bird’s life while hunting in the forest, and in return, the firebird gifted the prince with one of her enchanted feathers. Prince Ivan uses the feather for help as Kastchei’s creatures chase after him. The magic from the feather makes the evil creatures fall into a deep slumber. Prince Ivan then frees the 13 princesses under Kastchei’s spell.

“The violin section, we’re kind of the CGI Special Effects section,” Armstrong said. “We are adding wackiness for the most part, and every now and then we have this luscious, gorgeous romantic sound. We do a lot of ‘jete.’ You’re supposed to throw the bow at the string and let it bounce. We’re putting in a bunch of kinds of special effects. It’s an incredibly powerful piece, and I suppose one could draw obvious hopeful parallels between the firebird rising from the ashes and life from the pandemic ashes. We’re rooting for this firebird.”

Stravinsky highlights winds and brass in this piece, with a bassoon solo in the firebird’s lullaby as well as a lyrical clarinet part in the princesses’ dance. The piece then ends on a horn solo that gives way to the theme of the firebird with chromatic chords that conclude this magical piece. 

“It’s a great piece of music and a great piece of art that transcends time. He was a genius. This covers qualities of the savage beast that he can portray to the delicate beautiful dancing bird, and he just had a way of capturing all of that,” said Dan Spitzer, clarinetist. “It’s exciting and fresh to play that, and it’s really fun.”

Poet, essayist Eula Biss wins 10th Chautauqua Prize; will be honored today in online ceremony

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SARAH VEST – STAFF WRITER

Biss

The winner of the 10th annual Chautauqua Prize is poet and essayist Eula Biss and her book Having and Being Had. Biss is the author of three other books, and her book On Immunity was named one of the Ten Best Books of 2014 by The New York Times Book Review. Notes from No Man’s Land won the National Book Critics Circle award for criticism in 2009. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Paris Review, Freeman’s, Believer Magazine and The New Yorker

The Chautauqua Prize was conceived by Alice and Michael I. Rudell, and is funded by their contributions to the Institution. Michael I. Rudell passed away last January, but his legacy and love for literature lives on through The Chautauqua Prize and the newly endowed director of literary arts position. 

According to Sony Ton-Aime, the Michael I. Rudell Director of Literary Arts, there were 218 books submitted by publishers and authors to The Chautauqua Prize this year. Each book was distributed to a group of Chautauquans who, over the course of a couple months, worked to sift through all the entries to create a long list for the prize’s committee members to choose from. There will be an awards ceremony at 1 p.m. EDT Thursday, Aug. 5 on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.

The book is a nonfiction narrative work where Biss, having just purchased her first home, begins to reflect on and explore the value system she has bought into. 

Biss endeavors to examine her assumptions about class, property, and the role capitalism plays in her life. 

“In this book, she is doing something very radical,” Ton-Aime said. “You do not notice while reading it; her writing is so beautiful, and she is writing with so much tact that you cannot really feel this radical thing that she’s doing when it comes to the position of the individual in a capitalistic society.”

Ton-Aime calls the book timely, because we are at a moment when people are all questioning their position in the world as they reckon with climate change, steep economic inequality and the realization that everyone is implicated in these systems in some way. 

He said he “could not be happier” that the Prize is being awarded during Week Six, themed “Building a Culture of Empathy.” To him, the book is asking people to be more empathetic, and to “be more aware of other people’s position and how they are affected.”

According to Biss, she got the inspiration for the winning book while she was working on her third book On Immunity, when she met a group of people who were anti-vaccine for anticapitalist reasons. Biss said that these people were suspicious of Big Pharma and thought that companies that were dedicated to profit could not have the best interests of their children in mind. Even though this was a brief moment in her book, Biss said that she remained interested in the psychological effects of capitalism, specifically people’s sense that they couldn’t trust other people’s motives because they only had profit in mind and that their ethics could be undermined by a financial motive. 

“I came into this book with (the question), ‘What is our economic system doing to the way we think about our everyday lives, the way we think about other people (and) the way we think about little interactions with other people?’ ” Biss said. 

Biss references a moment in the book where she is observing her son playing the Pokémon trading card game with other children. Biss said that she was essentially watching him learn the tenets of capitalism, specifically the idea that one shouldn’t give something away without getting something of equal or greater value in return. Watching her son learn this lesson the hard way prompted her to wonder, “How do we learn this way of thinking — and can we unlearn it?”

She wanted this book to be grounded in the concrete, partially because so much literature about economics is abstract and does not focus on the people who drive the economy. She compares it to learning about physics in outer space; it is treated as distant from the human aspect. 

“It currently is a way of reminding myself and my readers that this is a system made by people, for people,” Biss said, “and if we don’t like it, we should change it.”

Biss describes winning the Prize as “a terrific surprise and really, really gratifying.” She said it is encouraging to have her work recognized, and that the Prize money  —$7,500 — will buy her more time to write. She will be teaching an in-person two-day writing workshop during Week Nine that is associated with the Prize, and she is excited to teach on the grounds and learn about the rich history of Chautauqua.

“All of my teaching has been online,” Biss said. “I’m so looking forward to being in the same place with some real-live, in-the-flesh students.”

This year the physical prize itself was designed by Danielle O’Malley, a sculptor in the Chautauqua Visual Arts ceramics department who uses clay as her primary medium. She said that she is “very excited and also very honored” to have been asked to create this year’s prize. 

O’Malley said her work deals a lot with environmental care and the idea that capitalism leads to environmental degradation, which ties into the themes of Biss’ book. She describes the prize, which will be unveiled at the ceremony today, as an abstracted structural house that is made of woven parts that delicately attach together. 

“The aesthetic that I use, I leave my fingerprints in the clay,” O’Malley said. “There’s a roughness to the surface of the clay, as well as the spotty application of the glaze work. Clay is an earthen material, and by putting like leaving my fingerprint in there, it’s like a record of the impact that humanity leaves on the environment that can be positive or negative.”

With Recognition Day, CLSC Class of 2021 to be celebrated with hybrid in-person, digital events

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SARAH VEST – STAFF WRITER

Cole Piper welcomes members of Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle’s Class of 2019 at the Hall of Philosophy on Aug. 7, 2019. VISHAKHA GUPTA/FILE PHOTO

This year’s Recognition Day is going to look a little different from the traditional graduation ceremony. 

Sony Ton-Aime, the Michael I. Rudell Director of Literary Arts, said that “it means everything” to be back on the grounds celebrating the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Class of 2021, as well as being able to honor the Class of 2020. 

Ton-Aime, Stephine Hunt, the manager of the CLSC Octagon, and the committee from the Alumni Association of the CLSC have been hard at work “trying to pull as many of the important traditions and pieces” into the event, Hunt said. 

At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 4 in the Amphitheater, the CLSC Class of 2021 will be recognized in conjunction with the morning lecture where they will all sit in the front rows. After the lecture concludes, they will parade down the Brick Walk for the traditional Golden Gate ceremony in the Hall of Philosophy and class photo on the steps of the Hall of Christ. 

The CLSC Class of 2021 consists of 49 members, including the second-youngest boy to ever graduate from the CLSC, Christian Ritacco. The class will unveil their banner alongside the very first CLSC banner this morning.

According to Hunt, creating this year’s Recognition Day has been a “really interesting experience” because they have created a hybrid component, as opposed to last year, when the ceremony was fully online. 

This year, there will also be a Virtual Recognition Day ceremony at 3:30 p.m. EDT today on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch for everyone who was unable to be on the grounds, to ensure that they are able to participate in the festivities. 

Hunt herself is a member of the CLSC Class of 2020 and she was excited about the “innovative ways” the Institution has found to celebrate CLSC graduates. She hopes to keep a virtual aspect of the ceremony in future years for accessibility; now if someone is unable to travel to the Institution to participate in person, they will always be able to be included. 

The co-presidents for the CLSC Class of 2021, Jennifer Mittereder and Missy Sirianno, are excited to be able to be on the grounds for the ceremony. Mittereder was initially supposed to be a part of the Class of 2020, but dropped out because she “wanted to have the full experience.”

In the past, Mittereder said she was constantly being bothered by friends and family who are CLSC members asking, “Why haven’t you done it yet?” She said it was because she was waiting on some friends and her husband so that they could all join together. Eventually, she decided to stop waiting on them and joined by herself.

She went and picked up a CLSC charm as a gift to herself for finally graduating.

 According to the co-presidents, the final vote on the class flower, motto, symbol and honoree all happened via Zoom, so they are excited to finally be together as a group. They decided on the beebalm for their flower, because it is representative of empathy and tied into this week’s theme of “Building a Culture of Empathy.”

The class was coming together virtually and making all of the decisions about what they wanted their symbols to be at the height of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. They were deciding between making their story a pandemic story, or if they were more interested in the “social justice and change” going on, Sirianno said. 

Eventually, after they “chew(ed) on it” for a while, the class decided that they would rather focus on the social justice aspect. This prompted them to select John Lewis as their honoree. Lewis was an American statesman and civil rights activist who served in the United States House of Representatives for 33 years. He also helped organize the 1963 March on Washington and led the first three marches from Selma to Montgomery across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. 

It is from Lewis that the class gets their motto: “Creating good trouble together.” To Mittereder, “creating good trouble” is about “bringing to light issues that matter, and making sure they are listened to, and that people don’t sweep them under the rug.”

The class wanted to carry the themes of empathy and social justice all the way through, so they selected a circle of grasped hands in a variety of skin tones representing people of different ethnicities as their symbol. 

All of these ideas and symbols are featured on the class banner which, according to Hunt, is a tradition that goes back to the first class of the CLSC in 1882, whose banner has since been affectionately dubbed “Old Blue.”

For Sirianno, the banners were what convinced her to join the CLSC in the first place. When she visited on a rainy day, before she began coming to the grounds regularly, She was the only one who showed up for a tour of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall, where some banners are displayed. “I love the banners,” she gushed. 

Both presidents are proud of the design that they came up with. Neither woman had any experience with textile crafting, but they found a company in Buffalo, New York called Oxford Pennant Company who were able to help bring the design to life. 

According to Sirianno, the people from the Oxford Pennant Company were excited to be a part of the creation of the banner. They took lots of pictures and want to feature it on their website.

“We’re really excited,” Sirianno said. “We hope people love it.”

Beyond the notes: With special guest Allison Russell, Margo Price brings multi-genre sound to Amp stage

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SARA TOTH – EDITOR

Price

It’s a week of returns at Chautauqua — two singer-songwriters who made their Amphitheater debuts with Our Native Daughters in 2019 are back on the grounds, and following Amythyst Kiah’s performance Monday, it’s Allison Russell’s turn to venture back to the stage, this time as a special guest of Margo Price.

It’s a full-circle moment for Deborah Sunya Moore, whose Facebook memories this week surprised her with a photo of Our Native Daughters — who performed two years ago to the day Monday — “a quartet of power women who came as an ensemble committed to shining a light on the African-American women’s stories of struggle and hope.”

“That concert sang of resilience, and now both Amythyst and Allison are back with new solo albums that burst of both musical excellence and social activism,” said Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer (interim) and vice president of performing and visual arts. “In a week on empathy, it seems right to have women that have come to grips with struggles and shared them with the world, while all along making music that resonates beyond the singular notes played.”

Russell and Price perform at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 4 in the Amp, both fresh from stints at the Newport Folk Festival in late July. 

Russell is a Nashville-based, Montreal-born Scottish-Grenadian-Canadian writer, musician, composer and producer. She is a founding member of three acclaimed groups — Our Native Daughters, Birds of Chicago and Po’ Girl. 

This year saw her nominated for Americana Emerging Act of the Year by Americana Music Association, and the release of her solo debut album, Outside Child, which lays bare a reckoning with her upbringing, including sexual abuse at the hands of her adoptive father.

In a story about Outside Child for The New York Times, Jon Pareles described Russell’s completion of her solo debut as both cathartic and jubilant.

“One of the things that I think we don’t talk about as survivors is the extreme joy that comes when you are over on the other side,” Russell told Pareles. “Part of putting this record out is just wanting to show that there’s a road map. You are not defined by your scars. You are not defined by what you’ve lost. You are not defined by what someone did to you. Yes, that’s a part of the story. That’s a part of who you become. But it doesn’t define you.”

Moore said that Price “comes with her own stories of working to scrape by in order to pay rent and heat the house. She’s a storyteller and an advocate, and she embraces country music not simply for what it is, but for what she is making it.”

Russell

Long considered one of East Nashville’s best kept secrets, Price earned international acclaim with the 2016 release of her first solo album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, which debuted in the Top 10 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. Her third solo album, That’s How Rumors Get Started, was released last summer — she didn’t perform a single song from it live until May 28, 2021. Lockdown was like “the rug’s been pulled out from under me,” Price told Julia Carmel for “The Pandemic Work Diary of Margo Price” in The New York Times. She had taken time off work after having a baby, and was ready to get back on the road. She instead spent the pandemic working on a memoir and recording two albums.

“I’m a disciple of all things that are close to the ground — roots music, folk, blues, soul,” Price told Carmel. “I want to have enough genres that people can’t exactly put their finger on one thing.”

Earlier this summer, Price released the EP Live from the Other Side, which includes a new version of “Hey Child” (from That’s How Rumors Get Started) and a cover of the Beatles’ “Help” — which was in turn inspired by Tina Turner’s cover of the same song. Price dedicated the EP to Turner.

“Her strength, talent and truth have inspired me endlessly and I loved performing her interpretation of ‘Help’ by The Beatles,” Price wrote in a release accompanying the EP. “I believe in the power to manifest your own destiny, and I offer Tina’s Buddhist mantra to anyone who may need it: ‘Namu Myoho Renge Kyo’ means ‘I honor the Universal Mystical Law of Cause and Effect.’ Take it with you wherever you go and hope to see you down the highway.”

Old First Night festivities return to Amphitheater

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SARAH VEST – STAFF WRITER

Jeffrey Jacobs raises a handkerchief aloft during the Drooping of the Lilies at Old First Night on Aug. 6, 2019, in the Amphitheater — the last in-person celebration before COVID-19. VISHAKHA GUPTA / DAILY FILE PHOTO

The word “tradition” has deep roots at Chautauqua and, unfortunately, the last 16 months have disrupted many of them. Now, it’s time to celebrate Chautauqua’s 147th birthday with Old First Night at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3, in the Amphitheater and return to the traditions we know and love. 

Geof Follansbee, senior vice president and chief advancement officer, said that “it will feel fantastic” to be having Old First Night in person, instead of online. According to Follansbee, despite it being important to the Institution to honor the traditions of OFN during quarantine, the event last summer lacked the “spontaneity and enthusiasm” that can always be found in the Amp. 

“I think, like everything about this summer, it won’t be quite as it’s been in past years. We’re going to have some restrictions that are placed on us about participation and everything, but it’s going to feel a whole heck of a lot better than last year,” Follansbee said. 

Chautauquans can expect to see a return of beloved traditions, such as the Drooping of the Lilies in remembrance of those departed, and the Chautauqua Vespers. The evening will also feature several opportunities to join together in song.

Tina Downey, director of the Chautauqua Fund, said “we’ve missed gathering as a community; that’s what Chautauqua is all about.” 

In recent years, Downey and members of the Institution’s staff worked to make OFN more welcoming and inclusive for people who are new to Chautauqua. She sees this as a “terrific” opportunity to finally bring everyone, new and returning, together.

Initially, according to Downey, Airband was supposed to be welcomed back to the stage, but with the closure of Youth and Family Programs for much of Week Five (all youth activities are reopening today), that tradition had to be postponed for the time being. The children from Childrens’ School won’t be taking the stage, either, but they will be included virtually.

Chautauqua’s marketing team was able to put together a video of the children that will be played as a way to pay homage to the tradition. Downey said that Kit Trapasso, the Children’s School director, even interviewed some of the kids about their favorite things and that the footage is “adorable.” 

Another way that the kids are going to be incorporated is with the Boys’ and Girls’ Club song. One of the groups from Club will be brought on stage with Greg (Coach) Prechtl, the McCredie Family Director of Boys’ and Girls’ Club, to lead a sing-along with the audience to act as a unifier. 

OFN is a celebration of Chautauqua’s birthday, and in that vein, the Institution asks for people to make their donations on this day. This year, Downey said, the ushers will not be passing the baskets along the aisles; instead there will be present shaped boxes by the entrances for people to place their donations in, as well as a mobile-friendly website (giving.chq.org/birthday). 

Downey wanted to highlight the Edward L. Anderson Jr. Foundation, which has “very generously stepped forward” and will be matching any first time donations dollar for dollar, not only for the 2021 season, but the 2020 one, as well. 

Additionally, there is a giveaway that anyone who donates is automatically entered into for an adult bike with a basket full of local products. All entries count up until midnight today and the winner will be selected and announced Wednesday.  

Follansbee hopes that people are willing to “bring a gift to the party” because Chautauqua “is absolutely dependent on the support of people who come” and he wants to continue to provide families with wonderful experiences. 

Following OFN at 7:30 p.m. in the Amp, Doktor Kaboom! will be taking the stage sporting chrome goggles and an orange lab coat. He strives to “empower, excite, educate and entertain” in order to get children interested in learning more about science and show that it can be for everyone. 

Chautauqua Community Band to perform annual Old First Night concert

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NICHOLE JIANG – STAFF WRITER

Jason Weintraub leads the Chautauqua Community Band in the playing of the National Anthem during the Old First Night Concert Aug. 6, 2019, on Bestor Plaza. SARAH YENESEL/DAILY FILE PHOTO

This week is all about traditions and celebration — Chautauqua Institution turns 147 years old today. To kick off the birthday festivities, the Chautauqua Community Band will perform their annual Old First Night concert at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3 in Bestor Plaza. The familiar blue shirts, led by conductor Jason Weintraub, will once again fill the plaza with traditional pieces. 

Weintraub began this long tradition of performing in the plaza for Old First Night after walking around during the day and realizing there wasn’t much going on. 

“I thought for Old First Night, to celebrate Chautauqua’s birthday, we should have a band concert,” Weintraub said. 

The CCB has now been performing at Old First Night for 25 years. The band is also a way for community members, both on and off the grounds (as well as families), to come together and celebrate these traditions. 

The concert will start off with “The Star Spangled Banner” and will continue with familiar marches, overtures and the “Happy Birthday” song. This year’s program also features numbers from the musical Oklahoma. There will be no soloists for this year’s concert, but the community can enjoy the Thursday Morning Brass ensemble. The group will perform alongside the CCB and will also be spotlighted for “The Colonnade Fanfare” and several works by Henry Mancini. The fanfare was written by the group’s euphonium player. 

“There’s a lot of traditional songs that we play. There’s various marches that people associate with Old First Night,” said Aiden Chamberlain, Tuesday Morning Brass lead. “There’s also that little bit of identity with themes from different states. So that’s kind of part of the tradition. I’ve been coming to Chautauqua for 20 years, and the band’s done this every year. It’s a real part of that tradition.”

People can come out and enjoy the live music while lounging in the sun on Bestor Plaza, said Weintraub. 

“We’re one of the few things where the tradition just keeps going. This concert is more of a park band. Everybody can be having a picnic, singing, humming and whistling,” Weintraub said. “A lot of people tell me this is one of the things they look forward to the most.”

The concert, Chamberlain said, is also a great opportunity for the community to come together to celebrate Chautauqua and enjoy all the traditions that this special day offers. 

“I like the atmosphere of being outside. You’ve got families enjoying the day and maybe having a little picnic or some lunch. There’s that nice community feel, and we’re right in the middle of the community,” Chamberlain said. “And with that, you really get that feeling of being right in the middle of Chautauqua with everyone joining in together for the old first night tradition. It’s really nice to be a part of that.”

Ruth Powell to share stories of page-turning for Jacobsen in CWC talk

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DEBORAH TREFTS – STAFF WRITER

Powell

For many Chautauquans, the grieving of Jared Jacobsen’s passing — less than two days after the 2019 season ended and five months before the pandemic began — continues to this day.

The liveliness, intelligence, sentimentality and masterful skill of this world-class organist, coordinator of worship and sacred music, and director of the 50-voice Motet Choir and 150-voice Chautauqua Choir were so widely revered that Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec wrote “Chautauqua Anthem” in Jacobsen’s honor. The Chautauqua Choir presented its world premiere on July 16, 2017, in the Amphitheater during the morning worship service.

Jacobsen’s successor, Joshua Stafford, now holds the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and the title of director of sacred music. Stafford also directs the Motet and Chautauqua choirs.

“Everyone loved Jared,” said Ruth Powell, whom Jacobsen appointed as his page-turner for the Massey Memorial Organ following the retirement of Janet Miller.

At 9:15 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 3 on the porch and front lawn of the Chautauqua Women’s Club, Powell will share some funny and thoughtful insights about Jacobsen during her talk titled, “Tales from the Bench: Adventures in Page-Turning for Jared Jacobsen.” The rain date is Wednesday at the same time and place.

“(Jacobsen) had a wonderful last season, the organ wasn’t flooded, there was no (water) or fire to work around, it behaved itself, and he was almost giddy,” Powell said.

The 2018 season was preceded in early February by a leak caused by ice and snowmelt that damaged the organ console’s original ivory keys — which, to comply with federal law, were replaced by bleached calf bone in time for the opening of the season — and ended with a small fire in the console following morning worship service on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018.

“His last season was great,” Powell continued. “The (Motet) Choir was involved with doing The Christians with (Chautauqua Theater Company). … Without question, the most serendipitous thing that happened was that Josh — who had been his protégé — came and gave a recital. (Jared) let Josh play ‘Largo’ at the last Sacred Song Service. Afterwards they hugged, and hugged and hugged.”

Since 1907, “Largo” from George Frederick Handel’s opera Xerxes has been the high point of every Sunday evening Sacred Song Service in the Amp, just as “Holy, Holy, Holy” has been the favorite of each Sunday morning worship service.  

Powell added, “After that, Jared came to my apartment and I asked, ‘Is this the heir apparent?’ And he said, ‘Oh, I think so.’ ”  

To be selected as Jacobsen’s page-turner while he mastered the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ was an honor. As its primary guardian, he played — and Powell turned pages — for the weekday morning worship services, Sunday morning and evening services, weekly recitals and frequent solos with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and the Music School Festival Orchestra.

“I have a performance degree in organ and appreciated his music,” Powell said. “I thought I was a great page-turner. Boy, did I learn.”

A further honor was that Jacobsen gave a Massey Memorial Organ mini-concert in 2017, inspired by Powell. She had heard the piece “In Holberg’s Time,” which is one of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg’s piano suites, and wanted Jacobsen to introduce it to Chautauquans.

Jacobsen told Chautauquan Daily reporter Delaney Van Wey that he had been out of touch with Grieg, who developed a national musical identity for his home country of Norway, and may be one of history’s greatest piano composers. Thus he acted on Powell’s wish, transcribed piano compositions to the organ, and created the program for his July 25, 2017, concert honoring Grieg.

“I have nothing but joy about my memories of Jared,” Powell said. “He was so funny. … There was a lot of craziness going on up there.”

For Chautauquans who grew up with Jacobsen — he first came to Chautauqua to learn piano when he was only 5 years old — and who knew him before he became a celebrity, her memories are not particularly long. They are, however, colorful and meaningful.  

Powell said that Danville, Illinois, where she spent her childhood, “was a wonderful place to grow up, with the Midwest upbringing.” Having also been home to Dick and Jerry Van Dyke, Gene Hackman, Donald O’Connor and Bobby Short, Danville was not short on celebrities.

“We went to the same high school (as Dick and Jerry) and we heard about Dick being in all the plays,” she said. “He came to town in a parade. Dick was in the biggest sitcoms on TV. Gene and Bobby were there for a while, but not for all of their childhood.”

As a piano major at Illinois Wesleyan University, Powell hadn’t wanted to take a voice course, so instead she took organ. Once she began playing it, she said she didn’t want to do anything else, and by the end of her first year she had changed her major to organ performance. Marilyn Keiser had graduated eight years before her and was on her way to becoming a virtuoso concert organist, so she had someone to look up to.

“Eventually I got interested in the choir, got into it, and decided to go to graduate school in choir conducting; which I never did,” Powell said.

Meanwhile, she did a lot of page-turning in college and became good at it. 

“Page-turning is an art,” she said. “I was one of the go-to people for page-turning.”

Jared Jacobsen talks about the inner-workings of the Massey Memorial Organ at a Children’s Encounter on July 3, 2011. GREG FUNKA/DAILY FILE PHOTO

Upon graduation, Powell spent the summer at what was then called the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Michigan.

“The best kids from all over the world came, and I was the manager of all of the high school choral organizations,” she said. “It’s kind of like what I do here. Working with conductors is kind of like being a personal assistant.”

Although she’d been accepted to a “really good choral conducting program,” as things happened, Powell ended up in Washington, D.C.

“I joined the huge — 150 people at least — symphonic chorus in D.C. that had a regular subscription program with the Kennedy Center and sang with the symphony,” she said. “The Choral Arts Society of Washington has all top musicians. Norman Scribner, the choir director, was one of the top influences in my life, musically and personally. There’s not a single person who would tell you anything different.”

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts opened in 1971. For the opening, Jacqueline Kennedy commissioned Leonard Bernstein to perform the premiere of his MASS, and Scribner assembled a professional choir that she joined.

“Eventually when Bernstein came to town, he’d call (Scribner),” Powell said. “He wanted to put on a Haydn mass at the same time as the Nixon inaugural balls (on Jan. 20, 1973) because he was (against the Vietnam War). He taped our choir and did (“Mass in Time of War”) in the National Cathedral. The next day we went back and they recorded it.”

Powell continued:  “To be 23 in D.C. — I couldn’t even comprehend that I’m getting to do this. That was truly the mountain top.”

Earning a master’s degree in education instead of conducting, she accepted a teaching position in middle school music in the Fairfax County, Virginia, public schools.

“I taught middle school, and eventually I got a job teaching elementary school,” Powell said. “After that, there was no singing voice left. I taught 10 30-minute classes a day without a break. There might be four fourth-grade classes in a row. I had to sing on top of their instruments. It was brutal on my voice because I abused it so badly. So I had to drop out of that beautiful choir.”

For her last five years in education, Powell said she was drafted to teach pregnant girls.

“Probably starting in 2002, I got back in the choir and put in another five or six years,” she said. “(Scribner) was there, and I decided to stay in the choir (as long as) he was still there. I retired to the Blue Ridge Mountains by Charlottesville, Virginia, and commuted three hours twice weekly to D.C.”

After Scribner retired, Powell moved to Florida. In 2018, she joined the Choral Artists of Sarasota, a 35-member professional vocal ensemble. Joseph Holt, the choral’s artistic director, had for 15 years served as the associate music director for The Choral Arts Society of Washington.

“I didn’t start coming to Chautauqua until 14 years ago or thereabouts,” Powell said. “Then I tried to spend longer and longer here. I went back and forth, and was in the Motet Choir.”

During this time she has also taught numerous classes on a variety of musical topics through Chautauqua Institution’s Special Studies Program.

She said she’s a person who believes in deciding what you want, and what you have to give up in order to get it. Powell did the latter, enabling her to be at Chautauqua each summer for the full season.

“When I first joined the choir, I was intimidated by (Jacobsen),” Powell said. “He was an icon. Eventually I became one of the three librarians of the Motet Choir. He was very slow to welcome someone into his inner circle and it didn’t phase me a bit. … But once I became a librarian and started renting a house, (I would see him walking his dog and) he would sit and talk.”

Eventually, she said, they became close friends. Even then, turning pages for Jared was one of the scariest adventures of her life. Now, she is “beyond thrilled to be working with Josh,” Powell said. “The legacy is absolutely top notch, and I think Jared would be really pleased.”

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