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Iconic Chita Rivera to provide Chautauquans with one of final Amp performances in ’22

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The audacious Anita from West Side Story, the vaudevillian Velma Kelly from Chicago and the shifty Spider Woman from the Kiss of the Spider Woman will be visiting Chautauqua during Week Nine, the conclusory week of the 2022 summer assembly.  

Critically-acclaimed Broadway performer Chita Rivera, who has embodied all these famed roles and more, will grace the stage at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27 in the Amphitheater, carrying Chautauquans through one of the final Amp performances of the summer. And there’s no one better to do it. 

“Chita Rivera is not only theater royalty, she is a national treasure,” said Laura Savia, vice president of performing and visual arts. “Chita Rivera’s body of work and her onstage persona are larger than life and absolutely electrifying. Engaging her artistry felt like a fitting capstone for a very full and thrilling summer.”

It was 1949, and Rivera was 16 years old when she auditioned for the father of American ballet, George Balanchine. Hinting at her soon-to-be prolific career, Balanchine offered her a scholarship with New York City’s American School of Ballet; she now exists as an icon in Broadway’s fabled history. 

Rivera first stepped under the lights of Broadway in 1953 as she took on the role of principal dancer for Guys and Dolls. The next five years witnessed Rivera stepping into lauded roles off-Broadway, on Broadway and in London’s West End. Tucked within those five years, in 1957, Rivera slipped on the full-skirted lavender dress of Anita in West Side Story. This performance is hailed as the one that made Rivera a star. 

She is now on the cusp of her 90th birthday and brings to the Amp stage, “The Rhythm of My Life,” as she looks back on her unforgettable career so far. 

Savia had the chance to work with Rivera at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts, where Savia contributed to programming and organizing special events; this was a  position she held directly before stepping into her role at Chautauqua. There, she was able to see Rivera’s talent firsthand. 

“I can personally attest that her instrument and her charisma and her talent are unparalleled,” Savia said. “There is nobody on the planet like Chita Rivera.”

Rivera’s career is one that transcended expectations for who can be on Broadway. She began musical theater at a time when Latinx women were not booking Broadway roles, “let alone originating roles,” Savia said. She was the first Latinx woman to win a Kennedy Center Honor, has won three Tony Awards, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award, and in 2015, had a documentary created about her life. 

In 2023, Rivera plans to release a memoir, aptly titled Chita: A Memoir, with journalist Patrick Pacheco. She strives to use her position as a celebrated performer to shepherd in the new generation of musical theater artists. 

“She is mindful of passing on her wisdom to future generations,” Savia said. “She has taken early career artists, particularly female artists, under her wing. She is generous inside of a rehearsal process, and she loves being a part of the educational and apprenticeship tradition that still thrives in the American theater.”

Saturday night, Rivera will bring all this, and her dazzling performance, to the Amp stage. She will reimagine moments from West Side Story, Chicago, Kiss of the Spider Woman, as well as from Sweet Charity and Bye Bye Birdie. Rivera’s Amp performance will also feature a musical tribute to her cherished friends, the acclaimed songwriting duo of John Kander and Fred Ebb. And, if this showcase could garner any more excitement, music from Leonard Bernstein, Jerry Herman, Stephen Sondheim and musical partners Charles Strouse & Lee Adams will be woven into the night. 

And while this performance is sure to be showstopping and Rivera is a “real triple threat,” Savia said, her performance at Chautauqua will draw audiences in — in a new way. 

“When Chita Rivera is here on the Amphitheater stage, this will be a rare opportunity for Chautauquans to connect with her in a more intimate way,” Savia said. “She’s going to speak about her own life, her extraordinary life, in her own words. She’s going to invite us into a space where she can show us her full self, not just refracted through a character.” 

Incoming pastor Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton to give closing sermon of ’22

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The Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton will give the closing sermon of the 2022 season at 10:45 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 28 in the Amphitheater. A frequent Chautauqua chaplain and lecturer over the past decade, Sutton will reintroduce himself to the Chautauqua community with his sermon “To Judge, or Not to Judge!” before he becomes the Institution’s new senior pastor in September, following the 2021 retirement of the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson from the position.

As senior pastor, Sutton will be in residence each summer to preside over the Institution’s Sunday and daily ecumenical worship services in the Amp, and curating and expanding a diverse roster of guest chaplains. He will also serve in a pastoral role for the Chautauqua community, both locally and nationally. 

“Chautauqua’s religious programming is among our most hallowed and sacred, and I’m elated to welcome these two servant leaders to shepherd this legacy while thoughtfully evolving to create as welcoming and inclusive an environment as possible,” Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer, said in May in an Institution press release announcing the appointment of both Sutton and Melissa Spas, the new vice president for religion. “… In Bishop Sutton we are blessed to have an internationally recognized pastoral voice to helm one of our country’s most historic and prominent pulpits, selecting the preachers that will provide moral clarity and direction on the day’s most pressing issues of faith and justice.” 

Sutton, who will preside over the first service of his new position on June 25, 2023, at the opening of the 2023 Summer Assembly, is currently bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

Sutton has served as canon pastor of the Washington National Cathedral and director of its Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage. A noted leader of retreats and conferences on spirituality, nonviolence, the environment and reconciliation, he co-founded Contemplative Outreach of Maryland and Washington, an ecumenical network committed to the daily practice of Centering Prayer. He is a contributor to the books The Diversity of Centering Prayer and Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: Challenging the Epidemic of Gun Violence

Sutton is recognized as a thought leader on issues of racial reconciliation, testifying before the U.S. Congress for the H.R.40 bill that calls for the establishment of a bipartisan commission to study reparations as a step toward racial reconciliation. He has appeared on National Public Radio, Fox News, PBS and other networks on the need for reconciliation in America. His board memberships include the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies, the Institute for Sustainable Communities, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Bishops United Against Gun Violence.

“Chautauqua is unique in its ability to address many of the world’s most pressing moral, ethical and religious issues that affect our lives in the 21st century. In the midst of the diverse traditions that could divide us, we need safe places like Chautauqua to find the spiritual core that unites us in our common humanity,” Sutton said in the press release announcing his appointment. “I am both honored and excited to join with this community in exploring faith together.” 

Sacred Song, Three Taps close season by reflecting, rejoicing

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The end of a Chautauqua season is bittersweet for all, so rather than providing a theme for the last Sacred Song Service of 2022, Josh Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, is choosing to reflect and rejoice on what it means to be a member of the Chautauqua community.

The final Sacred Song Service will take place at 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28 in the Amphitheater before the closing Three Taps of the Gavel Address from Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill.

“Rather than focusing on a theme this week, we’ve opted to keep it in the spirit of the 1903 version of the Chautauqua Vespers, partly with keeping it brief,” Stafford said. “… It’s a simple, beautiful way to close out the season connecting us to Chautauqua’s past.”

Stafford said he is particularly looking forward to “The House of Faith Has Many Rooms,” by Craig Phillips.

“(It’s) a really beautiful anthem that speaks well to a lot of what Chautauqua is,” Stafford said, “and paired with a really lovely reading from (Institution co-founders John H. Vincent and) Lewis Miller’s The Chautauqua Movement.

Another Chautauqua favorite the audience can look forward to is “Break Thou the Bread of Life,” which was written for the 1877 assembly. Every summer, Chautauquans have gathered, and 2022 represents the truest return to form for the community since 2019.

“It’s been so nice being able to run a season (at) full capacity this year,” Stafford said. “It’s been a great time to connect and reconnect with people.”

Next season, Stafford’s looking forward to growing the Chautauqua Choir, working with the Department of Religion — particularly new Vice President for Religion Melissa Spas and incoming senior pastor, the Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton. For now, as this season wraps up, he’s spent the last few weeks reflecting on the summer.

“Nicholas Stigall has been, I think, the best first organ scholar we could have asked for,” Stafford said. “He’s really lived up to and exceeded every expectation we have for that position, and I look forward to many more scholars in years to come.”

Following the attack on Salman Rushdie on Aug. 12 in the Amp, Stafford said the return to the space— Chautauqua’s church, lecture hall and performance venue —  was the community’s way of claiming it back as their own.

“Going back at first was a little tough. I couldn’t help but think about it as I stood there (Sunday, Aug. 14) conducting,” Stafford said. “…For me, it’s a thing that happened that was terrible, but there have been so many other wonderful things even in the three weeks since, it still feels like our Amphitheater, our Chautauqua.”

Beach Boys, Temptations return to Amp in one-night-only event of iconic collections

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Get ready for good vibrations on cloud nine as two of the most prolific bands to influence American culture join together at Chautauqua. The Beach Boys and The Temptations, on their “Sixty Years of the Sounds of Summer” tour, are ready for a one-of-a-kind, double-bill performance.

The two iconic bands, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26, take the Amphitheater stage for one of the final performances of the 2022 Chautauqua season. 

The Beach Boys, led by original member Mike Love, is jam-packed with other talented artists, including: Bruce Johnston, Scott Totten, Brian Eichenberger, Christian Love, Tim Bonhomme, John Cowsill, Keith Hubacher and Randy Leago. 

Love wrote the lyrics to their first hit, “Surfin’,” and dozens of chart toppers, such as “Surfin’ USA,” “Surfer Girl,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “Good Vibrations” and “Kokomo.” 

The band is attributed with creating the California sound, which evokes feelings of cheerful adolescence through songs of cars, the sun and ocean waves in a catalog of 1960s nostalgia. 

The Beach Boys, with their sun-soaked, idealistic, catchy tunes, stand to complement Motown legends The Temptations and their soul-rock melodies.

The Temptations, often referred to as “American music royalty,” will feature original crooner, Otis Williams. 

Williams is the only surviving member of The Temptations, but the band has continued to produce acclaimed music — more than 40 records to date. They’ve covered artists such as Ed Sheeran and The Weeknd, and in 2021, to celebrate their 60th anniversary, they released Temptations 60. 

Carolyn Brown / Daily file photo The Temptations perform to a sold-out crowd on June 25, 2016, in the Amphitheater. The group returns, with The Beach Boys, at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the Amp.

This album proved that, “no matter who is in the group, Otis always ensures The Temptations maintain a level of vocal excellence,” said music reviewer George Haffenden on The Funk and Soul Revue.

Williams founded the band in 1960, and has gone on to be nominated for 12 Tony Awards, and, through The Temptations, win a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2019, they were nominated for a Grammy for their musical theater album Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations, and were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

“Looking back, I never could have imagined where my life has taken me,” Williams said following the album’s release. “I’m proud of what The Temptations have achieved, and I’m grateful for every opportunity we’ve been so fortunate to receive. The music carries me. Together, we lift our voices with love and wonder.”

Benjamin Hunter to advocate for nurturing environments, opportunities for expression

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From artistic director of Northwest Folklife to multi-instrumentalist to educator to social entrepreneur, it’s easy to ask, “What doesn’t Benjamin Hunter do?”

Now, he serves as the final speaker of the 2022 Chautauqua Lecture Series at 10:45 a.m. Friday, Aug. 26 in the Amphitheater. Hunter will help wrap up Week Nine’s theme, “A Vibrant Tapestry: Exploring Creativity, Culture and Faith with Smithsonian Folklife Festival.”

Hunter spends most of his work interacting with what folk culture is and what he and others can do to make folk as culturally rich as it possibly can be. For him, folk isn’t a genre — it’s more expansive than that.

“It’s not a genre. It’s not a style of music or craft,” he said. “It is whatever it is that people do in whatever place or time or position or environment that they are in to celebrate, whether it’s to celebrate their joy or … in some cases, their pain and their loss, to cope.”

With this definition, folk is not a specific musical sound. It becomes almost limitless in what it can encapsulate. Hunter feels that when there are limits, that’s when folk really isn’t folk.

“We need to stop creating scenarios where we put people into boxes that define or project delineations of music or folk or craft,” he said. “We need to start nurturing environments that allow people to express themselves where they are, who they are, when they are, because that’s the history of folk in my research.”

Creating this type of environment that nurtures people is one of Hunter’s main focuses as artistic director of Northwest Folklife, which is an independent organization dedicated to creating arts and culture festivals that reflect Pacific Northwest communities. 

He ensures that not only the artists invited into this work are diverse, but that they are paid fairly, too. Diversity is crucial to folk culture, Hunter said, because folk has centered the patriarchy and whiteness for so long.

“Why is it that some people in this country can be called American and then other people need to be called African American or Asian American or Latino American?” he said. “We need to figure out a way to help people understand what their folk is.”

For Hunter, the key to understanding someone’s folk history is for people to understand their personal beliefs. When they understand that their lineage and history has equal value to everyone else’s, that is when people will listen to each other.

“When we think about folk, it’s storytelling, really, when it comes down to it,” he said. “We just need to find more ways to allow people to listen to other people’s stories.”

Hunter’s story begins with his parents. His mom was a white woman from Arizona and his dad was a Black man from Tanzania. While Hunter never met his father, he did spend his childhood traveling with his mom, moving to many different countries, including Zimbabwe, where he says he spent his formative years.

“There’s just all of these things that go into who I am as a person,” he said.

And to Hunter, all of these things make up his folk.

“Finding our folk doesn’t just mean discovering your own personal mythology,” he said. “It’s discovering your own personal mythology in the fabric and the interweaving of a community that sees you — and that you see them, as well.”

PRRI founder Robert P.Jones to close season with discussion of ethics, faith

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Robert P. Jones grew up as a Southern Baptist in a white evangelical church in Mississippi. 

Now, as president and founder of Public Religion Research Institute, Jones wants to fulfill his own — and help others to fulfill their — Christian duties with an emphasis on ethics in faith communities.

Jones will give his lecture on “White Supremacy, Christian Nationalism and the Fragile Future of the American Experiment,” at 2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26 in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall — not the traditional venue of the Hall of Philosophy — to end Week Nine, its theme of “Faith and the Tapestry of the Future,” and the 2022 Summer Assembly Season’s Interfaith Lecture Series.

“I’m going to be talking about the ways in which white supremacy and American Christianity have had this symbiotic relationship throughout American history,” Jones said. “This is a history that is largely unnoticed, and in some cases deliberately buried, because it’s a fairly unflattering history.”

A leading scholar on religion, culture and politics, Jones, is the author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity (winner of the 2021 American Book Award) and The End of White Christian America (winner of the 2019 Grawemeyer Award in Religion). 

He said he wants white Christians in his audience to have a better sense of the truth about their identity, both in the past and the present. 

“I think that’s going to require some serious soul searching … some repentance and hopefully commitment to repairing the damage,” Jones said.

Americans are barely waking up to the realities of white Christian nationalism, Jones said, because they are just now realizing it’s a problem.

“The choice in front of us today is whether we’re going to face it, work for healing and repair or whether we’re going to deny it,” Jones said. “James Baldwin put it so unnervingly, whether we’re going to continue our national racial nightmare.”

Jones founded PRRI in 2009 to use data to examine the intersection of religion, culture and politics.

“There was still a need for solid, independent, nonpartisan public opinion research,” Jones said, “and to get a deeper understanding of what the public thought of, not only about issues, (but) what in their worldview, including their cultural and religious views, led them to those beliefs.”

Jones said religion and politics always overlap, because they’re part of human culture. Intertwined, these two facets of American culture can lead to significant ramifications.

“I’m actually quite alarmed at the current state of things, particularly the most recent Supreme Court decisions that (rely) on a particular view of history and tradition, rather than on legal principles of separation of church and state,” Jones said.

Jones said historically, Christian churches have supported white supremacy, which forces the opposition of the democratic principles America was founded on.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that if we can’t honestly deal with this history and choose a different path, not only is the American experiment in democracy in peril,” Jones said, “the future of the church itself is in peril.”

His life in Mississippi was surrounded by people who thought as long as they weren’t personally racist, they were doing their job. Jones said this is not, and should not be, the case; Christians have a responsibility to combat injustices around them.

“The dilemma for white Christians is to really face the ways that Christianity has justified not just a personal sense of racism, but the setting up of institutions,” Jones said. “That is the habit of systemically perpetuated white supremacy, and limited Black equality.”

Acclaimed singer-songwriters Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter to present special double-bill evening

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Jam-packed nights of entertainment in the Amphitheater have been deliciously derigueur this summer — from the classical to the contemporary, the stage has seen combined orchestras, triple-bills of the best in pop, country and blues, and cherished family films. 

But the season isn’t over, and at the early time of 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25 in the Amp, two of the most acclaimed singer-songwriters of their generation — Emmylou Harris and Mary Chapin Carpenter — will take the stage for a special double-bill performance.

In Carpenter’s sixth appearance at Chautauqua, she’ll open the evening with songs from her extensive and lauded catalog.

With five Grammy Awards, two CMA Awards and two Academy of Country Music awards to her name, Carpenter is one of only 15 women members of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. 

Carpenter, who has sold over 15 million records and recorded more than a dozen studio albums, released two albums in 2020 alone: The Dirt And The Stars and One Night Lonely, which was recorded live without an audience at the Filene Center at Wolf Trap.

In 2016, Carpenter told Daily reporter GeorgeAnne Oliver that every record “is different, simply because you’re a different person when you write those songs.”

“Making records has always been a matter of writing, writing, writing and then just sort of getting to a place where it just feels like a natural point,” she said in 2016.

For her new album, The Dirt and The Stars, Carpenter wrote on her website that to be a “student of art and music and life … is what makes life worth living.”

“The songs are very personal and they’re difficult in some ways, and definitely come from places of pain and self-illumination, but also places of joy, discovery and the rewards of self- knowledge,” she wrote. “They arrived from looking outward as much as inward. … I suppose I could say there are many themes, but they all come back to that initial truth that we are all constantly ‘becoming’ through art and expression.”

Carpenter and Harris have several dates lined up on their tour together this late summer and early fall, but this is hardly the first time they’ve shared a stage. Notably, in 2021, the two paired up to pay tribute to folk icon Joan Baez, performing “Diamonds & Rust” and “We Shall Overcome” at that year’s Kennedy Center Honors. 

“Besides (Baez’s) music, I feel she changed the heart of America through her involvement in the civil rights movement, using her voice, literally using her voice, the way she did,” Harris told Jane Graham for an installment of The Big Issue’s “Letter to My Younger Self” series. “I’d love to tell that teenage girl listening to the radio that one day she’ll be on stage singing for Joan Baez at her induction into the Kennedy Center Honors.”

Harris, who closes the evening, is a 14-time Grammy Award winner and Billboard Century Award recipient. Over a 40-year career, Harris has recorded more than 25 albums, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008 and earned a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 2018. While Carpenter spent the pandemic recording, Harris told Robin Murray of Clash Music that she had “taken off the songwriting hat” while working on a memoir, and looking to the release of her album Ramble in Music City: The Lost Concert (Live), recorded with The Nash Ramblers 30 years ago. 

“​​Early on I think I had an ear — if you want to use that word — for a good lyric, that was full of meaning and poetry. But the longer you live, the deeper you go, and the more your heart grows from all your experiences, I think you relate more (to the emotional center of a song),” she told Murray. “But I don’t think it’s something that I consciously think about. I mean, when I’m singing I allow the song, and the lyrics, and the music to carry me. From the very beginning, I always thought of myself as an instrument to tell stories.”

‘World Cafe’ host Raina Douris to talk exploration in music industry

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Every new music artist wants to be discovered. No matter what genre they’re in, that’s the ultimate goal. Radio and television shows such as NPR’s “World Cafe” offer an opportunity for such artists to be noticed.

Raina Douris, host of “World Cafe,” will give her lecture at 10:45 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 25 in the Amphitheater as part of the Week Nine Chautauqua Lecture Series, “A Vibrant Tapestry: Exploring Creativity, Culture and Faith with Smithsonian Folklife Festival.”

“I’m going to be talking about how music discovery has changed,” Douris said, “some of the trends in folk music specifically, and where ‘World Cafe’ has helped move those changes along.”

“World Cafe” is a nationally syndicated artist interview and discovery show that has been on air for over 30 years. Douris, only the third host in the show’s history, looks at the trends in the world, including what folk music means, what qualifies as folk music and how technology and the pandemic have changed music. 

But, Douris does not only work with “World Cafe.” From 2017 to 2019 she served on the jury for the Polaris Music Prize, one of Canada’s highest music honors.

“You get to see this different array of musicians that often don’t get any promotion, or any real exposure in mainstream media, other than when the Polaris Prize happens,” Douris said. “It’s such a valuable, special thing.”

The Polaris Music Prize names the best Canadian album of the year, but isn’t based on album sales. It determines its winners based on artistic merit. There’s two rounds and a final shortlist before the winner is announced, often including underground artists who wouldn’t typically be discovered.

“I think it’s one of the most important music things that happens in Canada,” Douris said. “I was so proud to be a part of that, because I think it does something that is really difficult to do: shine a light on artists who don’t maybe have a full promotional machine behind them.”

Douris’ work on “World Cafe” allows her to connect with new artists like the ones eligible for the Polaris Music Prize, as part of her job is conducting interviews. 

“I love getting to have conversations with people,” Douris said. “I love talking with people (and) I love getting to find the human side of an artist.”

Douris said she loved music and performing from a young age. She would make mixtapes and insist her mom listen to every song all the way through in the car. Douris turned this passion into a career.

“When I realized radio was a way to (get involved in the music world), it was really exciting,” Douris said. “That was when I started to intern at a rock station in Toronto.”

“World Cafe” is pre-taped, but since it is produced daily, they’re always creating something. While she loves the “go, go, go” aspect of journalism, Douris said sometimes she needs to sit back and reflect.

“I’m often very tired after the day,” Douris said. “By the end of the day, you’re talking so much (music), sometimes I just have to listen to silence.”

One of her favorite aspects of the work is when people are influenced by “World Cafe” shows.

“I really love it when someone’s like ‘I discovered this band because of “World Cafe,” they’re my new favorite,’ ” Douris said. “That is the best feeling ever.”

Music is incredibly valuable in her life, and Douris hopes others feel the same.

“I always hope that people take away a greater appreciation for music,” Douris said, “and take away a desire to listen more carefully, more actively, to engage in the music around them.”

Buddhist Lama Rod Owens to map path forward via compassion

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As a leader in the Buddhist tradition, Lama Rod Owens helps people come to terms with their trauma and cope with loss, so they can help others work through their own trauma. Through helping people help themselves and then others, his hope is to create a better world built on compassion.

He will give his lecture, titled “Compassion as the Way Forward,” at 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25 in the Hall of Philosophy for Week Nine of the Interfaith Lecture Series, themed “Faith and the Tapestry of the Future.”

“I’m hoping that people really get a clear understanding of what Buddhism is,” Owens said. “Once we connect to our suffering and the suffering of others, we start actually generating this deep wish for all of us to be free from the suffering.”

Owens said he became interested in Buddhism and compassion when he left the Christian Church. He started meditating, studying philosophy, and making friends with Buddhists, and attended a three-year silent retreat at the Kagyu Thubten Chöling Monastery, outside of New York City, from 2008 to 2011.

“I was cloistered with three other men at their home at the monastery,” Owens said. “We spent over three years practicing together, meditating, chanting, studying and so forth.”

He is the author of, with Jasmine Syedullah and the Rev. angel Kyodo williams — herself a previous speaker for the Interfaith Lecture Series — Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love and Liberation. After becoming an authorized Lama, or Buddhist teacher, in the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, Owens also completed his Master of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School.

He wants people to understand they cannot help reduce harm and violence from others without first helping themselves.

“I believe compassion is one of the strongest, if not the most important, thing that we can practice right now,” Owens said. “Compassion helps us to do really deep emotional labor for ourselves that helps us to take care of our despair, grief, anxiety, fear, anger.”

It was during his three-year silent retreat that Owens worked through his own pain and trauma, arriving at a place of forgiveness and compassion. Many people don’t know how to take care of themselves during, and after, traumatic experiences, and Owens said that creates tension in the world.

“I think this is why so many of us are feeling overwhelmed and depleted and shut down, as well,” Owens said. “Compassion essentially keeps our hearts open. It helps us stay connected to how we’re feeling, it helps us to understand how other people are feeling.”

Avett Brothers, Chautauqua darlings, return to grounds for 3rd Amp performance

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Chautauquans love The Avett Brothers. This is an undisputed fact — after the band’s 2016 first performance on the grounds in 2016, they returned in 2018 for a show and a special Amphitheater screening of the Judd Apatow-helmed “May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers.” In 2020, during the Institution’s virtual season on CHQ Assembly, bassist Bob Crawford joined the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson for a conversation as part of the Interfaith lecture Series. 

Now, The Avett Brothers return at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24 to fill the Amp with their music for the third time.

Brothers Seth and Scott Avett first started creating music together in the early 2000s. They picked up fellow musicians along the way to ultimately create The Avett Brothers as Chautauqua will see them tonight, consisting of guitarist Seth and banjo player Scott Avett, bassist Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon. The group has released 10 studio albums and has received three Grammy Award nominations.

But before The Avett Brothers take the stage, at 7:30 p.m., alternative country band Clem Snide will open the evening. And Scott Avett could not be more thrilled with having them as an opener. Clem Snide frontman Eef Barzelay and Avett collaborated to produce Forever Just Beyond, released in March 2020.

“I became, around 2015 or ’16, just an instant and deep and massive fan of his work as a songwriter and as a spiritual journeyman and seeker of truth,” Avett said.

But, Barzelay inspires Avett more than just musically. Avett admires how he lives his life and creates music while looking for truth, and he can’t wait to have him take the stage tonight.

Just as he is with Clem Snide, Avett is also inspired by other musicians.

“All music that I hear has a good chance of affecting me,” he said. “I certainly thrive off of listening to other music. That drives me to make my own thing.”

Some of his inspiration is to act in response with the music he hears. When he hears a melody of a song he likes, he wants to interact with it.

He admits, however, that the first reaction he has to other people’s music is often jealousy.

“I first go through all the jealousy that I have that it’s better than mine, like if they can sing better than me or if their words are more clever than mine,” he said. “Once I deal with the jealousy and the envy of what they have that I don’t, then I go through another round of jealousy and envy, and then I can enjoy it and love it and know that I’m connected to it somehow.”

One thing that is important in Avett’s life is the search for truth. And while he loves music, he believes it might draw away from finding truth. He quoted American Catholic monk Thomas Keating, who said, “Silence is God’s first language. Everything else is a poor translation. In order to hear that language, we must learn to be still and rest in God.”

Since music is — by nature — noise, he struggles with realizing the relationship between music and truth, but he won’t give up.

“Words are a place to shuffle or sift through … kind of like if you have a trunk in your attic full of trinkets and things you’ve collected,” he said. “Sometimes you go and find something in that, a memory or a love or something that’s dear to you. You flip through those things and something very special happens.”

Ahead of evening concert, musician, artist Scott Avett to explore week’s theme

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In a small town in rural North Carolina, down a half-mile dirt road, Scott Avett lived with his family, some chickens, a few cows and no cable.

“All we wanted to do was get a hold of the things that were all the way across the country, the things that were coming out of the West Coast or New York City, so we ran from … (the) local vibe,” Avett said. “But then, when we full circled and started discovering, it definitely was central in our interest in roots music.”

Musician Scott Avett is the lead singer of the folk rock band The Avett Brothers, which includes his brother, singer and guitarist Seth Avett, along with bassist Bob Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon. Scott and Seth Avett released their first album in 2000, titled The Avett Bros, along with guitarist John Twomey, who had been with them in a previous band. 

The band went on, with a mix of new members, to release 10 studio albums and be nominated for three Grammy Awards.

At 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24, Scott Avett takes the stage of the Amphitheater to further Week Nine’s discussion on “A Vibrant Tapestry: Exploring Creativity, Culture and Faith with Smithsonian Folklife Festival.”

What shapes Avett’s approach to music is his upbringing in Concord, North Carolina. These days, he sees folk music as spanning many genres from hip-hop, punk rock, country and rock ‘n’ roll.

“Folk is an attempt to push back and revolt against that need for marketing labels,” Avett said. “It’s funny, because it doesn’t completely rid us of labels, … but I feel like folk music being for the people is a way to step in the opposite direction of the commodities.”

For Avett, folk brings music away from marketing and back to its poetic roots. Growing up, he interacted with folk music through his father and the music he played, both on the record player and on his guitar. 

His dad frequently played classic American folk and country music such as Peter, Paul and Mary, Merle Haggard and Charlie Daniels.

“Dad comes home in a denim shirt and jeans burned from welding,” Avett said. “He would talk to us, he would tell us stories, he would occasionally pick up an acoustic guitar. That was a real hands-on exchange with folk music.”

Avett’s father introduced him to the visual arts as a kid, too. His dad would have him and his siblings sit at a table and would draw a shape before passing it along to someone else to continue the drawing.

“I remember it as a very engaging and instigating — it really moved me. It really moved me,” he said. “I loved doing it. It ignited my imagination.”

Avett now holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and is a well-recognized visual artist. His current work depicts and explores people, family relationships and spirituality.

Living in the country provided Avett with enough disconnection, allowing him to play with his creativity more than if he and his siblings got their childhood wish of cable TV.

“It helped keep us, I dare to say, bored a little bit, and alone,” Avett said. “And I think that was nice, like alone in our heads and alone with time to do what we might do. You find yourself drawing and you find yourself imagining and you find yourself thinking.”

Laura Limonic to examine historical struggles of assimilation

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Immigration has been a part of society for centuries, and there’s always a sense of assimilation to navigate. Laura Limonic, author and professor of sociology at SUNY College at Old Westbury, addresses the struggles of Latin American Jewish immigration in the United States.

She will give her lecture, titled “Becoming Latinx Jews: An American Immigration Story,” at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24 in the Hall of Philosophy for Week Nine of the Interfaith Lecture Series, “Faith and the Tapestry of the Future,” which is in partnership with Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Limonic, the author of Kugel and Frijoles: Latino Jews in the United States, which won the 2020 Best Book in Latin American Jewish Studies, is going to focus on Latin American Jewish immigrants and their stories of assimilation through reconstructing ethnic religion. 

“I hope that people take away the idea that religion is in many ways bound,” Limonic said. “While it’s global, it’s very much bound to the location in which the people are found in. It’s influenced by the social and political and economic systems of the countries where religious groups are found.”

Her studies examine what happens to Latin American Jewish immigrants when they come to the United States and how they acclimate via religion.

“New immigrants participate in religious life and are both influenced by existing structures and also contribute to changing the nature of religious identity and religious organizations,” Limonic said. 

Originally from Argentina, Limonic said she also looks at the stories of her own family and thinks about how they navigated their way as Latin American Jews — and the identity struggle that it involved.

“I think that one of the outcomes that we are beginning to see is a return to religiosity, to high levels of religiosity as people become sort of disillusioned with the current state of the social and political system here in the United States — it’s also a way of belonging,” she said.

Historically, religious organizations have given immigrants a way to be a part of a community and retain, or regain, a sense of self.

“One of the reasons we have religious pluralism here in the United States, and so many religious groups have been able to thrive, is in many ways because of the separation of church and state,” Limonic said. “Nonetheless, we continue to be a highly racialized country.”

She said as religion is racialized, certain religions are part of a larger civil religion: the idea of one nation under God, but it isn’t always the same God. 

“I think that our racial history, our current racial system, and racist system, contributes to what is allowed under the separation of church and state and what’s allowed to be part of a larger civil religion,” Limonic said.

Acclaimed musician Rhiannon Giddens returns to Amp stage for CSO collaboration

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Grammy Award-winning musician and MacArthur “Genius” grant recipient Rhiannon Giddens has graced the stage of the Amphitheater on several occasions — as a solo performer in 2017, with her musical collaborator and romantic partner Francesco Turrisi in 2018 and 2020, and with her folk quartet of Black female banjo players, Our Native Daughters, in 2019. 

This season, for the first time, Giddens will be performing with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. Stuart Chafetz, the principal pops conductor for the CSO, who has been playing the timpani and conducting with the orchestra for 25 years, will conduct this evening.

“I’m extremely excited to get to work with her on this collaboration with the symphony,” Chafetz said.

An Evening with Rhiannon Giddens will continue the programming for Week Nine’s theme “A Vibrant Tapestry: Exploring Creativity, Culture, and Faith with Smithsonian Folklife Festival.” Giddens will perform her music, a blend of original songs and covers that draws on a myriad of influences, with the CSO at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23 in the Amp.

Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer, is a longtime admirer of Giddens’ music and work. After Giddens performed at Chautauqua with Our Native Daughters, two of her bandmates, Allison Russell and Amythyst Kiah, returned to Chautauqua for their own programs in 2021.

“(Giddens) talked about wanting to invite more Black and Brown sisters along,” Moore said. “The main thing was lifting up her sister musicians of color.”  

Giddens’ work is focused on reclaiming and emphasizing the rich cultural history of Black American music. She plays in a genre-defying amalgamation of American traditions, including bluegrass, jazz, gospel, country and folk music. 

“She has many influences, from American to Celtic to various other styles,” Chafetz said. “They’re very inspiring and very unique.” 

Giddens is a singer, a songwriter and a multi-instrumentalist, playing the banjo and the fiddle, among other string instruments. She co-composed the score and wrote the libretto for the original opera Omar, which had its world premiere at Charleston’s Spoleto Festival in late May. 

Additionally, Giddens wrote the score for a ballet titled Lucy Negro Redux, based on a poetry collection of the same name by Caroline Randall Williams. She developed the ballet in collaboration with Williams, Turrisi and the Nashville Ballet at Chautauqua in 2018. 

During a Week Eight residency that season, Giddens and Turrisi worked on the material for the ballet, which explores the presence of the “Dark Lady” in William Shakespeare’s sonnets, a figure who many theorize was a Black woman. That week’s theme, “The Forgotten: History and Memory in the 21st Century,” dovetailed with Giddens’ passion for excavating the erased and neglected past.

Giddens’ artistry foregrounds the exploration of Black musical history and the reclamation of historically disrespected instruments like the minstrel banjo. Her 2019 album, with Turrisi, there is no Other, features original tunes and covers that unite musical traditions from opera to Appalachian bluegrass.

“Listening to her records can feel like exploring a well-curated home,” Sam Sodomsky wrote in a review of that album for Pitchfork. “Take, for instance, her banjo. A familiar tool within her favored arenas (folk, bluegrass, old-time music), it serves Giddens as a symbol within a symbol: a custom-made recreation of the 19th century African American instrument adopted by white musicians and popularized through minstrel shows. She plays it as a reclamation, a way to ensure her music’s history remains inextricable from its delivery.”

Chafetz has enjoyed digging into Giddens’ music in preparation for the upcoming concert.

“I’ve just been becoming familiar with her style, which is vast and amazing,” he said. “She sings, she plays the banjo, she plays the violin. And so the question is: How does the symphony fit in with enhancing what she does? It’s really wonderful to listen to her style and her work as I prepare the music and study the scores.”

Rev. Yolanda Pierce, dean of Howard Div., to talk justice work through faith

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A speaker, professor, mentor, preacher, writer and cable news commentator, the Rev. Yolanda Pierce, dean of the Howard University School of Divinity and professor of Religion and Literature and Womanist Theology, works at the intersection of race, religion, gender and justice.

Pierce will give her lecture, titled “A Grammar for Racial Justice: How Religious Talk Can Save the World,” at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23 in the Hall of Philosophy for Week Nine of the Interfaith Lecture Series theme, “Faith and the Tapestry of the Future: In Partnership with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.”

Pierce is dedicated to relieving any division created between the pulpit, or lectern, and the people; she feels as though teaching is meaningful only when it improves people’s daily lives. When Pierce leads people in dialogue, her goals are clear. 

“I am not interested in most conversations about equality,” Pierce wrote on her website. “I am, however, interested in the weightier matters of law: justice and freedom. How can we act justly, love mercy and walk humbly?”

Pierce is the first woman to lead  Howard University’s Divinity School. In February 2021, she released her book In My Grandmother’s House: Black Women, Faith and the Stories We Inherit, which chronicles the history of theology before it was consistently defined as theology. 

“If the only theology we have is (Martin) Luther or (John) Calvin, then we’re missing how God moves in a world for a group of people who don’t know Luther or Calvin, will never read (their) work nor are interested in the 1500s in which they lived,” Pierce told Religion News Service in February 2021. “So I’m really trying to shift the discourse about who can do theology and what counts as theological source material.”

Pierce is an esteemed scholar of both African American religious history and womanist theology, which approaches theology by focusing on the Black female perspective. She has been published in academic journals for which she has authored over 50 essays centered on the interaction between race, faith and gender. But, she said her grandmother supplied her with expectations for the future of the Black church. 

In the preface of her book Pierce refers to “grandmother theology,” which she defines as the thought and faith systems of generations who came before her parents. This was done in an effort to broaden the boundaries of womanist theology.

“It is to refer to the grandmothers, aunties, the other mothers, the nonbiological connections women have and to really expand the category of womanist theology,” Pierce told Religion News Service, “so the words and the thoughts of grandmothers and church mothers and other mothers are a part of the conversation.”

Pierce is working toward dismantling the patriarchy of the church. She identifies as Pentecostal and said she grew up in a tradition where women believed living a modest and holy life, including dressing modestly, were required to attain salvation. This concept of modesty has been a struggle for Pierce to separate from her understanding of godliness. 

“For me, it has been a challenge to tear apart the question of legalism from the question of holiness, to maintain the beauty of holiness but for it not to be caught up in the legalism of patriarchy,” Pierce told Religion News Service.

Chris Thile to draw comparisons, connections between faith, spirituality

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Chris Thile is no stranger to the Amphitheater stage, but today, Chautauquans will see him in a way they haven’t before.

Thile, a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” grant recipient and Grammy Award-winning mandolinist, singer and songwriter, who just performed with his band Punch Brothers Monday night on the same stage, will give his lecture at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23 in the Amp. His lecture is part of Week Nine of the Chautauqua Lecture Series, “A Vibrant Tapestry: Exploring Creativity, Culture and Faith with Smithsonian Folklife Festival.”

“For me, it’s an opportunity to have a conversation,” Thile said. “I’m going to be playing some music and pontificating about music’s relationship to spiritual discourse.”

The songs he will play, all from his album Laysongs, include “Laysong,” which is about yearning for communion in a secular age; “Ecclesiastes 2:24,” which prompts discussion of  instrumental music as an enabler of spiritual reflection; “Salt (in the Wounds) of the Earth, Parts 1, 2, and 3,” which explores the potential manipulability of the religious impulse; and “Won’t You Come and Sing For Me,” about the power of sincere — and sincerely open — communion. Lyrics, when applicable, to these songs will be available at programs.chq.org for audience members.

Thile said music is one of life’s greatest conversation starters, and likes to quote Mary Oliver: “While the man who has only questions, to comfort himself, makes music.” 

For him, it’s also a wonderful question to the religious impulses in his own life.

“Regardless of how that impulse manifests, I think it’s kind of baked into us,” Thile said. “I love thinking about it and making music about it and talking about it with other people.”

He wants his audience to leave with understanding the importance of staying in a dialogue with people who have different views or beliefs, because he said people have “lost the taste” for differences in discourse.

“In our human interaction, social media is a very popular culprit,” Thile said. “But it’s really only a tool that we’re using to construct this thing that we’ve wanted for a long time. One of our instincts is to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals and I think it’s a counterproductive instinct.”

Thile said it’s vital to be in conversation with people who you don’t necessarily agree with.

“The tough work is staying at the table with people that we might vehemently disagree with and that sort of friction is what generates positive change,” Thile said. “We’re sort of freewheeling on the bike and wondering why we’re not going anywhere.”

Music has been a part of Thile’s life from a very early age. He said he feels the same connection with music as he does with his parents, and said “it truly feels like breathing.”

As an adult, he gained the perspective of being able to sit down and analyze the reasons he loves music. 

“I’m just compelled by (music). I think that’s the real reason I’m just inexpressibly compelled to interact with music,” Thile said. “It’s a great art form. I think one of the reasons it’s so great though … is how non-dictictatorial it is as an art form.”

Thile said that music and its myriad of meanings encourages the diverse emotional and practical processes of creating music, as well as both the definitive, concrete meanings and non-definitive, abstract ones that come from music.

“It’s there because some human beings, or collection of human beings, exercising their ingenuity (and) desire to hear something that wasn’t there before,” Thile said. “I think from a very early age, that was everything.”

Glenstone’s Paul Tukey to discuss work on environmental revitalization in special BTG, Climate Initiative talk

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Over its nearly 150-year existence, Chautauqua has celebrated the environment and is working to become a leading model in sustainability. With the recent addition of the Climate Change Initiative, Chautauqua strives to emulate behaviors that will sustain and revitalize the environment in face of global warming. 

One of the ways the Institution is working to adapt to the changing climate is by learning from other establishments with experience in sustainability. 

In a special Bird, Tree & Garden Club event with the Climate Change Initiative at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23 in Smith Wilkes Hall, sustainability leader Paul Tukey will give a lecture on cultivating and restoring landscapes followed by a panel discussion. His lecture, “Sustainable Landscapes,” will end the BTG’s Brown Bag Lecture Series for 2022.

The panelists include Climate Change Initiative Director Mark Wenzler, Supervisor of Gardens and Landscapes Betsy Burgeson and BTG Vice President Jennifer Francois.

Tukey is a renowned expert on organic landscaping and serves as the director of environmental stewardship at Glenstone Museum. With degrees in journalism from the University of Maine, Tukey has authored several books, including The Organic Lawn Care Manual: A Natural, Low-Maintenance System for a Beautiful, Safe Lawn. Most recently, he co-authored Raising Tomorrow’s Champions: What the Women’s National Soccer Team Teaches Us About Grit, Authenticity and Winning. He co-founded horticulture magazine People, Places and Plants, which shares the same name as a HGTV gardening show. 

Glenstone is a modern art museum in Potomac, Maryland, that showcases a collection of post-World War II art throughout refurbished indoor and outdoor spaces. Glenstone’s architecture and natural landscape are key components of the museum as a whole, and provide an immersive experience for visitors to understand some of the most influential artworks of the 20th and 21st century. 

“Sustainability is a core value for Glenstone,” Wenzler said. “From the very beginning, the owners have focused on creating the most sustainable place that they can, and also educating visitors and the public about the benefits of sustainable landscapes.” 

Tukey develops the strategies and protocols for sustainability and carbon-reduction that sustain Glenstone’s nearly 350 acre organic landscape. 

“We take a very holistic view of sustainability and another important word called ‘regeneration,’ ” Tukey said. “We actually think that sustainability doesn’t go far enough; if we simply sustain where we are today in the world, we won’t be in a very good place. What we’re trying to do is to regenerate, regenerate or rejuvenate.”

One of the ways in which Tukey and Glenstone revitalize the environment is by the use of native plants. They have planted over 12,000 native trees since the museum’s start in 2006. 

Aside from the “outside world,” Tukey says the indoor environment of the museum is just as important when it comes to promoting sustainability and restoring the environment.

“In the indoor world, we’re trying to be as energy efficient as possible,” Tukey said. “We really look at everything we can possibly do. We constantly recycle. We are an art museum, so we’re putting up exhibits and taking down exhibits, and so we recycle those materials every way that we can.” 

Some of the efforts Tukey has made to conserve energy within the confines of Glenstone include offering public transportation for visitors to spare gas, composting food for the outdoors and creating plans to mitigate water erosion and sediment deposits.  

In his lecture, Tukey will touch on his experience in organic landscaping and Glenstone’s work with the environment. 

The lecture and panel also serves as an opportunity for Glenstone and Chautauqua to learn from each other.  

“There are interesting similarities between Glenstone and Chautauqua,” Wenzler said. “First of all, they’re both cultural institutions where you have a large number of visitors who come, and they’re both surrounded by beautiful grounds. We can compare and contrast some of the similarities between how we are supporting sustainable landscapes that protect the lake…” 

Tukey anticipates hearing from the panelists and audience members about the sustainability measures the Institution has adopted overtime. 

“Part of our core values is that we do want to be seen as industry leaders,” Tukey said. “You can’t lead in a vacuum. You’ve got to get out front and share the message. I always learn from wherever I go…”

In his first visit to Chautauqua, Tukey hopes to inspire Chautauquans to become educated and join the fight against climate change. 

“We want to become part of a larger national and international dialogue about what cultural institutions need to be doing right now in the face of unprecedented climate disasters,” Tukey said. “I’m going to give people these little tools and big tools that they can use in their own way. We can start getting more organic matter in the soil, start doing things in a more natural way. We can solve this, but we have to convince people. We have to inform, inspire and invite people to join.”

Wenzler agrees with Tukey that the lecture and panel will be an inspiration for Chautauquans to adapt to the changing climate. 

“I hope that the number one thing people come away with from the lecture is to be inspired, to emulate the Glenstone model,” Tukey said. “We can create these incredibly beautiful artistic landscapes with native plantings that help absorb stormwater runoff, that promote wildlife habitat, that serve to enhance and support natural systems that don’t use pesticides.”

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