Michael Li to discuss redistricting efforts in U.S.


According to Michael Li, there’s a battle being waged in the United States, and it’s happening all around us: redistricting.

“We completed the latest round of redistricting after the 2020 census,” said Li, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program. “All around the country, legislative and congressional maps are being redrawn. (In my lecture) I’m going to focus on congressional maps. I’m also going to answer some questions about looking at how the cycle went, and who came out ahead, looking at it through a variety of lenses.”

Li said there isn’t one redistricting story; there’s multiple redistricting stories.

“I’m going to break it down and look at it from the standpoint of who might win control of the U.S. House of Representatives, what happened to competition, how did minority voters fare, how bad is the gerrymandering this decade, and things like that,” he said.

At 10:45 a.m. Thursday, July 28, in the Amphitheater, Li will speak to Chautauqua as part of the Chautauqua Lecture Series Week Five theme, “The Vote and Democracy.” He replaces previously announced lecturer Elaine C. Kamarck of Brookings Institution.  

“I’m going to look at some of the battles that are coming ahead,” Li said. “Even though we’ve finished the redistricting cycle, we really haven’t finished it; we’ve just finished act one.”

Li said his path to the Brennan Center for Justice wasn’t quite a linear one. He actually started off as a history major during undergraduate studies.

“I thought about going to grad school to get a Ph.D. in history, but the job market was too risky,” he said. “I thought, ‘Well, I’ll get a law degree and have that in the background.’ But it turned out I really enjoyed law and was really good at it. I started working at a law firm in Dallas for a number of years, practicing corporate law, and doing politics on the side.”

Li started writing about redistricting in 2011 because he realized he could use the internet to reach a wider audience.

“I started blogging, and it became all-consuming,” he said. “I was offered a job at NYU, at the Brennan Center, and decided to take that. It’s been a winding path for me.”

Redistricting and voting rights are crucial topics, Li said.

“ ‘Who’s at the table?’ is another foundational issue,” he said. “We fought the revolution over representation, and we always seem to talk about no taxation without representation, and people focus on (just) the taxation part of it.”

‘Thumbprint’ opens Opera Festival on women’s rights


The Chautauqua Opera Company is gearing up to produce an opera every day for the long-awaited, long-postponed Opera Festival Weekend.

Chautauqua Opera chose three operas to celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment in 2020. Thumbprint, Tosca and The Mother of Us All explore the theme of women’s rights and autonomy while centering women’s voices. These operas, however, were put on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, two years later, and with many of the same Young Artists who planned to be on the grounds for the 2020 season, Chautauqua Opera is ready for its festival weekend and still feels that the themes are as relevant in 2022 as when they were first chosen.

“The danger of people not being allowed to vote is unfortunately more pressing than ever. Period. I don’t think it’s an overreaction to say that,” said Steven Osgood, general and artistic director of Chautauqua Opera. “… Yes, 102 years ago, women were granted the right to vote. But do they really, really have the right to exercise that right now?”

While not explicitly about the right to vote, composer Kamala Sankaram and librettist Susan Yankowitz’s Thumbprint fits into the theme of women’s rights with the story of real-life, Pakistani-born, human rights activist Mukhtar Mai. The chamber opera has run Thumbprint three times this season, and will kick off the festival weekend with its fourth run at 4 p.m. Thursday, July 28, in Norton Hall.

Mai, the protagonist of Thumbprint, never learned how to read, and in an effort to protect her brother, she signed a document with her thumbprint that led to her government-sanctioned rape by community members. This story is one of her strength and resilience in the face of the most life-altering moments in her life, as she sues the government for what happened to her and uses the money from the lawsuit to create schools to teach girls to read.

“Mukhtar Mai in Thumbprint, we see her making the decision to fight for her right to live and for her family to have honor even when she has been raped,” Osgood said.

What unites these three operas, beyond having female leads is how the women are treated within the stories.

“There are people who have power, and there are people who are being manipulated by the people who have power. And Mukhtar Mai, Tosca, Susan B. Anthony are the people who are fighting for that power,” Osgood said.

The people with power within these operas are men, who abuse this power by putting the women in dangerous situations.

“There is trickery at every step in all three of the operas. There is a man who says, ‘Do this, and you’ll have this. If you want that from me, then do this.’ And in each of the operas, that is betrayed,” Osgood said. “Mukhtar Mai fights back and is redeemed and has transformed her society.”

These ideas and themes have been simmering within each of the players of this opera, and Thumbprint’s stage director Omer Ben Seadia is no exception.

“I’ve been living with this piece for at least three years now, which is an unusual treat when it comes to preparing an opera,” Ben Seadia said. “When you’re working on someone’s life story, or when you’re working on an opera that’s based in real events, there’s so much research that goes into it because you feel the weight of responsibility of making sure that you are telling the story to its fullest.”

The weight of this story is felt not only because of its subject matter but because of its potential impact on its audiences.

“The power of opera is expanding our perspective on this individual story into something that is more global,” Ben Seadia said.

Family, friends gather for tribute of comedy titan in one-night-only event


Rob Reiner said that probably the most important thing about his late father, Carl Reiner, is that he was double-jointed.

When he was a boy, teachers at school would steward Carl around to other classrooms, where he would display his talent. He would put one foot behind his head and hop around on the other.

“That was the first show that he put on,” Rob said. 

The story of that talent illustrates the roots of Carl’s lifelong love affair with show business. 

In partnership with the National Comedy Center, Chautauqua Institution will be honoring Carl’s indelible impact on the world of comedy with a one-night-only event. The 11-time Emmy winner, recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, and Television Hall of Fame inductee will be celebrated at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, July 27, in the Amphitheater.

The program, titled “Carl Reiner at 100 — Celebrating a Comedy Legacy,” will feature Rob and his siblings Annie and Lucas telling stories about their father, as well as video tributes from the likes of Mel Brooks, Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin. 

These folks, comedy greats in their own right, enjoyed long and fruitful partnerships with Carl during his lifetime. 

“The caliber of guests participating either live or via video is a testament to the greatness of Carl Reiner’s excellence in comedy and the breadth of his body of work,” said Laura Savia, vice president of visual and performing arts.

Carl, who passed away in June 2020, would have turned 100 years old this year. Savia said that given the timing of Carl’s death in the height of pandemic lockdowns, there has not yet been an opportunity to stage a live tribute to Carl’s career and life.

“Carl Reiner is one of the titans of the last century in the world of comedy,” Savia said. “The National Comedy Center has a relationship with his family and is curating an exhibition dedicated to Reiner’s legacy. They approached us about creating a live event to honor and celebrate his unparalleled contribution to the American field of comedy.”

The National Comedy Center has been compiling archives that provide rich documentation of Carl’s seven-decade career as a revered writer, director, producer and performer. Carl is perhaps best known as the creator, producer and writer of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” one of the cultural and comedic touchstones of the second half of the 20th century.

Rob Reiner, a prolific director who has helmed classic films from  “When Harry Met Sally…” to “A Few Good Men,” has felt his father’s influence throughout his career.

“Most children will look up to their parents as guiding lights, but I can say that my dad, as long as I can ever remember, has always been in my head and guiding me in virtually everything I’ve done in my career,” Rob said. “And even now, two years later, after he’s gone, I still think about what he would do. It informs my decisions to this day, so he still lives with me.”

When Rob had summers off as a teenager, he would spend all day on the set of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” watching his father, his role model, at work. He would observe the way Carl handled every facet of the television-making process, including script rewrites and working with actors.

“To me, that was like going to show business college,” Rob said. “I learned so much from that. Just the way he conducted his career, not just the work he did, but how he handled his notoriety, his fame, and he did it with such grace, and with such down-to-earthness. That, to me, was the greatest advice I could have gotten — to see how he lived his life.”

Rob’s best subjects in school were science and math; he didn’t necessarily plan to go into show business. 

“But you’re around the funniest people in the world, and you want to be part of that,” Rob said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I just knew I wanted to be like him.”

Jelani Cobb, winner of Peabody, to explore voter rights, suppression


In 2018, New Yorker staff writer Jelani Cobb first came to Chautauqua Institution to speak about “we the people” during a week themed “American Identity.” He concluded his lecture on a hopeful note that democracy would triumph in the future. 

“In short, it is possible for democracy to exist in this land — it does not quite at this moment,” he told Chautauquans in 2018. “This struggle we have inherited from generations past, but I have no doubt that as people of conscience and diligence, it will. It will one day.”

Four years later, the continued prosperity of democracy hangs in the air. The 2020 election presented the highest voter turnout percentage since 1900. Yet, the Russia-Ukraine War and disputed presidency of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro demonstrate only two examples of autocracy’s global threat to democracy. 

Cobb returns at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, July 27, to the Amphitheater stage for the Week Five theme, “The Vote and Democracy.” 

His 2018 lecture partially inspired the Institution’s invitation to speak again, according to Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt.

“Jelani’s lecture in 2018, during the week on ‘American Identity,’ was one of the most powerful lectures in recent years, in which he challenged us to think about what ‘we the people’ has meant throughout history,” Ewalt said. 

Cobb’s extensive journalistic work with voting rights issues also influenced the decision to have him speak, Ewalt said. 

The imminent dean of the Columbia Journalism School, Cobb has contributed to several prominent publications, including The New Yorker and The Washington Post, and has written or edited several books.

His most recent  book is the 2021 The Matter of Black Lives: Writing from The New Yorker, an anthology of Black history in the United States that he co-edited. 

Another of Cobb’s more recent projects is the PBS “Frontline” episode “Whose Vote Counts,” for which he was an investigative reporter and correspondent. The episode, which examines claims of voter fraud and draws a throughline between racism, COVID-19 and the suppression of certain voters, won a Peabody Award, and closely relates to the Week Five theme.

“I think that his work that has specifically examined the fight for voting rights today, his focus on voter suppression — what he’s described as a fire that has spread across the country — and the urgent need for us to look at this issue … and his work in the ‘Frontline’ documentary, ‘Whose Vote Counts’ (signify) that he is indeed the voice we need to hear from,” Ewalt said.

Cobb’s lecture will likely be guided by an emphasis on voting rights and voter suppression, Ewalt said. 

He hopes Cobb’s lecture will transcend political jargon that typically dominates conversations of voting rights, as well as inspire Chautauquans to consider their role as active citizens within voting reform. 

“I think the larger issue of voting rights has been an extremely heated part of an extremely heated national dialogue, and one of great division,” Ewalt said. “But I think (the week provides) the opportunity to unpack: ‘What does it mean for us to be looking at voting rights and reform as it relates to the current state and future of our democracy? What does it mean to get beyond any kind of political rhetoric used to understand the stakes, and to understand what reform can actually look like?’ ”

With the relevance and enormity of issues with voting rights, Ewalt wants Chautauquans to walk away from Cobb’s lecture not particularly in agreement with each other, but with an expanded understanding of their shared responsibility to pursue a more equitable voting system. 

“Part of the opportunity is to take that which at times can be extremely heated and hostile (and turn it) into a conversation in which we wrestle with these issues together — not necessarily to come to consensus, but to challenge our own assumptions, broaden our understanding of the issues, and truly consider what roles, what opportunities, what obligations we have in ensuring a stronger democracy,” Ewalt said.

Adam Jortner to discuss key essence of democracy


Democracy isn’t a one-man job. America is not a monarchy. Everyone is involved, from constituents to mayors and governors, all the way up to the White House. 

Adam Jortner, author and the Goodwin-Philpott Eminent Professor of Religion at Auburn University, wants people to gain the perspective of democracy as a necessity, not a luxury.

He will deliver his lecture, titled “The Gospel and the Ballot Box: A History,” at 2 p.m. Wednesday, July 27, in the Hall of Philosophy for Week Five of the Interfaith Lecture Series theme of “The Ethical Foundations of a Fully Functioning Democracy.”

Jortner wants to start with democracy as a process and how it happens.

“Democracy can occur under all kinds of interesting and different conditions that we’re not used to thinking about,” Jortner said. “I really want to talk about what democracy is and ways for everyone to create and sustain it … through a life of faith.”

People act according to their faith, Jortner said, but the dictation of faith does not make it oppose democracy. He wants people to be comfortable talking to others, regardless of differing beliefs or religious choices.

“I’d like to give people a roadmap for talking to their neighbors, which is really the essence of democracy,” Jortner said. “It’s something that’s really hard to do, but I want to encourage that kind of civic engagement, and give everybody some tips and tricks for making something that’s hard a little bit easier.”

Everyone has their own role to preserve democracy. In 2018, Jortner ran in the general election for Alabama State Board of Education and lost, but he said the experience was rewarding.

“It made me certainly feel a very deep kinship to all the people in my district, even though the vast majority of them, I did not know personally,” Jortner said. “That was a real blessing.”

Along with being able to talk to people with different beliefs, Jortner said it’s always a challenge when the democracy in question is ruled by strangers. His challenge as a historian and professor is to keep an open mind and listen carefully.

“You are putting your life and your liberty in the hands of people you’ve never met,” Jortner said. “Because of that, there is an obligation in democracy to build public trust and build civic engagement — even with people you don’t like (or) people you can’t stand.”

After ‘21 sermon series, Rev. Frank A. Thomas returns to AAHH platform for exploration of Week 5 theme of ‘Vote and Democracy’


The Rev. Frank A. Thomas is no stranger to Chautauqua — he served as chaplain of the week, preaching from the Amphitheater stage in 2021, and as a speaker for the African American Heritage House in 2019. Now, he returns to the grounds to give the Week Five installment of the AAHH Chautauqua Speaker Series at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 27, in the Hall of Philosophy.

Thomas is the Nettie Sweeney and Hugh Th. Miller Professor of Homiletics and director of the Academy of Preaching and Celebration at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis and, among his many degrees, holds a doctorate in communications (rhetoric) from the University of Memphis.

So when he took the Amp pulpit last summer, he offered up some vocabulary words for the Chautauqua congregation: “hesed,” Hebrew for steadfast love or faithfulness, and “epiousios,” or daily — among others. In demonstrating hesed, Thomas cited Eric Garner’s wife and daughter, who laid a wreath at the site where two police officers were shot in their squad car, after Garner was killed in 2014 by another New York City police officer.

“They propped up the world,” Thomas said in 2021. “When people who are hated show that kind of love, they are God’s hesed. Heaven did not make a mistake. Hesed is greater than human mistakes. We have to slide mercy underneath what is wobbly. Steadfast love never ceases; it is new every morning. Heaven did not make a mistake.”

This afternoon, Thomas will be speaking to the Week Five theme, “The Vote and Democracy.” A member of the prestigious Martin Luther King Jr. Board of Preachers of Morehouse College, Thomas is also a member of the International Board of Societas Homiletica. In addition to his academic work, he served as senior pastor at New Faith Baptist Church of Matteson, Illinois, for 18 years, and of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church of Memphis, Tennessee, for 13 years.

The author or co-editor of numerous books, his works include How to Preach a Dangerous Sermon, American Dream 2.0: A Christian Way Out of the Great Recession, and Preaching With Sacred Fire: An Anthology of African American Sermons, 1750 to the Present.

In studying African American preachers, Thomas told the Daily in 2019 that he found a common denominator: hope, specifically encouraging hope in times of crisis.

“When the world and the American nation said that we were slaves and we were nothing, nobody, (a preacher I heard when I was young) stood up and told the people, ‘And you are a child of God.’ ”

Preaching has been able to encourage and sustain the African American people through mass incarceration, slavery, Jim Crow and persisting racism, Thomas said in 2019.

“Ultimately, (a sermon) inspires and encourages people,” Thomas said then. “It challenges them, lifts them and helps people to make a better world.”

When he preached in 2021, he noted that he was “hurt and angry that we have discarded what is civil and peaceful. We just do our own thing. We have fits of rage and want to do things on our own without consequences to ourselves or our neighbors. We don’t know what we do want, we are just ‘mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.’ ”

The issues that have informed African American preaching for centuries still abound, he said, so “we will march and vote and argue, but we will not hate.”

Guest pianist Shaham joins CSO, Milanov for Schumann concerto, prior to Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathétique’


As the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra reaches the middle of its season, it’s preparing an evening of Schumann and Tchaikovsky under the baton of CSO Music and Artistic Director Rossen Milanov.

The program set for 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, July 26, in the Amphitheater, with guest pianist Orli Shaham, features Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, op. 54, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in B minor, op. 74 — “Pathétique.”

Shaham takes her piano bench in place of previously scheduled Martin Helmchen, whose tour plans changed two weeks ago. With a pianist of Shaham’s caliber joining the CSO on such short notice, CSO Managing Director Kimberly Schuette said the Schumann concerto is in wonderful hands. It’s a piece that’s already part of Shaham’s repertoire, and highlighting her in a week at Chautauqua themed “The Vote and Democracy” is apt, in an unexpected way. 

Shaham immigrated to the United States from Israel when she was 7 years old; in a 2020 interview with Lily O’Brien of San Francisco Classical Voice, she noted that while she didn’t feel she had a “typical immigrant experience,” a key tenet of her new country was particularly interesting for her.

“The American Constitution was a whole new thing for me, and I was fascinated by it and by constitutional law,” she told O’Brien in advance of a concert with the Marin Symphony in March 2020 that was ultimately canceled in the early days of the pandemic. The piece she was set to play? Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor — the same she is set to play tonight.

The Chautauqua dovetails don’t end there; Shaham is co-host and creative for NPR’s “From the Top,” a nationally broadcast program that showcases the talents of teenage musicians — the same “From the Top” that has featured live show tapings from the Amp stage in years past. 

A Steinway Artist since 2003, Shaham is on the faculty of The Juilliard School, and this year on the juries of both the Cliburn and Honens International Piano Competitions. 

For 14 seasons, she has served as artistic director for the Pacific Symphony’s chamber music series, and has performed with orchestras across the United States and internationally, including with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in her native country.

Shaham is also artistic director of a concert series she founded in 2010, called Orli Shaham’s Bach Yard (previously titled Baby Got Bach), which provides children with hands-on activities and instruments while teaching music concepts amid performances.

The educational audience tonight will be more multi-generational, as after the concert Milanov leads an installment of the CSO’s post-performance Q-and-A program “Into the Music.”

“I love seeing how Chautauquans want to engage with the music and the performers,” Schuette said. “We’ve had such thoughtful and interesting questions from audience members at each of our ‘Into the Music’ sessions so far this summer. It’s a great opportunity to ask the conductor a question and find out what goes on behind the scenes in preparing for a concert.”

Before that, however, Milanov and the CSO will present Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” — his Symphony No. 6 in B minor, op. 74. His sixth symphony was his last symphony. He died just nine days after its premiere in 1893 under mysterious circumstances, and Schuette said knowing that makes the work all the more striking.

“One of my favorite symphonic moments is the second movement, an off-kilter waltz in 5/4 time,” she said. “Knowing how close he was to his own end, and the personal turmoil he was going through, the charming melody is also just quite heartbreaking.”

Integrity, accessibility: Linda Chavez to speak on voting rights in America


In January 1996, less than 30% of Americans trusted the media to deal fairly with all sides of political issues; less than 30% trusted the media to “get the facts straight,” according to the Annual Review of Political Science. That is what Linda Chavez faced when she first spoke at Chautauqua Institution in 1996. 

She last visited the grounds to discuss media bias, an important topic in the 1990s with both the 1987 abolishment of the Fairness Doctrine, which mandated broadcasters to present contrasting sides of controversial issues, and the decade’s rapidly advancing usage of the internet. 

This summer, Chavez is slated to discuss her work with the initiative Republicans for Voting Rights. 

At 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, July 26, on the Amphitheater stage, with the discourse on the 2020 election looming in America’s recent history, Chavez — who is also chair of the Center for Equal Opportunity — will once again bring a timely and relevant perspective to Chautauqua audiences in her lecture “How Do We Protect Democracy in a Divided America?” 

“She joined us in 1996 and was an important voice inside that week on issues of media bias. To be able to have her join us again, in one of the most urgent and necessary conversations we can have as a community —  we’re honored,” said Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education. “I think she’ll be a truly valuable voice inside the week.”  

Chavez is an advisory board member at Republicans for Voting Rights, an initiative that protects the integrity and accessibility of America’s elections, seamlessly continuing Week Five’s theme, “The Vote and Democracy,” as the topic of voting rights sits at the centerfold of American dialogue. 

“It’s a larger issue at the very heart of conversation and discourse in this country from over the, certainly over the past year, in terms of the overall state of voting rights and questions about what kind of reforms are necessary,” Ewalt said. 

Chavez has served in a myriad of appointed government positions, including being the 1985 White House director of public liaison, earning her the title of highest-ranking woman to serve in Ronald Reagan’s White House. She also served as staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and in 1986 was the Republican nominee for senator of Maryland. 

Nominated in 2001 by President George W. Bush for the position of Secretary of Labor, she became the first Latina to receive a nomination to the U.S. Cabinet, and has been involved in the education of migrants, serving as chairperson on the National Commission on Migrant Education. She was also elected to serve as a U.S. Expert to the U.N. Sub-comission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection for Minorities.

With the experience and knowledge from these positions, Chavez will work to provide Chautauquans with a nuanced look at the state of American voting rights. 

“Hers is a voice, early in the week, that will help challenge some of our assumptions, and begin to think about voting rights in a way that begins to look at … ways to work together on reform at a time in which voting rights are seemingly so polarized for us,” Ewalt said. “She’s likely to make the case in which we find ways to actually work together toward some very clear goals for the sake of democracy.”

Diana Aviv to propose ‘massive effort of goodwill’ for change in democracy


Diana Aviv grew up in a predominantly white part of Africa that experienced the apartheid regime, children taken from their families, and systemic racism. 

Now, as the former CEO of Feeding America, the Partnership for America Democracy, and Independent Sector, Aviv has a broad lens of why exactly America needs a fully-functioning democracy.

Aviv will give her lecture, titled “What Our Democracy Today Requires of its Citizens: An Inquiry into the Role of Everyday Citizens in Building the Next Democracy” at 2 p.m. Tuesday, July 26, in the Hall of Philosophy for Week Five of the Interfaith Lecture Series, themed “The Ethical Foundations of a Fully Functioning Democracy.”

“What we really need is a massive effort from people of goodwill across the United States to come together and make sure that we have a functioning, effective and strong democracy,” Aviv said. “If we fail to do it, the consequences are quite dire.”

Aviv emphasized that this is not an issue to toss aside, and said that tending to democracy is the most important thing all citizens have to face, because “our system is breaking; it’s failing.”

She wants people to recognize the severity of the downfall of democracy, and that it won’t resolve itself. 

“What’s at stake is the whole future of American society,”  said Aviv, who  also previously served on the  White House Council for Community Solutions

She wants her audience to go home and figure out ways to get involved in changes to protect American democracy.

Thoughout her career, Aviv has worked with domestic violence issues, the anti-apartheid movement and with people facing the dealth penalty.

When her father was 11, he and his family fled from Poland to South Africa to escape anti-Semitism before World War II broke out, but the cruelties were still there, just targeted at a different demographic.

“As a child growing up in South Africa, I saw the horrors of a system that treated some people, just on the basis of their skin color, in a completely different way than others,” Aviv said.

Witnessing this explicit racism, Aviv said she often had privileges or opportunities that someone who was the same as her, with a different skin color, was barred from having.

“I just thought it was wrong. I thought it was despicable for them. It’s not fair to them,” Aviv said. “It meant that whatever I got was because of the skin color — not because of my expertise or knowledge or talent or anything I did — because I was protected.”

When she was a child in South Africa, her family’s housekeeper had a 2-year-old daughter. Aviv said the law at the time dictated that if anyone had children in the towns they worked in, the children had to be sent to the homelands, which were separate areas the South African government created to carry out the forced removal of Black citizens from urban areas. The housekeeper’s daughter was taken from her mother and placed in the designated homeland. 

“That child, up until age 2, was with us every day in the house, and suddenly their child wasn’t there anymore,” Aviv said. “I couldn’t even begin to imagine a society that rips a child from the mother, and then strips their child of any right to come back into the society because they’ve now been sent to one of these crazy homelands.”

Seeing this, and being a part of a youth organization, helped Aviv develop her passion for social justice, where she said she could work with other youth leaders to better understand these wrongdoings and how to fix them.

“What I learned was that when people could have a hatred for another, (they could) try and destroy them in their totality,” Aviv said. “That’s why the apartheid regime so resonated, because it had happened to my own people, or my father and his family.”

Aviv said knowing all of this history made her wary of governmental systems because of the “hierarchy of whiteness” and how it undermines the efforts to make sure these social injustices don’t happen again.

“Always, my life has been about making love fairer for others and creating more opportunity, so that everybody has a fair chance in life,” she said.

French quartet Quatuor Danel to perform Russian repertoire in Chamber Music Guest Series

Quatuor Danel_credit Marco Borggreve Chamber 072522

For violist Vlad Bogdanas, musicians in string quartets are not like work colleagues or friends, but like members of his own family.

“It’s like a relationship with your brothers or with your parents,” Bogdanas said. “Very often we say that a string quartet is like a wedding with four people. … Sometimes we fight, sometimes we laugh, sometimes we disagree, but as long as the concert goes well, as long as we look in the same direction and have the same goals, it works.”

After wrapping up the European leg of their 2022 summer tour, French quartet Quatuor Danel — composed of violinists Marc Danel and Gilles Millet, cellist Yovan Markovitch, and Bogdanas on the viola — come to North America and make their Chautauqua debut at 4 p.m. Monday, July 25, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. They’re performing as part of the Chautauqua Chamber Music Guest Artist Series.

Their program exhibits three Russian composers: Sergei Prokofiev, Lera Auerbach and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

“The first half is based on folk themes because that’s how Prokofiev built the second string quartet, and the Auerbach quartet is inspired by Alkonost,” Bogdanas said.

Alkonost is not a classical composer, but rather a Russian folk-metal band that embraces Slavic legends. This is evident in the band’s name,  as the Alkonost is a bird with the head of a woman from Slavic folklore.

Everything culminates in Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 11, which, as legend and Bogdanas both say, made Leo Tolstoy cry when he first heard it.

Has the piece ever made Bogdanas cry? 

“Sometimes it can happen,” he said. 

What happens onstage affects the audience, and Quatuor Danel prioritizes an atmosphere that encourages the emotions of the audience — something they’ve been doing since their founding in 1991.

“Sometimes you have this luck, when the stars are aligned and we are in a special mood and the music is special. I don’t know, it’s something that’s not explainable. It’s just beyond words,” Bogdanas said.

Bogdanas knows the mood is special when the audience claps after the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet.

“Sometimes it happens because the end of the first movement is really like fireworks and sometimes people applaud,” he said. “… It’s not a usual thing that happens during concerts to clap after the first movement, but when it does, it means something.”

Bogdanas clarified that there is no pressure on Chautauquans to have this response; the quartet just looks forward to playing in front of this group for the first time.

“Of course, we like to meet old friends,” Bogdanas said, “but the music we play, we like to share it, always, with new people and new audiences.”

UMich legal scholar Sherman Clark to propose realistic use of civic virtue in democracy


An expert of teaching and law, Sherman Clark, the Kirkland & Ellis Professor of Law at the University of Michigan, helps people understand how laws and politics can lead people to become better citizens and better humans.

Clark will give his lecture, titled “What Democracy Demands,” at 2 p.m. Monday, July 25, in the Hall of Philosophy to start off Week Five of the Interfaith Lecture Series, themed “The Ethical Foundations of a Fully Functioning Democracy.”

The big picture he wants to paint for his audience is if and how laws and politics can help nurture the traits, capacities and virtues needed for democracy to work.

“Connected to the civic virtue tradition that has its roots in ancient Greece, and in early Renaissance Italy, and in the American founding, and at various other points — I’m in that sort of civic virtue tradition,” Clark said.

Clark said there are two aspects of his approach that diverge from the civic virtue tradition.

“One is that most of the time, people who have called for civic virtue have been very vague,” Clark said. “They have talked about it as though it’s just sort of general public spiritedness.”

The vagueness is bad, but willingness to pitch is good, Clark said; but society needs more than enthusiasm to make concrete changes to reach the idea of a fully-functioning democracy.

“Second, I think that many of the capacities we need might be described as epistemic rather than strictly moral,” Clark said. “That sounds technical, but it’s not technical … in the field that studies virtues, traits and capacities, a field sometimes called virtue ethics.”

He described virtue ethics as having two subsections: moral and epistemic virtue, which relate to the validity of the values people try to pursue. 

“These are traits and capacities that make you a better thinker, make you better at figuring stuff out and understanding things,” Clark said. “Moral virtues make you a better human being; epistemic virtues make you a better thinker.”

People are easily seduced into other’s beliefs, Clark said, through the government, propaganda and press.

“Democracy is going to have a hard time as long as so many of us are so easily bamboozled and frightened into believing nonsense,” Clark said. “We have a situation right now where, as citizens, we find it difficult to know who to trust, who to believe. Even those of us trying in good faith, we feel we’re being lied to, or manipulated, or confused.”

He said the typical reaction to this is for people to cling to their original beliefs and values, making it harder for new opinions and ideas to come forward.

“We’ve become easily manipulated by politicians, marketers, and even, unfortunately, media outlets sometimes, who prey to our epistemic vices. They prey to our tendency to seek reassurance of our preexisting opinions,” Clark said. “They play to our desire for simplicity. They also play to our other vices, our fears, our cowardice, our selfishness, our vanity.”

Nobody needs to be an expert in a field to inspire change, Clark said, but simultaneously, people cannot be easily manipulated into believing everything at face value and without digging deeper.

“I want to figure out how we can develop the ability to be the kind of citizens, not just morally, but intellectually, in our capacities, the kind of citizens that democracy needs, if it’s going to work,” Clark said.

While laws and politics can help people nurture and value the idea of civic virtue, they cannot help people develop morals unless they’re willing to put in the work.

“We need institutions like families and churches and schools and communities. And we need our religious and philosophical traditions,” Clark said. “Those are the main places we need our literature, or poetry or art. Those are the main places from which we might cultivate the kind of capacities that we need as human beings or as citizens.”

Clark said laws and politics have an impact because of the way they structure lives, but it’s up to the individuals to progress and cultivate necessary change in society.

“Law and politics are impacting the kind of people we become, and it is at least legitimate for law and politics to think about how we might nurture the traits that democracy needs, rather than nurturing the traits that might end up causing the failure of this great experiment,” Clark said.

Realizing his ideas for a fully-functioning democracy is a long-term project, Clark said it will take contribution from everyone in every aspect of knowledge and consciousness — philosophy, educators, lawmakers and politicians, historians and social scientists — to understand the cognitive biases everyone is pre-wired with.

“I think that the best way to think about big questions is to ground them solidly in reality,” Clark said. “Law, as a field, is a field that works best when you can think about the very particular, but then also put it in the context of the deepest and most enduring questions.”

Trevor Potter returns to Chautauqua to speak on threats facing democracy, opening week


When it comes to speaking at Chautauqua, this isn’t Trevor Potter’s first rodeo — and there’s always been a common theme to his lectures. 

In 2016, Potter delivered the July 4 oration at Chautauqua, titled “A Republic — If You Can Keep It.”

“We’ve been honored to have Trevor here at Chautauqua, and have always been humbled by the significance he places on addressing issues of our democracy,” said Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education. “There’s the need for reform that will take the work of us, the citizens.”

Ewalt said it’s important to consider the value Potter — a lawyer, president of the Campaign Legal Center and former chairman and commissioner of the Federal Election Commission — places in engaging the Chautauqua community in his work.

“We’ve really wanted to partner with him in that larger work, in building a stronger democracy,” he said. 

At 10:45 a.m. Monday, July 25, in the Amphitheater, Potter will give a lecture on “The Crisis Facing American Democracy,” providing a comprehensive overview of the issues facing our democracy, launching the Week Five theme, “The Vote and Democracy.”

“I think particularly this week, we looked for voices that would not only bring deep understanding of the issues we’re facing, but also for expertise and experience in what it means to be confronting these challenges and looking at potential reform,” Ewalt said, “but also, someone who is not only a strong communicator, but someone who recognizes and priorities a broader dialogue with the broader public.”

It’s that combination of skills and priorities on Potter’s part that make him such a strong fit, Ewalt said.

“He’s really going to be laying the groundwork for our week together in Chautauqua,” he said.

When it comes to speaking about America’s elections and democratic process, Ewalt said there’s no better voice to have than Potter’s.

“He’ll kind of tee up these larger issues around voting rights, redistricting, electoral college process and campaign finance,” he said. “He’s going to ask some of those larger questions that we’ll need to keep front and center throughout the week.”

Ewalt said that Chautauqua is “truly honored” to have Potter back on the grounds.

“We’re so happy to have him back, especially because of his desire to brief Chautauquans on the issues facing all of us today,” he said.

MSFO, School of Dance combine for ‘very, very Chautauqua’ collaboration


The students from the Chautauqua School of Dance are leaping back on stage with the Music School Festival Orchestra in the pit for a truly only-in-Chautauqua experience.  

“It’s a collaboration with another art form, which is a very, very Chautauqua thing to do,” said MSFO Artistic and Music Director Timothy Muffitt. “It takes advantage of the nature of the Institution, and the nature of Chautauqua, in that we have all of these schools of fine and performing arts, and it’s a great chance for collaboration.” 

The MSFO will be under the baton of guest conductor, Stilian Kirov, music director of Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra.

“He was a conducting fellow here at Chautauqua several years ago and has now gone on to have a terrific career as a professional conductor,” Muffitt said. “I like to bring our conducting fellows back to do this, to do a guest conducting appearance every season.”

The opening piece, Danzon, choreographed by Sasha Janes, interim director for Chautauqua School of Dance, set to music by Arturo Márquez perfectly shows this collaboration, as Muffitt originally suggested the music to Janes. 

“We wanted to bring in a composer who was from a traditionally underrepresented community in classical music, and Márquez is a Latin American composer. This has actually become a very famous piece because it’s just really infectious, (with) Latin rhythms and melodies,” Muffitt said. 

Janes described Danzon as a fun and fast-paced piece. 

“All the steps are inspired by the music. It’s just a lot of fast-paced, fun sort of tango-inspired movement,” Janes said. 

The second piece, “Baile de la gente,” debuted at Chautauqua’s Student Gala I on July 17 and is choreographed by My’Kal Stromile; he described the piece as starting in a classical place before shifting to something different by the end. “Baile de la gente,” set to 14th and 15th century Spanish Renaissance music, provides a unique opportunity to experiment with modern instruments making older sounds.  

“The MSFO, they’re having to adapt the music to modern instrumentation because in this time, the 14th and 15th century, the instruments that they used are much different than now,” Stromile said. 

The MSFO will be using a harpsichord, an early version of the piano, in the fourth movement. 

“I’m very excited about this because I feel like it could give the piece a lot more breath,” Stromile said. “There’s all these small little elements that I feel are important, and they are what’s going to make the piece its own special thing.”

This is Stromile’s first summer season choreographing for the Chautauqua School of Dance. 

“I really feel like he is a name you’re going to be hearing in the future as an up-and-coming choreographer,” Janes said. “He has a vocabulary that’s really interesting. He’s been really good for the dancers, and he’s very specific about what he wants.”

The performance continues with another piece debuted at Student Gala I: Janes’ “Loss.” Set to music by Samuel Barber, “Loss shares the heartbreaking story of parents losing their children. 

“I had the costume preconceived into the colors of the Ukrainian flag,” Janes said. “You see little splashes of blood, as well. That was just a tribute to what was going on, and I thought it fit that same thing; lots of parents are losing children or loved ones.”

The evening ends with excerpts from a classic George Balanchine ballet staged by Patricia McBride, director of ballet studies and master teacher. The ballet is set to music by George Gershwin, orchestrated by Hershy Kay.

“Patricia McBride is always the greatest inspiration,” Janes said. “She’s almost the last generation that learned straight from George Balanchine, so any coaching or tips or staging that she does is as close to the original as you can get.”

Balanchine’s “Who Cares?is the longest ballet on the program, at around 30 minutes. 

McBride described it as pure joy. The 50-year-old ballet challenges professional dancers and students alike even now.

“It brings them further in their technique with the movement and the musicality, and to be free throughout it. In the group pieces, you have to really watch your line, watch each other and work together,” McBride said. “It’s pretty remarkable what (the students) have done in a short amount of time.”

McBride holds Balanchine’s ballets close, as she worked with the great choreographer and has performed his works throughout her dance career. 

“I’m staging Mr. Balanchine’s ballets because it’s very dear to my heart,” McBride said. 

To McBride, “Who Cares?rounds out the program. 

“It’s a wonderful closer that shows the exuberance and joy of dancing to that music,” she said. “Balanchine is a genius.”

Overall, the performance will be a tremendous experience for dance students and the MSFO. To Janes, dancing to live music is an “unparalleled experience.”

“When can you do any other summer program and have it with a live orchestra and approximately 4,300-seat theater. It’s extraordinary,” Janes said. “I don’t know anywhere in America, or in the world, where you can get a summer program that is equivalent.”

The lead up to the performance, as well as the performance itself, is a learning experience for everyone. 

“It’s a good experience for our students, some of whom may have not played for a ballet,” Muffitt said. 

Some companies the dance students are going into will perform with live music, Janes said, stressing how different the experience can be compared to a recording.

“Dancing to live music, it’s a double-edged sword because you get used to the recordings (sounding) exactly the same every time,” Janes said.  “So it’s important for their education that they really listen to the music. … This training tool is invaluable.”

CSO, led by Stuart Chafetz, to perform Williams’ score to live film of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’

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The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra returns to a galaxy far, far away as it journeys back to the Star Wars series with “The Empire Strikes Back,” two summers after it first performed “A New Hope.”

The orchestra is picking the trilogy back up at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 23, in the Amphitheater under the direction of Principal Pops Conductor Stuart Chafetz, performing live John Williams’ original, Oscar-nominated score alongside the full 1980 film.

“It’s great to be back now, after COVID, in full gear, being able to do July 4 and premiere ‘Aladdin,’ which was fun,” Chafetz said. “This is just amazing music, and people have been looking forward to this since the first Star Wars that we did in 2019. So, this is really fun.”

George Lucas’ “The Empire Strikes Back” is the second in the Star Wars film series, but the fifth chronological chapter in the Skywalker saga. The film features not just the iconic cast of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams, among others, but Williams’ well-loved and respected original score, which won a Grammy.

“John Williams writes amazing music, but it’s extremely difficult,” Chafetz said. 

For Chafetz, the real difficulty is in the concentration of following the movie exactly. 

“It’s easy to get off of the movie. We have to follow the movie exactly for the music, for the drama,” Chafetz said. “So, the hardest thing is just staying focused for two hours and four minutes.”

To stay in time with the film, the CSO musicians use a click track, which clicks the rhythm in their ear. This rhythm changes often and almost out of nowhere. In addition to the difficulty of staying in time with the film, the original score was not made to be played in concert. 

“These film scores were designed to be recorded in chunks, not the entire film to be played at once. They would do one section, take a break, go back, maybe fix it,” Chafetz said. “For this, we just play it in concert with the film. So it’s extremely intense, and it takes a lot of concentration.” 

This enormous feat is mostly done through individual practice, as CSO only meets twice to fully run through the movie before the performance, and only once with the full screen. 

The CSO is used to this quick turn around, as they regularly perform a wide variety of music. 

“Every week is something different, and yet very challenging. But it says a lot about the orchestra because they’re able to play a variety of styles. They could be doing classical one night and then pop the next,” Chafetz said. “It takes a great orchestra, with many great musicians, to be able to just change on a dime like that.”

At Chautauqua, the CSO’s audience is ever-changing, like its music. Star Wars In Concert opens up classical music to a wide range of people, Chaftez said. 

“You get a lot of different varieties of people. Plus, you get mom, you get dad, you get grandparents, you get the kids, and this is one of those things where you can take the entire family and really enjoy,” Chafetz said. “That’s the beauty of it — being able to look out into the audience and seeing a packed Amphitheater with generations of families enjoying this wonderful film.”

The CSO enjoys submerging the audience in the experience.  

“The biggest compliment we always get is ‘Oh, I forgot there was an orchestra.’ That means that we’ve lined up perfectly with the film,” Chafetz said. “That’s my goal.” 

NPS President Ann E. Rondeau to address national security at sea, technological leadership in CIF


Oceans and seas cover 70% of the Earth’s surface and account for 97% of its water, yet the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that 80% of the ocean has yet to be mapped, observed and explored. Except at the surface, it cannot even be seen without special technology. 

The high seas — known informally as “international waters” — take up two-thirds of the ocean and half of the surface of the Earth. Beneath much of the high seas, the jurisdiction of the mineral-rich seabed is also international. 

Whether under national or international jurisdiction, or a variant of the two, this enormous mass of free-flowing boundary-trespassing water — and virtually everything it brings with it — is of strategic interest and concern to coastal and landlocked nations across the world. 

It is no wonder then, that coastal protection and effective sea power have historically been top U.S. military priorities.  

At 2 p.m. Saturday, July 23, in the Hall of Philosophy, as part of the Chautauqua Women’s Club’s Contemporary Issues Forum, retired Vice Admiral Ann E. Rondeau, president of the Naval Postgraduate School, will deliver an address titled “Technological Leadership: Combining Research and Education for Advantage at Sea.” Her lecture is made possible by the bequest of Elie Haupt. 

“We need to understand we’re entering a new cognitive age, and we need to make decisions differently, and a great deal of the time, much faster,” Rondeau said. 

Accordingly, the Navy and Marine Corps must keep up with and adapt to the unprecedented national security challenges created by the fast pace of technological change. For America’s maritime advantage to be decisive, the leaders it develops must possess the cognitive know-how to ensure technological advance. 

“I believe there are existential challenges,” Rondeau said. “I am committed to the development of knowledge, especially with exquisite speed and understanding. Our democracy is at risk internally and externally if we don’t make good decisions. … It’s a different world, … (one) that’s changing in ways unseen. … We have people with no governance, no boundaries.” 

Rondeau said she knew when she was just 5 years old that she was good at leading. 

“I liked leading teams doing things,” she said. “… (But) I’m not an extrovert or an introvert.”

At Eisenhower College in Seneca Falls, New York, the birthplace of women’s rights in the U.S., she majored in history and social science, won the Groben Award for Leadership, and was honored by the board of trustees as the most distinguished 1973 graduate. It was the late Warren Hickman — a longtime Chautauquan who attended Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “I Hate War” speech in the Amphitheater at age 13 and would later become a frequent Amp lecturer — who had developed a unique world studies program that became the basis for Eisenhower College. Hickman had served as part of Eisenhower’s staff at Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force during World War II.

“I learned about Chautauqua when I was a sophomore in college — that was 1970-71 — from … Warren Hickman, who for 20 years tried to get me out to Chautauqua,” Rondeau said. “He was one of my main mentors. … He was a wonderful man, a gentleman, scholar, teacher and coach (who) led an active, dignified life. … It is my honor and privilege, and an extraordinary coming-around of my life (to be speaking at Chautauqua).”

There’s a good reason Rondeau hasn’t made it to Chautauqua before now; her work has kept her in near constant motion elsewhere. Although Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibited sex-based discrimination in schools or other education programs, received federal funding and was in its infancy when Rondeau graduated from Eisenhower, she said that it eventually benefited her.

“Title IX changed girls’ futures,” she said. “You didn’t have to be an athlete to have it affect you. It was also in the military. When I came in, Title IX … wasn’t changing (things), yet it had to be passed to change structural foundations for women. … I came in when there wasn’t the opportunity to do team sports or be in combat. I came in at the very end of that. Things changed over time.”

When she entered the Navy near the end of the Vietnam War, Rondeau said that the women’s uniforms weren’t khaki like the men’s; hers was light blue seersucker. There was no allowance for the positive effects that uniforms have on “identity, meaning, belonging.”

After completing Officer Candidate School in 1974, Rondeau was commissioned as a Naval officer and served as commander of Pacific Fleet Navy Communications for two years. President Richard Nixon had ended the military draft in January 1973, when the war was nearly over, and the military became an all-volunteer force.

“A lot of men were not coming in,” Rondeau said. “… Almost every year was different. I came in, in a fleet communications job in Hawaii. I had no experience, but they put me in because they wanted to put women in various jobs. I was the first woman many times, and other women came in behind me. So I had the opportunity, and pretty quickly they did, too.”

With the help of male bosses, Rondeau said she “looked for loopholes.” This led to training in merchant marine ships and combat ships at sea. After she became the second woman, and the first in Patrol Squadron Fifty, assigned to operations intelligence with submarine warfare, she said she was sent to Georgetown University — wearing a khaki uniform. There, she earned her master’s in comparative government in 1982.

“I now had a better sense of belonging,” Rondeau said.

Because she has a broad base of interests, from history to science, her naval expertise is very diverse.

From 1982 to 2001, Rondeau progressed from NATO-Europe strategy and policy, to the Pentagon, to a White House Fellowship under the Attorney General, to Fast Sealift Squadron One, to the Military Sealift Command in New Orleans, to the Naval Operations Executive Panel, to Naval Support Activity in Italy, to the Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group in Rhode Island, back to the Pentagon, then to Naval Support Activity Mid-South in Tennessee, and finally to managing and overseeing all of the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s shore installations.

“Along the way there were markers, navigation points, (like being) the first woman,” she said “Boy, did I study hard, and I worked really hard. When you’re the first and only, you stand out, and I wanted to stand out good. … I was curious, and I sought to be proficient. I wasn’t arrogant; I thought I could always learn more.”

Spending between one and three years per post from 2001 to 2012, she advanced from overseeing naval service training in the Great Lakes, to commanding the Naval Professional Development Command in Virginia, to directing all Navy staff and supporting agencies at the Pentagon as a vice admiral, to serving as deputy combatant commander for the U.S. Transportation Command in Illinois, to becoming president of the National Defense University in Washington in 2009.

Rondeau won three Distinguished Service Medals, a Defense Superior Service Medal, four Legion of Merits awards, five Meritorious Service Medals and three Navy Commendation Medals. She also earned her Doctor of Education in education, research and public policy at Northern Illinois University “over a nine-year period with five moves and jobs, and four different dissertation chairs; but I got it done by 2010.” Retiring from the Navy in 2012, Rondeau went to IBM as a full-time consultant for The Watson Group, where she learned about artificial intelligence, business risk versus military risk, business as a potential provider to the government, and how IBM operates.

“I grew up about 10 miles south of Poughkeepsie,” she said. “(There were) huge IBM labs that fed that region. … Then they closed down, and people felt it. IBM is a really interesting study. In 1999, it almost went broke. It shed a lot of real estate and had to change because of the environment. The military is kind of the same way. You have to learn from your environment. By living near and working in IBM, I learned how much (that means) for survival.”

When she learned that her mother was terminally ill, she left IBM in 2014 and moved to the Midwest. While she was in Wisconsin, she said she was asked to put her name in for the presidency of the College of DuPage, Illinois’ largest community college, located in a northwest suburb of Chicago.

“DuPage is very well-heeled,” Rondeau said. “Half of the students in nursing were empty-nester women. They had been mothers, and now they had a skill set.”

Although she had thought DuPage would be the culmination of her career, she said she was asked to apply for both the presidency of the Naval Postgraduate School, and of a distinguished university in the northeast.

“A friend said, ‘You could get both, but which is your destiny?’ ” Rondeau said. “… I returned to a (very) different Navy. … At NPS, these are 32 year olds coming from a conventional context, not high school or college students. I have to (lead) well and effectively when there’s enormous buffeting against it.”

On Saturday, Rondeau will speak about the strategic challenge of maintaining a decisive maritime advantage, “and how the unique mission of NPS contributes to technological leadership and protection of the seas, which is the foundation of economic growth and security for the U.S., as well as our allies and partners throughout the world.”

Service as a guest speaker by the Naval Postgraduate School President at the Contemporary Issues Forum does not constitute an endorsement of Chautauqua Women’s Club, its services, or activities by the Department of Defense or any of its components.

Auburn’s Rev. Emma Jordan-Simpson to lead Week 5 worship with series on ‘Seeking for A City’


In the fall of her junior year at Fisk University, the Rev. Emma Jordan-Simpson was asked to be the “makeshift student chaplain.” Someone had to choose the hymns and transpose music to play on the carillon with a bunch of stuck and broken keys, she wrote on her blog, “A Voice in Ramah.”

In this particular reflection, “A Watershed Moment: Finding Life in the God-Story,” she shared her encounter with two men who wanted to tell her why women should not be preaching and why it was “ridiculous” for women to be ministers. They were seminary students in Nashville and “knew” that God did not call women to preach.

But Jordan-Simpson was called and now will be the Week Five chaplain at Chautauqua. Her sermon series is titled “Seeking for A City.” At the 10:45 a.m. Service of Worship and Sermon Sunday in the Amphitheater, she will preach on “Meet Me at the River.” For the 9:15 a.m. morning worship services Monday through Friday in the Amp, her sermon titles include “Intercepted by Hope,” “Journeying Together,” “A Song on the Way,” “Praying In Motion” and “Dreaming Anew.”

Jordan-Simpson, the president of Auburn Seminary, preached her first sermon at 17 and knew she was called to ministry. 

So, she wanted to hear why those two men thought it was ridiculous for women to be called, and remembered that when they made that comment, they were speaking at Fisk University, “whose heartbeat was life for formerly enslaved ancestors who proved that God often calls the least expected to do ridiculous things,” she wrote.

Eventually, the two men got into their own battle over which Scripture really mattered and forgot about Jordan-Simpson. In that moment she felt God’s grace, and it changed her life forever.

“I knew that I was where I was, not because of Scriptural texts. I was standing in the fullness of who I was — poor, Black, female, maybe ridiculous, but called — standing on the campus of Fisk University because of the whole God-story,” she wrote. “At that moment, by the grace of God, I saw it: They were arguing about something that God had settled long ago. I am made in the image of God. I could get lost in the ‘verses,’ over which we will argue until the end-times, or I could find my life in the God-story.”

In October 2021, Jordan-Simpson became the president of Auburn Seminary. Founded in upstate New York by Presbyterians over 200 years ago, the school is committed to a multifaith, multiracial movement for justice.

The university is a research institute that develops leadership skills in students by equipping them with the skill sets to create community, strive toward justice, heal the brokenness in the world and reach across divides; Auburn creates faith leaders. 

Jordan-Simpson preached her first sermon at the House of Prayer Episcopal Church in Newark, New Jersey. She was ordained by The Concord Baptist Church of Christ, a historic freedom faith congregation in Brooklyn, New York. Her ministry has been grounded in the call to community, and her leadership of nonprofit organizations has addressed the sacred issues representative of her congregation’s convictions.

She has served as the executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and provided leadership for the Children’s Defense Fund of New York, Girls Inc., Edwin Gould Services for Children & Families, and the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation.

A graduate of Fisk University with a Bachelor of Arts, she also has a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary and a Doctorate of Ministry from Drew Theological Seminary. She acts as president of the board of American Baptist Churches of Metropolitan New York and is a member of the board of directors of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies in New York City.

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