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Lee Berger Has Explored Caves and Savannahs, And Now He’s Exploring the Origins of the Human Race

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“I’m going to take you on a journey today,” Lee R. Berger told the audience at the start of his Monday morning lecture. As a paleoanthropologist whose discoveries have radically changed humanity’s understanding of its own origins, he knows a thing or two about journeys.

But all journeys must begin somewhere, and for Berger, that starting point was Africa in the late 1980s. It was there that, as a young paleoanthropologist, he faced the disquieting prospect of entering a field with a “99 percent chance of failure.”

“(Paleoanthropology) was probably one of the most difficult sciences in the world,” said Berger, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, who opened Week Two: “The Human Journey: Origins, Exploration and Preservation.” “It was a science that was looking for the rarest, (most) sought-after objects on this planet: these fossils of ancient human ancestors.”

In fact, there were more scientists studying such fossils than there were fossils available to study. When told that East Africa, “the cradle of mankind” and a hotbed of the field, had no place for him, Berger instead did “the next best thing” and went to South Africa.

Despite the change of plans, Berger found success almost immediately.

“In my first year there … I discovered the first new fossil on that site in 48 years,” Berger said.

His find, two hominid teeth, was big enough to get featured in National Geographic. Encouraged, Berger “threw (himself) into this discovery,” searching for the next fossil.

Seventeen years passed.

“Oh, I found plenty of fossils; I found millions of fossils,” Berger said of that period. “Millions of antelope fossils.”

Despite failing to make any more major finds, Berger’s career continued to grow. He became chair of a university department and made several smaller discoveries that garnered him some academic recognition. Using the prize money from a National Geographic award, he bought NASA satellite images, powerful computers and GPS technology to help with the hunt for new fossil sites. He found four near Johannesburg, but they too lacked hominid remains.

By the 2000s, not only had Berger failed to make any more major discoveries, but the entire field of paleoanthropology was changing. Disillusioned by their odds of success, scientists had begun to replace exploration with “computer-driven analysis of the fossils that we already had.” Berger was replaced in his university position and entered an introspective period.

“When you are truly soul-searching and you truly want to know what your future holds, you search the internet,” Berger said.

That was how he discovered Google Earth. Using the program’s satellite imagery, he made a startling discovery: the GPS coordinates of the fossil sites he’d been searching at before, near Johannesburg, had been wrong.

“I had wasted three years of my life, and a ton of National Geographic’s money,” Berger said.

Yet it was not a total loss; the experience had made Berger skilled at identifying caves and fossil sites from satellite imagery. Intrigued by what looked like untouched sites in an already well-explored region, he set out in 2008 to see whether they actually existed.

In one day, he found 21 new sites.

Berger continued to use this method to explore out in the field. By June of that year, he’d discovered more than 700 new sites in “the most explored area.”

Eager to explore one of the sites, Berger set out with a postdoctoral student, his dog and his 9-year-old son Matthew. His son ran off into the tall grasses, and almost immediately told his dad that he’d found a fossil.

At first, Berger was skeptical it was anything, or at least anything other than another antelope fossil. Then, getting closer, he saw that it was in fact a hominid clavicle — a rare find in and of itself. And then he turned it over.

“There, sticking out of the backside of that, were dozens and dozens of … fossils,” Berger said. “This was not just any find —  a clavicle would’ve been enough — this was a partial skeleton of a hominid.”

Before the skeleton had been found, there were exactly seven others like it known to exist on the African continent. In that one site, Berger would eventually find, in total, six.

“My colleagues and I would name a new species in 2010: Australopithecus sediba,” Berger said. “And I was in scientific heaven.”

Berger and his team would go on to expand, build an on-site laboratory, and discover fossilized skin and hair (which “you should not find in a 2-million-year-old site”). But as his work moved away from actual exploration, he found himself “for the first time in five years with very little to do.”

Berger decided his next step was to explore underground, in the “Swiss cheese”-esque cave systems weaving beneath the savannah.

He and a former caving partner, Pedro Boshoff, recruited two young, thin local cavers who would be able to get into tight spaces the older explorers could not. The recruits, Steven Tucker and Rick Hunter, explored a number of caves in which no one else had ever set foot, but turned up nothing notable. Then, last of all, they went into the well-trodden Rising Star cave network, where Berger had initially wanted to start.

There, Tucker and Hunter found something that seemed to have gone unnoticed.

“They’re 150 feet underground, and they find a narrow set of cracked rocks, and they climb up them, about 60 feet, and then they stare down into a little crack,” Berger said. “It was 7 and a half inches wide.”

The two descended the narrow chimney, and at its bottom was a small chamber. Looking at the floor, they saw that it was littered with bones.

Berger at first didn’t believe the find was real, but photographs convinced him that Tucker and Hunter had found a skeleton, essentially just lying in the dirt. Berger secured funding to explore the site further, and a team descended back down into the chamber, led by his son Matthew, now 15.

Berger waited outside the mouth of the chimney until his son’s head popped out.

“And?” Berger immediately asked.

“Dad, it’s beautiful,” his son replied.

Berger organized a larger team that set up camp on-site, using cutting-edge technology to let Berger be in the bone chamber remotely while younger scientists went down into its depths and brought back out the millennia-old fossils.

By the end of the second day, they knew they were dealing with more than one hominid skeleton. By the end of the week, they knew it was an even bigger deal than that.

“We had discovered more individual fossil remains in that little chamber than had been discovered in the entire history of the search for human origins in subequatorial Africa in the previous 90 years,” Berger said.

The fossils painted a picture of a thus-far unknown species, “a strange creature” with a primitive, orange-sized brain that seemed to contradict its other, more modern physiological characteristics. Berger’s team named it Homo naledi, meaning “star” in the Sotho language.

The bone chamber, too, presented a mystery, but the paleoanthropologists ultimately hypothesized that the Homo naledi had used it to “deliberately dispose of the dead.” Up until that point, such behavior had been thought to be exclusive to humans.

Since then, the findings of this site have been corroborated by a second, very similar site, announced only eight weeks ago.

Recent advances in dating the fossils have also changed scientists’ understanding of human origins, with the fossils evidently only 250,000 years old. If this chronology is accurate, then “our understanding of the origins of us and how (the naledi) are related to us have just become really messy and really, really complex.”

Scientific significance aside, the Homo naledi discovery also has larger implications for the human pursuit of knowledge more broadly.

“Remember that these discoveries were made in the most-explored area on planet Earth,” Berger said. “Together we can make this the greatest age of exploration.”

Music School Festival Orchestra is ready to break in the new Amp

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Most of the musicians in the Music School Festival Orchestra didn’t even know one another’s names a week ago.

“This orchestra’s never existed before,” said Timothy Muffitt, Music School Festival Orchestra conductor. “We’re bringing 80-plus people together and trying to make them one.”

Now, they’re ready to perform as a cohesive group. The MSFO will open its performance at 8:15 p.m. Monday in the Amphitheater with Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 97 — a selection Muffitt said he made not only because it’s extraordinary music, but also because it’s able to bring an orchestra together quickly.

“I always begin every season with a classical-era symphony. … It’s a great project to develop ensemble skills and to let the players get to know each other as musicians,” Muffitt said. “The classical style is very good for that.”

Under Muffitt’s guidance, the young artists are embracing the challenge of blending their sound and channeling their nerves into enthusiasm.

“It’s exciting because everyone has to mesh together very fast,” said Sophie Pariot, a violinist spending her first summer with the MSFO.

“It can be hard at times, but I think we’re going to pull it together and it’s going to be a great first concert.”

The last piece the MSFO will perform tonight is Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite,” which Muffitt calls a “centerpiece of a standard repertoire.” Muffitt said the piece will help the students come together as a symphony orchestra.

In addition to their technical mastery, the 85 young musicians bring an air of youthful energy to the stage, which is one reason Muffitt said makes them especially joyful to work with and listen to.

“There’s a great combination here of extraordinary talent and passion for making music,” he said. “For many of them, they’re playing some of these pieces for the first time, and so there’s that freshness element of it. They’re a very malleable group, in that we can achieve a lot … and (are) able to explore some great expressive options.”

Timothy Muffitt conducts the 2016 Music School Festival Orchestra in “Gazebo Dances” by John Corigliano during MSFO’s final performance of the season on Aug. 16, 2016 in the Amphitheater. SARAH HOLM/STAFF FILE PHOTO

Muffitt is using the group’s flexibility to expose the audience to a concert that spans centuries of music and styles. They’ll hear everything from Haydn, which Muffitt said is the “foundation of all orchestral music,” to a piece written just a few years ago.

“It’s a broad spectrum of style and the audience will hear this great orchestra going at all three of them,” Muffitt said.

Between the Haydn and Stravinsky, the MSFO will play a recent piece by Bruce Stark. The piece, “Symphonic Dances,” is based on popular American music, which Muffitt said will be evident to the audience right away. The MSFO is the second orchestra to be performing the “light and joyous” piece, which premiered in October by the Baton Rouge Symphony; an opportunity the young musicians are ready for.

“It’s great experience to walk into a new orchestra that’s ready to go,” said Anna Berntston, a violinist spending her first summer with the MSFO. “Everyone here is so talented. Of course the first rehearsal is always sort of a jumble, but things are coming together quickly and it’s just a joy to work with so many talented players.”

The young artists are grateful for the platform Chautauqua Institution gives them to do what they love most: perform.

“It’s a special place where people really care about the arts,” said Liaht Slobodkin, a returning violinist. “It feels like coming home.”

Turtle Island Quartet brings Coltrane, not Beethoven, to Chautauqua

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Don’t call Turtle Island Quartet a crossover group.

“We’re not ‘crossing over,’ ” said founder and violinist David Balakrishnan. “We’re already there.”

Turtle Island will perform John Coltrane’s magnum opus, A Love Supreme, along with other jazz standards at 4 p.m. Monday in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall.

String quartets, no matter what and where they play, are haunted by their 18th-century heritage. On their nights off from playing Carnegie Hall, string quartets are supposed to accompany weddings and fancy dinners.

Perhaps nobody knows that better than Balakrishnan.

“When the group was founded, we were really horrified by the term ‘crossover,’ ” Balakrishnan said. “We avoided it like the plague.”

The term “crossover” is problematic because it can go both ways. To some people, it’s a way for classical musicians to break into the mainstream. For others, it’s Barbra Streisand trying her best to sing French art song.

The bottom line for crossover, according to Balakrishnan, is the bottom line. Record companies want to sell records.

“In the past, the idea meant a classical musician playing something that’s cute and fun,” Balakrishnan said. “The purists would be insulted and the record company would be overjoyed.”

Individual players have come and gone, but Turtle Island has been performing for almost three decades. Throughout that time, the core premise of the group has stayed the same.

“It was formed around this idea of being able to play with the right accent and being grounded in the styles on which American music is based,” Balakrishnan said.

Every player in the group, without exception, must be trained in jazz and classical techniques.

“We don’t just have a couple people who can improvise a little bit,” Balakrishnan said. “All four players can play hardcore, bebop, and straight-ahead jazz.”

Hiring musicians who are native jazz players is what makes Turtle Island different from groups who transplant their classical sensibility into other genres.

“They don’t swing. Sorry!” Balakrishnan said.

That’s not to say it’s impossible for classical players to successfully explore other genres.

“Great musicians like Yo-Yo Ma have done it. Before him, it was Yehudi Menuhin,” Balakrishnan said.

Turtle Island even admires its main competitor, the Kronos Quartet.

“They’re so respectful of the style and they put so much attention into that. That’s why they’re so successful,” Balakrishnan said. “They come with game.”

Still, Turtle Island prefers to stay within what they know they can do well.

“We cover a wide range of styles, but we don’t go to places where we feel we can’t deliver,” Balakrishnan said.

The musicians  have done well for themselves by sticking to what they know. Turtle Island won a Grammy for their recording of A Love Supreme. It was a grand coup. If the term “sacred music” applies to any jazz, it applies tenfold to Coltrane’s work.

Love Supreme is like holy ground for jazz musicians, and not just because of the music,” Balakrishnan said. “It has this spiritual dimension that goes deep to the core of what we are as human beings.”

Coltrane, in his own way, “crossed over” to reach a level of expression previously reserved for other genres.

“He accessed that level the way the great European composers do,” Balakrishnan said. “It’s so symbolic of the way jazz can reach much deeper.”

Pulling off Coltrane with a string quartet presents a serious problem: there’s no rhythm section.

That means no drum solos, like the one that opens the third movement of A Love Supreme. It also means the players have to somehow create the rhythmic foundation on which jazz playing is built without hiring a drummer, a bassist, or a pianist.

“The most obvious choice is the cello because a cello is like a small version of a bass,” Balakrishnan said. “But most classical cello players don’t have any idea about how to play a jazz bass line.”

Fortunately, Turtle Island cellist Malcolm Parson does.

“He’s a monster bass player who’s playing the cello,” Balakrishnan said.

Parson uses bowing techniques borrowed from bluegrass and jazz to add a percussive element to his playing. For example, Parson can use the part of the bow closest to his right hand, which is heavier than the tip, to strike the strings. This method, called chop bowing, produces a crisp, drum-like sound. Parson essentially becomes the bassist and drummer of the quartet.

On the Coltrane record, the harmonic background for A Love Supreme was provided by pianist McCoy Tyner. To coordinate the job among Turtle Island’s four players, Balakrishnan had to notate the chord changes in detail.

“It’s almost like big band writing. There’s a lot more written out than you would have in a traditional jazz group,” Balakrishnan said. “Coltrane didn’t show up with a bunch of six-page charts.”

Even with all their effort, the group knows they can’t perfectly duplicate Coltrane’s classic quartet.

“You’re not going to sound like Elvin Jones. You’re not going to sound like McCoy Tyner,” Balakrishnan said. “It’s a string quartet, dude.”

Paleoanthropologist Lee Berger discusses human origins and the future of exploration

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For a man whose occupation requires him to study bones from thousands, even millions, of years ago, paleoanthropologist Lee R. Berger is remarkably future-oriented — and optimistic about humankind’s prospects, particularly as the millennial generation takes the lead.

“I see them with the greatest potential,” he said. “They have the power, for the first time in history, of engaging with everyone in the world, with every mind, almost instantaneously. Information and solutions are at their fingertips — if they don’t have it, someone else has it. And I think that they’re going to be the age that’s going to truly harness the wonder of technology.”

In his lecture at 10:45 a.m. Monday in the Amphitheater, Berger will imagine the future of humankind by tracing the extensive history of Homo sapien’s family tree. 

“The field of human origins is changing at this unprecedented pace,” he said. “What I’m going to do is bring everyone up to the exciting, new discoveries, giving them a little bit of background on how those discoveries were actually made.”

Berger has had a hand in many of these new discoveries himself. A research professor in human evolution and the public understanding of science at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, and an explorer in residence at the National Geographic Society, he is known for working on excavations that unearthed previously unknown species Australopithecus sediba and Homo naledi, both extinct hominins found in the Cradle of Humankind, a World Heritage Site in South Africa.

Photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic Paleoanthropologist Lee Berger, a new National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

Berger is also known for his rapid pace in publishing findings and presenting theories, which has often brought him critique as others in the scientific community question whether his enthusiasm is due to a love of the spotlight.

He is, however, committed to sharing information. He has made several of his discoveries, including sediba and naledi, open access, inviting other scientists to study the finds.

Berger believes that sharing his work is only fair.

“It’s the story of us,” he said. “This is the story of humankind and it deserves to be told.”

When he first entered the field of paleoanthropology, it “felt a little bit too much like a club,” he said.

“Often that clubbiness was used as a power that didn’t allow a meritocracy to actually occur in this scientific endeavor,” he said. “And when sediba came along, it offered me a large enough discovery that I felt I could experiment with something I believed in, which was open accessing, open sourcing, open collaboration.”

Part of Berger’s openness includes a public persona. He cultivates an active social media presence, was featured in the 2015 PBS NOVA National Geographic documentary “Dawn of Humanity” and in 2016, was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people. But we’re all influential, Berger said, “arguably the most influential animal that’s ever lived in the history of this planet.”

“The next several decades, in fact, might be the point where we decide the future of biodiversity on this planet, what sort of world we want to live in and what sort of other creatures we’re going to share that with,” he said. “In order to understand our role in this system and also to understand where we come from and how connected we are to nature, the only place to learn that is in our past.”

Part of understanding the gravity of that past means accepting that humans are not “invincible,” Berger said.

“Our entire journey has been one of extinctions and losses through time. And understanding that journey is a powerful lesson,” he said. “There’s a lesson in our past about the fragility of our place on this planet.”

Berger said he’s looking forward to speaking at Chautauqua Institution, particularly to young listeners.

“It’s critically important to reach a younger generation as well, with the messages and the potential of scientific pursuit and exploration,” he said. “I really do believe that we are in the greatest age of exploration.”

Chautauqua trustee Sheila Penrose to discuss corporate boardroom experience

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Boards and boardrooms are at best a mystery and at worst a black hole for many, if not most, people. Where there is little transparency, employees, shareholders and donors are generally ignorant of the rationale for decisions that can have a profound effect on their lives.

As part of the Chautauqua Professional Women’s Network, Sheila Penrose will remove a layer or two of this veil in her talk titled “The Boardroom Perspective” at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday at the Women’s Club.

“There’s a lot that goes on that never meets the public eye, that’s candid and confidential,” she said. “I’m going to talk about what’s going on inside the boardroom and how relevant it is to what’s going on today.”

Having served for the past 20 years as a director of five corporate boards (all brand leaders), a trustee on five nonprofit boards (including, since 2013, Chautauqua Institution’s), and the chair of a range of board committees, Penrose has participated in numerous challenging and insightful boardroom discussions.

Currently she sits on the boards of McDonald’s, Datacard Group, and JLL (Jones Lang LaSalle), which she has chaired since 2005. Her breadth of cross-sector experience — with the investor community, mergers and acquisitions, financial management, marketing, business development and global expansion — has enhanced her effectiveness in these boardrooms.

“My career has been a bit of a zigzag, like that of a lot of women,” Penrose said. “I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of support and encouragement.”

Sheila Penrose

Born and raised in England, she was required to specialize very early in school, and found she loved the analytical aspects of economics.

“I loved the way economics could explain the foundations of our society,” she said. “We lay on top our societal values. I love the rigor; it’s not called a social science for nothing.”

While earning her master’s at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and immediately afterward, she lectured in economics at Central London Polytechnic.

“I had the opportunity to be an economic adviser to the British Treasury at Number 11 Downing Street, where the British Exchequer has his home,” Penrose said. “It was extraordinary.”

There, she focused on budget policy, anti-inflation strategies and amending the IMF agreement following the first oil crisis precipitated by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries’ oil embargo (October 1973 to March 1974), when the British pound was under pressure.

Her first husband, who was head of marketing at Quaker Oats Company, was asked to relocate to Chicago, and Penrose moved with him.

“When I first came to the States, I didn’t understand the power of networking,” she said. “I didn’t know how to do it. It’s fortunate that a woman economist in Chicago introduced me to people I needed to know.”

Penrose was hired as an economist for what is now a major Chicago bank, Northern Trust Corporation. She also attended the Executive Program at Stanford Graduate School of Business in California (and later served on its advisory board).

Eventually she became president of Northern Trust’s corporate bank. Under her leadership, this global business was transformed and net income grew 17 percent annually. During her last seven years there, Penrose was the first and only woman member of its management committee.

Committed to workplace diversity and inclusion, Penrose is a founding member of the U.S. 30% Club, the goal of which is to achieve better gender balance at U.S. companies. She is also a member of various boards dedicated to the advancement of women in the workforce, and co-founded and co-chairs the Corporate Leadership Center.

Penrose is proudest of CLC’s Leading Women Executives program, “targeting mid-career women in large corporations who are starting to realize that they’ve gotten to the point where they need other skills — how to navigate, network, negotiate, lead projects — then watching them progress and succeed.”

The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Penrose was named in 2016 to Chicago Business’ list of the “100 Most Connected” business people in Chicago.

“When I moved here from England, it was much easier for me to navigate in the U.S. than in the U.K.,” Penrose said. “But 40 years later, there are a substantially higher number of women on corporate boards in the U.K. How did that happen? Women are not living up to their potential.”

For the World Economic Forum (Davos) and other global venues, she speaks and writes about leadership and governance issues, especially about gender parity and getting women into boardrooms. She serves on WEF’s steering committee of Community of Corporate Board Chairmen and co-chairs its Gender Equity Initiative.

Seeing other women blossom has been Penrose’s greatest joy.

“There’s always been examples of ‘Queen Bee Syndrome,’ but that’s not prevalent. What is, is women helping women succeed,” she said. “I enjoy helping to groom business leaders, both men and women.”

Leaving people with a more complete and balanced view of what goes on in corporate boardrooms is Penrose’s goal for her morning talk.

“People tend to hear of the mistakes, scandals, missteps,” she said. “I’d like them to know that a corporate board is an imperfect answer to corporate governance because there is no perfect governance. I’m a believer that business is a force for good.”

In addition to Chautauqua Institution, Penrose is currently a trustee of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Rush Medical Center, the Museum of Science and Industry and the Chicago Club.

“I’d like those involved with not-for-profits to see the connection between what happens on those board versus corporate boards,” she said. “There are forms of governance and topics discussed at the corporate boardroom that move into nonprofits, such as cybersecurity.”

Herbicides were used to combat weeds on Chautauqua Lake last week for the first time since 2002

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With rain clouds looming above, Steve Holland pilots a hulking orange vessel across Chautauqua Lake before arriving in Dewittville Bay, where he begins to perform the work he does most days during summer: harvesting weeds.

“There’s a lot of weeds in this bay,” Holland said aboard one of the Chautauqua Lake Association’s aquatic plant harvesters Tuesday morning. “I’ll probably be here the rest of the week.”

The day’s operation came amid a pivotal time in controlling the lake’s excess vegetation. Several miles to the southeast in Bemus Bay, remnants from the application of herbicides the day before still lingered in the water.

Herbicides — chemicals used to control plants — were used in three spots in Bemus Bay on Monday as part of an effort by the Chautauqua Lake Partnership to manage invasive plants in the area. The last time herbicides were used in the lake was 2002.

The recent herbicide use came after the CLP, originally formed that year by residents annoyed with excess plants in the lake, applied for permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, first in April and later on June 19, 2017, according to the department. The permits were issued the next day.

The DEC permits allowed use of two kinds of herbicides, named Aquathol-K and Navigate, as part of a data collection project to evaluate their effectiveness on invasive weeds, DEC spokeswoman Megan Gollwitzer said.

“We’re trying to do something to introduce different techniques to take care of the weed and algae problem,” said CLP President Jim Cirbus.

The herbicide company SOLitude administered the application Monday, and the CLP placed signs around the lake warning residents to not use, fish in or swim in the water near Bemus Bay for 24 hours. The original DEC permits included such a warning that would last for 14 days, but the department later issued revised permits with the 24-hour warning.

In addition, the waters near the Institution were deemed safe for swimming Monday by the Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human Services, according to a letter from the department.

Such use of herbicides has been both applauded and denounced by residents, with some pointing to how the excess weeds inhibit boat use and others suggesting that the chemicals will hinder native plants and fish, among other problems.

When it comes to managing vegetation, though, the most visible effort remains that of the harvesters and other machines used by Holland and his colleagues in the CLA.

“We’ve gotta be able to get people around their docks so they can get in and out,” Holland said. “I mean, why have a boat on a lake if you can’t use it?”

Why the weeds are a problem

As of Monday, the CLA had harvested about 2 million pounds of weeds, Holland said. The association, a nonprofit organization incorporated in 1953, uses six harvesters to collect plants throughout the lake, said Doug Conroe, executive director and former Chautauqua Institution director of operations.

“The machines cut off the top of the vegetation,” Conroe said. “Some people say it’s like mowing your lawn.”

The harvesters collect the excess plants and either drop them off at the shore or load them onto a transporter boat that does so, he said. The weeds are then moved via trucks to farms for use as compost.

Specifically, two invasive species of aquatic plants — also known as macrophytes — are problematic for the lake: curly leaf pondweed and Eurasian water milfoil, said Jan Bowman, biology professor at Jamestown Community College. Bowman has conducted research on aquatic plants in the lake since the early ’90s.

The plants, she said, create problems for recreation on the lake by limiting mobility around docks and wrapping around boat motors and propellers.

The only large-scale solution to that problem at the moment is mechanical harvesting, according to the Chautauqua Lake Macrophyte Management Strategy published in March. The plan includes strategies of how to “open the toolbox to a broader range of management options,” including herbicides.

Evaluating the risks of herbicides

The use of herbicides, though, raises questions for some about how its application could affect the environment, while others insist that risks are minimal.

“Our harvesting operation is able to control the nuisance growths, or manage the nuisance growths,” Conroe said. “We don’t see the need to do something more environmentally invasive.”

Why might the herbicides be harmful? Bowman said research she has both read and conducted show problems, which include harming native plants and destroying spawning beds for fish.

A study published in March titled “Lessons from a Decade of Lake Management,” for example, found that herbicide use is unpredictable and can harm native plants in some instances.

“As a whole, the lake is a very dynamic system with many smaller ecosystems in it,” Bowman said. “It’s hard to address it as one big body of water.”

But Bowman and Conroe both point to how herbicides might impact another problem in the lake: algae blooms.

Conroe said Chautauqua Lake is very rich in nutrients, such as phosphorus, and when too many nutrients exist, the cellular plant algae can form. As algae matures, water around it becomes harmful, he said, and it can become toxic in certain spots when the algae “blooms.”

“If you kill some stretches of these plants, the decomposition is going to add nutrients that feed algae,” Bowman said. “Several studies show this.”

Cirbus and others in the CLP, though, disagree that herbicides are harmful. The herbicides are specific to the species of invasive plants, he said, and shouldn’t harm the few native ones that have survived.

The group followed the DEC’s regulations “to the letter,” Cirbus said. The partnership also raised money for shoreline cleanups to reduce algae growths this summer.

“Too much is at stake,” he said. “Hopefully herbicides will be a thing of the future in conjunction with other methods.”

Back on the lake, though, Holland and others in the CLA will continue their harvesting operations across the lake throughout the summer.

“We get a lot of thank yous, very few complainers,” Holland said. “For the most part, it’s rewarding because you get some gratification out of it.”

Peabody winner Joshua Levs to explain failures of U.S. work-first culture

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Joshua Levs

At a time when “fake news” has become so prevalent that it’s a national scandal, monikers such as “Mr. Reality” and “Truth Seeker in Chief” are refreshing.

Entrepreneur and former journalist, columnist and host Joshua Levs began earning these nicknames, as well as that of “Senior Everything Correspondent,” after he jumped from NPR to TV.

“There were lots of lies on the air all the time,“ Levs said. “My goal was to fix this problem. I created a position — the ultimate fact-checker.”

Sharing insights from his nonpartisan fact-checking about the modern family, Levs will get the Chautauqua Women’s Club-sponsored Contemporary Issues Forum season-long speaker series rolling at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy.

His topic mirrors the title of his book, All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses — And How We Can Fix It Together.

“Most of what we hear about men is wrong,” Levs said. “It’s a myth. We’re keeping our structures in the ‘Mad Men’ era. The workplace needs a big reality check.”

When Time Warner Cable denied Levs — who had carved out a niche as a fatherhood columnist — fair parental leave when his third child was born prematurely and his wife was ill, he filed a lawsuit and won. This experience not only enhanced his understanding of modern families and the realities of fatherhood, but also transformed him into a leading advocate for modern families.

“Afterwards Time Warner came to me and said, ‘Give us some steps,’ ” Levs said. “They revolutionized their policy.”

He said he will give Saturday’s audience very practical advice.

“I will talk about laws, policies and gender-based stigmas,” he said.

As the pre-eminent global expert on issues facing modern fathers in the workplace, Levs works with corporations, organizations, universities and others to develop policies supportive of men as caregivers. He regards such policies as a critical step toward providing equal career opportunities for women. The United Nations has honored him as a UN Global Champion of Gender Equality.

“CEOs know about the problem with needing more women leaders,” Levs said. “But truly, they don’t understand the importance of men at home. Getting companies educated is one of my biggest challenges. Work-life balance and caregiving is gender neutral.”

Top businesses, prestigious institutions and major summits around the world have invited Levs as their keynote speaker. His motivational TEDx Talk explores challenges and benefits of “achieving the impossible,” which Levs has accomplished through his pioneering entrepreneurship — creating his own career — despite seemingly insuperable odds.

“It’s such a wild ride,” Levs said. “There’s always something new.”

For instance, late last month he was in Washington, D.C., testifying at the Congressional Democratic Women’s Working Group hearing on the urgency of paid family and medical leave.

“I was the one guy,” Levs said.

Levs grew up in Albany and graduated from Yale College — where a foundation has established a scholarship in his name — two months before the opening ceremony of the 1996 Summer Olympics.

He said that he followed his instincts and approached NPR in Atlanta. He told them that he would do anything they wanted if they would take him on, including emptying wastebaskets. Before the Olympics even began in July, Levs started reporting on it and soon became an NPR reporter.

During the 20 years he reported for NPR and CNN, Levs developed and honed his fact-checking skills. Among the many journalism kudos he has received are six Peabody Awards, two Edward R. Murrow Awards, Atlanta Press Club Journalist of the Year, and awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists and National Association of Black Journalists.

“What we’re seeing now is unlike the lies before,” Levs said. “It’s a whole new breed of lying. It used to be that politicians would find ways to come up with claims they thought they could get away with. Now, Trump doesn’t even try. It’s pure, blatant lying.”

Levs echoes the viewpoint of other renowned journalists. For instance, in the April 3, 2017, edition of Time Magazine — the issue with the stark black and red cover titled “Is Truth Dead?” — Managing Editor Nancy Gibbs opined about wrestling with a president and others who cannot be taken at their word. Gibbs, a lifelong Chautauquan, will be speaking in the Amphitheater during Week Eight under the theme, “Media and the News: Ethics in the Digital Age.

Time is among the many magazines, journals and websites for which Levs writes. Others are Money, Fortune, The Atlantic, the Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, Quartz, Quora and Medium.

Chautauqua Institution’s Amphitheater opens with a ribbon cutting and performances

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The Amphitheater is the performing arts hub of Chautauqua Institution.

At 2 p.m. on Sunday, a ribbon-cutting ceremony will officially open the newly renovated Amp to the Chautauqua community. Over the past week, the Amp has been used for lectures and performances, so Sunday’s event will be a symbolic ceremony intended to celebrate the $41.5 million dollar project.

“When we talked about how to celebrate the opening of the Amphitheater … we wanted to try to do something that would include as many members of the community as possible,” said Geof Follansbee, CEO of the Chautauqua Foundation. “We also wanted an opportunity to showcase some of the people who use the facility on a regular basis.”

The ceremony will begin with formal remarks to acknowledge the many people who helped make the renovation possible and will culminate in the symbolic ribbon cutting. A matinee concert beginning at 2:30 p.m. will follow the official ceremony.

According to Vice President and Director of Programming Deborah Sunya Moore, the “performance half” of the program is designed to give Chautauquans “a pretty broad sampling of the arts here.”

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will open the program with Beethoven’s “The Consecration of the House” overture. The piece was first performed in 1822 for the reopening of the Josephstadt Theater in Vienna.

Elsewhere in the program, the CSO will accompany performances by the Chautauqua Opera Company, the Charlotte Ballet and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra Chorus.

The Chautauqua Opera Company will present the prologue to Ottorino Respighi’s realization of Claudio Monteverdi’s masterpiece L’Orfeo.

Scheduled for its full U.S. stage premiere at 8:15 p.m. July 8 in the Amp, L’Orfeo’s prologue is, according to Chautauqua Opera General and Artistic Director Steven Osgood, a perfect way to open the new Amp.

“The choice was immediate,” Osgood said.

In the opera’s prologue, the character of Music — played by Apprentice Artist mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson — introduces herself through song.

“I am music,” she sings, “who, in sweet accents, can calm each troubled heart. And now with noble anger, now with love, can kindle the most frigid minds.”

A salute from Music herself seemed appropriate for the dedication of the Institution’s primary performing arts center.

“That’s what we do in the Amphitheater,” Osgood said.

Osgood values the chance to work with other performing arts companies on the grounds.

“It’s an opportunity that few general directors of opera companies in the United States have,” Osgood said. “Because we are such a tightly knit community and because we see each other as colleagues and our time here is compressed, it’s this tinderbox of activity all fueled up and ready to go. The fact that there are these inter-arts collaborations highlights the uniqueness of what we have here at Chautauqua.”

The Music School Festival Orchestra will also help break in the new stage at Sunday’s event by performing a short fanfare by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. MSFO Conductor Timothy Muffitt said the piece blends well with the program because it’s based on the overture to L’Orfeo.

For the rest of the season, the Amphitheater will be the venue for the MSFO’s weekly Monday night performances. Muffitt said the renovation is a welcome upgrade for all the arts programs that work there.

“The new Amphitheater is state-of-the-art, probably much as the original Amp was state-of-the-art over a century ago,” Muffit said.

Muffitt said although the Amp is now “with the times,” it preserves the ambiance of the original.

“The audience will experience all the magic that the Amphitheater always had,” Muffitt said. “They’ve done a remarkable job at blending tradition and modernity.”

The event will also include non-musical performances. The Chautauqua Theater Company will contribute a performance by actor Lavour Addison, who will act out the prologue of Shakespeare’s Henry V.

The piece itself is “grand and majestic,” much like the Amphitheater, Addison said. It’s the perfect bit of Shakespeare to perform for the opening, as it asks audiences to see action on the stage — referred to as an “unworthy scaffold” — but be transported to another place.

“In the piece, it’s talking about asking the audience for their participation, using their imagination and being open to what’s going to happen,” Addison said.

A first-time member of CTC conservatory, Addison will portray Mercutio in Romeo & Juliet this season. Last summer, Addison played Macbeth during the Oberlin Summer Theater Festival.

CTC Artistic Director Andrew Borba asked Addison about performing for the Amp opening even before he arrived on the grounds. Addison will be one of the first CTC performers to grace the new stage.

The Amp will be the largest space Addison has ever performed in. He said he wants the audience to feel relaxed and welcomed during his delivery because that, in turn, will make him feel more comfortable.

“I really hope they laugh,” Addison said. “That will put me at ease, because I probably will be really nervous. It is huge in there.”

The event will end with a reprise of the final movement from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, the “Ode to Joy.” At 8:15 p.m. on Saturday, the preceding evening, the Columbus Symphony Chorus will join the CSO to perform the entire symphony.

Follansbee encourages all Chautauquans to come to the new Amp’s grand opening.

“People should come and enjoy this wonderful concert and … community-wide self-congratulations,” Follansbee said.

Tours of the new facility will follow the matinee performance, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. The usual 8 a.m. Monday tours will also take place this week. Meet at the stanchion displays adjacent to the northwest Amphitheater gate.

Columbus Symphony Chorus joins Chautauqua Symphony for Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”

The Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Carmina Burana

Columbus Symphony Chorus Director Ron Jenkins has a theory about why Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 is so popular.

“There are three pieces most music directors do in the first few years of their tenure,” Jenkins said. “One is the Verdi Requiem, one is Orff’s Carmina Burana, and one is Beethoven’s Ninth.”

What do these pieces have in common?

“All three of them have been used in commercials,” Jenkins said.

From flash mobs and the Olympics to “A Clockwork Orange” and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Beethoven’s last symphony continues to have a life the composer could never have imagined.

Chautauquans will have a chance to hear this monumental work at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater. The Columbus Symphony Chorus will join the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra under the baton of their shared music director, Rossen Milanov.

Jenkins and Milanov have been working together to combine the chorus and orchestra as seamlessly as possible.

“My job is to convey (Milanov’s) wishes about tempo and phrasing and so forth to the chorus,” Jenkins said. “When I don’t know for sure, I have to make good musical decisions.”

This is the sixth time the chorus has performed the work with Jenkins’ preparation, but Beethoven’s writing for the human voice presents enduring (and endurance) problems to singers. At several points in the famous last movement, Beethoven asks the sopranos to sustain closed vowel sounds — in German words like “die” and “Brüder” — on very high pitches.

“The ranges are extreme, particularly because they stay in the higher range for everyone for long periods of time,” Jenkins said.

And then there’s the text itself.

Beethoven was not the first or only composer to make a musical treatment of Friedrich Schiller’s poem, “An die Freude.” Almost a decade earlier, Franz Schubert wrote a solo voice and piano rendition.

Jenkins’ primary goal is ensuring the text’s clarity. Even though the German will be sung for an English-speaking audience, it will need to be intelligible with crisp, perfectly synchronized consonants.

“German is so much about consonants, which Americans are notoriously sloppy about in their verbal speech,” Jenkins said.

Another challenge is singing loud enough to be heard over the massive orchestra without sounding shrill.

“You have to remember to produce a very good sound,” Jenkins said.

The volume of the music alone, according to Jenkins, catches even experienced concertgoers off guard.

“It’s thrilling music and you never, ever expect it to be as loud as it’s going to be,” Jenkins said. “In one short measure, it crescendos and the chorus comes in on this really high D major chord singing the main tune. It’s just explosive.”

The symphony’s last movement steals the show by its downright force. It also foretells future developments in symphonic music. Beethoven was the first composer to decide a symphony could also function as a kind of oratorio. After Beethoven, composers like Mahler, Bruckner, Liszt and Ives began to incorporate choirs into their symphonies.

However, the rest of Beethoven’s symphony shouldn’t be overlooked.

“I think the first three movements are pretty much the nexus of what music up to that point was trying to achieve, without involving any words as a helping element in describing what it is,” Milanov said.

The ideas underpinning Schiller’s poem — and, by extension, Beethoven’s symphony — would eventually be understood by historians as the first tremors of the Romantic movement.

“(It is) the idea of democracy, of a republic, of abolishing conflicts among people,” Milanov said. “Those were very progressive ideas at the time.”

Beethoven’s symphony didn’t materialize in a vacuum. The upheaval of the French Revolution had lasting effects throughout Europe. Industrialization and massive population growth set the continent’s philosophical minds to work on reconciling national identity with individual freedom.

“Poets and writers of the time were addressing these issues very prominently,” Milanov said. “Looking at the symphony in that context, it probably wouldn’t have been too surprising to have that big philosophical message.”

Even with the help of Schiller’s text, musicologists have had trouble assigning a conclusive meaning to the piece. Writer and musician Harvey Sachs noted that Beethoven’s Ninth resonates with everyone, including Nazis, Marxists, Christians and Pagans.

Maybe the reason for the symphony’s beloved status is just as elusive as its meaning. Pulitzer laureate Ned Rorem, one of America’s most prolific setters of words to music, once quipped: “Music doesn’t mean anything literarily, (so) people hear what you tell them to hear.” And the symphony’s popularity isn’t a universal fact. Elsewhere, Rorem has called Beethoven’s Ninth “the first piece of junk in the grand style.”

Does Schiller’s poem tell people what to hear in Beethoven’s last symphony? Milanov said it’s not that simple.

“I don’t think the music of Beethoven really needs a text to explain exactly what it means,” he said.

As musicologist Leo Treitler wrote, Beethoven’s Ninth certainly “demands interpretation.” We just don’t know what that interpretation is.

Doo Wop Project is street corner music for a new generation

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The Doo Wop Project is bridging more than six decades of music with “doo-wopified” arrangements of contemporary hits alongside old-school classics.

“We wanted to bring street corner singing to a new generation,” said Dominic Scaglione Jr., one of the five original members of the band.

Along with classics, like “That’s My Desire” by Frankie Laine and “Remember Then” by the Earls, The Doo Wop Project will sing original arrangements of contemporary songs, including “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz and “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse at 8:15 p.m. Friday in the Amphitheater.

“I grew up with this music and always had this idea to find some guys to get together and sing (it),” Scaglione said. “I never thought in my wildest dreams it would become what it has.”

When Scaglione was performing in Jersey Boys on Broadway, he shared his vision backstage with one of his fellow cast members, Dominic Nolfi. From there, The Doo Wop Project turned into a music group with members from the casts of Broadway’s Jersey Boys and Motown: The Musical that’s been recording and touring for almost five years now — performing almost 80 gigs last year alone.

Scaglione said he wanted to create a band where the members are interchangeable, allowing them to continue their Broadway careers. When one of the five original members are busy with a show, another star from Jersey Boys or Motown: The Musical subs in. When The Doo Wop Project performed at Chautauqua Institution in 2015, Scaglione couldn’t make it because he was busy starring as Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys. But this time all five original members, Scaglione, Nolfi, Sonny Paladino, Dwayne Cooper and Charl Brown — plus a sixth member, Russell Fischer — will take the stage in the Amphitheater. 

“We’re at a place now where we’re growing, and we’re excited to come back to Chautauqua with the original members,” Scaglione said. “From what I heard, it’s a gorgeous venue. I’m personally looking forward to being there and seeing it for the first time because the guys talked so highly about it.”

Nolfi, who’s currently performing in A Bronx Tale: The Musical on Broadway, is even taking the day off for tonight’s show.

According to Scaglione, touring in concerts can be a welcome change from the rigid, eight-show-a-week routine of Broadway.

“Obviously there’s nothing like Broadway, but this has given us an opportunity to travel all over America and see the country — see how influential this music is in people young and old,” Scaglione said. “You’re usually put in a box on Broadway, but The Doo Wop Project allows us to be ourselves.”

As opposed to a Broadway show, where actors must follow their scripts, The Doo Wop Project concerts leave leeway for improv.

“We do stay true to a certain set list, but it’s not the same thing over and over, Scaglione said. “We take liberty with a lot of the banter and pattern of speaking.”

In The Doo Wop Project, there’s no lead singer. Scaglione said they split up the show equally and all take the lead at different points. And when it comes to selecting songs to cover, every member of the band has an input. Scaglione said many of his suggestions come from the songs he’s been listening to since he was in the womb.

“My dad is a retired police officer and FBI agent, and a big doo-wop fan,” Scaglione said. “A lot of the songs that we do are because of him and his influence. When we were making the set list we all got together and decided what to do, but I brought a lot of doo-wop songs to the table because of my upbringing.”

Scaglione’s favorites to perform are the classics that remind him of what he listened to as a kid. Along with an opening medley of “Morse Code of Love” and “Itty Bitty Pretty One,” that he said “really gets the crowd going,” Scaglione enjoys a solo performance he does of “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” from Jersey Boys.

But his favorite moment in the show is when the group performs an a cappella version of “That’s My Desire.”

“That really shows the street corner (sound),” Scaglione said. “I love to listen to that blend and how it shifts throughout the song.”

Difficult farce ‘Noises Off’ to open CTC season

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If Chautauqua Theater Company members do their jobs right, Noises Off will be a disaster.

The 1982 play from English playwright Michael Frayn opens the 2017 CTC season at 8 p.m. Friday and will run through July 16. A play within a play, Noises Off follows a production of fictional British sex farce Nothing On. For the unfortunate actors in Nothing On, a bad dress rehearsal does not portend a great opening night or even a successful run.

“I’ve certainly been in shows where people have been forgetting their lines, but I’ve never been in one where that was the purpose,” said Craig Wesley Divino, one of CTC’s guest actors who portrays Lloyd, the director of Nothing On.

Noises Off may be a comedy, but that doesn’t make it easy to do. Lines overlap, scenes are repeated, slapstick gags are intricately choreographed, and doors slam and stick on purpose. An American film version of the award-winning play came out in 1992, but was widely panned by critics who said the comedy didn’t translate well from stage to screen.

The first act takes place during a flub-filled dress rehearsal. In the second act, the set rotates, so the audience sees the chaos backstage. The third act returns the audience to the mainstage action, but shows how tired the actors are of Nothing On and their cast mates.

The self-referential elements of the play make Noises Off fun for theater folk, as well as audience members who perhaps haven’t been in a theater production themselves, Divino said. Of course, here, everything is heightened. The smart layers of the comedy, as well as the slapstick routines scattered throughout, make the show exhausting.

“Part of your brain is always engaged in making sure that you know where you are in the pretend play, while you are doing the real play,” Divino said.

CTC Artistic Director Andrew Borba, whose first exposure to Noises Off was as an audience member at the 1984 Tony-nominated version, said he has long wanted to bring the farce to CTC. This was not just because he wanted to direct the play, but because he thought it would resonate with a range of CTC viewers. (Noises Off is recommended for ages 10 and up.)

“It isn’t frivolous or mindless comedy, but it’s pure comedy,” Borba said.

Borba called playwright Frayn “a watchmaker” for the way in which he crafted the comedy.

“Much of the pleasure of the play comes from the precision, not just the situation, but the precision of the writing and the situation and the characters,” Borba said.

Maggie Mason and Yonatan Gebeyehu kiss during Chautauqua Theater Company’s first rehearsal of ‘Noises Off,’ which is the first production of the season, on Saturday, June 24, 2017 in Studio A. PAULA OSPINA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

New York-based theater scholar David Carlyon agreed. Although a “terrific show,” it’s a historically tough show to do.

“The first time I saw it on Broadway, I literally laughed so much my sides hurt,” said Carlyon, who has a background in stage comedy and directed a regional performance of Noises Off in the mid-1990s.

Carlyon has seen the play performed five times, to varying degrees of success, and said part of why it remains funny 35 years after its premiere is because the characters are caricatures of real people. There’s the temperamental director, inexperienced young actress and dimwitted leading man, among others.

However ridiculous scenes become, it’s important actors take their characters seriously, Carlyon said.

“You approach it as you would if you were doing Hamlet or King Lear,” Carlyon said. “Comedy is serious stuff, and for it to work, you can’t act comic.”

While preparing for the role of clueless bombshell Brooke, CTC conservatory actress Kelsey Jenison asked if her character was even trying to be a serious actor or if “she’s just really bad at it.” Throughout the production, Jenison’s character stares off and stops responding to her scene partners.

“This role in particular is very fun because I take all my training from the last eight years and I just kick it out the window,” Jenison said. “I’m just there and I don’t respond to people.”

Emily Daly, a member of CTC’s conservatory, plays the assistant stage manager for Nothing On, Poppy. She has never worked as an assistant stage manager herself, but did see two regional productions of Noises Off growing up that made the chaos look “effortless.”

She’s hoping to replicate that skill and not try to be funny.

“There’s always a little voice in the back of your head that’s like, ‘Don’t push it,’ ” Daly said. “The script is funny itself, and the circumstances are so hilarious, and it’s impossible for it not to tickle someone because it’s just a really well-developed play.”

Alec Ryrie tells story of Protestantism through individuals

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Alec Ryrie

Nearly 500 years after Martin Luther jump-started the Protestant Reformation, Alec Ryrie will talk to Chautauquans about how the monk’s actions changed the world.

Ryrie will deliver his lecture, titled “Protestants: The Faith that Made the Modern World,” at 2 p.m. Friday in the Hall of Philosophy. As the conclusion of the week’s theme, “Inventing God? A Brief History of Religions,” he will trace the origins of the major branch of Christianity from its origins through the modern day.

As in his recent book of the same name, Ryrie’s lecture will tell the story of Protestantism through the eyes of people of the faith, both lay and clergy. Ryrie said he felt religious books are too often about theology and not the people who are affected by faith. During Friday’s lecture, Ryrie will describe three people from different centuries, showing how Protestantism has evolved over time.

Ryrie, a professor of the history of Christianity at Durham University in the United Kingdom, said the Protestant Reformation first intrigued him because of its major political consequences.

“Here’s somewhere where you really see people’s convictions, their religious convictions, actually shaping and driving history,” Ryrie said.

What cemented his life path, though, was his time teaching at a rural school in Zimbabwe between high school and college. It was during this time that Ryrie became a Christian, he said, and he was able to witness the influence of Protestantism in real time in South Africa.

Ryrie said he remembers where he was when he heard Nelson Mandela was released from prison — sitting on a bare concrete floor, just a few miles from Zimbabwe’s border with South Africa, listening to the radio in shock.

“It was electric, this sense that an extraordinary moment in history that we never expected to happen was unfolding around us,” Ryrie said.

The influence of the Protestant church on Mandela’s release was undeniable, Ryrie said, and it encouraged him to study theology in addition to his plan to study history at the universities of Cambridge, St. Andrews, and Oxford. He also became a licensed reader, or lay preacher, in the Church of England.

Although Luther did not desire to be a political figure or to affect politics, Ryrie said, the reforms he desired in the Roman Catholic Church would have unavoidable political consequences. Luther believed worshippers could be in direct contact with God in their own way, which meant people did not need the Church, nor did they need to pay the Church for access to heaven.

“It’s just you and your conscience and nobody else has authority over that,” Ryrie said.

After that idea took root, Protestantism spread from one stubborn monk to what is now nearly a billion people, Ryrie said. Although it caused a major schism in Christianity at the time, it is now seen as one of many evolutions in the way people worship. Ryrie said changes in religion are part of the human phenomenon and will continue for the foreseeable future.

“It’s a process of invention, but also reinvention,” Ryrie said. “Adapting (religion) to a new setting while hanging onto something from the tradition.”

Pagan Kennedy calls for openness and diversity in innovation

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Pagan Kennedy

Pagan Kennedy lives at the cutting edge of discovery.

She has written about the first gender-confirmation surgery for a transgender man1, the cyborg-isation of medical patients and the tampon of the future.

Kennedy’s latest book, Inventology: How We Dream Up Things That Change the World, looks for common threads in the stories of people behind world-changing discoveries.

To close Chautauqua Institution’s week on “Invention,” Kennedy will address some of the obstacles and solutions facing inventors and innovators at 10:45 a.m. Friday in the Amphitheater. Her lecture will draw from her book and some of the reporting she’s done since she wrote it.

“I expected I would be talking to a lot of corporate engineers, and that really wasn’t the case,” Kennedy said.

In her book, Kennedy found that most corporate structures preclude the discovery of solutions to many basic problems. The fields of medicine and health care are full of examples.

“If a surgeon has an idea for a new kind of life-saving tool, it’s not easy for them to go forward,” Kennedy said. “They have to become businesspeople.”

Kennedy also found the limitations in drug research staggering. Above all, research requires a lot of money, and companies are reluctant to funnel money into projects unless there’s a very good chance they’ll get that money back, and then some.

Corporations are especially bad at public safety. As Kennedy wrote in her book, the first people to make cars safer for passengers weren’t car company executives. They were doctors.

“They were the ones seeing the grizzly results of these horrible accidents that were happening on the highway,” Kennedy said. Meanwhile, “the engineers at car companies were under pressure to make cool-looking cars that customers would buy.”

Even before activist and politician Ralph Nader was railing against car companies in the mid-1960s, physicians were rigging makeshift seatbelts for their own family cars.

“We have to talk about safety outside the corporate sphere,” Kennedy said, “because they don’t care.”

Kennedy noted that most companies are primarily attracted to ideas that will return a profit. That can be problematic because “there are many things we need that are not profitable,” she said.

In medicine, for example, “you want patients or surgeons to help solve the problem,” Kennedy said. “You don’t want a medical device company because they’re going to come up with a profitable solution that may not really solve the problem from the user’s point of view.”

The seeming incompatibility between the need to make money and the public’s well-being is far from new. And it doesn’t hold up in all cases.

“There are a lot of places where the interests can align,” Kennedy said.

But the current way of doing research and development often blinds corporate researchers to solutions that lie outside conventional areas of inquiry.

“If you tell people they need to focus on where you think the solution might be, that’s one of the worst things you can do,” Kennedy said. “Everybody’s already looked in the most obvious place.”

Still, corporations would rather not throw money into an unknown void and hope for the best. They hedge their bets with what they already know about a problem.

“It’s very understandable that a corporation with limited money would say to people, ‘We’re a telephone business, so we don’t want you to invent a new kind of solar power,’ ” Kennedy said.

Groundbreaking discoveries, Kennedy said, have often depended on luck.

“Really new ideas tend to pop up in unusual places,” Kennedy said.

To illustrate this in her book, Kennedy told the story of Duane Pearsall, who invented the first battery-powered smoke detector. While engineers were working on a way to detect fires in homes, Pearsall was developing a device to solve a relatively minor problem: reducing static electricity in places like factories and photography labs.

One day, when a coworker lit a cigarette in the office (it was the ’60s, after all), Pearsall’s device reacted to the smoke. The true value of the device didn’t occur to Pearsall until a forthright engineer at Honeywell told him to “cut the static crap and develop a smoke detector.”

Fruitful serendipity and the fanciful mental arabesques of a would-be inventor don’t stand a chance in the hermetic chamber of corporate innovation.

“Inventors are very much like musicians or artists,” Kennedy said. “The more they’re managed, the less creative they become.”

And, like artists, inventors are people who aren’t in it for the money. Sometimes, inventors are professional tinkerers with an obsessive love for, and openness to, discovery.

“The essence of creativity is taking something that we call trash and finding the beauty or the use in it,” Kennedy said. “At one time, petroleum was just stuff that came out of the ground. Someone had to recognize that it was useful and discover what to do with it.”

Petroleum became a way to power cars, heat homes, and turn Jed Clampett into a Beverly Hillbilly.

But where can these discoveries take place, if not in today’s corporate environment?

“There has to be a much more open space where people can come together to think about what the problems are, frame them, and discover a solution that would actually benefit the health and safety of most people,” Kennedy said.

Crowdfunding is a way for inventors to pay for their ideas while gathering feedback from the people who may eventually use their product. A more open development strategy can help inventors meet needs they didn’t know existed.

“A lot of our understanding or recognition of problems and solutions comes out of our personal experience,” Kennedy said. “We really need to capture that kind of knowledge.”

Put another way: “If you have skin in the game, an idea looks very different than when you don’t.”

But crowdfunding isn’t a silver bullet.

“You still have to fund basic science,” Kennedy said. “Unfortunately, we’re in a situation right now where all of that is in danger.”

The matter of who can and should fund research is still an open question.

“The solution is out there,” Kennedy said. “But we don’t know where it is yet.”

Pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk opens the CSO season with Tchaikovsky

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Anyone lucky enough to wander into Alexander Gavrylyuk’s studio while he’s practicing might be surprised to find Tolstoy instead of Tchaikovsky on the music rack.

As a young student, Gavrylyuk quickly got bored with technical etudes. To keep himself at the piano, he set his mind to work on Dostoevsky and Chekhov while his hands worked on scales and arpeggios.

Gavrylyuk continues this habit not for entertainment, but to train his mind for performance.

“When I’m practicing, I do other things,” Gavrylyuk said. “So my mind is divided in two.”

Gavrylyuk will join the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra as it opens its 89th season with a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 at 8:15 p.m. Thursday in the Amphitheater.

Keeping his mind separate from the physical and emotional aspects of playing is central to Gavrylyuk’s performance philosophy. While the Tchaikovsky concerto requires amazing feats of physical endurance — the first movement alone is roughly 20 minutes of fast octaves in opposing directions, massive chords, and rapid arpeggios — Gavrylyuk said physical ability is just one dimension of performing any piece.

Performance, according to Gavrylyuk, requires a careful equilibrium of mind, body and emotion.

“You have to have a very cold mind that’s never taken by the fire coming from your soul, to control it all and keep this balance,” Gavrylyuk said.

The body, of course, has to be healthy and strong enough to “produce the physical side of actually playing.”

What Gavrylyuk refers to as “the drive” comes from the emotional content of the music.

“And then the body has to cope with that,” Gavrylyuk said. “That’s why you practice.”

CSO Music Director Rossen Milanov said the concerto’s physicality is one reason it’s so popular with orchestra audiences.

“It’s one of those pieces that puts the soloist in the position of being like a superhuman who can display an enormous amount of virtuosity,” Milanov said.

The piano’s bombastic opening chords across the range of the keyboard set a precedent for a level of playing in the piece that Milanov described as Titan-like.

But that’s not to say the concerto is all muscle. People familiar with Tchaikovsky’s ballet music might recognize his signature lyricism and lightness.

“The melodies are so beautiful and so catchy,” Gavrylyuk said. “It will touch people who are music connoisseurs, and it will also touch people who have no idea about music.”

There’s also something voyeuristic about the concerto’s appeal. Speculation about aspects of Tchaikovsky’s turbulent and troubled life, including anxiety and repressed homosexuality, raise parallels in the music. The music’s winding path from dark, minor keys to a triumphant, major apotheosis is an attractive metaphor for overcoming life’s challenges.

“You have to have a very cold mind that’s never taken by the fire coming from your soul, to control it all and keep this balance,”Alexander Gavrylyuk said.

“That’s the point, I think. It’s a B-flat minor concerto which results in a B-flat major concerto. The reality of life is B-flat minor,” Gavrylyuk said. “But, what am I going to make out of it?”

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, which makes up the second half of Thursday’s concert, follows a similar recipe. Milanov is skeptical about how much meaning should be derived from what amounts to a common musical device.

“He’s not the only one who does that,” Milanov said. “Pick any big symphony that starts in minor, and chances are it’s going to end in major.”

If Tchaikovsky’s music hints at the life of a troubled genius, Milanov said such clues carry more weight in his later works.

“He was not afraid to give us a peek into his emotional richness,” Milanov said. “But whether there’s anything more personal than that, as far as his sexual orientation, I’m not entirely sure it would be displayed in this piece. This was 1876.”

Tchaikovsky certainly wrote music of his own time, though not always of his own culture. According to Milanov, the first movement of the symphony adopts some techniques from German opera, like using a memorable snippet of music to symbolize a character or concept. In this case, the ominous horn call that opens the symphony becomes a recurring stand-in for fate itself.

“The way Tchaikovsky does it here is similar to what Berlioz did in his Symphonie Fantastique, or what Liszt would do, or certainly what Wagner would do with his leitmotifs,” Milanov said.

Yet, the rest of the symphony is quintessentially Russian. The scherzo movement is an almost Mahler-esque collage of clippings from Tchaikovsky’s native folklore.

“There are all of these kaleidoscopic themes passing by,” Milanov said. “At one point you’ll hear a little marching band, and then a shepherd playing a happy melody at the middle, and then there’s the piccolo who’s kind of a show-off peasant playing his flute.”

The string players play the entire third movement without using their bows. Instead, they pluck the strings, “sort of like a big balalaika orchestra,” Milanov said, referring to a traditional Russian string instrument resembling a triangular guitar.

Tchaikovsky, whether out of musical obligation or a desire to communicate something deeper, ends both the piano concerto and the symphony with a triumphant bang. But his personal struggle with fate is never far.

“That’s often the case with Tchaikovsky,” Gavrylyuk said. “He’s always searching for that resolution, for the exit.”

IBM’s Lisa DeLuca Discusses Her 600 Patents, The Process of Invention and Fly Fishing

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Growing up in Montana, Lisa DeLuca spent her days playing in the backyard with her siblings, where they “had to use (their) own imaginations to bring (their) toys to life.”

Now, years later, DeLuca is IBM’s most prolific female inventor and has close to 600 patents to her name. But that childhood drive to turn her imagination into reality has continued unabated.

Speaking Wednesday morning in the Amphitheater, DeLuca explored the nuances of her life as an inventor. During the “nights and weekends” when she’s not doing her day job as a software engineer, she finds that inventing — which she views as “more of a hobby” — is “a great way for (her) to escape.”

In that way, it is much like another hobby she grew up with.

“I’m going to compare inventing to fly fishing,” DeLuca said, introducing an extended metaphor that would serve as the through-line for the rest her lecture.

“Just like fly fishing, being an inventor takes some skill,” DeLuca said. “If you’ve ever seen an experienced fly fisherman, it’s almost like watching art. … And a lot of inventing is that way. As you do it, the more you do it, the more you recognize the little things that can make you successful.”

In that regard, inventing is just as much a skill as fly fishing. And as with any skill, one’s talent speaks for itself.

“The only thing that matters is your idea,” DeLuca said. “And all of those ideas, there’s no biases about who you are; that idea has to stand on its own.”

Recounting an early fly fishing experience with her siblings right after finishing college, DeLuca described how her older brother asked her to collect insects in the area around the river. He then chose which fishing fly to use based on what the real flies in the area looked like, knowing that this was what would attract the local fish.

“If it were me starting out, I would’ve grabbed the hot pink fly with the feathers on it … not realizing that comparing the bugs to the fly was an opportunity for success,” DeLuca said.

In much the same way, she has found learning from others to be a massive help in the inventing process, “building off existing technologies” just as she built off her brother’s fishing expertise. Describing an invention she developed after getting annoyed when house guests kept asking her for the Wi-Fi password, she noted that all the technologies involved in her social media-based solution already existed. Though the idea was novel, it still built off of the work of those who’d come before her.

But friends don’t just create the problems for which DeLuca innovates solutions; they are also a vital part of her creative process.

“Of my 600 inventions, I’d say less than 10 percent of them are (made) alone,” DeLuca said.

Just like a fly fisher sometimes requires a partner to steer the boat while they cast their line, DeLuca likes to “share (her ideas) with other people” to improve on them and generate more.

DeLuca also emphasized the importance of mentorship in all areas of life. From her father teaching her which rocks the fish tended to congregate behind, to more experienced people in her profession helping her not make the same mistakes they did, “it’s really important to have a mentor.”

In a similar vein, she noted the importance of developing expertise and “inventing around the topics that you’re familiar with.” For instance, her background in software engineering enabled many of her inventions, including location-based push notifications and dynamic taxi ads that change based on the direction from which they’re viewed.

But the invention process is not just success after success; DeLuca has faced her share of roadblocks, too. Like a fishing trip that gets rained on or fish that just aren’t biting, inventing can be “frustrating” — especially for DeLuca, a self-described “impatient patient person.”

“That’s probably why I’m so prolific with my inventing,” she said.

It takes upward of four years to get an individual invention approved by IBM and then protected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, so DeLuca likes “to have ideas at all the different phases of the inventing pipeline, so that (she doesn’t) get so concerned about the fact that it’s not moving as fast as (she wishes) it was.”

Getting an invention proposal approved by the IBM review board is a game of give and take, like trying to reel in a fish without either yanking out the hook or letting the catch get away. Sometimes it ends in disappointment, with a rejected idea or one that someone else has already gotten. But successful or not, “every new idea becomes a story that (DeLuca) can share with other people” and that “makes (her) unique.”

Sometimes, DeLuca has circumvented that process and gotten patents on her own. An idea for venue seating priced proportionally to time spent in the seat (inspired by nosebleed seats at a baseball game) initially got rejected by the Patent Office. But after talking it over with the examiner and resolving issues with the application, she got the concept approved — all without the help of IBM, or even a lawyer.

“I really encourage everybody to pursue your ideas,” DeLuca said. “Go do them, and share them with other people.”

That advice is not just for adults. Referring to her own children, two sets of twins, DeLuca said that she and her husband are “always trying to encourage them to learn new technologies and play with things because it’s all about getting your hands dirty.”

Daniel Bergner to share journey of opera singer Ryan Speedo Green with CLSC presentation on ‘Sing for Your Life’

Daniel Bergner
Daniel Bergner

Amid discussions of virtual reality, moonshots and the future of design and technology, Daniel Bergner’s book Sing for Your Life: A Story of Race, Music, and Family may seem like an odd choice for Week One’s theme of “Invention” at Chautauqua Institution.

It tracks the meteoric rise of singer Ryan Speedo Green, who went from juvenile detention to opera stardom.

But Sherra Babcock, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, said it offers a different window into the theme of the week: it’s a book about reinvention.

Sing for Your Life is the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selection for Week One, and Bergner will discuss his work at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the Hall of Philosophy for Week One’s CLSC Roundtable.

Babcock said Sing for Your Life speaks to the message of Chautauqua and the role art can play in transforming a life.

“This is a warm book, and it’s an inspirational book,” Babcock said. “It’s a book that says, ‘It’s not too late.’ ”

In 2010, Bergner, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, was covering the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, which are meant to discover and develop young opera singers. He followed the early rounds of the competition across the country. When the semifinalists arrived in New York, he met Green for the first time.

Green was one of the five winners of the auditions.

“Within weeks, I began to think there was a lot more here than could fit into the long magazine story that I was going to write,” Bergner said.

Bergner said Green initially wanted little to do with him, and didn’t think he had a story to tell.

Green grew up in Suffolk, Virginia, and had a complicated and often troubled home life. He was sent to juvenile detention when he was 12 after threatening to stab his mother and brother, and was placed in solitary confinement.

Green was reluctant to talk about his past at first, Bergner said, but the two got to know each other slowly and built a sense of trust.

Bergner described this hesitancy on Green’s part in Sing for Your Life.

“The best way to move forward was to focus forward,” Bergner wrote. “The benefit of looking away from the past was that you were less likely to repeat it, less likely to be tricked — and trapped — by it. … (There) were plenty of moments when he seemed to say, ‘I don’t want to take this risk. I can’t afford to.’ ”

Once their rapport was established, Bergner followed Green for almost a year. He interviewed Green and observed his voice lessons. Bergner also made trips to southeastern Virginia to meet figures from Green’s past: family members, friends, teachers — everyone he could find along the way who could provide insights into his journey.

Bergner also had a moment of “sheer luck,” he said, when he received a record of Green’s time in juvenile detention. He said it helped him understand what it was like for Green to be a 12-year-old in such an intense situation.

Completing the book was a long haul, Bergner said, especially considering the timeframe. He started following the opera contest in 2010 and turned the book in at the end of 2015.

Green’s reaction to the book was worth it, though. When Bergner handed over an early set of page proofs, he said Green only took issue with “maybe five words” of the story.

“Otherwise, he felt that I’d captured his story,” Bergner said. “When you’re working that closely with the person you’re writing the story about, there’s hardly a better feeling than the sense — his sense — that I’d been faithful to the essence of his journey.”

Part of that journey, for Bergner, was the way his understanding of Green deepened as they worked together.

“The person I first got to know was radiant,” Bergner said. “Literally that. It wasn’t so much that my present-tense perception of Ryan changed. It was that I had this infinite question to answer, which was: how had he traveled from the person he’d been at 12 — taken away in shackles — to the person I was seeing and hearing, and the person who continued to grow as an artist over the time I knew him and was preparing to write the book?”

In a time when the role of art is being questioned, criticized and devalued — an example being the Trump administration’s March proposal to eliminate all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts — Bergner said that Green’s story is “relevant and powerful” because it represents an intersection of art and race. He said these issues are “at the heart of the book.”

“It’s about breaking boundaries, it’s about recasting expectations, it’s about changing the way we think about identity. The intensity of the racial aspects of Ryan’s story were a big part of making me want to put myself at his side for five years and write this book.”

Bergner said he was also drawn to the way that Bergner carved out a place in the world of opera and within the Met, creating a new home for himself.

“That’s no easy task,” Bergner said. “That’s a very demanding world.”

Bergner said that opera is an “exacting” art form, but he was impressed by the way Green was able to become a part of the community.

“He managed, in that intense world of art, to create a circle of allegiance that helped sustain him and take him from a promising but pretty raw artist to the artist we’re going to talk about,” Bergner said.

The world of opera may be intense and exacting, but it’s also a small one. That’s how Steven Osgood, general and artistic director of the Chautauqua Opera Company, first heard of Green.

Osgood was conducting for New York City Opera when Green won the Met competition. He said his colleagues came back from the auditions raving about Green.

“All of them said that the real star, the real standout was this guy, Ryan Speedo Green,” Osgood said. “ ‘Remember that name,’ they said. ‘He is so talented. His infectious personality just radiates off the stage.’ ”

Osgood got to experience that exuberant presence firsthand when he and Green worked together on The Death of Klinghoffer and La Boheme.

He said Green’s singular personality became apparent when they worked together on The Death of Klinghoffer. The opera, written by John Adams, follows a group of terrorists who hijack a passenger ship. Osgood said it’s a “brutal story,” and one that tends to draw its cast close together. Green played one of the terrorists.

“The really wonderful colleagues of yours that are playing terrorists and shooting machine guns at everybody — they’re in as horrible a situation as the people playing the victims of it,” Osgood said. “And Ryan couldn’t have been more gregarious and outgoing and professional.”

Osgood said he knew bits and pieces of Green’s story, but reading Bergner’s full account was “eye opening.” Osgood said after reading Sing for Your Life, he questioned whether it made him remember his experiences working with Green differently.

“I don’t think it does,” Osgood said. “It deepens the respect that I have.”

Osgood said he was struck by the way Green was able to both forgive and challenge himself, and by how he finessed his talent. Osgood said vocal chops and training are necessary to get a foot in the door with opera, but other skills are crucial, too.

“The more facile you are with Italian and the intricacies of how the language works, the more you’re going to be able to unlock the character in the music,” Osgood said. “And it is about the details. That being said, if you only have the details, but don’t have that radiance that comes through — you’re not going to have a career.”

Despite not having the early training with Italian that many opera singers do, Osgood said that Green has an “it” factor and drive that has propelled him to success.

“The radiance, the technical chops and the willingness to push yourself as far as he did, to get the details, to never stop chasing it — because none of us will ever have it all — that’s what makes a really, truly successful artist,” Osgood said. “And that’s what you see in the book.”

Bergner said this dedication and persistence makes Green’s story a great fit for a week focused on “Invention.”

“It would be hard to find a person who is more transformed, who has gone through a more profound transformation than Ryan Speedo Green,” Bergner said. “And if that’s not reinvention, I don’t know what is. He reinvented himself, and that is the story of Sing for Your Life.”

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