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Irene Rodríguez Compañía closes dance season with Afro-Cuban choreography

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The dance season at Chautauqua Institution is closing with a twist — a Cuban twist.

Irene Rodríguez Compañía will make its Chautauqua debut at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday in the Amphitheater. The performance follows a five-day residency at Jacob’s Pillow in western Massachusetts. The company was brought to the grounds through an agreement between the Institution and Jacob’s Pillow.

Irene Rodríguez, both the choreographer and compañia’s namesake, has been building acclaim for her company since she founded it in 2012. She has choreographed and traveled with her own company, and taught at her school, Irene Rodríguez Spanish Dance Academy, which she founded in 2014. In her years of teaching, she’s trained dozens of professional dancers in Cuba and created choreographies for companies throughout the country. Rodríguez is also artistic director of the La Huella De España festival, which is held annually in Cuba.

Rodríguez is set to showcase new works that were recently premiered at Jacob’s Pillow. Acclaimed by The New York Times as an “intense, exacting” and “fiery” dancer, Rodríguez brings with her the passion of sharing Cuban dance and flamenco to new audiences. Aside from its distinct Afro-Cuban flair, the company actively works to innovate what the genre of Spanish dance is by “merging it with everything that broadens performance vocabulary such as the dramatic arts, contemporary dance currents, native rhythms,” Rodríguez said, that bridge both “tradition and modernity” within the more specific Cuban genre.

Her performances are often accompanied by Cuban musicians who, through instruments and use of their own voices, provide the soundtrack to Rodríguez’s choreography.

To celebrate the company’s arrival, the Athenaeum Hotel is hosting a “Cuban-inspired feast” beginning at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. Reservation information is available at chq.org/foodfestival.

In an age of excess, Michael Ruhlman and Ann Patchett talk quality foods and quality lives

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When Michael Ruhlman and Ann Patchett sat down to talk about food, they had a lot of ground to cover.

“I feel like we could talk for eight hours without stopping because food is just the centerpiece of so much of the national dialogue,” Patchett said.

“We take it for granted, though,” Ruhlman noted. “We (took) it for granted for so long. This is why it’s so important to talk about it now.”

Though they came together to talk, each half of the duo is a writer by trade. Patchett has authored three works of nonfiction and seven novels, one of which — Commonwealth — is one of this week’s Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selections. Ruhlman, meanwhile, has written more than 20 books, primarily focused on food and cooking. His most recent is Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America.

And speaking Tuesday morning in the Amphitheater during Week Nine, “At the Table: Our Changing Relationship with Food,” it was on that very institution — the grocery store — that they would focus.

“Tell me why you love grocery stores,” Patchett prompted.

For Ruhlman, it all comes down to cooking — not just as a means of physical nourishment, but as an aspect of family and community building.

“We’ve largely given up cooking, in big ways, at our own peril,” Ruhlman said. “And so in order to encourage people to cook more, how important cooking was, I had to know where this food in my grocery store is coming from.”

To him, the fact that nearly every type of food is available under one roof, often for cheap, is amazing. And from Heinen’s (the small regional chain he focused on in Grocery) to Amazon (the e-distributor changing the grocery game from the ground up), it’s an industry he wants everyone to understand.

“Where is all this food coming from?” Ruhlman asked. “And what does it mean?”

Intellectual curiosity aside, there’s also a more personal impulse at play: Ruhlman’s late father was an avid grocery-shopper, so the subject provides a means of paternal reconnection after death.

And, as if echoing the love for food his father instilled in him, Ruhlman now tries to do the same thing with his own children.

“It’s a way to talk with my kids about food,” Ruhlman explained.

Turning from the industry’s social implications to its economic ones, Patchett asked what the rise of food-by-mail means for the Heinen’s of the world.

“For a long time, grocers were worried about Amazon,” Ruhlman said. “Now they’re really worried.”

Especially now that Amazon has purchased Whole Foods, and all the stores and supply chain infrastructure that that entails, Ruhlman expects an imminent change in how people acquire their food.

And for more traditional grocers, it’s adapt or die.

“Grocery stores are a fascinating thing; they combine two business models,” Ruhlman said. “They have a mercantile model that gets stuff in, they merchandise it, they send it out. They have a manufacturing model: they get product in, transform that product, and sell it as something different. They are basically turning into restaurants-slash-food purveyors.”

And if Amazon combines that function with its core shipping purpose, it could spell big changes for the entire notion of brick-and-mortar grocery stores.

“OK, so my Whole Foods in Nashville, Tennessee — do you mean that they will be taking orders and sending (boxes) of cereal out in the mail?” Patchett asked.

To some degree, Ruhlman said, Amazon already does this. The change will be that they can now deliver prepared foods, too.

“Is that something that (only) rich people are going to do?” Patchett asked. “I mean, it doesn’t seem that this is really applicable to everyone.”

That’s the case currently, Ruhlman said. But one day, it could actually be a big boon for low-income communities.

“My hope would be that it would serve people who live in a food desert,” Ruhlman said.

About 23 million Americans live in food deserts, he explained, where they lack access to basic nutrition and produce. And the negative health impacts on them are significant.

“It’s a problem, and it could be theoretically solved by Amazon’s delivery distribution system,” Ruhlman said.

Of course, that’s not without its own downside. The enormous amount of packaging waste produced by food delivery services like Blue Apron, Patchett noted, has a real environmental impact.

The ease in home cooking it allows for is a big plus, Ruhlman said. But that only matters if people actually put forth the effort to cook meals, and that doesn’t seem to be a very common practice nowadays.

“There’s an argument that cooking made us human,” Ruhlman said. “It was the actual activity that allowed us to triumph over our upright hominid ancestors. … (It) allowed us to form communities, and this allowed us to succeed. (But) we stopped cooking in (the) 1950s and ’60s, and we’ve gotten sick. And I think that we need to go back to cooking our food.”

This is hard, though, when an entire generation has grown up unexposed to home cooking.

“I feel like if people don’t grow up in a household where there’s cooking, in the same way if you don’t grow up in a household where there’s religion, it’s just not something you’re going to pick up on your own when you’re 30,” Patchett said.

In a society-wide sense, Ruhlman said, it is hard.

“We’re trying to relearn something that shouldn’t have gone away in the first place,” he said.

But the act itself? Not so much.

Well, maybe.

“Cooking’s not that hard,” Ruhlman said.

“It is!” Patchett interjected.

“Stop it!” Ruhlman replied. “How hard is it to make an egg?”

“Yeah, an egg, (but) that’s not cooking,” Patchett said. “I make dinner every single night and it grinds my soul to death.”

Ruhlman wasn’t buying it.

I feel like if people don’t grow up in a household where there’s cooking, in the same way if you don’t grow up in a household where there’s religion, it’s just not something you’re going to pick up on your own when you’re 30,” Patchett said.

“It can be hard, if you make it hard,” he said. “It can be easy, if you make it (easy).”

Getting back to their original discussion, Patchett asked what the food landscape will look like when “the middle is gone” and all that’s left is the boutique and the bare essentials.

“You can go up and buy a quart of milk in a drug store; we didn’t used to be able to do that,” Ruhlman said. “All that center stuff is going to go away. It’s going to be delivered to your house through the mail … and grocers may very well come back to the original days when they were purveyors of specialty goods that no one else could get.”

Places like Heinen’s, he predicted, will mainly carry the finest wines and cheeses and meats. Amazon-type businesses will have all the essential commodities.

“I think we’re going to eat less and less of those commodity foods because of it,” Ruhlman said.  “And we’re going to appreciate the fine things that we have, and we’re going to demand more.”

Enjoying good food is one thing, though. Getting nutrition from it is another.

“Let’s talk about health,” Patchett proposed.

Patchett grew up around the women’s magazine industry, constantly cutting out different foods from her diet based on articles about their supposed unhealthiness.

But the question shouldn’t be one of health, Ruhlman said. What matters is nutrition.

“We need to think differently about food,” he said. “And then we have to know where to shop for food.”

“(People should) eat food that goes bad,” he continued. “Food that goes bad is the stuff that’s good for us. Food that won’t go bad is more likely to be bad for us.”

And as for those magazine articles?

“Don’t listen to them,” Ruhlman said. “Don’t listen to anybody about (health). Don’t listen to me about it. Listen to yourself.”

Dairy fat, for instance, isn’t unhealthy in small amounts. But something like fat-free half-and-half, as Ruhlman once saw a woman buy, just replaces that fat with corn syrup — a type of sugar that is, indeed, bad for you.

Patchett was confused; Ruhlman couldn’t blame her.

“We have been given bad information for decades,” he said.

And whose fault is this?

“The lobbies in Washington are very powerful,” Ruhlman said. “And (the) sugar industry, as we now know, was hugely influential in making the ‘fat is bad’ (narrative) and steering research away from looking at sugar. So it’s very bad; we have to be skeptical of everything.”

But at the same time, reducing eating to pure biomedical science is a sort of defeat in and of itself. Health is important, but so is happiness.

“We’ve started treating our food like medicine, and I think that’s dangerous, too,” Ruhlman said. “It’s taken the joy out of food. Food should be joyous. It should be shared. It should be enjoyed.”

This isn’t to ignore the real obstacles that get in between people and good food, of course. Time, money, allergies — not everyone can cook and eat a nutritious meal every single night.

However, they can take steps in the right direction.

“My suggestion would be: one meal a week,” Ruhlman said. “Shoot for that. Teach your children how to cook basic food. Have them help — they’re free labor.”

Or, Patchett suggested, cook for the whole week over the weekend and save it for each mealtime.

That’s still work, of course. But the benefits, both physical and emotional, are self-evident.

“Anything that’s really good for you takes work,” Ruhlman said. “We have to stop demanding everything be so convenient.”

Anna Blythe Lappé to address power of real, sustainable food

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Anna Blythe Lappé has her fingers in so many pies, she could paint a colorful mural.

There’s the Small Planet Institute and Small Planet Fund. Real Food Media and Real Food Films. Real Food Reads and Food MythBusters. Voices of the Food Chain and Voices of an Organic Planet. Panta Rhea Foundation, Rainforest Action Network, and Mesa Refuge.

Underpinning all of her work are the knowledge, know-how and values expressed in three acclaimed books: Hope’s Edge, Grub and Diet for a Hot Planet.

As an authority on land-based food systems and agricultural sustainability who fights for fair, healthy, humane, local and environmentally responsible food chains, Lappé speaks up and speaks out.

At 10:45 a.m. Wednesday in the Amphitheater, Lappé, a 2016 recipient of the James Beard Foundation Leadership Award, will take to the stage to give an address titled “The Empathy of Food.”

For many in the baby-boom generation, Lappé has long been a household name. She said that both of her parents influenced her work.

Anna Blythe Lappé

Her father, toxicologist and bioethicist Marc Alan Lappé, was instrumental in the movement to integrate ethics with toxics and genetics policy. He advocated for the precautionary approach to risk management and against toxic chemicals — including the massive amount of toxic wastes dumped at Love Canal in Niagara Falls — silicon implants and genetically-modified organisms, until his death from a brain tumor in 2005.

At age 26, her mother, Frances Moore Lappé, made her own mark with her pathbreaking book about why there’s hunger in a world of plenty — Diet for a Small Planet — the first of many.

Frances Lappé wrote about the harmful environmental effects and wastefulness associated with meat production, and argued that world hunger is caused by ineffective food policy rather than food scarcity. She provided rules for a healthy diet and recipes for high protein, meatless cooking. According to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Diet is “one of the most influential political tracts of the time.”

While traveling with each parent at a young age, Lappé realized the importance of issues associated with power (who gets what, where, when, why and how, and who does not), and empathy (who cares about the people working the land, who doesn’t, and why not).

Lappé did not plan to go into “the family business.” She left the San Francisco Bay Area to attend college at Brown University, and then entered Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Partway through her master’s curriculum, her vision shifted.

“I had a fateful conversation with my mother in a bar in New York City about what she should do with her life,” Lappé said. “I told her she should revisit Diet for a Small Planet on the eve of its 30th anniversary; go back and pick up where the story left off. The root causes of hunger are caused by scarcity of democracy, not food.”

She said she advised her mother to show, rather than simply tell about, movements and cities around the world that are building democracy.

Instead of her mother undertaking the project alone, they teamed up. Initially they focused on a book, Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet.

As she was still in grad school, she said she successfully petitioned her advisers to allow this book to serve as her graduate thesis.

Lappé spent her second year at Columbia working on it, including traveling to Bangladesh, India, Poland and other countries, where she met with environmental and social change-makers.

“It was a life-changing experience for me,” Lappé said. “I became a public educator. Our food system is a driver of crises and a powerful lever for solutions.”

In 2001, while they were immersed in creating Hope’s Edge, Lappé and her mother co-founded the Small Planet Institute to show “that humans are capable of changing failing ideas in order to turn our planet toward life.”

They also established the Small Planet Fund to raise money to “support global efforts for justice and sustainability.”

Five years later, the book Lappé wrote with Friday’s lecturer Bryant Terry — Grub: Ideas for an Organic Kitchen — made it onto bookstore shelves nationwide.

She said that her third book, Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It, was due to the publisher on the day that her first child was due to be born; fortunately, her daughter arrived late.

“When I wrote Diet for a Hot Planet, no one was talking about the connection between greenhouse gas emissions and the food sector, which produces a third of these emissions,” Lappé said. “It’s a big problem and we have the power to reduce them. Since then, I’ve seen an incredible shift in that conversation.”

For the past eight years, Lappé has been an active member of Rainforest Action Network’s board of directors. When she joined RAN’s board, it was the only organization with an agribusiness campaign.

“One of the biggest drivers of rainforest destruction is commodity production,” Lappé said. “The main work now is in Malaysia and Indonesia, connected to palm oil. Maybe my day-to-day life isn’t about addressing the climate crisis, but being on the board is a way of connecting to it.”

Although she has been steadily contributing to numerous books, Lappé said she has shifted from book writing to different storytelling methods. Her writing has appeared in prominent newspapers, including The New York Times, and in magazines, such as Gourmet.

Lappé also established Real Food Media to provide “powerful storytelling and communications to inspire, educate, and grow the movement for sustainability and equity along the food chain.”

RFM collaborates with other organizations within the United States to generate conversation about the food system and to “connect communities for action” through grassroots events, an online action center, and creative videos and movies for children and adults.   

RFM has also partnered with StoryCorps on a project called “Voices of the Food Chain,” and with the the Food Chain Workers Alliance and Center for Good Food Purchasing to advance the “Good Food Purchasing Program” in cities throughout the United States.

On public television, Lappé has appeared as an expert on “Need to Know” and in the documentary “Nourish,” as well as a co-host of “The Endless Feast.” She was also featured on the the Sundance Channel’s documentary series about environmental innovation, “Big Ideas for a Small Planet.”

For the past two years, Lappé has worked as the food program officer for Panta Rhea, a private foundation in Sausalito, California, that assesses and funds organizations committed to a more just and sustainable world.   

Lappé said that her biggest challenge is not unique to her.

“It’s how much our public institutions, like the EPA, USDA and FDA, are influenced by corporate donors and corporate lobbyists,” she said.

Yet when she speaks to diverse audiences across the country, Lappé is heartened by their shared values.

“People don’t want to contribute to climate change or pollute water,” she said. “But we don’t see this reflected because of the incredible influence that the largest companies in the world have on our elected officials.”

According to Lappé, the problem of an unsafe and unhealthy food system is becoming more acute in the United States.

Hope’s Edge came out 15 years ago,” she said. “That’s what gets me up in the mornings — people seeing that there really is a food system. We need to care about food workers, and if we care about our own health care, we have to care about animals.”

Scholar Zahra Jamal returns to Chautauqua to highlight spirituality of Muslim food rituals

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Zahra Jamal fell in love with Chautauqua as a girl over a lemon poppy seed muffin and the inspiring speakers in the Interfaith Lecture Series.

Wednesday, many years later, Jamal is returning to Chautauqua Institution to stand on the other side of the podium to talk about how Muslims value food. Jamal, associate director at Rice University’s Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance, will speak on “Food for the Soul: A Muslim Perspective” at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the Hall of Philosophy.

“In Islam, food, like health, is a divine gift to be cared for, nurtured and shared for the betterment of society,” Jamal said.

As part of Week Nine’s interfaith theme, “Food and Faith,” Jamal will discuss five main topics in the relationship between Islam and food. The first is how food builds communities during the annual rituals of Nawruz, Ramadan and Hajj.

These food rituals were influential in Jamal’s youth, she said, reciting fond memories of waking up before dawn to pray and eat with her family before beginning the fast during Ramadan and breaking it after dusk with her community. When she went away to college, she celebrated Eid with friends with traditional foods like biryani and kheer.

Zahra Jamal

However, Jamal said, some of her favorite childhood memories were the everyday family dinners. Related to this are two of Jamal’s other lecture topics: how breaking bread can help create dialogue, and how food symbolically and literally nourishes people. Part of this is eating mindfully, which Jamal said Muslim people take seriously.

“When partaking in a meal, most Muslims clean their hands, body and mind, as well as offer a prayer of gratitude for God’s bounty and blessings both before and after eating,” Jamal said.

During their family dinners, Jamal’s father also sparked her interest in studying Islam by regaling the family with narratives from Islamic history.

Jamal went on to study Middle Eastern and Islamic studies for her undergraduate degree. Then, as a graduate student at Harvard University, she focused on the anthropology of Muslim communities.

At Rice University, Jamal now educates students about religious tolerance and civic engagement in the Islamic world, on which she has advised the United Nations and the U.S. State Department.

Although developing Wednesday’s lecture pushed Jamal outside of her usual research area, she will incorporate her expertise by discussing how Muslim dynasties advanced agricultural production and examples of Muslim civil society organizations that are tackling the global hunger crisis.

Jamal said she is excited to return to Chautauqua to join the ranks of esteemed speakers who have lectured at the Hall of Philosophy. During her youth, she came to Chautauqua often with her family because her uncle, Habibullah Jamal, was instrumental in developing the original Interfaith Lecture Series.

Jamal will contribute an important perspective on food and faith during the week as an expert on Islam, which has many unique food rituals. These include eating dates to break the fast of Ramadan, as the Prophet Muhammad did, and eating Halal meat, which means the animal is sacrificed humanely. Both of these are deeply spiritual customs tied to the Quran.

“In my view, as a Muslim, symbolic and physical nourishment are deeply spiritual, environmental and moral acts that enable the subordination of the ego, the cultivation of communal life and identity, and the connection to creator and creation,” Jamal said.

Augustin Hadelich returns to Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra for the last concert of the season

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It’s possible that no piece of music has been abused over the centuries as much as Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, op. 35. Violin virtuoso Augustin Hadelich believes the concerto’s survival in spite of its rough, checkered life is a testament to the work’s inherent greatness.

At 8:15 p.m. Tuesday in the Amphitheater, Hadelich will join the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra under Music Director Rossen Milanov for the final concert of the 2017 season. The program will include Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor, op. 68, after the Tchaikovsky concerto. As is tradition for the first and last CSO performances of the season, “The Star-Spangled Banner” will open the concert.

According to Hadelich, reliable editions of the Tchaikovsky concerto only became available in the last few decades.

“I don’t know of another composer whose markings were just so disregarded from start to finish,” Hadelich said. “Thirty years ago, it would have been really hard to find an edition that actually had what Tchaikovsky wrote.”

As with any work, Hadelich guards against dogmatism in interpreting Tchaikovsky’s music.

“One shouldn’t be too extreme or too purist about it,” Hadelich said. “It is a Romantic piece, and there is some freedom for the performer to do their own thing and occasionally maybe not do something that he wrote.”

The changes to Tchaikovsky’s concerto over the years by Leopold Auer and others are understandable. Much like his first piano concerto, which Tchaikovsky completed three years earlier in 1875, the violin concerto was initially considered unplayable.

“Tchaikovsky was not a violinist, so a lot of it is rather uncomfortable,” Hadelich said. “It doesn’t lie so well on the instrument.”

Fortunately, Tchaikovsky had some help from his violinist friend (and rumored romantic interest) Josef Kotek, with whom he was traveling in Switzerland when he wrote the concerto.

“All of the double stops and chords and passagework that he wrote are perfectly doable on the violin, even though they are hard to execute,” Hadelich said. “There’s nothing impossible.”

The overall mood of the concerto is uncharacteristically happy, considering Tchaikovsky’s lifelong struggles with depression and repressed sexuality. Hadelich said the concerto’s positive outlook reflects a rare bright spot in the composer’s life.

“It makes perfect sense that he would write this particular piece in that moment,” Hadelich said. “He was happy to be with his friend and possible lover.”

Hadelich believes the initial objections to Tchaikovsky’s concerto were mostly directed at the first movement.

“They were probably talking about some of the fast passagework, which is kind of relentless and very hard to play in a way that is clean, clear, musical and vibrant,” Hadelich said.

Historically, soloists themselves have become part of the problem. Hadelich said the piece’s Romantic origins often elicit schmaltzy portamenti and “things that are just a little bit too much.” As a result, the piece’s inherent lightness often gets overlooked.

“Tchaikovsky’s music is always ballet music, even when it’s not ballet music,” Hadelich said. “Much of the first movement is filled with these little jumps and lifts.”

Hadelich also prefers to make a big contrast between the themes of the first movement. The first theme, he said, resembles Mozart’s classical style.

“Mozart was his favorite composer and a big influence on him,” Hadelich said.

The second theme, with sensuous triplets and sequenced passages that build emotional tension, is much more in keeping with Tchaikovsky’s time.

“The second theme is the really Romantic one,” Hadelich said.

In spite of cuts and changes and neglect from one edition to the next, the concerto has nevertheless survived. According to Hadelich, Tchaikovsky wrote music that could be flexible enough to endure all kinds of changes and still come across convincingly.

Still, Hadelich prefers Tchaikovsky’s original markings and finds them to be “intelligently chosen” and indicative of the composer’s earnest and careful thought process.

“He thought a lot about how the piece should be played,” Hadelich said.

The sign of a truly great composition, according to Hadelich, is that it can survive all kinds of interpretations.

“Even when I hear it played in ways I don’t agree with, I still think, ‘Wow, what an incredible piece,’ ” Hadelich said.

Construction of new Chautauqua Utility District sewer plant heads toward off-season completion

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Construction work on Chautauqua Utility District’s sewage treatment plant at the south end of the grounds has proceeded this summer, largely out of sight but not completely imperceptible to all five human senses.

At times, the atmosphere around the plant has been a bit odoriferous.

CUD superintendent Tom Cherry, who plans to retire on his 40th wedding anniversary on May 15, 2018, said things did get downright smelly in the middle of July.

“We had expected timely delivery of specialized filters and ultraviolet light components of the tertiary and final phase of waste processing. They were to be shipped from overseas so as to arrive prior to the beginning of this season,” Cherry said. “Had the delivery been on time, we could have averted this problem. The equipment is actually still not here. It was promised for Aug. 1, but the date has now slipped to the beginning of October.”

Cherry said there is a valve that controls oxygen, keeping alive the waste-consuming organisms in the settling tanks.

“This valve operates similarly to the various electronic gizmos on your automobile that warn you when there is a problem — and sometimes when there isn’t,” Cherry said. “It’s like your check engine light. In this case, in July the air valve just shut off automatically, and the organisms couldn’t survive, and the waste just sat there until we could find a solution to the problem.”

Overall, Cherry is quite satisfied with contractor efforts during this season. They have been working on various electrical systems, mostly inside the buildings at the sewer plant complex at the foot of Bryant Avenue.

“We have insisted that the work not be disruptive in any way,” Cherry said. “There has also been a lot of progress on ventilation, HVAC and other mechanical apparatus and treatment equipment. It has gone along as we anticipated, except for that oxygen air valve.”

Cherry expects that the new sewer plant will be online and providing tertiary water treatment by the end of this calendar year. Tertiary treatment, he said, involves a more sophisticated filtering process and application of ultraviolet light, which takes the place of chlorine application.

Cherry has set his retirement date to give him and his team ample time to thoroughly test the new plant and all its equipment. He said the existing operating systems will remain fully online until there is every assurance that the new systems are ready. Thus, there will be no interruption or derogation of service.

“By next May, we should be completely ready to roll,” he said.

His wife, Kathy, remains “doubtful” he will actually retire in nine months, Cherry said, and Chautauquans accustomed to and comforted by Cherry’s long and extraordinary dedication to the Institution’s water treatment may also wonder if he can really walk away.

“I’m really going to do it, though,” he said. “We have brought on board the next generation of leadership at the CUD and it’s time for them to get on with the job. They are ready, and the new plant will be ready, too. If I leave one thing behind after all these years, it is that I worked hard to keep Chautauqua Lake as clean and healthy as possible.”

The sewer plant project, for which Institution property owners authorized up to $8 million in an August referendum three years ago, brings Chautauqua into timely compliance with clean water legislation passed during the Clinton administration.

Once the new plant is operational, effluent waste from Chautauqua Institution, the golf course and Chautauqua Shores will contain much less nitrogen, phosphorus and other pollutants than at present, and will be at lower levels than required under federal standards. It is estimated that the Institution’s effluent comprises up to 25 percent of effluent into Chautauqua Lake during the summer.

Cherry said Chautauquans should expect to see no project-related increase in their taxes until at least August 2018.

Original estimates put the average household tax increase at around $400 annually for the 30-year life of the bonds that secure the project funding. If serial bond rates stay at or near their historic lows of recent years, the tax hit should be reduced.

Furthermore, Cherry said, that although taxpayers authorized up to $8 million for the project, it is presently on track to cost much closer to $7 million.

“If we do come in under budget, we have set up plans with bond attorneys and capital markets advisers to use any extra funds to pay down debt already accrued,” he said.

Cherry believes there will be funding available to adequately screen the 25-foot high concrete walls of the new settlement tanks, which have turned into something of an eyesore this summer.

“We have a long-standing agreement with Betsy Burgeson and the Institution’s gardens department to screen the walls with plantings of trees and shrubs after the construction period is over, during the coming off-season,” Cherry said.

He is also strongly considering painting the walls in a more muted hue that will better blend in with the surroundings.

Authors Michael Ruhlman and Ann Patchett to talk why food matters

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Michael Ruhlman, author of more than 20 books about food, once wanted to be known for something else.

“After I became sort of successful at it, I wanted to distance myself from it — I wanted to be a novelist, a writer of ‘important’ things, not something as frivolous or self-satisfying as food,” Ruhlman said.

He’s changed his mind, though.

“As time went by, I realized that no, in fact, food was a very important thing to be writing about, maybe the most important thing to be writing about right now,” Ruhlman said.

Ruhlman will discuss why food matters at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday in the Amphitheater as part of Week Nine’s “At the Table: Our Changing Relationship with Food” programming.

Ann Patchett

For the presentation, he’ll be interviewed by author Ann Patchett. Patchett is also one of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle authors for the week.

Patchett last spoke at Chautauqua in 2016 as part of the “Roger Rosenblatt & Friends: On Creative Expression” programming, and Ruhlman visited in 2008 with chef Dan Barber as part of the “What’s For Dinner? Food and Politics in the 21st Century” programming.

Ruhlman said he met Patchett at the American Booksellers Association Winter Institute.

“That’s when she said, ‘You should come to Chautauqua — we’re talking about food,’ ” Ruhlman said.

Ruhlman said he’s a big fan of Patchett’s work and is “honored to be sharing a stage with her” so they can talk about why people should be more conscious of the food they buy, cook and eat.

“It’s kind of funny that we have to say that food is important,” Ruhlman said.

They’ll likely discuss Ruhlman’s most recent book, Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America, as well as the state of food in the United States more generally, Ruhlman said.

People have access to food like never before in human history, Ruhlman said, and it’s never been easier to get food because of 24-hour grocery stores and restaurants.

“Is food a problem?” Ruhlman said. “You wouldn’t think so because it’s so ubiquitous and easy to get and so cheap. But we’ve taken it for granted. And because we’ve taken it for granted, we haven’t cared about who makes our food, who produces it and why they’re doing what they’re doing.”

Michael Ruhlman

Ruhlman said a seminal work that helped him see food as an important, immediate subject and not a frivolous one was Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard W. Wrangham. It changed his perspective, Ruhlman said, because Wrangham argued that it wasn’t a genetic fluke or the taming of fire that allowed humans to evolve, but the act of cooking food.

“Once we started cooking food, we got all kinds of calories very quickly,” Ruhlman said. “It made us healthy, and therefore, our genes spread. It changed the shape of our bodies: our guts shrank, our jaws shrank, our brains grew.”

It civilized people, too, Ruhlman said. People had to figure out how to hunt, gather, grow and cook — together.

“We had to be thoughtful of one another, you had to be courteous — you couldn’t be an asshole, or you wouldn’t get any food or get to share in this bounty of cooked food,” Ruhlman said. “We learned to work together, we learned to cooperate.”

That’s an ancient example, but it’s something to consider when people think about their relationship with food now, and why that relationship matters.

It’s especially important at a moment when consumers have such enormous power, Ruhlman said.

“We — more than grocery stores, more than food manufacturers — determine what is available to us,” Ruhlman said. “If you buy crappy food, you’re going to get more of it because they will replace it. If you buy really good food, they’ll replace it. They’re not making judgment calls — it’s up to us to make the judgment calls and to choose our food wisely.”

Consumers have to be more aware of that power they have, Ruhlman said.

“If we aren’t conscious about it, if we don’t pay attention to it, it too easily goes bad on us, simply because we give over food production to manufacturers and companies that don’t care about our well-being, they only care about their bottom line,” Ruhlman said. “It’s important for us to be conscious about our food because without it, life is no fun. We’re unhealthy, we miss out on so many of the great pleasures of being alive.”

And, besides those pleasures, food is essential to our existence, Ruhlman said.

“Without food, we can’t even discuss the rest of the day,” Ruhlman said. “Food is more important than Trump and this catastrophic presidency that we’re watching fall apart. Food is more important than ISIS and terrorism. If we don’t have food, we die.”

Rabbi Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus to discuss how food connects people, religions and centuries

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Food is connection. It connects people, places and time periods around the world to one another.

Perhaps most importantly, food connects people across the dinner table. Rabbi Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus will be discussing why this is important during his lecture, “Food, Faith, and Fellowship: Connecting to Human and Other than Human Beings through Taste,” at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Hall of Philosophy.

The lecture will also feature food’s connection to religion as part of Week Nine’s Interfaith Lecture Series theme, “Food and Faith.”

“Just about every religious tradition uses food and taste to articulate its values, to maintain its continuity, to do a lot of different things,” said Brumberg-Kraus, professor of religion and coordinator of Jewish Studies at Wheaton College.

Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus

Brumberg-Kraus grew up with a close relationship to food. He said his family always ate breakfast and dinner together, which was possible in part because his mother stayed at home and his father, a lawyer, refused to work late.

Those family values collided with faith, too, as he spent Friday evenings eating Shabbat dinner at his grandmother’s house down the street. Brumberg-Kraus said this is one of the more traditional ways eating manifests in religion, but he will also discuss eating as a religious behavior in and of itself.

“I’m trying to challenge a little bit what faith means,” Brumberg-Kraus said.

Religion and faith play a major role in Brumberg-Kraus’ academic interests. His doctoral thesis focused on the comparison of food traditions in Judaism and Christianity. He will discuss Tuesday, as noted in the title of his lecture, how food and eating can connect people to “other than human beings.”

All religions have important rituals surrounding eating, Brumberg-Kraus said, though there are many more Jewish cookbooks on Amazon than is proportionate to the Jewish population. He also said food is extremely important in Jewish holidays, reciting a joke by Alan King that summarized all Jewish holidays as, “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.”

Now, Brumberg-Kraus’ research focuses particularly on the cognitive, sensory and communal dimensions of meal rituals. He will talk Tuesday about how taste is incorporated into the relationship between religion and eating. Brumberg-Kraus said he will draw on research from his current project, a book titled Culinary Midrash: Making Jewish Food, Making Food “Jewish.”

Although the ethical dilemmas surrounding food can be hard to process, Brumberg-Kraus said it’s worth it to eat mindfully. While it may take more time, he explained, it doesn’t take as long as people expect and it puts people back in control of the means of production.

“I would say, well, what are you doing that’s more important than eating or cooking?” Brumberg-Kraus said.

Celebrated trumpeter Chris Botti returns to jazz up Amphitheater

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Last year, the Institution and board of trustees decided to make an extra investment in three special programs during the final season of the old Amp. One of those specials headlined a collaboration between virtuoso trumpeter Chris Botti and renowned violinist Joshua Bell, longtime friends who had not previously toured together.

The evening was a smash hit.

At 8:15 p.m. Monday in the new Amp, peripatetic Grammy winner and five-time nominee Botti brings his magic horn back to Chautauqua, and the evening is again full of promise. The program will swing between jazz and pop, and will also feature a synthesizer with an orchestra pad for some songs.

“(Violinist) Caroline Campbell tours with me regularly, so we’re in perfect synch,” Botti said. “We’ll have opera singer Jonathan Johnson and not-opera singer Sy Smith with us. We’re all excited to see what the new Amp looks, feels and sounds like.”

For the past three years, Botti has called the Mercer Hotel in New York City home.

“If you are traveling 225 days a year like I do, it’s just as well not to try to have a traditional home life. Normal is off the table for me. I think I own six suits and a trumpet.”

Relaxed and obviously well satisfied with his itinerant ways, Botti has worked with Frank Sinatra and toured with Paul Simon and Sting.

“I’ve done the rockstar tour,” he said. “With Sting, we had private chefs, lots of perks. It could get crazy. I prefer what we are doing now.”

What Botti and company are doing now is performing “only about 20 percent of the time in front of an orchestra,” he said. “Performing with an orchestra means you have a need to coordinate with that orchestra. You have to watch what they are doing. There is a diminished potential for spontaneity, and I love spontaneity.”

Showing the audience his personality is important to Botti, who certainly charmed the large Chautauqua audience a year ago.

“I knew in junior high school that I wanted to play jazz trumpet,” he said. “I did come from a musical family; my mother was a classical pianist, and my grandmother was a church organist for many years in Portland, Oregon, where I grew up. There were people in my family who made a living playing music. That inspired me.”

A key moment in Botti’s early life occurred when his band director loaned him a copy of a Miles Davis LP.

“Miles played ‘My Funny Valentine’ on one of the tracks. That was it. I was hooked,” Botti said.

Botti chose jazz over a potential classical trumpet career — for one thing, he said, jazz reveals a musician’s personality, and the repertoire for a classical trumpeter is limited.

“Once you get past Haydn and Hummel, there isn’t a whole lot out there,” he said. “And none of it offers the scope of a Miles Davis.”   

Botti loves traveling and performing, and talking about traveling and performing.

“I am passionate about the road,” he said. “One night, we did a gig in Seoul, Korea. The next night we were booked into Jacksonville, Florida. So we finished the Korea date, flew all night to Atlanta, through about a dozen time zones, and hopped a small flight down to Jacksonville, and played the date there. No great problem, really.”

Not long after he leaves Chautauqua, Botti will perform in Jurmala, the Latvian seaside resort where a group of Chautauquans were based for a while during an exchange visit some 30 years ago before the fall of the USSR. And for the 13th straight year, he will play the legendary Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

“Most people play the Blue Note for a week, and a week means five days because they get Monday and Tuesday off,” Botti said. “We’re playing it for four straight weeks, seven days a week, no days off. I love to play and perform, I love the Blue Note, and I’m home. I’m in New York.”

Founders will bring a ‘grab bag’ of instruments and styles to Logan Chamber Music Series

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In the classical repertoire, most standard combinations of instruments have matured over centuries. The string quartet is nearly 300 years old. The first known wind quintet was written sometime in the 18th century. The modern symphony orchestra, though it continues to expand and evolve, appeared during Beethoven’s time.

But what about an ensemble whose members are a clarinet, a trumpet, a violin, a cello and a double bass?

“There is no historical precedent there, and I guess that’s exactly why we’re doing it,” said Founders trumpeter Brandon Ridenour. “This is a grab bag of instruments that we arrived at and we like the sound spectrum that this group has.”

At 4 p.m. Monday in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, Founders will present the final edition of this season’s Logan Chamber Music Series. The program will comprise Founders’ signature set list of classical adaptations, improvisation and original songs.

Because of the group’s unusual instrumentation, Ridenour arranges and adapts existing classical works for the group to perform.

Founders

“We’re taking lots of classical masterworks and kind of reclassifying them, or declassifying them,” Ridenour said. “It’s not usually a straight-up transcription.”

Instead of transplanting classical works note-for-note into a new arrangement, Ridenour likes to add a “twist,” usually mixing in some other stylistic influence.

“You’ll have a piece by Bach, but it’s Bach in the style of New Orleans jazz or something,” Ridenour said.

One of the new arrangements on the program will be Ridenour’s take on the “Romanian Folk Dances” by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók.

“Now they’ve become ‘Romanian Funk Dances,’ ” Ridenour said.

Bartók’s original six-movement suite for solo piano has already been adapted for string orchestra, violin and piano, and other combinations of instruments. Ridenour’s version takes Bartók’s dance-inspired rhythms and makes them “a little funkier.”

According to Ridenour, pieces like the Bartók are perfect for adaptation because they’re so sparse and leave plenty of room for creative twists.

“I remember playing that piece when I was younger,” Ridenour said. “He really only used the notes that were necessary.”

Ridenour also needs to be able to imagine the other members of Founders playing a piece before he commits to arranging it.

“When I come across a piece where I can without a doubt envision these musicians playing it, then I want to write it,” Ridenour said. “If I can’t envision the piece working, then I just respect that and don’t touch it.”

According to Ridenour, the group’s instrumentation lets them convincingly explore a wide swath of genres, from folk to funk to jazz. For example, Ridenour’s arrangement of the last movement from Samuel Barber’s “Excursions” magnifies the piece’s fiddling square dance ethos.

“In its original form, it sounded weird to me on the piano,” Ridenour said. “I thought it should be a fiddle tune, so we kind of turned it into that.”

Ridenour, along with clarinetist Yoonah Kim and bassist Kris Saebo, can also explore jazz idioms within the quintet.

“We can go down the jazz road a little bit just by virtue of our instruments and their versatility,” Ridenour said.

Some of Founders’ members take on other duties within the ensemble. Ben Russell is a violinist, vocalist and one of the group’s lead songwriters. Some of Russell’s songs will be sprinkled throughout Monday’s concert, time permitting.

“When we started the group, the ideas was anybody who wanted to could bring a song they were working on and we would play it whenever we were rehearsing,” Ridenour said.

That’s why Ridenour thinks Founders, with its eclectic instrumentation, creative openness and conservatory-trained musicians, functions more like a mainstream singer-songwriter group.

“The group has a versatile sound that we’re still developing,” Ridenour said. “That enables us to be both a band and a classical chamber ensemble.”

Professor Norman Wirzba to discuss spiritual connection to lives of plants and animals

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Every time people take a bite into food, they take a bite into death.

It might be hard to swallow that, but Norman Wirzba, professor of theology and ecology at Duke University’s Divinity School, wants people to start re-evaluating the origins of what they eat. He will discuss how they can do that during his lecture, “A Spirituality of Eating,” at 2 p.m. Monday in the Hall of Philosophy.

“I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding, and plain old ignorance, about where our food comes from,” Wirzba said.

Wirzba, who is also a senior fellow for the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke, will kick off Week Nine’s Interfaith Lecture Series, “Food and Faith.” Speakers this week will dissect religion’s relationship with food and how it can fuel spiritual nourishment. Wirzba will focus on deepening people’s connections to the life cycles of their food.

Norman Wirzba

Since World War II, Wirzba said, people have become increasingly disconnected from the realities of food production, which has taken much of the soul out of eating and cooking. Before then, more people knew the farms where their food came from and had a better understanding of the production of food, but that has changed.

“For you to eat anything, something else has to die,” Wirzba said. “That’s just a basic fact. We don’t know what to do with that. In the consumer culture of food, what we do really well is we hide any vestige of the life of the thing that you eat.”

Having grown up on a farm, Wirzba had intimate knowledge of the plants and animals that made their way to his family table.

Now, though, some people have no real mental connection between their food and the life it lived before it got to their plate, Wirzba explained. When it is easy to get hamburgers premade in colorful boxes or wrapped in plastic, people don’t need to think about the cow that meat came from.

“We treat what is fundamentally a biological, ecological social reality and we reduce it to the logic of efficiency and productivity and profitability,” Wirzba said. “And as soon as you do that, you’ve got a recipe for abuse.”

Wirzba, who wrote the award-winning book Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating, will explain Monday why that makes people unworthy of the food they consume and how people can be more ethical about food consumption.

The first major step is becoming better educated about the food industry, Wirzba said, which people from all walks of life need to do. He said he was astounded by the number of his colleagues at elite universities who didn’t have a deeper respect for food.

Then, people have to integrate that knowledge into their everyday life, Wirzba said. This could be in the form of choosing things more mindfully at the store, growing some of your own produce or banding together with others to change policies in the food industry.

One of the things Wirzba advocated for most strongly, though, was consciously honoring the lives of the plants and animals that died so that humans could live, and also the lives of the farmers and laborers who painstakingly grow the food.

If people do that, it will be harder to take the hamburgers in the colorful boxes and the grocery aisles of fresh vegetables for granted.

Iconic French chef Jacques Pépin to open week of food with Amp lecture

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Jacques Pépin is not a chef — at least not at the moment.

“I’m not a chef now,” Pépin said. “I don’t have a restaurant. I’m not running a place. I cook at home and my wife is the boss, so I’m not a chef here; I’m a cook.”

Chef or not, Pépin is certainly qualified to open the Chautauqua Food Festival as part of Week Nine’s theme, “At the Table: Our Changing Relationship with Food.” Pépin will speak at 10:45 a.m. Monday in the Amphitheater, and appear again at 12:45 p.m. Monday at the Food Festival stage on Bestor Plaza to judge the “Ultimate Cheeseburger Challenge” with Buffalo-based chefs Michael Dimmer and Joseph Fenush.

Internationally recognized as the quintessential French chef, Pépin, with his multiple television shows and cookbooks, has taught millions of Americans how to cook with a focus on technique and creativity.

“I feel that if Jacques Pépin shows you how to make an omelet, the matter is pretty much settled. That’s God talking,” chef-turned-TV host Anthony Bourdain once told Slate, echoing these thoughts during a recent episode of PBS’s “American Masters” series on Pépin.

Jacques Pépin

Although Pépin, 81, has long emphasized the celebratory aspect of cooking and sharing a meal, the current “foodie culture” is a dramatic departure from the culinary world of Pépin’s past.

“The cook was certainly at the bottom of the social scale at that time,” Pépin said. “Any good mother would have wanted her child to marry a doctor or an architect, certainly not a cook, so this is totally another world.”

In some ways, what was old is new again, Pépin said, considering the current emphasis on fresh, local and organic food.

Born in Bourg-en-Bresse, France, Pépin grew up helping his mother at the family restaurant. Since there was no family car, Pépin and his brothers would carry groceries from the local market, and his mother would prepare the food upon their return.

“She didn’t have a refrigerator, so chicken, fish, whatever she bought that day, she had to use it by the end of the day,” Pépin said. “The day after, back to the market.”

In 1949, at age 13, Pépin began his formal culinary apprenticeship. Although Pépin went on to become the personal chef for three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle, he turned down the position of White House chef. Following his move to the United States, Pépin instead directed research and development at Howard Johnson’s from 1960 to 1970.

A theme throughout Pépin’s work is that food can be made by and for anybody, an outlook he shared with his friend and occasional kitchen collaborator, the late Julia Child. Pépin said he does not have a guilty pleasure, and has no qualms about using the grocery store as a prep cook, as he did in his “Fast Food My Way” television show and companion book series.

“I eat anything,” Pépin said. “I am basically a glutton and I don’t feel any guilt about anything that I eat.”

If Pépin could change anything about the way Americans eat, it would be to get people back around the table sharing meals together. He has two upcoming books that emphasize the importance of a shared meal: A Grandfather’s Lessons: In the Kitchen With Shorey, due out in September, and My Menus: Remembering Meals With Friends and Family, due out in October.

While at Chautauqua, Pépin will also teach a master class, “Essential Pépin: My Life in Food,” with his daughter, Claudine. The class will demonstrate the classic cooking techniques, from boning out fish and chicken, to making mayonnaise from scratch, and cutting and chopping.

“Frankly, I want people to have a good time, to relax, to ask me questions and to enjoy life,” Pépin said. “That’s what I do, and I feel that cooking is a great part of it.”

He may have meticulous knife skills, but Pépin’s kitchen is a relaxed one and he is known for signing off with “Happy cooking,” a phrase that came about by happenstance when he taped his first cooking show for a Florida television station in the early 1980s.

Looking back on his career, Pépin said he would love to taste food he made as an apprentice because of how he has changed as a chef and how time has changed his palate.

Pépin wouldn’t, however, still call himself a French chef. Open up one of his cookbooks, and home chefs will see recipes for black bean soup with sliced bananas on top, fried chicken and lobster rolls.

At the Connecticut home he shares with his wife of 50 years, a New Yorker born to Puerto Rican and Cuban parents, Pépin may have New England or Vietnamese cuisine for dinner. The menu depends on what’s growing in their garden.

It would appear, Pépin admitted, that he is actually “the essential American chef.”

Sherra Babcock celebrates final Bryant Day before retirement

Bryant Day

For the literary-minded at Chautauqua, the new year begins on Bryant Day.

“Bryant Day needs to be explained to new Chautauquans,” Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Director Nately Ronsheim said in 1975. What followed, according to The Chautauquan Daily, was a skit that dramatized the correspondence between William Cullen Bryant and John Heyl Vincent and illuminated the history of the event.

Named in honor of Bryant, a poet and journalist, Bryant Day is meant to celebrate the start of a new reading year for the CLSC. The event will be celebrated at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Miller Bell Tower.

Bryant, an ardent supporter of the CLSC, wrote to Vincent in 1878 to tell him that he wouldn’t be able to attend the inaugural Bryant Day festivities in November. But, he wrote, he was “interested to watch, during the little space of life that may yet remain to me, the progress and results of the plan which has drawn from me this letter.”

That estimate of a “little space of life” was accurate: Bryant didn’t live to see the outcome. He died in June of 1878, but nevertheless, the Bryant Day festivities — and the CLSC — carried on.

Sherra Babcock and Farhana Qazi catch up backstage before the morning lecture. MEGAN TAN / DAILY FILE PHOTO

It is a tradition that has evolved over time. Past iterations have involved picnic lunches (a 1977 story in The Chautauquan Daily urged attendees to “come at noon and bring your own sandwiches”), special speakers and choirs.

Many of the amendments to the ceremony have been made in the name of accessibility. Once observed in the fall, Bryant Day was moved in the 1930s to a Saturday at the end of the summer so more Chautauquans would be able to participate and revel together in their love of reading.

Over time, the ceremony has gotten shorter, too. Reporter George Cooper wrote in the Daily in 2007 that “the ceremony is short and sweet, but its brevity is not indicative of its depth in the tradition” of the CLSC.

Amid the changes over the decades, a few elements have remained the same: the ringing of the Bryant Bell — often noted in the Daily as the “heaviest and lowest-toned bell” in the bell tower — and the announcement of new CLSC books confirmed for the following year.

Those traditions have stayed alive under Sherra Babcock, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, who joined the Institution’s staff in 2007. The Bryant Day ceremony is part of Babcock’s job, sure, but one can see it’s also a joy for her — found in her distinctive hats, or the glee she brings to the big reveal.

Babcock playfully opened the Bryant Day festivities in 2014 by building up suspense and telling her audience that she had “some surprises.”

“Have I prolonged the anticipation enough?” she said.

It’s that joy and genuine pleasure in her work that have defined Babcock’s tenure at Chautauqua Institution. She’ll retire at the end of the season after 10 years in her role.

One outlook clear, one leader dear

Upon joining the Institution staff in 2007, Babcock explained her vision for Chautauqua’s future, and her role in it, in a story for the Daily.

“If a place, a thing or a person doesn’t get better, doesn’t learn more, then it’s not growing, and I hope to be part of that kind of growth,” Babcock said in 2007.

Former Chautauqua Institution President Tom Becker put her to work.

Reporter’s Notebook

The following poem was written by Grace Livingston Hill Lutz for the Bryant Day ceremony. According to volume 52 of The Chautauquan, it was first read on Bryant Day in 1907. It is a tradition that has continued ever since.

Temple and halls are silent now,
The forest aisles along,
The hush of Fall is over all,
The multitudes are gone.
But hark! Thru all the quiet paths,
A bell peals clear and true,
Its echoes sound the world around,
Across the waters blue.

Our Circle’s royal friendship
Sweeps on from height to height,
One outlook clear, one leader dear,
For wisdom, God and right.
Chautauqua bell, ring loud and long
The opening of the year,
The signal waits beside your gates,
Ring, that all earth may hear.

Dear hillside by the quiet shore,
In hearts your watch-fires burn,
With answering fire that shall inspire
Still other hearts in turn.
Fling wide your music, deep-toned bell,
From out your woodland tower!
Ring, clear, sweet bell, the story tell!
Proclaim the opening hour.

“When I hired her, one of the things I was dissatisfied with was the fragmented elements of our literary arts,” Becker said. “They were separate programs, they had little relationship to one another, they were like separate silos running off in different directions.”

Becker asked Babcock to figure out a way to unite those programs, and during her time at Chautauqua, Becker said, she’s done exactly that.

Throughout her tenure, Babcock has taken the many different elements of Chautauqua’s literary arts programming — including the CLSC, the Chautauqua literary journal, the Smith Memorial Library, the Alumni Association of the CLSC, the Young Readers program, the CLSC Veranda, the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival and the Chautauqua Writers’ Center, among others — and united them under one umbrella.

Matt Ewalt, associate director of education and youth services, said Babcock’s gathering and organization of the literary arts programming has primed it for even more expansion in the future.

“That’s possible almost entirely because of the work Sherra has done during her tenure to raise the literary arts as a true art form on these grounds — taking the longstanding traditions of this place, but also thinking about the role the literary arts played on the grounds and weaving together all of those different threads in a way that tells a far more compelling story,” Ewalt said. “That’s something that she can almost entirely lay claim to. That’s one of many achievements, one of many success stories that she leaves with in terms of positioning Chautauqua where we are right now.”

While bringing together those various parts of Chautauqua’s literary arts tradition, Babcock also introduced a new one: The Chautauqua Prize, which was established in 2011 and first awarded in 2012. The Prize is meant to honor a book that is both a good read and a contribution to literature, and the winning author receives $7,500, a weeklong residency on the grounds and a physical prize specifically designed to honor their book.

President Michael E. Hill said the establishment of the Prize is one of Babcock’s major accomplishments, along with the way she’s overseen the growth of literary arts programming as a whole.

“There are lots of things she’ll be known for, but as we’re writing Chautauqua’s history, I think she can hang her hat on being one of the most important figures in elevating the literary arts here,” Hill said.

The inaugural year for The Chautauqua Prize drew 65 entries from 36 publishers, with author Andrew Krivák winning for his novel The Sojourn. By 2017, the Prize drew nearly triple the number of entries, with 192 books submitted for consideration. Author Peter Ho Davies won for his novel The Fortunes.

Sara Toth, lecture and literary arts associate, said Babcock created the Prize “out of nothing” and has turned it into a further expression of Chautauqua’s literary pedigree.

Toth first met Babcock in her work as the literary arts reporter for the Daily in 2009. She joined the education staff in 2014, where she’s worked alongside Babcock on the literary arts programming, which includes the Prize and the CLSC.

“The CLSC has a really robust tradition and a really robust legacy,” Toth said. “Chautauqua is the CLSC, and the CLSC is Chautauqua — and Sherra took it to another level.”

Toth said she’s lost track of the number of books that she and Babcock have handed back and forth over the years, but what’s become clear in their work together is that Babcock wanted to bring books to Chautauqua Institution that are both good and important.

Babcock wanted their authors here, too. Toth said Babcock has emphasized getting the authors on the grounds so their work can be honored and they can interact with the audience.

Besides doing that good and important work, Toth said, it’s also just fun to talk to Babcock about books.

“There is a wonderful energy that she has,” Toth said. “She just so truly loves the work, and that is really infectious, and it’s really motivating. To work in the Department of Education, and with Sherra, means that every day is different, and it’s always something that’s deeply interesting and exciting.”

Becker said that energy and joy is something that he misses about Babcock since his retirement in 2016. He said Babcock’s delight in finding authors whose work can illuminate a subject “just lifts her to another level.”

“She’s not a drab critic who is analyzing the aesthetic metrics of performance or delivery of creative work, but a real lifelong learner,” Becker said. “When she’s deeply affected by something, she’s not at all afraid of leaping out of her chair with a sense of wonder. And that’s contagious. It’s a lovely reminder of what it is to be a Chautauquan.”

Its echoes sound the world around

Babcock’s role in the Department of Education also means she’s had a hand in sculpting the morning lecture platform — one of Chautauqua Institution’s key programs — over the past decade.

During her tenure, she’s helped foster new partnerships with National Geographic Society and Jazz at Lincoln Center, and fostered relationships with luminaries such as Time managing editor Nancy Gibbs, documentarian Ken Burns and authors Margaret Atwood, Billy Collins, Anthony Doerr, Jon Krakauer, David McCullough and Ann Patchett.

In planning the morning lecture platform, she’s worked with Becker, Ewalt and Toth, among others.

Ewalt joined the Institution staff with Babcock in 2007, and said working side-by-side with her over the past few years has been a tremendous honor. Ewalt said Babcock brings a sense of genuine engagement to the programming of the lecture platform, and she always considers different and unexpected perspectives.

“It’s a fierce curiosity, and a humility and desire to learn more,” Ewalt said. “I’ve always found her approach — from building a lecture platform to thinking about the role of the literary arts on these grounds — is based in both a desire to learn more about the world but also to learn from those working alongside her.”

Sherra Babcock and her husband Jim Babcock stand with the class banner of the CLSC Class of 2008, of which Babcock was a member, outside the Hall of Christ. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Toth said Babcock’s approach is a democratic one.

“Her approach is that a good idea is a good idea,” Toth said. “It doesn’t matter where it comes from.”

Jordan Steves, Institution director of communications, said Babcock has been an essential part of solidifying the planning process for lecture programming and ensuring it honors various points of view. Steves joined the Institution staff in 2009 and has spent almost eight years working with Babcock in various capacities, including planning the morning lecture platform.

“It’s a process in which input comes from all over the place — community members, staff members, up and down the hallways of the Colonnade, all around the grounds, from speakers — she’s done such a great job of building relationships with people that Chautauqua should know and people who should know Chautauqua,” Steves said.

The morning lecture platform is primed to really take off due to Babcock’s diligence, Steves said.

“It is Chautauqua’s signature program, and it should be something that all of the country knows about and tunes into when something happens on that stage,” Steves said. “We’re just about there, and I think a lot of that is because of her.”

Ring clear, sweet bell, the story tell

Hill said the common joke is that it will take three people to replace Babcock when she retires, but “it’s absolutely true.” In addition to her regular responsibilities, Babcock has been instrumental in making sure that things don’t fall apart once she leaves, Hill said.

“I’ve joked with her that she mothered so many things into being or success here, and I think she’s shown that same care in making sure none of those things drop just because she’s not here,” Hill said. “Which is what, ideally, you want for any leader — we should never set things up so that when we’re not here, they can’t work.”

Part of that process was splitting up Babcock’s wide-ranging job duties across different titles.

David Griffith and Atom Atkinson will officially join the staff in September, taking on two of those positions. Griffith will serve as vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, and Atkinson will serve in the new position of director of literary arts. Ewalt will be promoted to chief of staff in the President’s Office and will lead lecture programming.

Sherra Babcock speaks during the Chautauqua Prize Dinner on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016 in honor of Cyrus Copeland. DAVE MUNCH / DAILY FILE PHOTO

Hill said Babcock was instrumental in overseeing this line of succession and in figuring out how these new positions will work together.

“She has gone out of her way to make sure that that transition is completely seamless,” Hill said.

Part of that transition has been letting Griffith and Atkinson shadow her during her final season so both can see what their future positions entail. Griffith and Atkinson followed Babcock during Weeks Six through Eight.

“It’s been a really great learning experience,” Griffith said. “The days are built around us being able to ask Sherra questions, not Sherra telling us this is how you do this and that.”

Atkinson said that being on the grounds with Babcock and seeing her do her job has made it apparent that she’s someone “who believes in lifting everyone in her community up — and giving and making space for everyone in the community.”

Griffith agreed, and said observing Babcock has made clear how her past career experiences, such as her time as a dean of students at Southwestern University, have informed her work at Chautauqua Institution.

“Through those other experiences, she is able to see the way that the work Chautauqua does is of importance to the entire world,” Griffith said. “There are all kinds of different careers you could go into with the skills she has, but she found her way — thankfully — to Chautauqua.”

Atkinson said it’s apparent that Babcock leaves behind “a legacy of genuine generosity and kindness toward everyone she encounters, without ever losing hold of the seriousness with which she takes these programs.”

“That only emerges from finding them deeply meaningful in the first place, and finding those relationships you’ve developed really meaningful in the first place,” Atkinson said. “That’s a legacy I take very, very seriously.”

With answering fire that shall inspire

Babcock’s achievements during her tenure at Chautauqua Institution represent only part of what she brought to her work.

Her personality, her presence and her perspective are a part of that legacy, too, Becker said.

Babcock has a disposition that’s rooted in a “genuine well of kindness,” Becker said, as well as a firmness.

“It makes people step up,” Becker said. “When work isn’t done well, or the exchanges that are going on aren’t honest, she’s very direct about calling that what it is. But then again, that kindness is there underneath all of that, and it invites both change and improvement.”

He often misses her wit, Becker said, as well as her “modest approach to her own role that is deferential in some ways, but also shows she’s quite certain about who she is.”

“And when I think about what she brings to the game — there’s both an intellectual and emotional pride that resides there,” Becker said. “That speaks to the pleasure and the personal importance she places on doing really good work. It’s never something she ‘has’ to do, it’s something she’s built to do. It’s a sense of purpose.”

Vice President of Education and Youth Services Sherra Babcock talks about the week’s programming during a Board of Trustees porch chat on Aug. 17, 2016 on the Hultquist Center porch. DAVE MUNCH / DAILY FILE PHOTO

Toth said Babcock has taught her not to underestimate herself or others.

“She’s very intentional in the way that she lifts you up, and in her expectations of you — you want to rise to meet those expectations,” Toth said.

Both Steves and Ewalt said as they’ve worked with Babcock, they’ve been able to see how she embodies the idea of service leadership. Ewalt said she’s set an excellent example of how to be patient and gracious in dealing with others.

“Working as closely with Sherra for the past few years and intensely as we have, I’m going to miss serving alongside and working alongside someone I consider a great friend,” Ewalt said. “I’m learning every day from her in terms of leadership, in terms of getting the most from a team, in terms of engaging with the Chautauqua community in conversation and being informed by that community with grace and wisdom.”

And while he’s only had a year working alongside Babcock, Hill said it didn’t take long for him to feel sad to see her go.

“She’s unbelievably thoughtful, her grasp of so many topics is remarkable and her deep care for the place is just evident in everything she does,” Hill said. “I’ve just so enjoyed having her as a colleague and feel a great deal of sadness that the season comes to a close — that also means she’s wrapping up her tenure here, and I only got a year with her.”

All of those attributes make a true Chautauquan, Becker said.

“In reality, she’s a Chautauquan right down to her toes,” Becker said. “That intellectual curiosity, that spiritual openness and inclusiveness, that sense of value, that purpose and the overall awareness of the accountability of our lives and acting on what we know — she embodies what it is to be a Chautauquan.”

The bell peals clear and true

If Bryant could see how the CLSC has developed over the years, he would likely be blown away by the progress that’s been made, and particularly by the work Babcock has done.

When it comes to Chautauqua’s history, Babcock’s tenure is short: 10 years out of the Institution’s 143. But — as Cooper wrote of the Bryant Day festivities in 2007 — while those years have been short, their brevity says nothing about their depth.

“This last stretch at Chautauqua — you could argue that she’s been preparing for this for her entire life,” Becker said. “It really does draw on every bit of the experience she had both in a personal way — the values, the attributes and her character — but also the experience she gained from her rich history in other work. This drew on all of it. And she knew that, and took great joy in that.”

Sherra Babcock celebrates Bryant Day in 2013. KATIE McLEAN / DAILY FILE PHOTO

At Saturday’s Bryant Day ceremony, the 139th, Babcock will reveal just one CLSC selection for the 2018 season and make her final official mark on Chautauqua’s literary history.

Normally she reveals a few selections, but this year, her last, is a little different.

It was an intentional decision. Babcock said she wanted to leave space for her successors to leave their own signature on CLSC history.

It speaks to the way Babcock has seen her role over the years. Her legacy here is something that’s “both hers and not hers,” Ewalt said. Babcock has had an indelible impact on Chautauqua Institution, he said, but it’s the result of her intelligence, her humility and her collaborative nature.

In that initial interview with the Daily in 2007, Babcock expressed her excitement about Chautauqua’s future.

The sentiment still rings true, even as she prepares to leave Chautauqua Institution behind her and goes on to her next adventure.

“I know that we have to evolve and grow, and certainly Chautauqua has grown and evolved into what we see today,” Babcock said in 2007. “This is just the opportunity for that to continue.”

As Babcock oversees her last Bryant Day, the Bryant Bell — that heaviest and lowest-toned bell in the bell tower — will ring, too.

CLSC circulars from 1878 describing the ceremony say that when it comes to the ringing of the Bryant Bell, “Wherever they may be, true Chautauquans can hear its echoes.”

Surely the same can be said of Babcock. Chautauquans will hear the echoes of her work long after she leaves.

Time for Three and Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra present an evening of mashups

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Time for Three looks like a classical string trio, but their style and creative process have more in common with popular music.

Violinist Nick Kendall said the group mostly adheres to a “garage band” style of working. The three musicians meet to jam and riff together, record their ideas, then come back later with fresh ears to see what sticks.

“It’s mostly sharing ideas, playing with each other and at each other,” Kendall said.

Those ideas are then sent off to a composer or orchestrator, who spins them into a cohesive, fully realized piece. It’s a highly collaborative workflow that’s likely more familiar to Broadway composers and record producers than it is to classical musicians. Kendall said Time for Three doesn’t consider itself a classical band, even though all three members studied at elite music schools.

Time for Three will join the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Rossen Milanov at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater for an evening of mashups and original music.

SUBMITTED PHOTO

Founding member and violinist Zach DePue left the group last year to focus on his job as concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. His replacement, Charles Yang, has since joined Kendall and double-bassist Ranaan Meyer and expanded the group’s creative horizon into vocal music.

“Charles has an incredible voice,” Kendall said. “Ranaan and I discovered we can sing backup.”

The group’s latest foray into songwriting is a three-movement work called “Songs of Joy,” which will receive its second performance ever at Saturday’s concert. According to Meyer, the music came first.

“There were periods where the three of us sat around writing verse, pre-chorus, chorus sections with the harmonies and melodies without words,” Meyer said.

The lyrics, which touch on familiar themes of love and despondence, were written by all three musicians.

“It’s all fantasy tales based on life’s experiences or feelings that the three of us have all had, and it’s also character sketches,” Kendall said.

Once the songs were written, they were sent to composer TJ Cole, who created complementary music for orchestra based on the songs.

“She basically took the main thematic material of these three songs and created these orchestral interludes,” Kendall said.

The rest of Time for Three’s program with the CSO will consist of mashups, a sort of speciality for the group. For example, the group came up with an arrangement that combines Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” with the third movement of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 and his song cycle, “Kindertotenlieder.” Kendall said there is a conceptual thread that links the three pieces of music.

“ ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ talks about childhood memories, and one of the last lines in ‘Kindertotenlieder’ is that the memory is greater than the loss itself,” Kendall said.

The third movement of Mahler’s First Symphony is based on a minor version of the children’s song “Frère Jacques.”

“We’re kind of a multilingual group,” Meyer said. “We speak a lot of genres, and we can easily find connections between all sorts of music.”

Peter Strick to present Barbara Vackar Lecture on advances in brain research

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When neuroscientist Peter Strick hears someone say, “It’s all in your head,” he answers, “Your brain is in your head.”

And your brain is connected to your immune system, as well as your muscles, heart, kidneys and other internal organs.

“I’m not saying that you can think your way out of cancer, but that you can influence your immune system by how you think and what you do,” said Strick, the founding scientific director of the Brain Institute and the director of the Systems Neuroscience Institute at the University of Pittsburgh. “Three years ago I would have been the last person to say this.”

At 3 p.m. Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy, Strick will discuss “Your Brain in Action.” His talk will be the Contemporary Issues Forum’s third annual Barbara Vackar Lecture.

Cathy Bonner, chair of the Chautauqua Foundation, established this annual CWC lecture series in honor of fellow Texan Barbara Ellison Vackar. Vackar was president of the Chautauqua Women’s Club from 2005 to 2010, special assistant to former President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s and director of Texans for ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) earlier in the 1970s.

Peter Strick

Ever since Strick was a biology major at the University of Pennsylvania, he has been thinking big about the human brain.

“I was bored in a world history class and thought about the notion that I could move my finger whenever I want to,” he said. “How? What’s the nature of volition? Where does this energy come from?”

Strick remained at the University of Pennsylvania, earning his Ph.D. in neuroanatomy and neuroscience. During his four-year postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Mental Health, he learned neurophysiology.

In 1976, he began a 24-year association with the departments of neurosurgery and physiology at the SUNY Upstate Medical Center, where he became a full tenured professor, and the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Syracuse.

Because “no single discipline can make sense of the brain; it requires a multidisciplinary approach,” Strick has been actively engaged in continuously learning about one brain-related field after another throughout his career. For example, he co-founded the Society for the Neural Control of Movement, an international community of scientists, clinician-investigators and students.

With a collaborative spirit in mind, he moved to southwestern Pennsylvania in 2000 to join the University of Pittsburgh’s departments of neurobiology, neurological surgery, physical medicine & rehabilitation and psychiatry.

When he came onboard at Pitt, he also assumed the role of co-director of its Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, a joint venture between Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University.

Pitt’s “open academic architecture” promotes cooperation and collaboration across disciplines and organizations, and with nearby universities.

“I truly believe in multidisciplinary research,” Strick said. “There’s no one way to understand brain research. To paraphrase Hillary, it takes a community.”

In 2012, Strick was named the Thomas Detre Professor and Chair of the University of Pittsburgh’s department of neurobiology, and appointed the co-director of its Center for Neuroscience.

Two years later, he co-founded the Brain Institute, a unifying structure that brings together researchers throughout Pitt’s numerous neuroscience research centers and programs. Its purpose is to use basic scientific research to understand normal and abnormal brain function and develop approaches for overcoming brain disorders.

Like the blind Indians looking at the elephant, Strick said he could go department-by-department, school-by-school at Pitt.

“What I wanted to promote is the sum being more than the parts,” he said. “There are about 150 scientists at the university doing brain research. (The Brain Institute) is getting people out of their labs and offices, which is what institutions need to promote.”

Science isn’t done by departments, Strick continued.

“You do it by having scientists next to each other,” he said. “There are loads of studies (showing that) you promote collaboration by getting people in the same room.”

Like Bell Labs, he wants to “promote opportunities for discovery” by giving scientists — “the best and the brightest” — the chance to do basic research without the tunnel vision and missed opportunities associated with narrowly testing hypotheses.

According to Strick, 96 percent of brain research is done on rodents, even though they are missing portions of our brain.

“If you want to understand humans, you need to study humans and other primates.” he said. “There’s something special that enables us to be human.”

When it comes to the brain, much remains to be discovered.

“We don’t know the brain’s wiring diagram,” Strick said. “Imagine if you go to your car repair shop and they can’t fix it because they don’t have your car’s wiring diagram. When we learn about (the brain’s) wiring diagram, it provides us with some very important insights into the brain and behavior.”

For example, there are brain regions that are important in controlling stress, Strick said.

“Is there any reason they have an impact on stress?” he said. “The only way to put them on a firm scientific basis is (to produce) the wiring diagram. That’s part of the reason I do anatomy.”

Strick’s own research has focused on the following four areas: the motor areas of the cerebral cortex; the motor, cognitive and affective functions of the basal ganglia and cerebellum; the neural basis for the mind-body connection; and the complex neural networks that comprise the central nervous system.

Part of Strick’s research concerns the brain-body connection.

“How we think, move, feel has a real impact on the function of our internal organs,” he said. “It is the basis for psychosomatic and complementary (alternative) medicine. In the past, I might have been one of the first to poo-poo the brain-body connection, but it’s real.”

Remarkably little is known about how the brain produces behavior, Strick said.

“Every cell in our body has the same DNA material. … The (gastrointestinal) system retrieves nutrients from food, but the brain produces behaviors, speech, thought, consciousness,” he said. “We’re really only scratching the surface about how it accomplishes these feats. … I still marvel at the brain.”

At Chautauqua, Strick wants to give people an idea of all the things the human brain can do, in part because “we don’t spend a lot of time marveling at what the brain does,” including reading and writing.

“The brain is unique,” Strick said. “We can replace a kidney, we can transplant a heart, we can get along okay without a spleen, but we cannot replace a brain.”

The brain is also difficult to repair, even though it has a “repair shop” that performs “housekeeping” tasks such as “tuning,” which people are unaware of.

“We can’t cure polio; we vaccinate against it,” he continued. “Rabies is a neurotropic virus (it infects nerve cells). There’s no cure, and if someone contracts it, no treatment. So again, we vaccinate.”

Using demonstrations, he will show brain plasticity — the ability of the brain to change throughout life.

“At any age, as long as your cerebellum is functioning, you have the ability to adapt,” Strick said. “The brain is constantly taking in information about motor and cognitive output, but there are limits to that adaptation. … We can’t fix what’s been broken.”

People’s actions can adversely affect the brain. Children would have better outcomes in school, for instance, if we could convince women not to smoke or drink alcohol during pregnancy, he said.

“What is there left to explore?” Strick said. “People talk about outer space — flying to Mars. But what’s inside our heads?”

Rev. Suzan Denise Johnson Cook to preach as final chaplain-in-residence

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The Rev. Suzan Denise Johnson Cook, the third U. S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom and founder and president of Wisdom Women Worldwide Center, a global center for women of faith who are leaders, activists and advocates for female equality, will serve as chaplain-in-residence at Chautauqua for Week Nine.

Johnson Cook previously served as chaplain-in-residence in 2005.

She will preach at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. The title of her sermon will be “The Timing of God.” She will share her faith journey at the 5 p.m. Vespers in the Hall of Philosophy.

Monday through Friday, she will preach at the 9:15 a.m. morning worship service in the Amphitheater. Her sermon topics are “Keep Your Eyes Opened,” “Responding to God,” “Greatness is Within You,” “Responding to God” and “A Benediction and a Blessing.”

Rev. Suzan Denise Johnson Cook

As the third Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, a role she held from April 2011 (nominated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) to October 2013, Johnson Cook worked to incorporate religious freedom into foreign policy and national security initiatives. Prior to joining the U.S. State Department, Johnson Cook was a White House Fellow under President Bill Clinton.

She was the first and only female president of the Hampton University Ministers’ Conference, one of the world’s largest gatherings of clergy, representing more than 12,000 clergy leaders and over 2 million constituents.

Johnson Cook is a graduate of United and Union Theological Seminaries, Columbia University and Emerson College. She has two master’s degrees, a Doctor of Ministry degree, and graduated from the President’s Administrative Fellows Program at Harvard University. She has studied at Tuck Business Institute’s Minority Business Executive Program, been an officer and professor at Harvard, on the board of Emerson College, and taught at New York Theological Seminary and Riverdale Country School.

Johnson Cook was the first African-American woman to be ordained in the 200-year history of the American Baptist Churches of the USA and served three New York congregations: Mariners’ Temple Baptist Church, the Bronx Christian Fellowship Baptist Church; and the Wall Street lunchtime congregation. She was also the first woman to serve as the official chaplain of the New York City Police Department, a position she held for 21 years.

In 1997, EBONY magazine named Johnson Cook one of the top 15 women in ministry; ESSENCE magazine named her one of the Top 40 Power Women in 2011; and New York Moves Magazine named her a Power Woman in 2013. That same year, she launched the ProVoice/ProVoz Movement to amplify the voices of women to be leaders in every sector of society.

She is the recipient of several awards, including the Woman of Conscience Award from the United Nations, the Martin Luther King Jr. Award, the Visionary Leader’s Award, the Judith Hollister Peace Award and the Hellenic Award for Public Service.

Johnson Cook is the author of three best-sellers: Too Blessed to be Stressed: Words of Wisdom for Women on the Move; Sister to Sister: Devotions for and from African American Women; and Becoming a Woman of Destiny: Turning Life’s Trials into Triumphs.

Currently, Johnson Cook is a distinguished visiting fellow at the Catholic University of America.

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