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Children’s School Ends with Snuggle-Filled Sing-Along

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A teddy bear, a PB&J and a parachute were the trifecta of contentment for the Children’s School 3- and 4-year-olds Wednesday morning when they trekked to Bestor Plaza for a Teddy Bear Picnic.

“Grizzly bear, oh Grizzly bear, is sleeping in a cave,” sang Kristen Brunacini, the Children’s School music teacher. “Grizzly bear is quiet, very, very quiet. If you wake him, if you shake him, he gets very mad!”

The kids sat on a billowy parachute on the grass near the Colonnade with their stuffed animals as Brunacini led them in song. They feigned sleep when she told them it was time to hibernate, and perked back up when she opened the book she would read aloud.

(One or two kiddos were too comfortable laying down with their bears to wake up from hibernation.)

Brunacini held up the book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. The story followed a family as they slipped through tall grass, splish-splashed through a river, tromped through a mud puddle, stumbled into a forest, pushed through a windy snowstorm and finally tip-toed into a narrow, gloomy cave.

“What’s that? One shiny wet nose, two big furry ears, two big googly eyes … it’s a bear!” Brunacini read.

The kids squealed in delight as the characters ran out of the cave, back through the snow and forest, into the mud, through the river, past the tall grass and into their safe, cozy house.

“We’re not going on a bear hunt ever again!” Brunacini read.

And then it was picnic time.

Purple Room Head Teacher Tina Jeffe helped corral the kids to sit on the curb of the brick walk. She and her fellow teachers passed out cups of water and mini-peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut into quarters.

But before they sat down to eat, the kids sang one last song, the Children’s School anthem:

“I’ve got the Children’s School enthusiasm

down in my heart,

up in my head,

down in my toes!

I’ve got the Children’s School enthusiasm all over me.

I’m coming back next year — you bet!”

Chimemaster Sticks Around Chautauqua for Another Year

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Every morning during Weeks One through Nine since 2002, chimemaster Carolyn Benton has woken up and taken a ride on one of the Institution’s buses to the door of Miller Bell Tower, where she plays a concert three times per day for 14 and a half minutes.

But since the installment of a new brick walkway this year in Miller Park, the bus hasn’t been able to bring Benton to the end of her commute, and with some limitations in her mobility, that nearly brought her to the end of her chiming career.

“I tried to retire, but they gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” she said, dangling an elastic lanyard with a small key waving at the bottom of the loop. “They asked me what it would take for me to stay, and I said, ‘A scooter would be nice.’ And it is.”

But, she said, if she had retired, she could not imagine that there was someone waiting in the wings to take the job.

“I don’t know who would do it,” she said. “The schedule is interesting. You’re sort of chained to this clock tower for 65 days. But I love this job.”

Benton believes that anyone could play the part of chimemaster, as long as they love the tower and don’t mind coming down three times per day.

“As long as you have 10 minutes of instruction, you can play this,” she said. “But [the bell tower] has a mind of her own.”

She said playing the bells is a challenge for people who play the piano, because the tower does not allow for certain techniques.

“You have to bounce every note, no matter how long it says to hold it,” she said. “And one key will not play two notes in a row. Certain harmonies don’t go together. You have to learn what she will or won’t do.”

Since she leaves the door open while she plays the bells, visitors are a common occurrence. Even dogs know to charge into the bell tower at 8 a.m. to grab a Milk-Bone treat from one of Benton’s free hands.

“I’m a big multitasker,” she said.

Chief among her reasons for not turning in her badge is the mark she gets to leave on visitors and residents of Chautauqua.

She recalled one time last year when Charles Bestor came down to see her in action. She keeps a brochure with his signature on it near where she plays. Bestor, son of longtime Chautauqua president, Arthur Bestor, died a few months after his visit, but Benton will always remember the 90-year-old man who obliged when she asked if he’d like to press a key.

But whomever visits her, Benton’s greeting is always the same.

“Would you like to play a note?” she said.

It’s something she does mainly for the younger kids, but older visitors or even performers from the Amphitheater are always welcome.

Benton grew up coming to the Institution, but due to her family’s finances during some of those early summers, she would only come for free Sundays. Decades later, Benton is still on the grounds, lulling everyone to sleep at 10 p.m. Sunday with Brahms’ Lullaby.

“It’s the most beautiful way to end a night in Chautauqua,” she said.

On a recent morning, while chatting and inviting a guest to play the final note of 14-and-a-half minutes of music, Benton looked up toward the ceiling of the tower’s first level.

“She’s got 14 bells — 10,000 pounds of bells,” she said. “I can’t remember exactly when I fell in love with the tower. … I like my baby here, and she loves me.”

Gallery: ‘Trust Your Faith Path’

Shmuel Vilenkin, 12, stands outside the Chabad Lubavitch house August 2, 2016.

With their first steps onto the grounds, Chautauquans can follow their own path and explore one of its four pillars, like a contemplative journey through a labyrinth. All kinds of people join hands and pray at the Peace Poles, meditate at Mystic Heart, and discover faith traditions beyond their own. From attending Islamic Jum’ah prayer, to praying the rosary at the Catholic House, or observing the Sabbath at the Zigdon Chabad Jewish House, everyone is encouraged to walk the spiritual path that is fitting for them. The pillar of religion remains as important today as it did at the founding of Chautauqua. Through lifelong learning, it is possible to find peace.

Susan Drabant demonstrates the meaning behind the beads of her rosary outside the Catholic House August 24, 2016.
Susan Drabant demonstrates the meaning behind the beads of her rosary outside the Catholic House August 24, 2016.
Chautauquans gather around a peace pole to pray for universal peace and compossaion August 23, 2016.
Chautauquans gather around a peace pole to pray for universal peace and compossaion August 23, 2016.
Imam Feisal leads non-Muslims and Muslims in friday Jummah prayer July 14, 2016.
Imam Feisal leads non-Muslims and Muslims in friday Jummah prayer July 14, 2016.
Chautauquans walk through the Labrynth as a way of meditation July 12, 2016
Chautauquans walk through the Labrynth as a way of meditation July 12, 2016
Subagh Singh Khalsa meditates in his house as a daily morning routine August 23, 2016.
Subagh Singh Khalsa meditates in his house as a daily morning routine August 23, 2016.
Shmuel Vilenkin, 12, stands outside the Chabad Lubavitch house August 2, 2016.
Shmuel Vilenkin, 12, stands outside the Chabad Lubavitch house August 2, 2016.
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