Chautauqua Institution President Tom Becker’s job at the final Sacred Song Service of the season is to present a closing speech and tap the gavel three times. Jared Jacobsen’s job is to create the “jewelry setting” for that symbolic closing.
“Everything feels a little gloomier than usual, and the five stages of grief are about to set in on leaving Chautauqua,” said Jacobsen, the Institution’s organist. “Our job for the closing Sacred Song Service is to try to help people come to grips with that. It’s clear that it’s darker earlier now this end of the season.”
Jacobsen will lead a Sacred Song Service titled “You Are the Music” at 8 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater, the final program of the Institution season.
Although a gavel’s taps often indicate a hollow ritual, like the end of a PTA meeting, for Chautauquans the three thumps signify something more. The end of the season means leaving friends for 10 or 11 months, and often, there’s a chance the friends a person makes at the Institution won’t be back next summer.
“It’s tough for them to realize that they’re leaving it,” Jacobsen said. “A lot of life happens between now and next June; [we] can’t stop that, but we can help wrestle with it in the Sacred Song Service.”
The program’s title comes from a poem by Amy Lowell called “Listening,” from the collection A Dome of Many-coloured Glass. The musical piece inspired by the poem is from 2006, and it will be the first time Jacobsen performs it at the Institution; it immediately resonated with the high school choir Jacobsen assistant-directs in La Jolla, California, and he anticipates a similar reception in Chautauqua.
“If the poem is ‘You Are the Music,’ Chautauqua is also the music,” he said. “I think that they will embrace it as much as my high school kids embraced it, because there’s a very universal message in it.”
He will incorporate that piece with favorite anthems of the Institution, both new and old, and excerpts from The Chautauquan Daily turned into short readings of quirky things people experience on the grounds.
Jacobsen will also give his “Litany of Thanksgiving for Chautauqua,” which includes imagery of Sunday lines at the bookstore after church, children playing “capture the flag” and the moon shining over the lake, with a slight revision; after 20 years, he will finally get to change the last line of the litany to reference nine generations of Chautauquans on the grounds instead of eight, which was reflected when all nine generations stood up on Old First Night.
“We have been frozen at eight generations for 20 years,” he said. “I’m going to change that word in this prayer for the very first time.”
Although all of the Sunday night services are rooted in Christianity, Jacobsen said Chautauqua is an important place to non-Christians as well, to which he is sensitive. Many non-Christians come to worship services at the Institution, a rarity in an increasingly divided world.
“Chautauqua’s the place where you can be there and not squirm, and that’s pretty phenomenal these days, where we are outside of these gates so polarized,” he said.
Although George Frederick Handel’s “Largo” typically signifies the end of the Sacred Song Services, Jacobsen will play it before Becker gives his closing speech; he prefers the service to end with the Three Taps of the Gavel, marking an official end to the season and a beginning of the five stages of grief.
“It’s a poignant time for so many people, and all we can do is help people go through the gates with style and grace,” Jacobsen said. “People come with their Kleenex; what more can I say?”