Sun, July 12
I can still remember the smell of the place. It was a mixture of old and dusty wood, lavender (old lady) cologne, and perhaps a bit of lake air with just a trace of seaweed. It was usually a bit cool in the mornings underneath the roof and even as girls we would usually have to wear a sweater. My sister and I would often see older gentlemen falling asleep during the service, and every now and then we would spot a spider crawling on someone’s arm or once even a mouse scooting around the floor. Those were all potentials for entertainment for grade school girls in an outdoor/open air church venue like the amphitheater at Chautauqua Institution. But beyond the familiar scents and the funny sights that were regular occurrences there, there was something more to this simple, but beautiful structure of paint and wood. There was a magic that captured my fascination as a little girl and continues to be with me today. Was it the gathering of 6000 people from all around the country and beyond to worship together in one space? Was it the world renown speakers from near and far giving inspirational sermons that would pull at your heart strings? Was it the weekly singing of the favorite hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy” that was so magical? Yes, yes, and yes! All of those things contributed to the magic of this special and sacred place. But for me, the epicenter of this magic was the choir. It was not only the singing of “Holy, Holy, Holy” that brought tears down my face, but it was this exquisite descant from the sopranos floating high among the stratosphere, high above the congregation that overwhelmed me every time. As I looked at the choir in awe, wearing my sundress, sweater, and probably a new turquoise ring purchased that day that I would lose a few hours later swimming in the lake (happened every year!), I dreamed of someday being up there – being one of the magic makers in this magnificent place.
Little did I know that I would have the chance to make this dream come true some 35 years later!
Cut to this spring. Since Zach was going to sailing camp again this year at Lake Chautauqua Lutheran Center (4th generation camper!), I got the idea that Mike and I could stay somewhere on the lake during the same week. We could enjoy a week at the lake and just make one trip! So after I booked a week at a cottage I began to research more about what else we could do in the area including things at the institution. I stumbled on information about the choir and learned that there was no audition to sing. What?? These people aren’t professionals??!! You just had to have previous choral experience (check and check) and attend at least 2 of the 3 rehearsals prior to the Sunday service. The rehearsals were Thurs, Fri and Sat nights from 6pm – 7:45pm. Oh, my gosh, could I actually do this?? I started letting myself get excited about the possibility of this actually happening, but then I ran into a problem. Our cottage rental was from Sat – Sat (which most are) which meant that we would not have a place to sleep on the Sat night before the Sunday service! Ugh! Well, I wasn’t going to let this stop me! No siree! I started calling places to book one extra night on Saturday so I could make this happen. After being turned down by about 3 places (most have a 2-night minimum!), I finally got a YES from a hotel in Jamestown. Done! I was so excited!
On the night of the first rehearsal I was pretty nervous. I had Mike drop me off 30 minutes early so I could find the place and check-in. The choir regulars were so welcoming and sweet that I relaxed right away. It was extremely organized and I became obsessed with documenting everything.
Starting to gather
The director of the choir, Jared Jacobsen, was also the organist and pianist for the amphitheater and he was a legend to me. His talents for directing us matched his abilities on the keyboard. He was a m a z i n g.
He kept things running smoothly with just enough humor, information, and inspiration. He did not miss a beat and I was astounded by how we could pick up on the slightest mistake while still playing and directing a choir with 8-part harmony. I was exhausted at the end of rehearsal, but in the best way. I had forgotten how much I loved to sing with a group, not to mention this group! I had to shake the rust off a bit with my sight reading, but once I did that I settled in pretty well. It felt so good that I could actually do this! I told Mike going home that first night that I needed to find a way to sing on a regular basis again. I had been since my early 20’s (after college) that I had sung with a choral group. It made me realize how much I miss it.
I enjoyed the rehearsal so much that I decided that I wanted to attend all 3. I mean, why not, right? I had no idea if I would ever be in the position to do this again so I wanted to enjoy every possible minute. Plus, we were doing this Kyrie piece, by Dobrogosz, that was crazy hard and I could use all the practice I could get!
Sunday morning came and I was ready. I just hoped I could get through the morning without too much boo-hooing. I had kleenex with me just in case. It was fun to see the amphitheater from that perspective.
Starting to gather
Some of the 1st sopranos
Rehearsal before the service
As soon as the organ started with the introduction to “Holy, Holy, Holy” I got giant tears in eyes. I mean I cry during that song in the congregation all the time, so no surprise there. I managed to pull it together enough to really blow out the descant which I can’t describe in words. Let’s just say I was sweating. Ha! The rest of the service went rather quickly. The choir sang a lot so I felt like I was really working the entire time. At the end of the service is when I really lost it. The choir was seated while Jared Jacobsen plays the postlude on the organ. This man is extremely talented as I mentioned, but something about seeing his face as he played rather than from the congregation was just overwhelming and very emotional for me. The loudness of the organ, the complexity of the piece, the perfection with which he played it and then the emotion on his face as he played was too much for me. Words don’t cut it, but the only way to describe it is “beauty in action”. But don’t take my word for it. Become one of the magic makers at the amphitheater at Chautauqua and see for yourself!