On the Road in 2007: Chautauqua Joyous Reunion

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Flag of United States  , New York
Monday, June 25, 2007

by Andrew Schow of the Bass Section

Nestled amid the rolling hills of western New York is Lake Chautauqua, whose exquisite beauty is like a precious blue sapphire sitting on a velvet green pillow. Hugging the shore are the unique dwellings, a grand hotel, and an amphitheater (referred to locally as “The Amp”) that make up the quaint town with the same name. Here took place a very joyous reunion on the second stop of the Canada/Midwest US tour of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square.

To the delight of Chautauqua audiences, the Choir and Orchestra reprised their 2003 concert appearances and once again were the season opening act for the Chautauqua Institution. Marty Merkley, VP and Director of Programming for the Institution, got just what he bargained for: two concerts both of which were sell-outs. Virtually all of the audience and most of the Choir and Orchestra raised their hands when the Choir’s announcer, Lloyd Newell, asked if they were at the one of those 2003 concerts. The audience went wild when Newell jokingly suggested that such a reunion become an annual event.

It is certainly not surprising that the Chautauqua Institution and Mormon Tabernacle Choir make such a great match. Like the Choir’s, the Institute’s roots are also spiritual in nature since it began as a retreat to train Sunday School teachers. The annual program has since grown to cover other areas of interest and a full entertainment season open to locals and those willing to attend from the surrounding area. (Newell confessed to coming to Chautauqua to hear Tony Bennett in his younger years, another example of the wide spectrum of the entertainment world who have Chautauqua on their résumé.)

The Amphitheater is a prominent feature in the town. It is a covered, open-sided oval, with wooden benches for the audience. Putting the Choir and Orchestra on the stage filled virtually every available space, and then some. And like the Salt Lake Tabernacle, they cram as many people into the benches as possible (and then some—it was standing room only plus at the evening performance!). The welcome and enthusiasm of the Chautauqua audiences have not waned in the intervening years. When Choir director Craig Jessop invited the audience to join in the singing of the National Anthem, the filled-to-overflowing Amp sounded as one voice. For the nearly two hours, from “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” the audiences gave their loud approval. Audiences from California to Canada love the swaying, clapping rhythms of the Nigerian carol “Betelehemu,” and the Chautauqua audiences were no different.

Between concerts, alone or in small groups, Choir members could hardly walk a few steps without people gathering around them. “We were at the concert--it was wonderful,” some would say, while others would say “I have tickets to the evening concert and I am so looking forward to it.” At the end of each concert, the audience could not contain their enthusiasm and the emotion was evident on both sides of the stage as the joyous reunion between performers and audience came to a close. Profound thanks, either spoken or conveyed through smiles and spirit, exuded from almost everyone they encountered.

In many ways the endurance of the Choir and Orchestra was truly miraculous. By evening’s end, they had performed four complete concerts (including 2 in Toronto) and made a midnight Canadian border crossing to insure a timely arrival in Chautauqua, all in about 32 hours. They were physically spent and relying on faith and adrenaline to help make it through, but they did it in splendid fashion. And through the closing refrain of the Choir’s signature “God Be with You Till We Meet Again,” there was evident the hope that the next reunion will not be far away.
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