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My View: Multi-talented organist revered Chautauqua

By Lois Vidaver

I once had the temerity to ask Jared Jacobsen if we could write a book together. Very kindly, as was his way, he turned me down.

As a Chautauquan Daily reporter for four summers, my assignments included the Department of Religion. Jared, worship coordinator and organist at the Chautauqua Institution, was an important part of my beat. Our weekly interviews brimmed over with his joyous spirit as he filled my recorder with memorable quotes and anecdotes.

There was every indication that at the age of 70, he would continue to inspire visitors for years with his mastery at the Massey Memorial Organ and his amazing choral direction. So it was unbelievable to receive news days after this summer season closed, that Jared Jacobsen had perished in a car crash in Ohio on the afternoon of Aug. 27. Those who knew him are heartbroken, seeking solace with Facebook and email exchanges.

Though there is no book, I have saved several of the articles we worked on together. Enough of my words. Most of the following are Jared’s.

To begin, the Massey Organ celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2007. In the article about this occasion, Jared related this story: “Once, during a boring sermon (not at Chautauqua!), I was contemplating the need for a new pair of organ shoes and determined that I had played several hundred million notes with my then-12-year-old pair. This summer when I think of the billions of notes that have been played by the century-old pipes of the Massey Memorial Organ, I am awestruck by the history they have seen on this platform – speeches by poets, preachers and presidents ... and, of course, a thousand “Largos.”

“I have been privileged to play several million of these notes myself,” he went on, “and every time I put hands and feet to the keys, the largest and most complex of instruments, the same thing happens: the Massey takes me into a zone where mechanisms vanish away, and music-making pours out of me without conscious thought, filling the Amphitheater with roars and whispers.

Lois Vidaver

“To my parents who brought me as a 5-year-old child, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude, which I hope to repay in some small part by sharing my love of this extraordinary organ with present and future Chautauquans. Do I have the best job in the world? Undoubtedly!”

His mention of “Largo” brings me to another article, titled “The ‘Largo’ tradition.” Sacred Song Services on Sunday evenings have been concluded with Handel’s “Largo” since organist Henry Vincent played it for the Massey Memorial Organ’s first program in 1907.

“It’s a tiny fragment of a completely obscure oratorio based on the Xerxes story,” Jared explained. “It’s not even a religious thing. The original text was about nature. Somehow, during the years, it was adopted and now, he said, “We revere ‘Largo’ here.”

In the season’s last edition of Aug. 27 and 28, in 2005, Jared grew reflective as he walked his beloved dog, Pierrot.
“As I came down lower Forest and saw the lake in front of me, it was just one of those perfect Chautauqua days,” he remembered. “I said to the dog, ‘What would happen if we just stayed here and didn’t go back to San Diego?’ and he sort of looked at me and wagged his tail and kept on going.”

Then Jared shared that he relished coming back to a place where everything was exactly the same as he remembered it. “That’s the thing people long for more than anything else at Chautauqua,” he said, “that it be a stable place in a very unstable world.”

Lois Vidaver, of Town of Tonawanda, reported on organist Jared Jacobsen for the Chautauquan Daily Reporter.

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