Severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, Gretna Music is currently working to salvage a handful of musical performances from its summer concert season for the good of the organization, the well-being of its faithful audience, and the intrinsic good of art itself.
“The obvious is that we’ve almost lost an entire series,” said Suzanne Stewart, Gretna Music’s executive director. “We’re going to have a large deficit this year, because we rely on ticketed income and contributed income. So many people are suffering from the pandemic. It may seem like we’re not as important, but music is important. COVID-19 is going to change how people listen to music in the future.”
“We are a summer series,” said Carl Kane, Gretna Music’s artistic director. “We lost June and July, and if we don’t have those last shows, it’ll be two years, from 2019 to 2021, that we didn’t have live shows. Presenting live cultural events and giving people an opportunity to experience and share them is a precious service. It gives people a chance to see the world through someone else’s perspective.”
Following Gov. Tom Wolf’s guidelines for mitigation and social distancing related to the COVID-19 crisis, Gretna Music was forced to cancel or reschedule 20 of its 25 summer performances, many of which are staged at the Mount Gretna Playhouse. Still at stake are the August 23 Mozart-String Trio show, the August 30 performance by flutist Demarre McGill, the September 6 performance of Conrad Tao (pianist) and Caleb Tiecher (tap dancer), and the Dali Quartet and Wister Quartet show on September 12, as well as at least one Gretna Music for Kids outing.
Gretna Music intends to make a decision on the remaining shows as early as next week. With a seating capacity of 708, Gretna Playhouse could host 250 audience members and still adhere to social distancing regulations outlined under Wolf’s green phase.
Stewart said conversations are in-progress to determine if Gretna Music can use the playhouse for those five performances.
“We are definitely monitoring the COVID-19 situation in Lebanon,” said Stewart. “We’re trying to follow the department of health’s guidelines.”
If Gretna Music is unable to hold events in the playhouse, it will explore other options, but unfortunately holding just those five performances in-person represents a best-case scenario at present.
“Part of our decision was based on a survey we sent in June to our audience members, and over 51 percent said they would come back this summer if we had concerts,” Stewart added. “Our audience is older, and we’re doing classical music and jazz. There are some out there hoping to get out to a concert.”
“Music is important in all human endeavors,” said Kane. “It does not use any language or symbolism. It works on the emotions. You don’t need to be familiar with the syntax and the grammar of the language. Music is the only art form that doesn’t require any familiarity. It tends to strip us of our prejudices and biases.”
As part of its mission over the past 40-plus years, Gretna Music has brought world-class performers — in disciplines like wind and string, vocal ensembles, handbell choir, piano four hands and even storytelling and puppeteering — to Lebanon County and central Pennsylvania. It is music, performers and art that wouldn’t otherwise be available to local residents. Last year, Gretna Music coordinated the North American debut of Nutcracker revival ‘The Nutcracker and I.’
“We like to think we enrich lives in Lebanon County by bringing in world-class performers,” said Stewart, a 50-year-old resident of Lititz. “We’re just trying to bring in excellent cultural programs. We bring in the brightest collection of artists, who are not only members of nationally-known orchestras, but also feature performers. They’ve won international praise for their genres. Our audiences know they’re going to hear excellent concerts. We bring in these amazing artists who wouldn’t normally be brought to Central Pennsylvania.”
“The mission is to bring the best possible musicians from around the world to play the best possible music,” said Kane, a 51-year-old resident of Elizabethtown. “To make it eventful for everyone. They are national- and international-caliber musicians. They are the best that the world has to offer. When you listen to music like that, it makes you see music through someone else’s eyes. You can hear the world from a different perspective.”
Gretna Music deserves credit for adapting to the set of circumstances it is currently facing.
Two weeks ago, Gretna Music began offering free performances through its YouTube channel, a practice it plans on continuing through July. Some are old recordings from prior events, while others represent live performances from artists previously scheduled to perform in Mount Gretna this summer.
“We’ve moved some of our things online,” said Kane. “I don’t think that’s necessarily unhealthy. There’s nothing like a live performance, but some people just can’t get to live performances. Some people don’t feel like they belong as much. But if they’re only listening online, at least they’re listening. Time will tell with Gretna Music, and every other arts organization. In time we’ll see who wants the services.”
“We take such pride in bringing beauty and love through music,” said Stewart. “We know how difficult this has been for the whole industry, as well as the trickle-down effects. I think we’re going to be the last industry to rebound from this. There’s something about live performances that you can share with others. You can’t replicate that online.”
Gretna Music has also been affected financially by the cancellation of its only major fund-raising event, the annual Mount Gretna Tour of Homes and Gardens. The self-guided walking tour features 12 to 15 of some of the most aesthetically pleasing houses in picturesque Mount Gretna.
The tour, which annually attracts 800 to 900 visitors and generates about $20,000 for Gretna Music, will also be offered online sometime in August. Stewart said that she hopes this year’s virtual tour will produce about $5,000 for Gretna Music.
“Anybody who’s been to Mount Gretna falls in love with Mount Gretna,” said Stewart. “It’s unique and distinct, and so are the homes. People love to get a glimpse of them, and the owners are so creative in how they decorate their homes. History, intrigue, creativity – it’s all there. It’s just pleasant to walk around Mount Gretna. It’s just a beautiful way to spend a day.”
“If you can’t make it to Gretna Music, just take 15 minutes and search for a music genre you’re not familiar with,” said Kane. “Listen to something you would never listen to, and realize it was created by someone who is passionate. During the coronavirus, we haven’t been able to help. It’s hard to see something turn itself upside down, and not be able to hold this music up and say, ‘just listen.’”
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