Chuck Musser was a man of faith who demonstrated his faith by his actions.
As the director of Music in the Park for over 30 years, Musser demonstrated his deep affection for the divine by bringing gospel music to Coleman Memorial Park each summer – including 15 weeks this year from Memorial Day through Labor Day every Sunday at 6 p.m.
“It was his desire to start a gospel program and what he felt the Lord wanted him to do,” says Judy Musser, his wife of what she says were 58 wonderful years. “He voiced his opinion, and people told him if he could do it, then go ahead and do it.”
Although he passed away in February following a battle with long COVID, Musser’s mark remains on the music he scheduled this summer and the musical legacy he leaves behind.
“I went to the first program this summer on Memorial Day weekend, and it was very, very hard to see someone else up front (on stage), after seeing Chuck there for 32 years,” said Judy, who added the first program this year was dedicated in her husband’s memory. “But we knew the group, the group knew us, and all of our kids were there that night. It was a very hard night, but it was very good, too.”
Legacies aren’t made overnight, and, as such, the musical series may have never happened if it wasn’t for Chuck’s vision and dedication to serve. There was also the hard work he and many other volunteers put into making the program and park an enjoyable experience over the past three decades.
“He did a lot for the park itself, a lot of upkeep for the park,” said Judy. “I don’t remember when they built the snack shack and the restrooms – the city had nothing to do with it. They put new siding on the amphitheater, and he was very particular that flowers get planted, and the amphitheater was well cleaned before the start of the year. He always got people to volunteer for the amphitheater’s upkeep.”
Judy said Chuck was originally approached by local businessman Raymond Herb for support of a secular music program Herb had started at the park a few years before. That conversation, which occurred one day on the streets of Lebanon more than 30 years ago, went nowhere since Chuck’s heart was focused on a higher calling.
“It was a dream of his to bring in national Christian artists to Lebanon,” said Judy. “Chuck told Raymond that he believed the Christian businessmen of Lebanon would back him on it. They parted ways that day, but Raymond called a few weeks later and said, ‘Hey, Musser, if you want to go for it, go for it.'”
Initially, the gospel program was bi-weekly, with secular music being played on the first and third Sundays from June through August. When the promoter of the secular programming became ill, Musser changed the format to feature sacred music every week.
“The lady who was bringing in the secular music became ill, and then Chuck took over doing every Sunday night, getting more and more Christian artists in to perform because that was his desire,” said Judy. “Yes, I would say Music in the Park was part of his testimony.”
Ken Shirk, a Music in the Park board member and its treasurer, said he appreciated the opportunity to assure community members that the program will continue past 2023 – even if there are some issues to be addressed by the board of directors before next year.
“It’s going to be a challenge. Unfortunately, we don’t have all of the contact information that Chuck had for all of the agencies that do the booking,” said Shirk. “But I don’t think the future of the program is in jeopardy. There’ll be some adjustments, and there’ll be some changes, but I don’t think that the public will see any major differences in the program. We have a young couple taking over as president and executive director. They’re young, and they’re very knowledgeable about Southern gospel music.”
Shirk said some changes to the musical series were in the works prior to Chuck’s death, including the elimination of two weeks of programming as well as cutting back on the number of major acts scheduled each year. Moving forward, there will be a shift to scheduling a certain number of gospel acts that are within a 30- to 40-mile radius of Lebanon County.
“There will be a shift towards Southern gospel music because those are the groups that seem to bring out the largest audiences,” said Shirk. “You have to shift the program to meet the needs of the audience. We also want to showcase local talent. Those groups have a following, and if we can give them some exposure on the Coleman Park stage, we can give them an additional audience. I am sure our guests will be very pleased with the direction we plan to go.”
Reducing the high costs associated with booking top talent is the reason fewer big-name acts will be booked in the future – especially since admission is free. A freewill offering taken at each show and support from local businesses fund Music in the Park.
Shirk added that other discussions include eliminating shows on the two holidays at the beginning and end of the season since attendance was low when music was offered on those nights.
“This is the second consecutive year for the Memorial Day and Labor Day concerts, but those concerts did not draw well last year,” said Shirk. “So we’re looking at a 13-week program instead of a 15-week program next year. Those are discussions that were happening before Chuck’s passing.”
A summer staple for the past three decades, the Music in the Park series has grown from its humble beginnings.
“There were maybe 200 to 300 people at first, but we get 2,000 to 3,000 people now – especially with those well-known national acts,” said Judy. “People come from everywhere, not just Lebanon County. People drive one and two hours for the concerts. When you have over 2,000 people regularly, you know they aren’t all from Lebanon.”
Judy noted people travel from as far away as the New England states, Maryland, and many other points surrounding the Lebanon Valley to enjoy the gospel singing and uplifting message presented each week.
“There’s a big following from Lancaster County, especially the Manheim area. We get people from Pine Grove, Harrisburg, people really come from all over the area,” added Judy. “They come because they love the talent that we have. Chuck always had the best, and he would never repeat the same group in consecutive years. But the fan-favorites he would bring in every other year, and he did that for many, many years.”
While her husband never sang music, he was an audiophile, according to Judy.
He owned Crown Magnetics – an audio equipment store – for many years and worked for another audio company before opening his own business. She said Crown Magnetics produced cassette tapes and CDs for national recording artists, and his company would also install sound equipment in churches.
“Music was a big part of his life, but he didn’t sing or do anything professionally,” said Judy. “Audio was his life, really. He just had a desire to bring good talent into Lebanon County. Obviously, people enjoyed it. You didn’t get 2,000 people out regularly without bringing in well-known talent.”
Those connections, according to Shirk, are part of Chuck’s legacy.
“Chuck had the connections to bring in six or seven groups a year that are well-known, award-winning groups,” said Shirk. “Other than Music in the Park, there is nowhere else in Lebanon County or any other surrounding counties that bring in these kinds of groups and with free admission. You can go to Lancaster County to see these bands, but not in a beautiful outdoor setting at no cost to attendees.”
When he retired and closed the audio business 15 years ago, the Mussers sold their building, located at 12th Street and Bittner Boulevard, to Lebanon Rescue Mission, which is the nonprofit’s current headquarters.
“He put 100 percent of his time into Music in the Park,” said Judy. “He was a very, very hard worker, and he just loved what he did. Music in the Park was his desire for many years, and I think 32 years of doing the same thing says a lot. He didn’t get paid a cent, but he loved every minute of it.”
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