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Gretna Music: Celebrating 48 years and over 725 main stage concerts!

Over 2100 musicians have performed at our concerts including 50 Grammy winners and countless Grammy nominees, seven MacArthur fellows, and representatives of major orchestras including (but not limited to):

New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, Dallas Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Seattle Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, Baltimore Symphony.

Artists have come from most states in the US, Canada, and other countries around the globe. Dozens have soloed with the orchestras above and performed in Carnegie Hall, Kennedy and Lincoln Centers, Disney Hall, Hollywood Bowl, and many of the most prestigious recital halls in the US and overseas.

Many of the biggest names in jazz and classical music have graced our stage. We also produce concerts that are original, can’t be seen anywhere else, and have had many works make their world, national, and Pennsylvania premieres on our stage.

We have been singled out by regional papers, and national publications including Time Magazine, Musical America, Philadelphia Inquirer, NYT, and The New Yorker. Records and CD’s have been made of Gretna performances, both by individual performers and commercial recording companies; concerts have been recorded and broadcast by WITF and NPR’s Performance Today, and CBS’ Sunday Morning.

We benefit the arts in Mt. Gretna by introducing residents and visitors to artists and music from all around the world. Mt. Gretna residents have made friendships with those they have hosted and, by attending their concerts, learned to love the music they play. Mixing artists and Mt. Gretna residents has been an important part of our mission. Countless Mt. Gretna residents have volunteered for us and have, we believe, been rewarded by new friendships, a greater sense of community, and many times, a broadened taste in music.

Audience average over 200-350 for classical; around 300-400 for jazz – sizes that are large for a location in rural central PA and are comparable for audiences sizes for this type of music in  major metro areas. Since 1993, over 150,000 have attended our concerts.

Our Beginnings

In 1975 the Pennsylvania Chautauqua’s Summer Program Director asked new Mt. Gretna resident, physician/flutist Carl Ellenberger, to organize two concerts in the Mt. Gretna “Hall of Philosophy.” Ellenberger invited old friends from Interlochen and Eastman to visit and play chamber music. They had so much fun that the next summer he organized 4 concerts in the Playhouse. A Hershey Medical colleague introduced Ellenberger to the Audubon Quartet, then in residence at Marywood College in Scranton and looking for a summer home. They came to Gretna Music in 1977 with friends and joined Ellenberger and his friends. Also that year Ellenberger heard The New Black Eagle Jazz Band on NPR and learned that his Yale Medical School friend, Eli Newberger, was their tuba player, so he invited them to come from Boston. People flooded into the Playhouse to hear the music and continued to come year after year.

Why We Still Do It

“We all discovered that a string quartet could bring quiet magic to our open Playhouse in the woods. The players were people we wanted to know as well as hear. I can’t say how many lives we touched along our journey so far: students dreaming of careers in music; new audience members never exposed to this type of music at this high caliber level; young musicians trying their wings; veteran musicians warming to attentive audiences; board and staff members exploring their own talents, skills, and passion; innumerable friendships budding among everyone who came together to listen, volunteer, or perform; and everyone discovering the vast universe of music to be explored. If we had any success it was because we insisted on music and musicians we strongly believed in regardless of whether we thought they would fill the seats. Lose yourself for a quiet interval in another world communicating in a beautiful wordless language with other souls. A small piece of Life as it should be.”

– Carl Ellenberger, Founder and present board member

*Founded as Music at Gretna, Inc. We are now known as and use Gretna Music as our name.

The Playhouse

Performances are presented in “casual elegance” in the open-air (audience and stage covered) 708 seat Mt. Gretna Playhouse. Rebuilt in 1995 after the roof collapsed under heavy snows, the Playhouse offers remarkable acoustics.

Artists come from all over the country and the world for the opportunity to enjoy the small friendly community and rehearse and play with other great artists and friends (and occasionally with birds and cicadas) in the woods.

Playhouse History

The Chautauqua Movement was founded in the late 1800’s by Lewis Miller and John Vincent, from New York, who shared a vision of providing education to people of all ages and backgrounds. They started a summer camp for teachers at Lake Chautauqua, NY, offering recreation, classes on religion and music, plays, and other entertainment.  In 1891, a group of community leaders decided to organize the Pennsylvania Chautauqua in Mt. Gretna, “for the advancement of literary and scientific attainment among the people and the promotion of popular culture in the interest of Christianity.”

The Playhouse, known originally as the Chautauqua Auditorium, was designed by John Cilley, a civil engineer from Lebanon, and completed in July, 1892. The Chautauqua Board of Managers contacted A. E. Scott, an actor and director from the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, and suggested that Scott start a summer theater in Gretna. In the spring of 1927, the necessary alterations were made to the Chautauqua Auditorium for the first season of theater. Music at Gretna, now known as Gretna Music, started presenting performances in the Playhouse in 1976.

Over the years, The Playhouse survived many natural disasters, including several major hurricanes, but the winter of 1994 proved to be too much for the 102-year-old structure. On February 12, its roof, buried under an estimated 150 tons of snow, collapsed.  By the summer of 1995, a new roof and other improvements to the Playhouse were complete.  The Playhouse continues to be a favorite destination for thousands each summer to take in a live performance in a friendly, easygoing atmosphere.