An Oral History of the Mann Center

There may be no finer way to spend a summer evening in Philadelphia than sitting on a blanket and listening to the sweet sounds of the Mann Music Center. Here, an oral history of the city's beloved cultural jewel.

THE MANN WOULD continue to be tested by fate and circumstance, but more often than not rose to the occasion.

Joe Kluger: One night a car hit a transformer, and the power went out right before the start of the concert.

Ranaan Meyer, former double bassist for the Philadelphia Orchestra: We were getting ready to play Beethoven’s Ninth. There were 5,000 people in the audience.

Peter Lane: The house was completely sold out. I was hosting a president’s dinner with all our major donors. We had a whole orchestra onstage, a couple hundred chorus members and assorted soloists.

Ranaan Meyer: Personnel finally came out and said they were having a major problem with the lights and everyone should get offstage. I had just founded Time for Three, a band that mixed bluegrass with classical, and two of the three of us were backstage. Somebody said we should go out there and keep the audience entertained.

Peter Lane: The Orchestra manager comes up to me and says, “I’ve got these two guys in the Orchestra who are willing to play for the audience.” I looked at her and said, “Are they any good?” She says, “They’re amazing,” and I said, “They better be.” They played for about 40 minutes.

Ranaan Meyer: We came offstage, and everyone from the Orchestra gave us a hug. There were like 200 people from the audience who came backstage to say thanks.

Peter Lane: It was one of those nights where you make lemonade out of lemons.

Joe Kluger: The day after 9/11, I was on the phone with [WHYY president and CEO] Bill Marrazzo, just trying to make sense of it all. I said, “You know what we need to do? Put on a free concert at the Mann and televise it.” We agreed that the only way it would work was if everyone donated their services. Normally if you ask the unions to do that, it takes forever and a day. But this was an instantaneous “yes” from everyone.

Peter Lane: Television operators, cable people, the Teamsters, Orchestra personnel, ushers, the backstage staff, you name it—every single person said, “You’re darn right, we’re going to be there.” I had a volunteer staff in the box office, not to sell tickets but to collect cash from all these folks who wanted to give money. People were taking wads of dollar bills and stuffing them into the box-office window, just making donations as fast as they could.

Bill Marrazzo, president and CEO of WHYY: It was such a beautiful, peaceful evening. The weather was perfect. The Orchestra was really moving, as were the various church choirs and poets who performed in memory of all the fallen in New York. From a broadcast standpoint, we were able to reach tens of millions through our sister TV stations, and we raised over a million dollars. All of the money was distributed to the families. It was an extraordinary occasion.

Joe Kluger: I have been to many, many great concerts, but that night ranks at the very top of the list.