A Gretsch Abroad – A European Perspective from a 5th Generation Gretsch
Happy 30th birthday to the Sylvia and William Gretsch memorial recording studio at Elmhurst College
As an avid drummer, I’ve long known and loved the craftsmanship and unique sound of Gretsch instruments. As a 5th-generation Gretsch family member, I confess to some pride in this legacy. And yet, I am more impressed with our family’s dedication, and that of my aunt Dinah and uncle Fred in particular, to fostering music programs and education through their numerous philanthropic efforts.
During a summer vacation to the US, I had the opportunity to visit the Sylvia and William Gretsch Memorial Recording Studio at Elmhurst College, just west of Chicago. Named for my grandparents, 2017 marks the 30th anniversary for this state-of-the-art recording studio, which was first made possible by my uncle Fred Gretsch, a class of ’71 alumnus of Elmhurst. Patricia Thoren, Assistant to Department Head Peter Griffin, led me through Elmhurst’s lovely, sylvan campus to the music department facilities. Inside, though school was out of session, the faculty were nonetheless brimming with activity.
Grammy award winner Doug Beach, director of the Elmhurst College Jazz Band, had recently returned from the internationally touring band’s summer concert series in Europe and seemed already hard at work in preparation for the new semester. David DeVasto, a professor of composition and music theory, took the time to share his own experiences recording both his own and students’ work.
The studio itself features a spacious, acoustically-treated mix room with both analog and digital recording formats so students can train on a range of vintage and modern equipment. I asked a friend and former band mate who now works as a music producer to come along; he was struck by the fine quality monitoring, acoustic treatments, top-shelf mic selection and excellent choices in outboard preamps, dynamic processors and effects available. The mix room leads into a professionally-designed, vaulted live room, with one of nine of the school’s Gretsch drum kits, a Kawai grand piano, and an ample isolation booth. This high-end, inviting space had both my friend and I wishing we could pitch camp for a day or two and record some material. Ms. Thoren assured us the students do just that during their studies!
This beautiful studio, and the continued support of Fred and Dinah Gretsch for Elmhurst College’s music department, including an ongoing scholarship for music technology students, is one of many Gretsch philanthropic endeavors such as the Georgia Music Foundation, a program for local school bands, or Dinah’s Mrs. G’s Music Foundation, which provides free piano lessons for the community in Savannah, Georgia. All of these efforts reflect the Gretsch mission statement “to enrich lives through participation in music.” The memorial recording studio at Elmhurst College is a wonderful example of this mission put into vibrant practice at a time when support for the arts and music in U.S. schools and society has never been more important or necessary.
– Lucas O’Connor