In the Spotlight: Lititz Moravian Church

A soprano trombone sits on its case next to some Moravian music books

Have you ever been to one of the coolest small towns in America? If you’re local to Lancaster, it’s likely that you’ve been to the #1 spot from 2013: Lititz, PA. Less than 10,000 people are lucky enough to call this place home. For the rest of us, there’s always a space to park to tour the area.

Lititz Moravian Church

Historically speaking, Lititz would not have been founded as it is if it wasn’t for the Moravians. Indeed, you needed to be a member of the faith in order to have land; as the church owned all of the land at one point. It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that outsiders were able to start getting property in the area.

The small town is known for its incredibly rich history including inventions, silver smiths, pretzel makers, instrument makers, and even the famed Wilbur Bud chocolatiers. Lititz Springs Park is a great little area to meet up with some friends and possibly catch a live performance in the bandstand during the spring and summer months. It was also built for (and is still technically owned by) the Moravians.

The Moravians and Their Music

The Moravians are known for quite a few incredible stories and historical instances over the years. They hosted soldiers during wars as a temporary hospital, they’ve been stewards of American history, and they’re also known to have bolstered some of the best music in the country in the 1700-1800’s.

They played both sacred and secular music over the years and had one of the greatest orchestras of their time: the Lititz Moravian Collegium Musicum. While the Moravians themselves were also composers, being learned individuals before they populated Lititz, they also purchased the best music available from Europe for performances.

The Collegium was a full orchestra including brasswinds, woodwinds, and string instruments (some of which were even made in Lititz) that performed high-level works for the benefit of the public as well as their own congregation. It was known that individuals would travel from afar in order to hear one of their concerts due to their exponentially high level of performance capacity and detail to quality.

While the Collegium Musicum hasn’t been a live-performing and functional group for many years, with much effort the organist and musical director of the church, Dr. Jeffery Gemmell, the Collegium has begun to breath fresh air again. The group has played two fantastic showings since their revival and has featured Moravian music and famous European music of the era alike. Keep your eyes posted for these performances- they are inexpensive and offer great musical significance for our area.

The Moravian Archives

If you’re into historical antiquities, look no further- the Archives just off of the Church green holds a great value for a sightseer. Relics of days gone by, old texts and journals, and other treasures fill up two stories of this old house. Did I mention there’s a gift shop behind the archives on the lower level (there’s definitely a gift shop).

If you’re a musician, get ready for musical nirvana. Since the Moravians have always been interested in preserving their history and their artifacts, there are instruments on the second floor that are dated anywhere from the 1750’s through the 1920’s. Brass instruments galore- including over-the-shoulder style instruments and valved trombones.

The next room over provides ample string instruments and woodwind instruments (among a few other curiosities) . Selections include violins and violas, old bows, some conducting batons, an old bassoon, an oboe or two, clarinets… well, you get the picture. The collection is staggering and is definitely worth a view if you’ve got the time to stop in. The tour guides are knowledgeable and are willing to help answer as many questions as they can to better aid your experience in the archives.

The archives does run on limited hours, so to be sure that you’re able to tour, you should do a Google search for the Lititz Moravian Archives to see what their current offerings are. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!

The Trombone Choir

Of course, we’ll have to end our wonderful musings of Lititz with the best known Moravian musical group of all- the Trombone Choir. The Trombone Choir has been constantly in service since the early days of the Moravian Church in Lititz (well over 200 years of performance). Originally, a family of trombones were the only instruments used in this group; a pairing of soprano, alto, tenor (the regular trombone you see), and bass trombones made up the entire choir.

Trombones were the likely instrument for quite a few reasons during this time. First, they were the only brass instrument that could play chromatically. That is to say, they were the only instruments that could play all of the notes of the keyboard within their individual ranges. Trumpets, horns, and serpents of the time had very splotchy performance capabilities; and thus were not used in the group at this time.

Another key factor for the trombone is that it matched up perfectly with the human voice pairings. Soprano, alto, tenor, and bass parts could all be matched either to the pitches of the choir or could be used to create additional harmonies.

Of course, the soprano trombone was notoriously difficult to play and the speed of performance was limited to what the musicians could play with their slide motions… so eventually other instruments were allowed to join the choir as well to play whatever ranges best suited their particular capabilities.

Today, all instruments of the brass family are allowed to play and the music has become more complicated to allow for more flourished parts (descants) to be added to the texture of the music for a more virtuosic overtone to their traditional songs and hymns. Though rarely done, sometimes you can still see all four traditional trombone parts being played if you are able to attend a live concert.

All Things Considered…

If you haven’t made the trip to Lititz to see the Lititz Moravian Church before, it’s definitely a highly recommended place to stop- especially if you’re a historian or a music lover.

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