This article was first written and published in 2006 for a collection celebrating
Lititz’ 250th anniversary.
Musical dynasties are not uncommon in European history. One thinks immediately of the Bach family in Germany and the Strausses of Vienna. Lititz can boast of five generations of Lutz family members who were and remain active in the musical life of the community.
A butcher by trade, Benjamin Fry “Benny” Lutz was the patriarch of the assembly. As early as 1913 he formed the Lutz Family Quintette, consisting of himself, daughter Ruth, son Benjamin, and nephew Winfield Wilson on cornet, and son John playing the baritone horn. For several years the group played for church and community gatherings and fairs throughout the county, gaining a wide reputation for their entertainment skills. Then tragedy struck; daughter Ruth succumbed in the great influenza pandemic of 1918, dying at the youthful age of 17. Benny’s wife Nora never quite recovered from the loss of her only daughter, but Benny continued for decades to encourage the youth of the community in both musical and athletic endeavors. Reconstituted as The Lutz Family Band, he and his descendants brightened lives in such venues as church picnics, Conestoga View, area fairs and farm shows, and the county jail.
As director of the Sunday School orchestra at the Lititz Moravian Church, Benny was a familiar figure to many. He was also a prolific hymn tune composer, setting the texts of a number of different writers. Collections of his hymns were published in Lititz in 1942 and 1943. These booklets include “I Love Jesus” with words by Ella Buch, which bears the notation “This song was first sung in the Moravian Church, at Lititz Pa. by the infant class on Christmas 1907.” The song “Closer to Jesus,” to a text of the Rev. H. J. Heydt of the School of the Bible in Lancaster, was included in Tabernacle Hymns No. 4, becoming the first hymn written in Lititz in more than a century to find its way into a nationally distributed hymnal.
Benny’s sons were gifted both in church music and in the more popular music of the day. Besides being stalwart members of various vocal and brass choirs, John, Benjamin, and Robert all played the musical saw, while Henry held forth on banjo, spoons, and bones. For a few years in mid-century Benjamin and his daughter Marian entertained on the marimba, an instrument which enjoyed great popularity at that time.
Robert, a French horn player, joined the Army Band during World War II and was sent to Japan near the very end of hostilities. Feeling a deep concern for the people of that country, he cherished a dream of returning some day as a missionary. Though he trained for the ministry and was ordained in the Church of the Nazarene, he was never to realize the fulfillment of that desire. He inherited his father’s gift for hymn writing, and in the 1940s saw publication of “Crucified for Me” and “I Can Always Sing to Him,” for both of which he wrote both text and music.
The third generation continued the musical tradition of the family. John’s daughter Nancy and Benjamin’s daughter Thelma both had lovely voices which graced church choirs and family band concerts alike. Nancy’s younger sister Patricia is a clarinetist and pianist who also directs bell choir. Besides daughters Thelma and Marian, mentioned already, Benjamin also had a son Benjamin who, after completing studies at Lebanon Valley College, went to New York City to try his hand at a career in show business. The possessor of a fine tenor voice, he sang for a few years as a member of the vocal group Mello-Larks. When the heavy touring schedule proved to have a negative impact on his family, however, he abandoned the life of the professional musician and moved to California, where he became an office manager.
In the 1950s Patricia and another cousin, Roberta, daughter of Robert, starred in an original play, written by Lititz historian Mary Huebner and titled “The Singing School.” This local production, directed by Julia Zercher Keehn, also featured Julia’s husband George and contralto Jean Hanna Bender, a member of another Lititz family noted for their fine singing voices.
As interest in preserving and performing Moravian music of the 18th and early 19th centuries increased, Julia Keehn and Thelma Lutz Stauffer, together with Thelma’s daughter Marilyn, formed The Moramus Trio. This ensemble was active through the 1960s and ‘70s, singing at various local churches. Marilyn’s brother Bill Stauffer is well-known for his stirring solos at Lititz community functions, including Memorial Day services and events in Lititz Springs Park.
Representing the fifth, and thus-far youngest, generation of the Lutz family is Debra Copenhaver, daughter of Marilyn. Like her mother before her, Deb was selected as first chair soprano in State Chorus during her senior year of high school. She then went on to study at Eastman Conservatory. An accomplished violist as well as vocalist, she now teaches privately in the State College area, while also finding time to sing in Nightshade, a band that does music of the 1970s and ‘80s. And just to maintain connection to her Lutz family heritage, Deb also plays the saw, a skill passed on to her by her great-great-uncle Robert on one of his last visits to Lititz.
Thus for nearly a century Lititz has benefited from the musical ministrations of members of this extraordinarily talented family. We are certainly fortunate to be the recipients of their gifts.