Author’s note: This article was originally published in the June 28 issue of the Lititz Record-Express. For more information, visit http://lititzrecord.com/2012/06/what-makes-these-fireworks-fabulous/.
Lititz has many cherished Independence Day traditions, from queens on stage to babies on parade, but nothing holds a candle to the grand finale — the fireworks.
Each year, shortly after a queen is crowned, thousands flock to the field behind Lititz Springs Park to witness the beautiful bombs bursting in air, illuminating the night sky for miles around. It’s a continuing legacy that encompasses both power and beauty, in honor of the birth of America.
Organizers for the 195th annual Lititz Springs Park Fourth of July celebration have been busy preparing its show-stopper for next Wednesday night.
“Things are progressing very nicely. We are in the home stretch,” said Ron Reedy, president and historian of the Lititz Springs Park Board. “Our fireworks are the best on the East Coast right now.”
This is the fourth year that Lititz-based audio company Clair Global and Celebration Fireworks Inc. from Allentown have worked together to provide the 30-minute pyromusical display to this year’s theme, “Our American Heroes.”
“Lititz is really fortunate to have an organization like that (Clair Global) because they provide all of the audio throughout the day and the lighting and staging,” Reedy said.
Many of the songs will be focused on honoring the veterans, but there will be wide variety of genres to entertain the crowd, including country, dub-step and classic rock.
Without giving too many details away, Celebration lead designer Chris Hopkins and Clair Global operations manager Matt Clair say the audience is, once again, in for a treat this year.
“There are a couple of segments within the show that are hugely tied into the theme, and there will be very special moments in the show,” Hopkins said.
Between 10,000 to 13,000 spectators are expected to filter into the private park, which is owned by the Lititz Moravian Congregation. Though the park board is responsible for providing the facility, insurance and other logistics for the event, Reedy said its members are also in for a surprise.
“It’s a very sophisticated, high-tech presentation. The board is informed to a certain point,” he said. “We leave it up to their discretion. They know what we want.”
Plans for the fireworks display began in January, and plenty of discussion was held to make sure the audio and visual coordination is a success. A Lititz Springs Park committee member, Clair has worked closely with Hopkins in selecting and setting up the songs.
“Anytime there’s a question about one of the songs, I make sure I approve it with them (the park board). I bring it up in the meetings,” Clair said. “There are times it has to be OK with the committee to make sure we’re all on the same page. Planning has never been a problem.”
Everything is done digitally to create the fireworks display. Songs play an important role in getting the right audio editing down. Clair uses a software called Pro Tools to line up the songs’ time codes with the left-right audio track. Generally, the songs are either three to four minutes long.
“We usually take a verse out of a song. That way we can keep it tight and each song should have its own character, its own story, and its own look,” Hopkins said.
Working with a couple of different softwares, Hopkins begins the tedious design process of simulating the songs, meaning he puts the music in the computer and creates the display. Sometimes, simulation can take hours depending on the song’s beat and tempo.
“(The simulation) shows me visually what it’s going to happen. So it’s a place where I can test out concepts and theories and see what it looks like before I go loading tubes and firing things off,” he said. “It’s very helpful.”
Afterwards, Hopkins uses a computer database/media player program called ScriptMaker 2000 to program a set of instructions or coding to determine the certain points and time to fire.
“Not only does it play the music, but it shows me the different wave (lengths) so I can place at a very specific time, see how the waves form and can hear it,” Hopkins said. “I point and click at that time, then I indicate which fireworks I want to go off at this particular time from this particular place.”
Celebration Fireworks has an inventory of about 1,100 different firework effects. Hopkins digitally picks which types will be loaded up. Once they are entered into the computer, the machine uploads into different firing systems, which then supplies the electricity in various firing positions.
“Each firework is hooked up to a particular point,” Hopkins said. “When the computer tells that particular point to fire, enough electricity goes through a wire, which ignites an electric match, which lights the fuse and sends the firework up in the sky.”
But like any event, there’s always a possibility that something can go wrong, and there are tedious steps that need to be followed to prevent it from happening.
“I have to get it and insert it right into the program, and then the person pulling the inventory has to make sure that he pulls the right shell. Then the person writing (the proper indicators) on the shell makes sure it gets the proper cue like when it’s going and where it’s going to be connected,” Hopkins said. “Then the guy in the field has to take that shell and put it in the correct tube and hook it up to the correct port on the rail. It’s six or so places where if anything can go wrong, it’s wrong.”
The beauty of digitally planning fireworks is the ability to pre-program the length of time for them to fire and then explode.
“Let’s say a 3-inch shell takes 3.8 seconds to go from the firing up to 300 feet in the sky before it explodes. So it calculates, it knows that I want that shell to explode at 17 minutes and 37 seconds in the show, so it’s going to fire that shell 3.8 seconds earlier than that,” Hopkins said. “It has time to get up in the air and blow in the exact beat of music in order to explode. That’s really cool.”
Multiple test runs are done to see if the digital display is in-sync. Hopkins, Clair and their crew will arrive in Lititz on the morning of July 3 to set up their equipment at the park. They sometimes work through the night in order to get everything ready.
Clair Global will provide about 20 speakers and 12 low-end cabinet speakers for the bass, which will be located at the fence down by the baseball field.
Clair said people with sensitive ears should be cautious to where they sit at the park.
“For people who have never been there, the laws of physics says the lower the decibel level you want to hear, the farther you should sit from where the actual speakers are located,” he said. “The fireworks are definitely the loudest part of the event. If you sit next to the speakers, it’ll be loud. If you sit far away, they won’t be as loud. I know it sounds stupid, but a lot of people don’t understand that.”
Safety is taken very seriously when it comes to firing off fireworks at a public event like in Lititz. Celebrations Fireworks does comply in the standards set up by the National Fire Prevention Association. Hopkins and his crew have taken courses in safety training and follow specific guidelines.
“The things we worry about are the safety zones, how much space there is around us. Depending on how much of a safety zone there is, we can only fire a certain number of caliber shells – 3-inch, 4-inch, 5-inch, 8-inch,” Hopkins said. “The bigger the shell, the larger the safety zone. We have to be very careful knowing where our fireworks are, where the audience is, and where the roads are, buildings and what not. One of the ways to make it most safe for us is to use computers to fire. That way, we are nowhere near the product when it lights up.”
With the exception of smoke obscuring the field, Hopkins has never encountered a major safety problem while in Lititz.
“There’s not much you can do about that. It depends on the direction and how much wind there is,” he said. “Lititz has always been great with smoke. I never had a problem with smoke clearing. I think the wind’s been pretty much blowing from behind the audience, and it always goes away from the audience. That’s always been good.”
Lititz is the second oldest continuous 4th of July celebration in the country. The oldest event is in Bristol, Rhode Island. In the past, folks from California and up and down the Eastern seaboard and those who were born and raised in the area have returned to see Lititz’s signature event.
“People are just in awe of what is usually shown,” Reedy said. “Each year the choreography, music, and types of fireworks display gets better and better and better.”
As a designer, Hopkins said it’s important that people are enjoying themselves.
“There’s a lot of electricity in the air, and that’s how we try to lead the show,” he said. “Matt takes the temperature around the town and gets the impression from the organizing crew. He said at last year’s show he received the most positive feedback that he’s ever received. I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
Clair compares seeing the fireworks in Lititz is like going to a concert at the Giant Center in Hershey because both can give spectators the thrill of a lifetime.
“Everyone is cheering between each song, and the vibe is really cool down on the field,” he said.
Organizers are always looking to add new features to top the previous year’s event. Since spectators won’t have the luxury of having the long 4th of July weekend, Reedy hopes they take advantage on what this small town has to offer.
“Lititz is a real nice community. No question about it,” he said.