Mind & Spirit

Rockford Choral Union’s Holiday Tradition

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This concert brings the community together each year to celebrate the life of Jesus Christ. Learn what to expect at this year’s concert and find out how the Rockford Choral Union will pay tribute to a longtime performer.

More than 120 chorus singers from 60 churches around the region are going to perform “Messiah” this year at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, in Rockford. (Rockford Choral Union photos)

More than 120 chorus singers from 60 churches around the region are going to perform “Messiah” this year at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, in Rockford. (Rockford Choral Union photos)

The Rockford Choral Union’s annual presentation of George Frederic Handel’s “Messiah” is more than just a concert. Its purpose is to celebrate the life of Jesus Christ.

“We go through the biblical story of Christ including prophesy, his birth, life, crucifixion, resurrection and glorification,” says Webb Stevens, vice president of the board of governors for the Rockford Choral Union.

This year’s performances take place Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 at 3 p.m. at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 920 3rd Ave., in Rockford. The event is free, but donations are accepted.

Music Director Michael Beert will lead the three-part oratorio, an opera-like format.

The concert will be performed by more than 120 chorus singers representing 60 churches from northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, including soloists, a large Baroque chamber orchestra, harpsichord, trumpet and organ.

The singers, who are volunteers, participate in seven rehearsals before the performances.

Community members look forward to the concert each year, no matter the weather conditions. Last year, when a powerful snowstorm swept through the area, more than 150 people still braved the treacherous conditions to attend the performance.

“Even with the snow, we had more than 80 singers and all supporting musicians show up to put on the concert that day,” Stevens says. “If only one person had shown up, we still would’ve put on the performance because this concert is for them, not us.”

Three new soloists are involved with this year’s concerts. Singing tenor is Michael Day, a Rockford native who’s returning to the area from Michigan, where he sang with Michigan Opera Theatre. Beert says Day’s musicianship and technique are “fantastic.” Sisters Susan Nelson, a soprano, and Joanna Gates, a mezzo soprano, both from Princeton, Ill., will sing the female upper register voices. Nelson lives and works in Chicago and is a member of the Lyric Opera Chorus and the Grant Park Symphony Chorus. Gates resides on the east coast and works with Grammy Award-winning choral group, The Crossing.

Performing the “Messiah” once again as baritone soloist is Nicolai Janitzky, of Belvidere. He also performs with the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

This year’s performance also pays tribute to the late Elsie Lundvall, who died earlier this year at age 96. Lundvall performed “Messiah” for more than 70 years.

“She was our rock and we miss her because she was a part of us,” Stevens says.

The Choral Union purchased music stand lights in her honor. The “Lundvall Lights” will be used during the performances and future concerts.

Stevens hopes “Messiah” gets concertgoers into the Christmas spirit.

“This is the oldest uninterrupted tradition in Rockford and for good reason,” Stevens says. “There’s just a spiritual lift that happens every time this concert takes place. We want to get out the message of Christ, and this does that.”

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