Rockford Choral Union’s ‘Messiah’ is Back

A Rockford tradition is helping people tune into a more peaceful, meaningful and spiritual side of the Christmas season.

Handel’s “Messiah” will be performed at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 26 and Sunday, Nov. 27 at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 930 Third Ave., Rockford. Both performances will also be live-streamed on Rockford Choral Union’s Facebook page.

President of the Rockford Choral Union (RCU) Dale Johnson says for many people, “Messiah” is the beginning and the focus of the Christmas season.

“Messiah” has endured, he says, because of the message and the great music.

“There are times in our lives when we feel disconnected from one another and experiences like the pandemic gave us a feeling of hopelessness and doom. But God, through Jesus Christ, has communicated to us his unconditional love and gives us hope, regardless of what is happening. Audiences feel uplifted and energized by the production,” he says.

Conductor Michael Beert says “Messiah” is a gift to the community.

“We give this gift to the community to help celebrate Advent and the Christmas holiday. It’s an important message to those in need of spiritual renewal,” he says.

Beert is a cellist with the Rockford Symphony Orchestra and played the cello for the annual production for 33 years, the last three years serving as the RCU conductor.

“As a cellist, I see how important it is for the conductor to get the musicians to not only play well and be in tune with each other, but also make sure the message comes out clearly,” he says.

Soprano Susan Nelson of Chicago sang with the choral union in 2019 and 2022 and has also performed in the choir and as a soloist for “Messiah” many times throughout the Chicago area. She says it always offers something new to audiences, whether they are hearing it for the first time or attend every year.

“For so many people, ‘Messiah’ is a tradition,” she says. “Even before I started singing, I was familiar with the music because it has been a part of my whole life.”

She enjoys performing in Rockford because although some cuts are made to shorten the performance, the entire story is told, and the story is more meaningful each year, she says.

“As we get older, we get more sentimental. When I first performed ‘Messiah,’ I thought mainly about how I was singing. Now, I am so comfortable with what I am doing, I have the freedom to be more expressive and can think about meeting the expectations of those in the audience,” she says.

The production will feature a 15-piece chamber orchestra, an organist, four soloists, a harpsichordist, and up to 100 voices representing many churches and faith organizations in the state line area and beyond.

Last year’s Covid requirements and scaled down version of “Messiah” didn’t deter people from enjoying the concert, which was live-streamed for the first time.

“We were surprised, if not shocked, by how many people came to the concert in spite of having to wear masks and social distance,” Johnson says. “People live life under the assumption they are in control, but the pandemic reminded us we are not in control of much around us, so the ‘Messiah’ was one way people could move forward with hope because of the story being told about God’s promise that He is always with us.”

“Messiah” is an English-spoken oratorio composed by George Frideric Handel. First performed in Dublin, Ireland in 1742, the work has become one of the best-known and most frequently performed choral works in western music.

There is no admission fee for RCU’s performance but a free-will offering will be received. Masks are recommended, but not required. ❚