McHenry Unitarian church choir finding roots in Romania

Unitarian choir to perform in historic churches of Transylvania region

McHENRY – The Adult Choir of Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry is going back to its roots.

With the help of a $3,000 Challenge Grant from the Unitarian Universalist Program and funds raised through its December Holiday Concert, the choir will travel to the Transylvania region of Romania from June 7-21. The area is known as the birthplace of Unitarianism in the mid-16th century, and the choir will perform four concerts in its historic churches.

“The goal of the trip is to create new partnerships with churches in Romania through music,” choir director Thomas Steffens said. “We’re going to meet new friends and create new relationships through the language of music.”

Although the Adult Choir has traveled locally in the past, this will be its first performance abroad. Of the 28 choir members, 22 will be making the trip. Steffens and the choir typically perform four concerts open to the public each year. The group’s past appearances include the Woodstock Area Community Ministry Concert, the Festival of the Voice at the Raue Center for the Arts in Crystal Lake and the Western Crescent Fire Festival at other Unitarian churches in northern Illinois.

In preparation for the Romania performances, the Adult Choir has completed numerous rehearsals, as well as concerts in DeKalb, Elgin and McHenry, to practice its one-hour set consisting of 15 songs.

Each concert will consist of three parts – one featuring traditional religious songs, the second featuring traditional American songs such as “Skip to my Lou” and “Cool Water,” and the third featuring songs from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Instead of solely performing traditional church music, the Adult Choir incorporates songs from other artists such as Elvis Presley. Through its unique song selections and performances, the group has grown close together.

“This choir is really a family,” Steffens said. “We work hard. They really want everything to be the best that they can.”

After 27 years as a member of the choir, Steffens noted a stylistic change among the group besides the change in choir membership.

“The choir has kind of evolved from a traditional church choir to something quite diverse,” Steffens said.

For Steffens, the four concerts in Romania will be his last as a member of the Adult Choir. After these performances, Steffens plans to retire.

“I’ve been here so long, and everybody has been so wonderful. It’s really hard to leave,” Steffens said. “I’m not tired of it, I’m just tired.”

Donations to help fund the Romania trip can be made through the form of a check to the Adult Choir at Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry.

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