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‘The Winter Rose’ in Mount Morris

Free cantata will feature singers from throughout the Sauk Valley

MOUNT MORRIS – For the past 13 years, singers from local congregations all over northern Illinois have come together to perform a free community Christmas cantata.

Sunday, singers and instrumentalists will present “The Winter Rose,” by Joseph and Pamela Martin. It’s a bit of an encore – the cantata, which uses traditional carols, newly composed anthems, and narration to tell the story of the life of Christ from prophesy to the passion, first was presented by the group in 2008.

One major difference this year is that 95-year-old Nelson Miller, the man who promoted, directed, and financed the local cantata since its inception in 2004, has passed the torch to Karen Larson and Linda Borneman of Trinity Lutheran Church in Mount Morris.

Miller and his wife Joanne started the cantata when they moved to Oregon in 2003, after having done others in Virginia.

In their first year in the village, they reached out to local churches and had about 40 participants.

The event has been put on by musicians, vocalists, and volunteers ever since. Volunteers have promoted the cantata by creating a website, posting fliers and sending letters inviting people to participate.

Miller began his musical journey at the High School of Music & Art in New York, which later merged with the School of Performing Arts to become Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School – the school the 1980 movie “Fame” is based on.

He jokes that, “Everyone else went on to become famous, and Miller ended up being a choir director.”

Miller plans to be a spectator at this year’s event. Matthew Guschl of Davis Junction will be conducting the chorus – which will feature singers from Ashton, Byron, Davis Junction, Dixon, Forreston, Freeport, Leaf River, Mount Morris, Oregon, Polo, Rochelle, Rockford and Winnebago – with Karen Larson accompanying on the piano as well as assisting in coordinating the cantata.

The audience also is invited to get involved: The concert concludes with Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” a tradition since the first cantata in 2004, and all are welcome to participate.

To attend

MOUNT MORRIS – "The Winter Rose" by Joseph and Pamela Martin will be performed at 3 p.m. Sunday at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, 308 E. Brayton Road.

The public is encouraged to arrive by 2:45 for preconcert performances by Bryan Gagliano on organ, harpist Kit Reynolds, and Andy Eckardt directing a brass group. There will be a special number by violinist Jennie Saltzgiver during intermission. The concert will conclude with attendees invited to join the choir to perform Handel's Hallelujah chorus followed by a reception in the church's Fellowship Hall.

Admission is free; donations will be accepted to support food pantries Loaves and Fish in Mount Morris and Life-Line in Oregon.

Contact Sandra Stengel at or 815-734-4923 for more information.

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