What was your journey to become a recording artist?

Since he began leading his first choir as a middle schooler, Stephen Edwards has curated a long musical resume. But it wasn't until 2023, at age 47, that the director of music and worship at Union Church of Hinsdale added solo recording artist to his list of musical accomplishments.

"I've always wanted to make a CD," Edwards said.

But instead of the collection of Broadway hits or standards that he once contemplated, the former full-time professional vocalist recorded the first comprehensive album of Franz Joseph Haydn's Scottish and Welsh folksongs, known collectively as Schottische und Wallische Volkslieder. The texts, all performed in German, range in subject from love to war and from despair to joy.

Edwards said he set out to sing just a few of Haydn's songs as part of a recital, but became intrigued with the relative obscurity of the 37 folksongs he discovered.

"It took me probably six months," Edwards said of his search for the printed music.

As for the recording, that was up to him. After about nine months of instruction and practice to learn not only the music, but the German pronunciations, Edwards completed the recording under a contract with Lexicon Classics in January. It's now widely available on Amazon, Spotify and other platforms.

The deep dive Edwards took to find the music for his recital-turned-recording wasn't the first time that a potential obstacle became a turning point in his musical career. After just a year singing with the Chicago Symphony Chorus as a baritone, a vocal injury required Edwards to undergo surgery.

"After the surgery, I was a tenor," said Edwards. With his new, higher register, Edwards spent 16 more years singing professionally with the chorus, winning two Grammy awards along the way. "That was a lovely time," Edwards said.

But the high note of his career continues to be Allegrezza, a vocal ensemble that he and husband Jonathan Pugh created 10 years ago.

"It's been one of the greatest joys of my life," Edwards said of Allegrezza, which actually means "joy" in Italian.

Edwards said he and Pugh set out to bring together talented people who find joy both in singing and in sharing their voice with others. In addition to sharing music, Allegrezza also donates a portion of the proceeds it raises to various non-profit causes throughout the community.

Edwards has been part of the Union Church staff for just over nine years, overseeing the music program and assisting with worship ministry. The church's music program includes a chancel choir, a contemporary praise ensemble known as "WE," a handbell choir, a children's chimes ensemble, and more. Edwards plans music for the church's Sunday services, funerals, weddings and special celebrations, as well.

Edwards said his friends and colleagues at Union Church are among his greatest supporters, and many were present for the album release party held at the church in April. More than 100 people, including Edwards' parents and brother, came out to celebrate the latest accomplishment in Edwards' long and still expanding musical journey.

- by Sandy Illian Bosch

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean