Considering Matthew Shepard a work of "great hope, compassion, and love."

Friday, November 9, 2018

Field and Fence

Twenty years ago, a gay university student in Laramie, Wyoming, was driven to the outskirts of town. He was beaten, robbed, tied to a fence, and left to die. For 18 hours, Matthew Shepard hung bleeding, in near-freezing temperatures. The passing cyclist who found him thought at first that he was a scarecrow. He spent several days in a coma in hospital before dying.

However, despite that senseless and dreadful death, Shepard's memory lives on. He became the symbol of the mindless violence that continued against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people (LGBTQ). He was the inspiration when American laws against violent hate crimes were adjusted to include sexual orientation. And just a few weeks ago, in the presence of more than 2000 mourners, Shepard’s remains were interred in the Washington National Cathedral – a public and safe final resting place.

As the struggles of homophobia, prejudice and hate continue to be present in our communities, American composer Craig Hella Johnson created a musical memorial, Considering Matthew Shepard that University of Waterloo Music Professor Mark Vuorinen describes as "a work of great hope, compassion, and love."

Considering Matthew Shepard is more than a memorial piece for a single life, though it does do that, too,” explained Vuorinen, who is the artistic director of the Grand Philharmonic Choir and the University of Waterloo Chamber Choir. “This piece is a story for everyone.  The music deliberately bridges a wide range of styles and genres.  It is accessible and emotional. Its text asks the audience to be ‘open’ to hearing the story and to ‘listen,’ making the listener an active participant in hearing this tragic story.”

Performed by the University of Waterloo Chamber Choir and the Grand Philharmonic’s 30-voice Chamber Singers ensemble, this extraordinary 100-minute oratorio recalling Shepard’s life and death will premiere in Canada for the first time at the University of Waterloo’s Humanities Theatre on Saturday, November 17 and Sunday, November 18.

“Through Johnson's work, I am able to add my voice to the cry for justice,” reflected Biomedical Science student Alex Skipper, who sings with the choir. “Throughout the piece, I feel joy, gladness, contentment, fear, anger, grief, and longing in a complicated homogeneity. However, what binds all those other feelings together is a sense of hope and resilience. As someone who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community,” he added, “being involved in a project like this one that recognizes us, and brings to light the fear and hatred that is thrown our way, has been so powerful and moving.”

Conrad Grebel University College is honoured to be sponsoring this Canadian premiere of Considering Matthew Shepard. “Remembering Matthew’s tragic story through this powerful piece of music is an affirmation of love and inclusion in a sometimes divisive world,” noted Marlene Epp, dean at Grebel.

"Music helps us to find meaning and hope in tragic events,” said Grebel President Marcus Shantz. “Despite its difficult subject, this is a beautiful, moving and ultimately uplifting work."

“Seeing the community I live in, and am a part of, come together to sing in recognition, remorse, and justice has given me a sense of hope and belonging that I've never really felt before,” added Skipper. “I can't express how humbling and gratifying it is.” 

Considering Matthew Shepard

Sat. Nov. 17, 7:30 p.m.
Sun. Nov. 18, 3 p.m.
University of Waterloo Humanities Theatre
Featuring the Grand Philharmonic Chamber Singers and the University of Waterloo Chamber Choir
Tickets: Online or 519-578-1570 or from University of Waterloo box office, 519-888-4908 
Prices: Student: $13; Under 30: $13; Regular:  $29.

This portrayal doesn't spare listeners from the bigoted words of the Westboro Baptist Church members, who picketed Shepard's funeral. Vuorinen warned of the strong language and "dark moments" in the piece.

Considering Matthew Shepard

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