by Charlotte Hings and Miti Patel
In October 1998, Matthew Shepard, an American student at the University of Wyoming, was kidnapped, severely beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die in a lonely field, all because of his sexuality. This tragedy influenced laws against hate crimes, and both perpetrators were sentenced to two life sentences. This past October marked the 20th anniversary of his death.
The University of Waterloo Chamber Choir and the Grand Philharmonic Chamber Singers, with Artistic Director, Mark Vuorinen, presented Considering Matthew Shepard, composed by Craig Hella Johnson on Nov. 17 and 18 at the Hagey Hall Theater.
This piece incorporates a variety of musical styles and texts, including passages from Matthew’s personal journal. Lesléa Newman was a keynote speaker at an event hosted by the University of Wyoming’s LGBTQ+ Association that Matthew was involved in planning shortly before his death. Newman created October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard, which was a source for some of the content of Considering Matthew Shepard. This piece has been performed in many places in the U.S and this past weekend, was the first time it was performed in Canada.
The performance depicted an innocent boy subjected to a brutal hate crime: it presented a personal moving story which was also informative. It was told powerfully through poems and songs sung beautifully by the choir singers, accompanied with captivating music by the orchestra, and projections of background images, provoking varying emotions throughout the moving performance. The images included photographs of a large empty field with a fence to set the scene; silhouette portraits of different indiviudals; and others relating to the content of the poems such as moving images of fire and picture of a night sky.
The piece was a show of respect and support whilst also exploring the emotions of sorrow, pain and heartbreak as reactions to the tragedy. Overall, the show conveyed a message of hope and standing together in support of equality through the emphasis on acceptance, resulting in a standing ovation from the entire audience.