After two years of preparation, the Gonzaga University Chamber Chorus held a live streamed concert performing “Considering Matthew Shepard” on Sunday, March 22 in the Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center.
Originally, this production was scheduled for spring 2020, however, due to the start of the coronavirus pandemic, it was pushed back to this year.
“It was, you know, our spring break and we’re just about ready to perform, we would have come back from spring break and then we would have had our production week and then we would have performed it but obviously with COVID [that didn’t happen],” said Karlee Ludwig, a junior soprano in the ensemble.
“Considering Matthew Shepard” is an oratorio — a musical composition that utilizes solo voices, orchestration, a vocal ensemble and narration to tell a story. In this case, it tells the story of the hate crime against Matthew Shepard, an openly gay college student who was murdered in Wyoming in October 1998. It was composed by Craig Hella Johnson, originally performed by his vocal ensemble Conspire in 2016.
The original studio recording was nominated for a Grammy.
GU’s Chamber Chorus partnered with Spokane Kantorei to perform the vocal pieces. Spokane-based, all-inclusive choir Spectrum Singers, also collaborated with the two ensembles performing spoken, virtual narrations.
Sunday’s performance began with an opening welcome message from conductor and choral director Timothy Westerhaus, calling viewers to empathy and action.
“We ask you to be open to hearing this story,” Westerhaus said. “All of us who are watching and performing come from a wide variety of beliefs. We invite you to embody a spirit of openness, of deep listening, of setting aside any external discord, and to consider the humanity of each person involved in this story.”
The performance opened with three pieces in “The Prologue” movement. Each one set the scene for the story ahead. “Cattle, Horses, Sky and Grass,” grounded listeners in the vivid fields of Wyoming, Shepard’s home. Its following piece, “Ordinary Boy,” chronicled the thoughts and life of Shepard before his death, showing his profound relatability to all.
“Considering Matthew Shepard’s” second movement, titled “The Passion,” details his murder and different perspectives during the fallout. Such perspectives included his murderers, Shepard himself, protesters at his funeral and the fence where Shepard was tied to and tortured on before his death. Many of the perspectives were given as solo performances.
“That part is very challenging to sing because there are some moments where we assume, or we as singers, have to take a role and sing words that we would never want to sing,” Ludwig said. “We tell a part of the story [about] the Westboro Baptist Church, protesters who protested outside of Matthew’s funeral, and some of those really hateful and horrific things that they said, but that still is a very essential part of the story.”
The final movement, “The Epilogue,” closed on a hopeful note, calling listeners to action.
“My favorite moment in the performance is the final movement, ‘All of Us,’” said sophomore alto Natalie Massadorf via email. “I think it’s a beautiful call for unity and compassion amongst us all. The message of hope is the perfect way to close out the piece, and calls listeners to reflect upon the impact and importance of Matt’s story.”
GU Chamber Chorus and Spokane Kantori’s concert delivered a powerful, emotional story about an ordinary boy. Individuals can rewatch the performance on the Chamber Chorus’ YouTube page. The program is linked in the video description. Viewers can check it out for lyrics, credits and recommendations on LGBTQ organizations to get involved with.
“I’ll speak for myself and say that I was moved to tears many times feeling the outpouring of love, warmth and heart-felt story telling from all of those on stage,” said Ludwig. “It was surreal for this performance to finally come together after nearly two years, and to feel the many moving parts and community connections meet together so beautifully. I feel so honored to have been part of this project, and it is a work that I will remember for the rest of my life.”