IC Choir Performs Widely Acclaimed Concert ‘Considering Matthew Shepard’

By Kerry C. Regan, April 12, 2019
Pre- and post-concert sessions will address the social justice issues raised in the show.
Choir on stage

The Ithaca College Choir will be one of the first college groups to perform the concert.  

(Photo submitted)

When the Ithaca College Choir performs Considering Matthew Shepard this Tuesday, April 16, they will be among the first, other than the show’s originators, to present it. The concert-length work by Craig Hella Johnson, first presented in 2016, mixes a wide range of musical styles with soulful recitations to tell the poignant story of Matthew Shepard’s life and tragic death.

Shepard was a gay man who was murdered near Laramie, Wyoming, in October 1998, when he was severely beaten and left to die. His story has inspired films, novels, plays, songs, the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, and, more recently, Considering Matthew Shepard.

The free Ithaca College Choir concert begins at 8:15 p.m. in Ford Hall of the James J. Whalen Center for Music. A 7 p.m. pre-concert lecture by Dann Coakwell, assistant professor and member of the Conspirare choral group, which performed the show originally, will offer background on the piece’s origins and insights gained from performing it. A post-concert discussion will be led by Raza Rumi, director of the Park Center for Independent Media, and participants will include Luca Maurer, director of the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services, and members of the choir.

According to The Bay Area Reporter, the show “has the richness, depth and complexity to compel repeated hearing, and the power to get you the first time out.” A two-CD set of the work performed by Conspirare made its debut at No. 4 on Billboard’s Traditional Classical Chart. Samples can be heard on the Conspirare website.

“When I heard it, I immediately wanted to do it,” said Janet Galván, IC’s director of choral activities. She had conducted Johnson’s music before — “I find him to be a very sensitive composer,” she said — and in this work the message is as important as the music. “We’re Ithaca. This is a piece that addresses social justice, and that is most certainly a part of our mission statement as a college. I just felt that we should be one of the first colleges to do it. In addition, it’s the 20th anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepard.”

“Considering Matthew Shepard”

Tuesday, April 16

7:15 p.m. • A pre-concert lecture by Dann Coakwell, assistant professor and member of the Conspirare choral group, which performed the show originally, will offer background on the piece’s origins and insights gained from performing it.

8:15 p.m. • A free concert by the Ithaca College Choir in Ford Hall of the James J. Whalen Center for Music, followed by a post-concert discussion.

The lectures will be held in the Hockett Family Recital Hall.

Arranging for the concert had its challenges. The music only became available in September, the orchestra parts in early March. Despite the tight schedule, Galván decided to move forward with the project because the choir’s student advisory board let her know that it was important to them, and Maurer supported the idea to stage the concert. In addition, she was confident that she had the right soloists to perform the work this year. 

The concert is also unusual in that the 48-member choir will forgo its usual practice of all acoustic singing to have soloists use microphones — a necessity to perform in the show’s many styles, supported by an eight-piece orchestra of faculty members and students (piano, guitar, clarinet, four strings and percussion).

The show has attracted a wide range of sponsors. From Ithaca College they are: the School of Music; The Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services; the Park Center for Independent Media; International Programs and Extended Studies; the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival; and the Provost’s Office, which awarded an Academic Challenge Grant to make the performance possible. The Matthew Shepard Foundation also provided support with information and photographs.