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.”