by CAROL ANNE SMOCK
Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, was brutally murdered 22 years ago, and his death served as a catalyst for legislative and cultural change. In November, the Bloomington Chamber Singers (BCS) will explore Shepard’s legacy in its performance of Craig Hella Johnson’s fusion- oratorio Considering Matthew Shepard.
The oratorio begins in a tranquil, pastoral setting and celebrates Shepard’s life as “an ordinary boy—he had his foibles like everybody else,” says Gerry Sousa, BCS artistic director. But, after the Prologue, the composition delves into the unsettling details of Shepard’s death, examining the violent act from multiple perspectives, including those of Shepard’s killers and even the fence to which he was bound.
Multiple musical genres are part of the production. Sousa says Johnson made this creative decision “in an attempt to understand that this event did trigger a whole series of changes in this country,” as well as to appeal to a diverse audience. In addition to the crafted choral music, the production will include narrators and percussionists within the chorus, live orchestral accompaniment, and even visual effects.
Major solo roles will be sung by John Buchanan as Matthew Shepard and Lisa Kurz as his mother. Other major roles will be performed by Janice Bagwell, Jay Adams, Hunter Shane, Claire Tafoya, Patrick Conklin, and Ian Pottmeyer.
Abby Henkel, BCS assistant conductor, sings soprano in the chorus and is another featured soloist. “For people who have never gone to a concert like this before, it’s something they should feel really welcomed at and not scared of, because it’s just a really unique experience and it’s hard to describe how powerful it is,” Henkel says.
Sousa says he feels Considering Matthew Shepard provides a sense of unity our country desperately needs amidst continuing political divisiveness. “The world is not black and white, and it’s not didactic,” he says. “It is a tapestry of different ideas, and that’s what makes it rich, that’s what makes it beautiful. That’s one of the messages that I think this piece can bring to us.”
The Bloomington Chamber Singers will perform Considering Matthew Shepard at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater on Saturday, November 7, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, November 8, at 3 p.m. Tickets are available at the BCT Box Office or online at bctboxoffice.org