NH State Council on the Arts Awards Top Funding for "Considering Matthew Shepard"
The New Hampshire State Council on the Arts has awarded a $4,500 grant to the New Hampshire Master Chorale to support three November concerts of the highly acclaimed contemporary oratorio, Considering Matthew Shepard.
The 30-voice chamber chorus, led by Dan Perkins of Plymouth State University, will offer three performances of the concert-length work.
The concerts will be at South Church in Portsmouth at 8 p.m. on Friday, November 16; at the First Congregational Church in Concord at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, November 17; and at the Plymouth Congregational Church at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 18.
The concerts commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1998 death of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay student at the University of Wyoming. His brutal murder touched off a national movement that led to a 2009 federal anti-hate crime law bearing Shepard’s name and that of Joseph Byrd, Jr., a black Texan who was brutally murdered by three white supremacists the same year.
On October 6, 1998, two young Wyoming men kidnapped Matthew Shepard, drove him to a remote spot, viciously pistol-whipped him, tied him to a split-rail fence and left him to die.
The killing immediately became national and even international news – seen as a sign that fierce anti-gay sentiment was not far beneath the surface of American society even as the gay rights movement was well-established and some states were considering same-sex marriage. Matthew Shepard became the touchstone of a new push toward tolerance and anti-discrimination – but his funeral and the subsequent trials of his murderers also attracted fundamentalists who protested against homosexuality.
Considering Matthew Shepard, written by the American composer Craig Hella Johnson for chorus and chamber orchestra, tells the story of Shepard’s life and brutal murder, the immediate and lasting response it evoked, and its deeper implications, from the story of Cain and Abel to current-day hatred and violence directed at those who don’t conform to societal norms. “The piece actually became a whole lot more than just the story of the suffering,” Johnson says. “It needed to become this larger invitation to return to love. And to…remember who we are as human beings.”
The oratorio uniquely blends musical styles ranging from Bach and Gregorian chant to country and western, blues, gospel and contemporary choral scene-painting.
Johnson’s oratorio is one of the latest of many responses to the Matthew Shepard story. It has been the subject of plays, books and documentary films. On October 26 of this year, Shepard’s ashes were interred in a crypt at the National Cathedral in Washington that contains the remains of luminaries such as President Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan. The Rev. Eugene Robinson, retired Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, was instrumental in arranging the interment.
Also in October, Matthew’s parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, donated their son’s childhood artifacts to the Smithsonian Institution.
The Shepards lead the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which documents hate crimes and sponsors educational seminars for schoolchildren, law enforcement officers and legislators.
Each concert will be preceded by a pre-concert conversation with author Lesléa Newman, writer of October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard from which much of the poetry for Considering Matthew Shepard was taken.
Performance Details - Tickets Available Here
Friday, November 16 at 8PM – South Church: 292 State St. Portsmouth, NH
Saturday, November 17 at 7:30PM - First Congregational Church: 177 N. Main St, Concord, NH
Sunday, November 18 at 4PM - Plymouth Congregational Church: 4 Post Office Square, Plymouth, NH
The New Hampshire Master Chorale, led by Dr. Dan Perkins, is a non-profit choir established in the spring of 2003. This premier chamber ensemble is dedicated to excellence in the art of choral music performance. Members of the group are trained singers, auditioned from throughout New England, who have performed as soloists and in choral ensembles throughout the world. You can get a taste of the NHMC on our SoundCloud page: soundcloud.com/nh-master-chorale or find us on facebook and twitter: www.facebook.com/NHMasterChorale and twitter.com/nhmasterchorale.
Tickets available at nhmasterchorale.org and at the door — $30 general, $25 senior, $15 group of 10+
Free admission for undergraduates and students in grades K–12.
The New Hampshire Master Chorale also utilizes a “Pay What You Are Able” ticket policy so that anyone can attend regardless of financial ability. We welcome all donations to support this.