Note: Today's blog offers reflections from two of our singers who wrote with the same poetry in mind.
I was still fairly young when Matthew Shepard was murdered, at least young enough not to fully understand the harsh reality of what happened. Over the years, I have certainly become more aware of his story. I wish I could say that the frequency of stories like his have lessened over the past two decades, but sadly that is not the case.
It was in a Social Justice class that I first really came to know about Matthew Shepard. At that point, I was about the same age as Matthew was when he was killed. I was a young adult with ambitions, excited and yet fearful of taking on the world. I was beginning to grow into my own person just like he was, except he was not allowed to finish his journey.
What makes a human being have so much hatred toward another human being? I recently attended a service where the preacher spent the majority of his time at the pulpit placing blame and pointing a finger at those who he thought were the problem in our society and were the cause of grief. I was in disbelief as this man who proclaims to be a spiritual leader, stood and pointed a finger. At a time when people need to hear a message of love, I walked away with a message of anything but that.
There is a line in Considering Matthew Shepard that says, “you ask too much of us; you ask too little.”
There are 7.7 billion people in the world’s population (estimate as of November 2018). There are some who say it’s just plain crazy to think that that many individuals can live in harmony with one another. My hopeful and idealistic self has not given up on the dream. If we just throw up our hands and say that this is just the way the world works, we are giving in and giving up. What if we decided to challenge the notion that differences are a negative thing? What if we instead decided to be open-minded towards one another? I hope this music, this story, will inspire you to not only dream with me, but convince yourself that it is not “too much” to ask of us. To hope that one day, when this work is performed, people will listen and be able to say that things are different.
we are all sons of fathers and mothers
we are all sons
sometimes no home for us here on the earth
no place to lay our heads
we are all sons of fathers and mothers
if you could know for one moment
how it is to live in our bodies
within the world
if you could know
you ask too much of us
you ask too little
- Michael Dennis Browne
I have been thinking about these stanzas from a poem, “For the Young Men to Sing,” by Michael Dennis Browne. What is it like to be a young man these days – these days of frequent school shootings and rampant drug use and alt-right rhetoric and violence? We may all be sons of fathers and mothers, but the connection between Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson and those of us who have led privileged lives seems to end there. Am I able to comprehend and feel, even “for one moment,” what it is like to live in the bodies of young men like these?
According to reports, Henderson never met his biological father, and after he had been abused by several of his mother’s boyfriends he was removed from her home, at the age of 10. As a teenager he was arrested twice for drunken driving and once for fighting with a police officer. His mother, a severe alcoholic, froze to death after walking out of a bar, intoxicated, on a cold winter night. McKinney rarely saw his father, and starting at a young age became a daily user of methamphetamine, withdrawal from which often spurred him to violent outbursts. After his mother’s death (following a botched surgical procedure) he received a modest settlement, but he quickly blew through the money on cars and drugs and fathered a child with his girlfriend. Two fatherless boys with lives dominated by drugs, violence, and family dysfunction. How can I possibly “know how it is to live in their bodies” – and not just theirs, but those of young men all around our country, a nation of widening income inequality and hopelessness for so many?
“You ask too much of us,” the poet has the young men saying. What home is there on earth for men like these? “Prison” seems to be the most common answer.
Before I had learned one thing about these murderers, I speculated, “I bet they were from broken homes and were subjected to violence and abuse as children and dropped out of school and had trouble with drugs,” and my hunch was correct. A recent study of inmates in a New York prison found that 68% of them had suffered some form of victimization, including neglect and physical and/or sexual abuse, as children. So what can we expect of young men growing up in today’s world? It seems like the
most we can ask is that they not become sociopaths, drug addicts, and criminals – because asking anything more sometimes does seem like “too much.” And then … of whom are we asking “too little?” We are asking too little of ourselves, as a society. Young men like these can be helped by targeted interventions, but funding for social service organizations is inadequate and always threatened; drug use and alcoholism can be treated, but treatment programs are often scarce and inadequate; repeated episodes of gun violence result in “thoughts and prayers” by our leaders, but not concrete actions to limit the availability of weapons to troubled citizens; and our system of education is an embarrassment, despite our riches, with a literacy rate in the U.S. that is lower than most other developed countries and many impoverished ones.
Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson committed a vicious, heinous crime and deserve their sentences. But we have to acknowledge that although some of us are sons of fathers and mothers who loved us and protected us, many -- far too many in this country – live lives of desperation, pain and hopelessness.
Perhaps we do ask too much of them under the circumstances, and we certainly ask too little of ourselves.
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.
The New Hampshire Master Chorale is funded in part by a generous grant from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts as well as through support from MegaPrint and Holiday Concord NH Downtown.