One of the most formidable challenges while performing a piece like Considering Matthew Shepard is finding the balance between feeling and conveying the emotion throughout the music, while being emotionally secure enough to sing with intention. There are many visceral moments throughout the oratorio, but the movement which the words speaks most immediately to me is “The Fence (after)/The Wind”. We hear this movement following the declaration that “the fence has been torn down.”
During this movement, we hear pairs of opposing words in fragments. Prayed upon, Frowned upon; Revered, Feared; etc. What makes this movement so powerful is that we lose focus on whether these words are about the fence or Matthew himself. The fence has become a symbol of what his death has stood for. The choir joins in homophony to sing the following:
The North Wind carried his father's laugh
The South Wind carried his mother's song
The East Wind carried his brother's cheer
The West Wind carried his lover's moan
The Winds of the World wove together a prayer
to carry that hurt boy home.
These words ring especially true recently, since Matthew’s remains were moved and laid to rest at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC just a few weeks ago on October 26, 2018. I imagine his family coming from all over, literally being carried by the wind in some cases as they fly to pay their respects.
Did they bring laugher and songs and hope? Have they found any sense of solace or healing after all these years? I ask myself these things as we sing this movement.
Often when learning new repertoire, I like to find connections to other works of music or art that might help in finding deeper meaning. The first time I read the words of “The Fence (after)/The Wind” I was immediately reminded of a famous Lied by Schubert: “Suleika I” or “Was bedeutet die Bewegung”, a setting one of Marianne von Willemer’s poems (often misattributed to Goethe, her contemporary and correspondent). We know Matthew wrote poems for his neighbors; I wonder what he would have thought about von Willemer’s words. An English translation of the original German poem follows.
What does the motion mean?
Does the East wind bring glad tidings?
The refreshing movement of its wings
Chills the heart's deep wound.
It plays gently with the dust,
Chasing it into light clouds.
And drives the happy insects
to the security of the vine-leaves.
It softly tempers the sun's incandescence,
and chills my hot cheeks,
As it flees it kisses the vines
which are prominent on the fields and hills
And its soft whispering brings me
A thousand greetings from my beloved;
Before these hills grow dark,
I will be greeted by a thousand kisses.
So as you go on your way
And serve the happy and the saddened.
There, where high walls glow,
I shall soon find my dearly beloved.
Oh, the true message of the heart,
the breath of love, renewed life
will come to me only from his lips,
can be given to me only by his breath.