Several weeks ago, I wrote about singing in an Alumni Chorus at my Alma Mater, the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. Rehearsals have started and with them, my clearer understanding of the thrust and educational purpose of the work (Considering Matthew Shepherd) we are singing. I have a very small part in the whole, but feel invigorated and proud to be connected with it, even in a small way. With Dr. Cheryl Frazes Hill’s kind and compassionate direction, it is clear why this particular work was chosen this year. With so much hate in the world, how can we change and come together with love ?
We are just choral musicians, so how can we affect change, any change? What can we do to reach beyond the communities we work in and the communities we live in to make them better places? The Choral Program at CCPA is trying to make a difference by regularly singing repertoire that educates participants and audiences alike to look beyond the intrinsic musical value of the works they perform.
In the last few years, the RU Conservatory Chorus has performed works devoted to social justice themes. The Conservatory Chorus tries to do this sort of concert planning every year. Many activities, as well as a reading list, are planned so students understand and are able to become emotionally connected to the focus of a particular work.
As an example, two years ago, they (along with some members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus and a full orchestra) performed Defiant Requiem, a full performance of Verdi’s Requiem, with narration describing how it was performed many times by prisoners of the Terezin Concentration Camp. It was the prisoners’ way of artistically proclaiming their personal defiance to their incarceration. To help students have a fuller understanding of the Holocaust, they were given materials to read and viewed movies about the story together. They also had a visit from the conductor who discovered the amazing story and created this production, which he performs all over the world.
This year, CCPA’s Center for Arts Leadership has created a whole “Considering Matthew Shepherd” Residency, reaching out beyond the RU Conservatory Chorus to the university at large and to the greater Chicagoland community. The first event of that residency will take place on Tuesday, February 26, 2019 from 5:00 to 6:30pm, in the Sullivan Room of Roosevelt University. It is free and open to the public. The Executive Director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, Jason Marsden, will lead a discussion with licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Armand Cerbone, and representatives of the Roosevelt University LGBTQ+ community, on the impact of storytelling to heighten empathy and create positive change.
The second event will be Friday, March 1, 2019 from 12:15 PM to 1:45 PM, again in the Sullivan Room of Roosevelt University and free and open to the public. Three Roosevelt University scholars will present brief reflections on the topic of music as a memorial tool, followed by remarks from fellow presenters and from the audience. Presenters will include Bonnie Gunzenhauser, Ph.D., Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Stephanie Salerno, PhD, Assistant Director of Outreach and Engagement, Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University and Thomas J. Kernan, PhD, Assistant Professor of Music History & Honors BMA Program Head, Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. These events take place in conjunction with CCPA’s March 5th and 6th performances (7:30 pm each night, in Ganz Hall of Roosevelt University, Free but reservations are needed) of “Considering Matthew Shepard,” a musical memorial by Craig Hella Johnson to victims of sexual-orientation-based violence.
I wrote a Blog last December about a song from my youth, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” One of the lines of the lyrics always has an impact on me; “One line in particular from the song strikes me as quite appropriate for today’s blog: “let there be Peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.” If we want change, it must begin with us. If we want acceptance, we must do it. If we see injustice, we must step up to make it right. Peace and kindness and compassion must begin with us. There is no need to wait until someone else does what we believe to be right. We can make the world a better place by taking that first, small step.”
Dr. Cheryl Frazes Hill and the RU Conservatory Chorus have taken many steps toward love and understanding with their performances of “Considering Matthew Shepherd.” Thank you for letting me be a small part of it.