“Always the journey, never the destination.” Simon Rattle
Last week, the Alumni Chorus I’ve been writing about sang in a semi-staged concert version of “Considering Matthew Shepherd.” The CCPA Conservatory Chorus was the main performer, and we Alums sang a chorale toward the end of the work. It was an interesting process for me, both as a singer and as someone who is interested in programming as well as the thought process of programming. Truth be told, I usually enjoy the process of rehearsals; the concert, while nice, is beside the point. In this instance, BOTH aspects were not only enjoyable for me but thought provoking and meaningful.
I was of two minds as I was trying to decide what to write for my last Blog about this experience. I could write about the performance or I could write about using music for good, doing something beyond “just” a performance. I’ve decided to try to do both. I can attest to being changed by this experience, more so than I thought, and it makes sense to use the experience as a jumping off place to get you, my dear ChoralNetters, thinking.
During rehearsals, Dr. Cheryl Frazes Hill explained why and how she chose this particular work, information most of us felt helpful in the rehearsal process. As we went along, it was also quite meaningful to understand Cheryl’s thought process and how it was important to both her students and to the University to perform this work. Part of the mission of Roosevelt University at large is to have a social justice component in many pedagogical events and “…..Matthew….” was a natural choice for the Conservatory.
I had the opportunity to speak to several members of the CCPA Conservatory Chorus on the day of my involvement in the performance. I asked some questions, such as how long have they been working on this oratorio (since August) and did they find the story and material depressing (no, they felt at the end, there is hope). I asked WHY they felt it was hopeful, because the story of Matthew Shepherd’s death is pretty bleak. They told me at the end of the work, there is a charge to everyone, to All of Us to change the world with Love. The students gave a wonderful performance (though some of the material was difficult to perform I am sure), the staging was just enough and the chamber ensemble enhanced the total musical experience.
“Considering Matthew Shepherd” is considered to be an oratorio by its composer, Craig Hella Johnson, and divided into three sections. Prologue gives us a glimpse into Matthew’s life; he liked Dr. Seuss, wore braces and loved Wyoming. His Mother tells us he was an Ordinary Boy. Passion explains Matthew’s death; both by sung and spoken word, with a reoccurring theme of The Fence—the fence Matthew’s beaten body was draped on by his murderers. The beating is never described but the aftermath is; the protesters, the grief, the Pilgrimages and the lying down of flowers and photos by The Fence. There are questions; could I ever be like those who beat Matthew? Finally, Epilogue asks us to meet together, come home together to try to begin again, in hope and love. All of Us charges us to remake our world to how we know it should be. The work ends the way it began; with a yodeling cowboy, this time more haunting and profound.
The ‘take away’ for me from this experience was this; all of us can change the world, one chorus at a time, by thoughtful programming and we don’t have to have a week of events. One concert, one piece, one act of compassion can change our world, but perhaps more importantly, our own community.
I have begun to notice social justice concerts everywhere. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra did a concert several weeks ago with the William Schuman Symphony No. 9 (Le fosse Ardeatine) and the Mozart Requiem on the program. At first glance, it doesn’t seem unusual or social justice centered at all, until we understand William Schuman wrote his 9th symphony in remembrance of the Italian victims of the 1944 Fosse Ardeatine massed killing. Maestro Muti paired the Mozart to remember those victims as well as ALL innocent victims of war. The Chicago Chamber Choir will present a concert series this weekend, “To The Hands,” in commemoration and response to the problem of homelessness in Chicago. Free will donations will go to the Night Ministry, a charity that works with impoverished, homeless, or lonely adults and youth. My own chamber choir has collaborated with a local children’s choir, The Bel Canto Children’s Choir, which has a service component to their program. The children had a blanket making afternoon, and recently delivered their handmade blankets to a local children’s hospital. You can be the CSO, or you can be a children’s choir, and you still can make a difference, even a small difference, in the world.
Thanks to all at CCPA, and especially to Dr. Cheryl Frazes Hill, for asking me to participate in “Considering Matthew Shepherd.” It was a wonderful experience and I can’t wait to see what you will do next!