The June/July 2022 issue of Choral Journal is online and features an article titled “From Matt to Matthew to All of Us: A Cathartic Transformation in Craig Hella Johnson’s Considering Matthew Shepard” by Andrew Hon. You can read it in its entirety at acda.org/choraljournal. Following is a portion from the introduction.
Considering Matthew Shepard (2016) by Craig Hella Johnson is a powerful musical response to the death of Matthew Shepard (1976-1998), a University of Wyoming student murdered in Laramie, Wyoming, allegedly because of his homosexuality. Being one of the first Passion settings that takes on an LGBTQ+ subject, the 105-minute work of three parts—Prologue, Passion, Epilogue—is Johnson’s most ambitious composition to date. The piece is scored for mixed chorus, vocal soloists/narrators, piano, clarinet, strings, percussion, and guitar. Johnson set a wide range of poetic texts by Hildegard von Bingen, Rumi,1 Lesléa Newman, and Michael Dennis Browne; additional texts were sourced from Matt’s own notebook, words from his parents Judy and Dennis Shepard, and newspaper reports, compiled and crafted by Johnson and Browne. The work premiered in 2016 in Austin, Texas, with Conspirare, conducted by the composer; and was featured at the Western ACDA Conference in Pasadena, California, in the same year.
Despite its rising popularity in the North American choral scene, Considering Matthew Shepard has not received much attention in academia, partly due to initial exclusivity for Johnson/Conspirare. The full score was made available to the public in 2019. One of the reasons for the work’s success is Johnson’s highly accessible musical style, which is effective in engaging everyone regardless of their background. This article examines the core messages of universality and inclusivity in Considering Matthew Shepard by showing a cathartic transformation embedded in the work’s narrative and music—one that leads to a deeper understanding of the human condition and a hope of an eventual reconciliation for all. Examples will be drawn from traditional Passion settings and relevant social justice issues. Matthew’s story is timely and relevant not only in the United States but globally.
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Read the rest of this article in the June/July 2022 issue of Choral Journal.