Ford Center Presents ‘Considering Matthew Shepard’

The Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts is bringing the choral work “Considering Matthew Shepard” to the University of Mississippi Tuesday (Feb. 27) for an evening of music, reflection and discussion.

The 7:30 p.m. performance features Conspirare, an acclaimed choral ensemble from Austin, Texas. The concert will be followed by a panel discussion and question-and-answer session.

Tickets are $50 for orchestra/parterre and tier 1 box levels, $45 for mezzanine and tier 2 box levels, $40 for the balcony level and $8 for Ole Miss students. A 20 percent discount is available for all UM faculty, staff and retirees when tickets are purchased at the box office. Tickets are available at the UM Box Office inside the Ford Center and online at https://olemissboxoffice.com/. 

Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was kidnapped, beaten and abandoned in a field in 1998. He died five days later, and this year marks the 20th anniversary of his death.

This concert-length work created by Craig Hella Johnson, Conspirare founder and artistic director, is a three-part performance that incorporates a variety of musical styles. Passages from Shepard’s personal journal, interviews and writings from his parents, newspaper reports and works by several poets are also incorporated throughout the work.

Johnson said he was deeply affected by Shepard’s death in 1998 and wanted to find a way to respond musically that would enable Shepard’s voice to be heard.

“In some ways, I feel that Matthew as a subject for this composition chose me rather than the other way around, as it seems is so often the case when we feel a strong inner calling,” Johnson said. “This story holds so many layers or meaning and raises many questions.

“My own journey with Matt and his story has proven to be an inspiring, challenging and deeply meaningful exploration that continues. Surprisingly and remarkably, although remembering the suffering of Matthew Shepard can be intense and very dark, I continue to also experience a call to the inner light which this story profoundly transmits.” 

Following the performance, Jaime Cantrell, program coordinator for the UM Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement, will moderate a panel discussion with Johnson; Gail Tapscott, a retired Unitarian Universalist minister; and Sarah Heying, an Ole Miss graduate student in English and president of OUTGrad.

This discussion is an opportunity for both panelists and audience members to share information, ideas and emotions that result from the performance, said Jos Milton, UM associate professor of music and a tenor singer in Conspirare.

“The work is quite moving, at times perhaps overwhelming,” Milton said. “Positioning these talks immediately following the performance allows audience members to convey their thoughts, feelings and questions on the cusp of taking in the impact of this dramatic piece.”

Conspirare won the 2014 Grammy award for best choral performance, in addition to awards from other choral organizations. Johnson is known for his “collage” style of composition in which he combines all types of musical styles from classical to popular.

“We are looking forward to presenting ‘Considering Matthew Shepard,'” said Kate Meacham, Ford Center marketing director. “Craig Hella Johnson with Conspirare has created a moving tribute to Matthew Shepard that engages the audience on an emotional and intellectual level.

“We hope that through presenting this performance and the post-concert discussion, we can help foster exploration and discussion of this important and timely topic.”

For more information about the performance, visit http://fordcenter.org/.

By Christina Steube

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