The Salt Lake Community College Chamber Choir helped commemorate the life and legacy of Matthew Shepard last Friday and Saturday at the First United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City.
“Considering Matthew Shepard” is an oratorio about the tragic death of Shepard, a gay 21-year-old University of Wyoming student. The ensemble was originally composed by Craig Hella Johnson and Conspirare and produced by the Utah-Idaho Performing Arts Company.
The SLCC Chamber Choir delivered a tearful rendition of the 33-song album. The performance lasted an hour and 45 minutes and received a standing ovation.
Sarah Singer, an original member of the choir, describes the performances as both unique and difficult.
“It was almost too real,” she says. “Usually when you’re performing a lot, you kind of have to keep yourself separated from what you’re doing in a sense, but for this it was really hard. … This is one of the only pieces I’ve done where it’s been like that.”
In 1998, Shepard was kidnapped, brutally beaten, and left for dead in Laramie, Wyoming. He was found 18 hours later by cyclists and quickly brought to the hospital. He died six days later from traumatic head injuries in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Both of Shepard’s attackers were given two consecutive life sentences, and a law was introduced to expand on the existing 1969 United States Federal hate-crime law to include crime based upon one’s gender and sexual orientation. The Matthew Shephard and James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed by President Barack Obama in 2009.
Shepard’s murder gained national attention and vigils were held across the country. His mother, Judy Shepard, became an outspoken activist for LGBTQ rights and created a foundation in her son’s honor, the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
The Utah concerts coincided with a somber event thousands of miles away: Two decades after his death, Shepard’s ashes were interred Friday at the Washington National Cathedral.
Singer explains how “Considering Matthew Shepard” keeps a spotlight on Shepard’s legacy and the present challenges for the LGBTQ community.
“This is still important. Even though it happened twenty years ago, it is still absolutely relevant to today,” she says. “Having a musical piece where you can share how you feel about it in a way that is proactive and getting the message out there … it just hits everything.”