The Isabel Voices present ‘Considering Matthew Shepard’

Image via The Isabel Voices.

On Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, The Isabel Voices will present a special performance of Considering Matthew Shepard, marking 25 years since the Wyoming native was killed in what many consider one of the most violent anti-gay hate crimes in American history, which eventually inspired decades of activism and advocacy.

The local choir’s publicity for the piece, which was composed by Craig Hella Johnson, describes it as “a deeply moving fusion oratorio that explores the life, legacy, and tragic death of Matthew Shepard.”

Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyoming, was walking home from a bar on the evening of October 6, 1998, when he was beaten, tortured, and left for dead on a remote stretch of highway. 

The case garnered international coverage in the days that followed, as Shepard was left in critical condition. Suspects Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson were arrested shortly after Shepard was discovered, and the two were eventually charged with first-degree murder after the 21-year-old died of his injuries six days after the attack.

Photo via the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

The murder of Matthew Shepard was a major turning point in the LGBTQ2S+ rights movement in the United States and around the world, inspiring several examples of hate crime legislation at the state and federal level, including the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was passed by the United States Congress in 2009. 

More than 25 years later, Shepard’s life and legacy live on, thanks in part to the rich artistic works the case has inspired, including the award-winning play and subsequent film The Laramie Project, as well as the oratorio Considering Matthew Shepard. 

In a press release shared in advance of next week’s concert, Darrell Christie, Artistic Director of The Isabel Voices, described the composition as “one of the most profound and significant pieces of the 21st century.” 

Christie added, “This work serves not only as a call for compassion, understanding, and acceptance but also as a call to action, reminding us of the persistent and growing threats to human rights and urging our unwavering commitment to activism.”

For a choir committed to performances that “reflect our modern world,” The Isabel Voices has selected a piece that is sure to resonate with Kingston’s diverse population, some of whom may be learning about Shepard’s life and legacy for the very first time. The organization noted that the composition “stands as a testament to Matthew’s memory, inviting reflection on the power of love, empathy, and the need for social change.” 

For next Friday’s performance, the local choir has put together an impressive lineup of soloists, as well as an eight-piece ensemble, allowing the group to showcase the full extent of the piece. First performed in 2016, Considering Matthew Shepard explores “the complexities of Matthew’s life, the anguish of his untimely death, and the enduring impact on society.” 

The Isabel Voices choir at a recent performance inside the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. Photo via The Isabel Voices.

To help realize the full theatricality of this evocative piece, The Isabel Voices have teamed up with Grahame Renyk, a theatrical director and professor in the DAN School of Drama and Music at Queen’s University, who said the piece is “vitally important… to share with the Kingston community.” 

The performance of Considering Matthew Shepard will take place on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, at 7 p.m. inside the Jennifer Velva Bernstein Performance Hall at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts (390 King Street West). Tickets are $15 for students, $25 for seniors, and $30 for the general public, and can be purchased through the Isabel’s website. A livestream option is also available through a pay-what-you-can donation option, beginning at $10. According to the organization, all profits generated from the concert will be “donated to LGBTQ2S+ organizations.”

Due to the sensitivities of the composition, which “contains direct quotations of the bigoted words of Westboro Baptist Church members, who picketed Shepard’s funeral,” audiences have been warned of “strong language” and “intense themes.” 

Kingstonist is pleased to be giving away a pair of tickets to Considering Matthew Shepard to a lucky Kingstonist subscriber.

  • Giveaway: One pair of tickets to Considering Matthew Shepard 
  • To enter the contest: Subscribers, please email your first and last name and phone number to [email protected], and make sure the subject line is “Considering Matthew Shepard.”
  • Contest runs from Tuesday, Feb. 6 to Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. 
  • Draw will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, and the winner will be contacted by Kingstonist staff via email. 
  • Not yet a Kingstonist subscriber? Subscribe here!

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