By: Erika Bleiberg
All-inclusive, free University concert is an artistic and human achievement that reaches out to LGBTQ+ community.
“Singing is our hope. Joining voices, joining cultures, through our shared song, is the last thing we have in this world to fight this awful hatred that is spreading through our world and dividing people in devastatingly powerful ways.” – Brielle Burns, student, Montclair State University
On December 7 and 8, the John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State University will present for its annual Crawford Concert Considering Matthew Shepard, by composer Craig Hella Johnson, as a celebration of one man’s life and a demonstration of the healing and unifying power of art.
When Matthew Shepard, a gay man, was brutally beaten and left for dead tied to a fence in Wyoming in 1998, the ugliness and hatred that caused his death was cause for despair for many. In the years since, however, Shepard’s legacy has been one of hope, inspiring a foundation, a federal hate crimes prevention act, and many works of art – including the oratorio Considering Matthew Shepard, which will see its New York City regional and New Jersey debut December 7 and 8 in Montclair, New Jersey.
The fusion oratorio not only challenges musicians technically and delivers for audiences aurally and emotionally, it also answers the mission of the Crawford Concert series and the philosophy of the John J. Cali School of Music Choral Program at Montclair State University.
“The University’s Choral Program seeks to cultivate a thriving, dynamic community with humanistic values, artistic excellence and service through music,” explains Heather Buchanan, professor of Music and director of Choral Activities. “The selection of this piece allows us to meet the educational and artistic needs of our students while encouraging them to understand themselves and the world in important ways, specifically requiring them to examine their humanity in order to communicate the crucial message of the music.”
The concert theme,#EraseHate, will resonate not just throughout the concert but through a variety of on- and off-campus outreach activities “to positively address the ‘permissible climate of hate’ that is disturbingly evident in the world today,” says Buchanan. Students campus-wide will be invited to participate through essays and art; the University will perform outreach to area high school students; and a Post-Performance Talk Back will be moderated by Cathy Renna, a Montclair resident who has worked with the Matthew Shepard Foundation and the Shepard family.
“We will extend a message of love, understanding, hope, forgiveness and justice to all members of our community and the wider world: LGBTQ+ persons, minorities, women and people of all faiths,” says Buchanan.
Besides its uplifting message, Considering Matthew Shepard has been celebrated for its musical achievement. The work is inspired by styles ranging from J.S. Bach; Lutheran hymnody; spirituals; blues; gospel; jazz; folk; country and western; pop; new music; chant traditions; Broadway; and British, American and Scandinavian composers. Its libretto – written by Michael Dennis Browne, Lesléa Newman and Craig Hella Johnson – is eclectic and includes text from such divergent sources as the 12th-century German Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen as well as two modern Wyoming poets, Sue Wallis and John D. Nesbitt.
The ambitious artistic scope of composer Craig Hella Johnson’s vision has paid off.
“Considering Matthew Shepard is a new, powerful choral passion-oratorio that invites us all to consider our call to stand for love, forgiveness, understanding, and justice in our communities and the world,” says Tom McCauley, interim director of the Cali School.
“Considering Matthew Shepard pays a priceless tribute to Matt and creates a space for everyone – audience and performers – to experience and reflect upon the feelings and important questions which are raised when we bring our consideration to Matthew Shepard,” says Jason Marsden, executive director, Matthew Shepard Foundation.
The Crawford Concert performance of Considering Matthew Shepard includes the 175-voice Montclair State University Chorale, 75-voice University Singers, a chamber ensemble of professional players and award-winning accompanist/pianist Steven W. Ryan, all under the direction of Conductor Heather J. Buchanan. The performance will also include introductory video, projected visuals and supertitles that will incorporate the expertise of faculty, staff and students from throughout the University community.
The Crawford Concert is a free annual event presented at Montclair State University in memory of Beatrice Crawford and supported by a generous grant from the Keating Crawford Foundation.
- Open Dress Rehearsal, Saturday, December 7 at 2 p.m. at the Kasser Theater, Montclair State University. Post-Performance Talk Back moderated by Cathy Renna.
- Crawford Concert, Sunday, December 8 at 3 p.m. at the Kasser Theater. Post-Performance Talk Back moderated by Cathy Renna.
- Crawford Concert, Sunday, December 8 at 8 p.m. at the Kasser Theater.
Tickets are FREE and required for both open dress rehearsal and concerts.
Reserve performance tickets at the Arts + Cultural Programming website.