Ole Miss hosts Grammy-nominated performance ‘Considering Matthew Shepard’ tonight

Posted on Feb 27 2018 - 7:56am by Kennedy McJunkin and Pierce Morrison

The Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble Conspirare performs its “Considering Matthew Shepard,” composed and directed by Craig Hella Johnson, at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Gertrude Ford Center.

“It’s a unique work. It’s not an opera, It’s not a musical. It’s not a traditional choral piece. It’s a music drama. It incorporates a variety of music styles,” Ole Miss choir director Don Trott said.

The music drama is a three-part oratorio inspired by the tragic death of a young gay student at the University of Wyoming.

In 1998, Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and abandoned in a field. He died days following the incident. His death sparked the enactment of the anti-hate crime legislation, known as the Matthew Shepard Act, by former President Barack Obama in 2009.

“It’s a great opportunity for our campus to reflect on a positive response to what happened to this young man and what can we do to not make it happen again,” Trott said.

Matthew’s story has inspired artists like Johnson over the past two decades.

“Craig is adventurous in his programming and is a strong advocate for new music in a choral setting,” Ole Miss vocal instructor Jos Milton said. “He pushes past many conventions that have been established in the realm of choral music and is constantly exploring new possibilities for music for voices.”

The performance is an uninterrupted two-hour piece constructed of multiple audio and visual techniques.

“It’s a feast for both your eyes and ears,” Milton said.

Conspirare is based out of Austin, Texas, and is Latin for “to breathe together.” Oxford is one stop in its five-city tour including Hattiesburg; Lincoln, Nebraska; Dallas and Austin, Texas.

“There are many different styles of music, a little bit of R&B, a little bit of gospel towards the end, and it’s all centered on the central message,” Milton said. “It’s very moving and generates an immediate visceral response. It’s nothing like I’ve ever sung as an artist, and I’m very excited we’re going to be doing it here.”

The “Considering Matthew Shepard” CD was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Surround Sound Album.

The UM Choirs will be joining Conspirare for part of the performance, with a surprise interactive feature.

“The performance is more inclusive than normal,” said Julia Aubrey, director of the Ford Center. “Instead of just watching something happen, you’re going to actually be involved in it.”

Kate Meacham, Ford Center marketing director, said she hopes this show reaches a larger audience.

“We hope the subject matter will reach to students in general because it’s a fairly current topic,” Meacham said. “We hope students will take a chance and branch out to see something they might not usually see.”

There will be a post-show question-and-answer panel with Johnson.

Faculty and staff will receive a 20 percent discount, and students tickets are $10 with a valid UM student ID.

Tickets and more information are available here.

This article was submitted to The Daily Mississippian from an advanced reporting class.