George Walker: Considering Mathew Shephard is a fusion oratorio by Craig Hella Johnson, offering universal messages of love and hope. It’ll be put on by the Bloomington Chamber Singers on October 9th at 7:30 and then Sunday the 10th at 3 pm.
Mathew Shephard was, in1998 , a gay college student, in Wyoming. He was beaten to death. Gerry Sousa is the Artistic Director of the Bloomington Chamber Singers. Gerry, tell us a bit about conducting this long-awaited multi-media production
Gerald Sousa: I was deeply moved when I found it. Of course, I knew about Mathew’s death. And over the span of time, I followed various projects that had been built around it. There was the Laramie Project. I knew of Craig and he’s a wonderful, wonderful conductor of …And then, because his arrangements are quite-beautiful and he has a real predilection for social justice issues. He sort of redefined choral music in many ways, George. Considering Mathew Shephard really tries to do that. It struck me when I heard this piece for the first time.
This was a piece that was composed from many, many different texts. Texts from primary sources, Mathew’s journals themselves and Leslie Human’s October Morning and all of these texts came together. But, then I think even more unique. Johnson built it on the structure of a Bach Passion. So, it has this architectural foundation underneath it. Where you’ve got a prologue, the passion and the epilogue and you have a series of recitations that take the place of an evangelist. And in between those you have songs and choruses. For this piece and this is really drew me to this conducting it. There are so many different musical styles. You literally, have to country and western music, you have blues, you have gospel, you have Gregorian chant, things that sound like Britten, you have all of these interesting things in there. How could this possibly make any sense. It sounds as if it could be an eclectic nightmare. He’s trying to create a message of universality. So that anybody that listens to this piece has something to resonate to. And that’s, George, what drew me to it. So, not only is the piece itself, very powerful. The music is wonderful, and the readings are great. But just the concept itself is unique, and works very beautifully. And its been very powerful as its been received.
George: Gerald Sousa is the Artistic Director of the Bloomington Chamber Singers. Nicholas K. u=is a masters degree student at IU. He’s studying choral conducting. And you play a grown up, Mathew Shephard.
Nicholas Sienkiewicz: It’s a really difficult challenge. Like Gerry, I was exposed to this piece a couple of years ago. And I found myself incredibly connected to the story. Mathew Shephard was twenty-one years old when he died in 1998. And I am playing the role at twenty-two years old when he passed. The Story resonates with me in many ways. Mostly because Mathew and I grew up in very similar circumstances. Adapting to this has been interesting. The oratorio is unique in that I have to not only play Mathew, but I also play the individuals that are protesting at his funeral. That has probably been the largest struggle. Whereas this unique challenge has been the fact that, in the beginning as a protest movement. When the Westbrook Baptist Church protests Mathew’s funeral and I have to sing that and six or seven movements later I have to sing the Innocence., the title song of the show. And that has really been the largest challenge, the challenge to be vulnerable enough in performance and also manage all these different emotions that I’m going through.
George: How do you switch back and forth between being sympathetic to Mathew and at the same time criticizing Mathew. I’m baffled!
Nick: I am too, I am too!
George: Considering Mathew Shephard by Craig Hella Johnson . It a fusion oratorio, universal messages, of love and hope. Gerald Sousa is the Artistic Director of the Bloomington Chamber Singers . Nicholas Sienkiewicz , who sings both Mathew and his critics. Buskirk-Chumley Theatre on Saturday October 9 at 7:30 and Sunday October 10th at three
I’m George Walker