Considering Matthew Shepard




Chicago Choral Artists is delighted to announce our fall concert set featuring the beautiful and poignant work by Craig Hella Johnson, Considering Matthew Shepard. The 105-minute oratorio explores the life, death, and legacy of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who tragically lost his life due to a hate crime on October 12, 1998. Over the years his story rocked the nation and has inspired plays, documentaries, and books. Shepard's legacy now continues in the form of music, composed to touch the hearts and minds of many and spread a message of love, inclusion, and acceptance.


Composer Craig Hella Johnson takes the listener on an emotional journey through Matthew Shepard's story by featuring lyrics from Shepard's own journal entries, narratives by his friends and family, as well as passages written about his death, the picketing of his funeral, and other events that followed. Johnson was quoted by Brad Turner of Colorado Public Radio: "The piece actually became a whole lot more than just the story of the suffering. It needed to become this larger invitation to return to love, and to return to remember who we are as human beings in the deepest sense of our essence."


We hope you will join us this October 11, 12, and 13, which marks the 21st anniversary of Shepard's death, for what will surely be a deeply moving experience that will not to be forgotten.


As we come to the final days of rehearsal for Considering Matthew Shepard, it seems fitting to share these words from our Artistic Director, Michael Costello. 


“A colleague of mine in Massachusetts posted on Facebook about a year ago that he was singing as a soloist in a work I had not heard of. That work was Craig Hella Johnson’s Considering Matthew Shepard. I reached out to him to ask him about his experience of the work. His feedback was moving enough to urge me to take a serious look at Considering Matthew Shepard for Chicago Choral Artists. I purchased a copy of the choral score and the recording, sat down in my living room and didn’t move until it was over. 
I have to admit that the first hearing was hard for me. I cried through much of it (and I am not someone who sheds tears very often!). Matthew Shepard, or Matt as his family knew him, was an ordinary boy with a particular story. His life was full of hope and dreams, love and promise. What bothered me the most as I listened was that this work had any need to exist at all, that the impetus to compose it was a reaction to an act of hatred and bigotry. 

I struggled with the idea of performing Considering Matthew Shepard because I was worried about how people might react. This is a hard story to tell. But then I realized that this is in fact the reason it does exist and the reason that I must perform it. Because of Matthew’s tragic death and because of the hatred expressed in so many arenas of today’s world, Considering Matthew Shepard needs to be performed here and now, for our community, to remind us that we as humans can and must do better in our dealings with one another. The diversity of voices and musical styles represented in this work opens our hearts and minds to a vision for this world centered in kindness and love.

The musicians of Chicago Choral Artists will tell you that preparing to perform this work has been a process filled with sadness and self-reflection; but, it has also been a journey toward joy, hope, and even healing. We are ready to share this with you, and I believe that you will experience the same as you attend our performances. I am looking forward to seeing you on October 11, 12, and 13.”

Michael D. Costello
Artistic Director
Chicago Choral Artists


A conversation with CCA singer Marybeth Kurnat on being a part of Considering Matthew Shephard.

🎼What does singing this role mean to you?

I have colleagues, family members, students and friends that are part of the LGBTQ+ community, and I feel it a responsibility but also an honor to be a strong ally to those people. Their stories deserve to be told. Being involved in this performance of CMS is a way for me to advocate for the LGBTQ+ people in my life through music.

🎼What is your favorite part about this work? 

It’s the raw honesty of emotional and interpersonal conflict. Matthew Shepard’s story is incredibly painful to experience, and the score spares no details in telling the events of his death, or in conveying humanity’s best - and worst - impulses. The way that Craig Hella Johnson has employed dissonance in the score is tremendously effective in its ability to immerse both the musicians and the audience in the rawness of the story.

🎼Describe a little bit about your rehearsal process.

Score study fascinates me. The brain processes music in layers, and I really enjoy peeling back those layers in search for patterns and reoccurring motifs. My favorite thing to find in scores are instances of text painting (musical devices that act/behave like the text)… there is no shortage of that in this work, and they will hit you hard.

🎼What is it that you want the audience to understand about Considering Matthew Shepard?

Two things - #1: Matthew’s story is happening over and over again, to people all over the world, and a lot of the time it goes unheard. We have made progress as a species in terms of supporting LGBTQ+ people as equals, but you have to keep looking forward in order to not move backward. #2: This endgame of this work is not about going after the people who wrong us, but how to hold on to your ability to love when you feel like you don’t have any left.




A conversation with CCA singer Mandy Cengiz on being a part of Considering Matthew Shepard. 


🎼What does singing this role mean to you?

As an energy healer and a person feeling called to act as a guide for others on their spiritual journeys, this piece is very special to me. Part of my calling is to help people break down barriers that are blocking the light from flowing effortlessly in, out and through them. I feel that the message of this beautiful work is fully aligned with that effort, as it calls each of us to return to love, acceptance and connection at a soul level. To look beyond our humanly fears and misunderstandings and find the sameness that connects us all. So, in essence, I believe this piece is a vessel to heal anyone that is open to its message, and I feel incredibly humbled to be able to deliver such a healing message.

🎼What is your favorite part about this work? 

The whole thing is my favorite part! Truly, I feel that every movement, every note, every lyric and every dynamic is imperative to the story the way it is intended to be told. If I had to choose, there is a magic toward the beginning of the piece when we sing "I am open to hear this story," and this is repeated over and over again. I view this like a form of guided meditation and intention setting, preparing the hearts of the listeners to fully receive the message and allow the healing vibrations of the music to move through them. 

🎼Describe a little bit about your rehearsal process.

The preparation involved in this piece is so much more than learning the notes and becoming familiar with the music. I've had to mentally and emotionally prepare as well. I've had to move through several stages of connection with the message, starting with heartbreak, empathy, and even anger, then move past that toward acceptance. That has been difficult to navigate because it doesn't feel ok to accept such a horrifying and hateful event. This has been necessary, though, as my only other option to keep from breaking down into tears mid-solo was to completely emotionally disconnect, which would do a disservice to the piece and the message. This process has taught me a bit about forgiveness and acceptance, and that it doesn't mean we have to accept the darkness that drove the event, but rather, we embrace the lesson, internalize it, and transmute that darkness into light. We accept that this allows us an opportunity to shift things for good. This process not only heals us as individuals, but can heal our planet, one step at a time.

🎼What is it that you want the audience to understand about Considering Matthew Shepard?

My hope is that anyone that comes into contact with this piece is truly open to it and understands its capacity to heal. I can feel Matthew Shepard's spirit guiding this, as if it is the way he wanted his story to be told and the legacy he chose to leave behind. The way the story is told lends itself to any walk of life, not just those that are religious or spiritual. Regardless of personal beliefs, the fact remains that we are all connected in some way, and if we can come together and embrace our differences while finding sameness within each other, we truly can change the world.


A conversation with CCA singer Antonio Quaranta on being a part of Considering Matthew Shepard. 

🎼What does singing this role mean to you?

Having the opportunity to sing this piece and especially this role has been an incredible experience. I remember hearing the news of Matthew Shepard and the terrible event that transpired that night. I remember feeling angry, disgusted, sad, and most of all, terrified. I had come out the year before and I had so much support from my family and friends. I had no idea people could be that hateful; that people could treat someone so terribly. It scared me. It made me want to run back into the closet. It made me afraid to be my true self. Of course, I overcame that feeling and am happy to say I am so proud of who I am. Not because of my sexuality, because that doesn’t define me. It doesn’t define anyone. I am proud of who I am because despite the fact there is so much prejudice and hatred, I am able to rise above it all and love with my whole heart. 

🎼What is your favorite part about this work? 

I would have to say that my favorite moment of the piece is Ordinary Boy. I feel so connected to the text in that movement because I really am an “ordinary boy with an ordinary hope for belonging.”

🎼Describe a little bit about your rehearsal process

The first time I listened to this piece, I was moved to tears. All the memories I had from that time came rushing back and that feeling of disgust swelled in my throat. I knew this was not going to be an easy sing. I have been listening to the recording on repeat ever since I was contracted for this concert. It hasn’t gotten any easier to listen to, but I am learning to release those emotions through the music in hopes that a message can be heard. The message that no matter what, we all live to be our truest selves. And that we all learn to love ourselves and those around us. 

🎼What is it that you want the audience to understand about Considering Matthew Shepard?

Matthew’s story is one that needs to be told. I am thankful that Craig Hella Johnson had the courage to put this story to music and share it with the world. I am privileged and honored to be a part of this and to tell this story to our community here in Chicago. We are all, in our own ways, ordinary boys and girls just trying to make it in this world. If we can all learn to love each other a little more because of this story, then Matthew Shepard will not have died in vain.