Photo of conductor leading choir in a rehearsal hall
The April 16 concert choir performance is the Philadelphia premiere of Considering Matthew Shepard.
Photo: Ryan S. Brandenburg / Temple University

Temple University Concert Choir will honor the life, death and legacy of Matthew Shepard in their upcoming show, Considering Matthew Shepard. The performance will take place on Tuesday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m. in the Temple Performing Arts Center. The show, which is free and open to the public, is the Philadelphia premiere of Considering Matthew Shepard

Shepard was a gay man and the victim of a hate crime murder in 1998. Shepard’s death gained international attention, became a symbol of the violence and discrimination faced by the LGBTQ+ community, and was a catalyst for new hate crime legislation. 

As an oratorio, Considering Matthew Shepard will feature a series of movements performed by the choir, soloists and an accompanying chamber ensemble. While oratorios don’t include staging or costumes, the performance will include a video that complements the show’s themes and content. 

The performance was originally scheduled for October 2023, but after receiving feedback about the show’s sensitive content, conductor Paul Rardin decided to reschedule for the spring, giving choir members the opportunity to better connect with the piece and its meaning. 

“This piece in particular has so much baggage that needs to be taken to heart before it can impact others,” said Benjamin Chen, Class of 2025, a member of the choir. “I thought it was a really good idea to make this into a yearlong project, so we could bond with the piece more and share it with the audience even more authentically and genuinely.” 

The process of bonding with the piece included many group discussions among members of the choir; guest talks from members of the LGBTQ+ community; a Zoom call with the piece’s composer, Craig Hella Johnson; and even a Zoom call with Shepard’s father, Dennis. 

Brandon McShaffrey, a faculty member from the Boyer College of Music and Dance’s opera program, joined the concert choir to discuss the impact of Shepard’s death on his own life. 

“He spoke about his experiences and the things he had to endure as an openly queer person growing up in a pre-Matthew Shepard world,” said choir member Corey Price, Class of 2024. “He talked about what a life-changing experience it was in the country when Matthew Shepard’s murder happened, and how vindicating it was that there was finally some attention being put on this kind of thing.” 

Considering Matthew Shepard includes some literal storytelling about Shepard’s life and the events surrounding his death, but the show also features symbolism and themes of sacrifice, love, community and religion. The performance incorporates an exact speech from Shepard’s father. It also includes a movement about Matthew’s killers, as well as a movement from the perspective of the Westboro Baptist Church, whose members protested Shepard’s funeral while promoting their anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs. 

“I like how we’re incorporating all of these different sides,” Chen said. “I think it only makes the story more rich.” 

“The composer, Craig Hella Johnson, is telling the story of Matthew Shepard through a lens of humanity,” Price added. “It looks at us as a society and asks, how could we let something like this happen? It’s about moving forward with a message of love and hope.” 

The full upcoming concert choir schedule can be found here. More information about Boyer’s choral ensembles can be found here