A concert review of “Considering Matthew Shepard”


Image by Bernard Leonard Wilchusky Jr., ©University of West Florida

Darien Hardy, Staff Writer

On Nov. 20, the UWF Singers and Concert Choir premiered “Considering Matthew Shepard,” which was directed by Dr. Peter Steenblik and featured collaborative pianists Hyunjoo Kim and Daniel Perkins. 

On Oct. 6, 1998, at approximately 11:45 p.m., 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, a gay college student attending the University of Wyoming, was kidnapped from a bar by 21-year-old Aaron McKinney and 21-year-old Russell Henderson. Pretending to be gay, the two men lured Shepard into their truck, drove him to the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming, savagely beat him and left him to die tied to a fence. The next day at about 6:00 p.m.—eighteen hours after the attack—he was discovered and taken to a hospital.

Shepard never regained consciousness and died five days later with his family by his side. 

This 90-minute performance explores Matthew Shepard’s story and its effects on modern culture. The UWF Singers told this story through composer Craig Hella Johnson’s blend of different genres and styles of music—from gospel to Gregorian chant and baroque to country. 

The lyrics of the songs come from award-winning poet Lesléa Newman, lyricist Michael Dennis Browne, news clippings from the time of the event, journal entries of young Shepard and various historical figures.

The performance featured the UWF Singers and the Concert Choir, a 9-piece orchestra, baritone soloist Corey McKern, soprano soloist Dr. Sheila Dunn and an added 30 soloists from the choir.

The UWF Singers and Steenblik have made this performance available for public viewing on YouTube, but only until Dec. 1. Click here to watch the performance. 

Keep in mind that some of the material explores the attack, murder and death of Matthew Shepard. Other moments illustrate the hateful protests that happened around the time of the funeral. While Steenblik made it known that words matter, he also says that the performance is filled with joy, light and love. 

Jurnee French, a UWF student, went to see the show. Regarding the most striking moments of the show, French said, “There was a moment in the show when the singers were all screaming at the top of their lungs at different times as part of a song, and it hit so hard that it gave me chills. Everyone I was with was sobbing by the end of the performance.”

To stay up to date with future UWF Singers and choir performances, follow the UWF Singers on Instagram @uwfsingers and Facebook @uwfchoir. A full PDF copy of the program and libretto for “Considering Matthew Shepard” is also available at uwfsingers.com.