Art is derived from emotion.
In the case of the oratorio, “Considering Matthew Shepard,” Craig Hella Johnson composed the piece to remember the life of the Wyoming teenager who became a national figure after being beaten and left for dead for being gay in 1998.
The piece was nominated for a Grammy in 2017, for the Austin, Texas-based ensemble Conspirare.
Albuquerque-based Coro Lux will present the piece on Saturday, April 6, at St. Paul Lutheran Church.
“Craig is a friend of mine and I had seen clips of the piece on YouTube for awhile,” says Brad Ellingboe, Coro Lux artistic director. “Another friend of mine leads the choir at USC and the group performed it and he said it was life-changing. That’s why I wanted Coro Lux to do it.”
Ellingboe says what happened to Shepard is a horrific story.
“But it’s also a story about hope and acceptance,” he says. “It’s about how we all have both light and dark inside of us. We need to work to bring out the light in us.”
Ellingboe says the first three pieces form the Prologue, in which we meet Shepard and learn a bit about him.
“Then comes the main body of the piece, which the composer calls the ‘passion’ story, modeled after Bach’s ‘Passions.’ Bach took the term ‘Passion’ from the Latin ‘passio’ which means ‘suffering,'” Ellingboe says. “In the music by Bach, and in that by Craig Hella Johnson, the chorus and soloists play all the parts. That is, they are the protagonists and the antagonists. They are the Greek chorus commenting on the action, but also the crowd calling for the crucifixion.”
Finally come the four pieces of the Epilogue, in which we are charged to go out and live more in love and less in hate.
“I saw Craig Hella Johnson last month and I told him how committed the chorus was to doing an excellent job in telling this story,” Ellingboe says. “As we said goodbye, he said a small but profound thing. He said, ‘The piece isn’t exactly about Matthew. Rather, Matthew’s story allows us into the bigger conversation about the power of love over hate.'”