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M is for Matthew: A UK PREMIERE

M is for Matthew: A UK PREMIERE

Saturday 16th March 2024

It has been a great privilege, and an immensely moving experience, for the choir to give the UK première of Craig Hella Johnson’s Considering Matthew Shepard. The performance took place on Saturday March 16th in the Bridge House Theatre at Warwick School.

It is probably true to say that the choir has never before performed a work of such immediate contemporary relevance as this piece, which is an extended plea for tolerance and understanding in the face of a horrific anti-gay crime which took place in Wyoming, USA in 1998. The work references an eclectic mix of musical traditions, ranging from mediaeval chant, through gospel music and country & western to Broadway musical, blues/ jazz and pop, with direct quotes from J S Bach and Benjamin Britten. Rehearsing and performing the piece definitely took us out of our comfort zone in terms of musical styles! At its heart is a passion story, the story of the death of an innocent man, in this case “just an ordinary boy”. As in the great passions of J S Bach, the singers are required not only to present and reflect on a dramatic and harrowing narrative, but also at one point to play the part of a crowd motivated by prejudice and hatred, before the work finally ends in peace and resolution.

Another first for the choir was to perform with an electric guitar, alongside clarinet, strings, piano and percussion. We had narrators to tell the story, as well as vocal soloists, and there was a semi chorus of singers drawn from within the choir. All these various elements had to be skilfully drawn together on the day of the concert, and we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Lee Dunleavy, our Musical Director, for his vision, commitment and sheer hard work, and to all the musicians and speakers who came on this journey with us. The concert also posed a number of logistical and organisational challenges, not least due to the complexity of obtaining the necessary performing rights for the piece, and an unexpected last minute change of venue. We are very grateful to Lee, to our choir officers and committee, and to everyone involved in the organisation of the concert, for the huge amount of effort they put in to make it happen.

Our vocal soloists were Georgia Humphrey (soprano), Zara Donaldson (mezzo soprano), Nathan Stubbings (tenor) and George Salmon (baritone), all students at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and the narrators were Julie Godfrey and Paul Curran from the Loft Theatre. Clarinet was played by Nathan Isaac, acoustic and electric guitars by Pete Ross, and percussion by Christina Slominska. Our string players, appearing by kind permission of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, were Zinnia Smart (violin), Nicholas Fidler (viola), Jake Ryan (cello) and Phoebe Cheng (double bass). Colin Druce not only played the piano in the concert, but also ably supported all our rehearsals as repetiteur and as additional choral trainer when required. Our grateful thanks to them all for sharing this amazing musical experience with us.

If you would like to learn more about Matthew Shepard, Craig Hella Johnson, and the creation of ‘Considering Matthew Shepard’, please visit the websites below.

Matthew Shepard Foundation

please click here

Documentary on 'Considering Matthew Shepard’

please click here

Conspirare and Craig Hella Johnson

please click here

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