Considering Matthew Shepard: Command Encore at Ravinia Festival 

Now Airing Nationwide: Considering Matthew Shepard on PBS!

Chicago Tribune Top 10 Classical Concert of 2018: “The long-awaited Chicago-area premiere of this oratorio, a profound contemplation on the 1998 murder of gay college student, Shepard, proved to be not only one of the most moving performances of the year but also one of the most hopeful.”

“Much more than just one man’s story. In some respects, it was everyone’s story, a reflection on human travails and heavenly aspirations.” – Howard Reich 

09.12.19, 7:30pm

Ravinia Festival Pavilion 
418 Sheridan Road, Highland Park, IL 60035

Buy tickets online 

“This performance stabbed me with the beauties of healing, love, and unified creation. This work lifts us to deal with imponderables and reminds us that human potentiality is the least understood and most squandered resource on earth. Too often we attach value to things man does, but not what man is.  We have national anthems, but no anthems for humanity. Man’s achievements and power are heralded, but the preciousness of life is unsung. No longer… thanks to the artistry of Craig Hella Johnson and Conspirare.” — Audience member

Conspirare’s current touring project, Considering Matthew Shepard, is a Grammy-nominated three-part oratorio composed by Craig Hella Johnson. The work, which debuted at number four on Billboard’s Traditional Classical Chart, is an evocative and compassionate musical response to the murder of Matthew Shepard. Matthew Shepard was a young, gay college student at the University of Wyoming who in October 1998 was kidnapped, severely beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in a lonely field under a blanket of stars. When Shepard passed away, five days later, an offended world looked on  Composer Craig Hella Johnson had a profoundly personal reaction to both the murder and its resonance.
Considering Matthew Shepard transports listeners through a tapestry of musical textures and idioms in a poignant concert experience inspiring hope, compassion, and empowerment. The Washington Post called the work “powerfully cathartic,” and wrote “Like Bach’s large-scale choral works, this spellbinding piece draws on many styles masterfully juxtaposed, though Johnson’s sources are the American vernacular. A Prologue, Passion and Epilogue … combine spoken text, cowboy song, American hymnody and popular song, spirituals, jazz and dazzling polyphony, all woven into a seamless tapestry.  The impact is immediate, profound and, at times, overwhelming.”

Artists Performing


october-mourning-cover-200x300On Tuesday, October 6, 1988, at approximately 11:45 p.m., twenty-one-year-old Matthew Shepard, a gay college student attending the University of Wyoming, was kidnapped from a bar by twenty-one-year old Aaron McKinney and twenty-one-year-old Russell Henderson. Pretending to be gay, the two men lured Matthew Shepard into their truck, drove him to the outskirts of Laramie, robbed him, beat him with a pistol, tied him to a buck-rail fence, and left him to die. The next day, at about 6:00 p.m. – eighteen hours after the attack – he was discovered and taken to a hospital. He never regained consciousness and died five days later, on Monday, October 12, with his family by his side.

One of the last things Matthew Shepard did that Tuesday night was attend a meeting of the University of Wyoming’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Association. The group was putting final touches on plans for Gay Awareness Week, scheduled to begin the following Sunday, October 11, coinciding with a National Coming Out Day. Planned campus activities included a film showing, an open poetry reading, and a keynote speaker.

That keynote speaker was me.

I never forgot what happened in Laramie, and around the tenth anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death, I found myself thinking more and more about him. And so I began writing a series of poems, striving to create a work of art that explores the events surrounding Matthew Shepard’s murder in order to gain a better understanding of their impact on myself and the world.

What really happened at the fence that night? Only three people know the answer to that question. Two of them are imprisoned, convicted murderers whose stories often contradict each other (for example, in separate interviews both McKinney and Henderson have claimed that he alone tied Matthew Shepard to the fence). The other person who knows what really happened that night is dead. We will never know his side of the story.

This book is my side of the story.

While the poems in this book are inspired by actual events, they do not in any way represent the statements, thoughts, feelings, opinions, or attitudes of any actual person. The statements, thoughts, feelings, opinions, and attitudes conveyed belong to me. All monologues contained within the poems are figments of my imagination; no actual person spoke any of the words contained within the body of any poem. Those words are mine and mine alone. When the words of an actual person are used as a short epigraph for a poem, the source of that quote is cited at the back of the book in a section entitled “Notes,” which contains citations and suggestions for further reading about the crime. The poems, which are mean to be read in sequential order as one whole work, are a work of poetic invention and imagination: a historical novel in verse. The poems are not an objective reporting of Matthew Shepard’s murder and its aftermath; rather they are my own personal interpretation of them.

There is a bench on the campus of the University of Wyoming dedicated to Matthew Shepard, inscribed with the words He continues to make a difference. My hope is that readers of October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard will be inspired to make a difference and honor his legacy by erasing hate and replacing it with compassion, understanding, and love.

OCTOBER MOURNING: A SONG FOR MATTHEW SHEPARD. Copyright © 2012 by Lesléa Newman. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Trailer: Conspirare/KLRU Collaboration, Upcoming PBS Special “Considering Matthew Shepard”

Images from the 2016 World Premiere