By Mikkel Hyldebrandt
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s tragic death, Coro Vocati will perform the acclaimed “Considering Matthew Shepard.” Peach spoke to Jamie Clements, a tenor soloist in the production, the massive musical endeavor.
This is a big musical endeavor: would you elaborate a little on the many different parts of the show?
It is part biography, part documentary, part requiem, and ultimately, part hopeful look toward a brighter future where we all allow others to be loved for who they are. It brings together what seems like a dozen different musical genres to cast the sentiments and voices of an equal number of people and groups surrounding the life and death of Matthew Shepard. You hear from his family; from people who rallied to support the LGBTQIA community in the wake of his death; from people who wished they could ignore the situation entirely; from people who chose to stand opposed to Matthew’s life; and, in the end, hopefully your own voice identifies and joins in singing that “only all of us” are able to change and shape how we treat each other.
What is your part in the performance?
For the majority of the concert, I join with a half dozen other tenors to bring the powerful text to life. For one poignant solo in the center of the work, my voice becomes that of Matthew as he nears the end of his life, singing of his simple desire to see the “unset jewel” of his life find a path forward.
The story of Matthew Shepard is a tragic one – how will this concert lift our spirits?
The simple act of being together when we recount these stories lifts the human spirit — Togetherness, comradery, community, society. The lift in the spirit comes with seeing we aren’t alone in our grief, anger, sadness, or in our hope for the brighter ending, which this work captures beautifully.
Why do you think the story of Matthew Shepard still has such importance today?
In the long story of humanity, Matthew’s story was essentially yesterday. Though our current societal attention span seems to ping pong off any story quickly, real cultural sentiment toward a particular issue takes generations to change. Being anything other than heterosexual is still illegal in many countries around the world. There are still world leaders who regularly denounce homosexuality. Matthew’s story will “still” be important as long as these realities exist, and even after that, his story will be an important marker of when we as a human race started to demand respect and protection of each other more boldly.
Tell us about the song “All Of Us” – who will be performing alongside Coro Vocati on this one?
Although it is not the last song in “Considering Matthew Shepard,” “All of Us” can be considered the big finale of the work. It is a beautiful, gospel-inspired song that focuses on the responsibility society has to promote love and reject hate. Because the goal of the song is to encourage everyone to work together and make the world a more loving, inclusive place, we have invited other singers to join in this particular song and underscore the “All of Us” message. These special guest singers include select high school students from throughout metro Atlanta and members of the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus, Atlanta Women’s Chorus and OurSong. When we join our voices together during “All of Us,” it will be a truly amazing moment for the audience.
You also partner with Be THE Voice?
Be THE Voice is a Roswell, GA-based nonprofit that helps students find their voice and speak up in situations that involve bullying. We were introduced to the organization by one of our board members, who is very active in the Roswell community and knows Be THE Voice’s executive director. After meeting with the team and learning more about Be THE Voice’s mission, we felt that a partnership between our groups was a natural fit. Together, Coro Vocati and Be THE Voice are raising awareness of “Considering Matthew Shepard” and the importance of standing up for others who may be viewed as “different.”
Will there be other performances of “Considering Matthew Shepard”?
“Considering Matthew Shepard” was originally developed for and performed by the renowned chamber ensemble, Conspirare, and the work only recently became available for other choirs to perform. We are thrilled to be the first professional choir to produce this important piece in Atlanta, and at this point, we are viewing the concert as a special one-time event for Coro Vocati.
“Considering Matthew Shepard” will be performed by Coro Vocati in partnership with Be THE Voice at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center on June 29 at 8 pm. Tickets are available via citysprings.com/events.