The story Considering Matthew Shepard: From a hate crime to a celebration of life through music

An Austin musician’s search for a way to honor Matthew Shepard, who died from a horrific hate crime in 1998, leads to an extraordinary musical event.

AUSTIN, Texas — It was a crime that shocked the world: A young university student from Wyoming, Matthew Shepard was killed in a hate crime.

The death of the 21-year-old in Laramie, Wyoming was one of America’s most-notorious anti-gay hate crimes. Shepard was kidnapped, beaten and left to die in an infamous act of brutality in 1998.

As news of his death spread, many people reacted with anger and grief – among them, a musician who lives in Austin.

“I had such a strong reaction that I just felt I had to respond in some way,” said Craig Hella Johnson. “I promised myself that I will do something with music to respond to this.”

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Johnson is a classically trained composer and the Founding Artistic Director of the Austin-based musical ensemble known as Conspirare. He channeled his grief into creating a remarkable music composition entitled “Considering Matthew Shepard.”

“I thought, I want to write a big piece of music for choir and instruments and soloists about matt, but also not just about Matt, but I also wanted the piece to be about all of us, that an audience member could come to and see this story and hopefully having an effect of having them reflect on their own story and how they participate in the questions that get raised,” Johnson said.

Considering Matthew Shepard has been performed around the world. A broadcast performance was televised nationally on PBS, and the CD recording of the music earned a Grammy Award nomination.

“Every week, I get a few emails from people who are being impacted by the piece so its extraordinary, I’m very touched and humbled by it all, “Johnson said.

Considering Matthew Shepard returns to Austin on October 3rd as Conspirare performs at Bass Concert Hall, a performance that Johson says is both a testament to Shepard’s memory and a reflection on the power of love. Ticket information is available here.

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