Originally scheduled for March 2020, the concert fell victim to the COVID pandemic. Polymnia has waited three years for the local premier of this Grammy-nominated work, composed by Craig Hella Johnson and conducted by Polymnia’s Artistic Director, Murray Kidd. The choral ensemble consists of over 50 members of Polymnia Choral Society and 20 students from the Bedford High School honors choir. The performance will feature professional baritone soloist Craig Juricka. There will also be an 8-person orchestra of professional musicians.
Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay student, was brutally attacked and left to die in Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998. Subsequently, his parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation to honor their son’s life and to highlight the importance of standing up for the LGBTQ+ community. The world’s reaction to the horrific hate crime inspired Johnson to create the oratorio as a space for reflection, consideration, and unity around Shepard’s life.
The oratorio uses many musical styles including classical, contemporary, spoken word, Gregorian chant, Broadway, and country music, to tell the story of Matthew Shepard’s life, murder, and legacy. The chorus will be accompanied by a live orchestra of professional musicians from the greater Boston area. The audience will experience deeply meaningful and moving songs. Following the performance, a talk-back session
will allow audience members time to consider the underlying lessons of the tragedy.
While the piece focuses on the horrific death of Shepard, a white man, Polymnia feels it is of equal importance to acknowledge that James Byrd Jr., a Black man, a husband, and a father of three children, was also murdered a few months before Matthew on June 7th, 1998. Byrd’s murder was the result of a racially motivated attack by known white supremacists. Both Byrd’s and Shepard’s deaths were the catalyst for the creation of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was signed into law in 2009 by President Barack Obama.
The oratorio allows the singers and the audience members to learn about and reflect on the complicated history and current realities of hate crimes in this country. To honor both tragic murders and help provide educational resources to our patrons, there will be representatives on-site from organizations that support both the LGBTQ+ community and local racial justice programs. These groups will have information available to help teach audience members about their services and offer educational materials.
Because of the serious nature of this concert’s subject matter, consider it as you would a PG-13 show. This program is supported in part by a grant from the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency. Additional sponsors include, but are not limited to, the Melrose Cultural Council, the Melrose Bank Foundation, Cabot Risk Strategies, and The Ward Group. This concert would not be possible without their support. Tickets for the oratorio can be purchased ahead of time at https://polymnia.org/about-our-upcoming-season/ or at the door before the performance.