When Goshen College Chamber Choir performed with Conspirare, a Grammy award winning choir based in Austin, Texas, as part of the 2018-2019 Performing Arts Series, no one knew COVID-19 would bring them together again.
This past Tuesday, Conspirare, in cooperation with the University of Albany, released a virtual choir recording of the final piece of the oratorio “Considering Matthew Shepard: All of Us,” which featured not only Conspirare, but also 477 singers from over 45 choirs in four different countries.
Those invited to sing along were choir members who sang “Considering Matthew Shepard” alongside Conspirare in concert over the course of their tour or as part of their own local choirs.
“Considering Matthew Shepard” was composed by Conspirare’s artistic director, Craig Hella Johnson, in response to the murder of Matthew Shepard, a young, gay Wyoming college student. The work included passages from Matthew’s personal journals, newspaper reports, and interviews with his parents.
Among those who participated in the video project were Janell Preheim, a senior music and secondary education major from Goshen College, along with 2019 graduates Anne Buckwalker, Naomi Peters and Emily Stoltzfus, who heard about the opportunity to send in a recording of their singing from music professor Scott Hochstetler.
“My involvement was very much as a facilitator in this because I was in Peru during the year of 2018-2019 and Deb [Detwiler] had taken over Chamber Choir,” Hochstetler said.
During the PAS performance of “Considering Matthew Shepard,” the Goshen College Chamber Choir joined Conspirare in singing “All of Us,” the final piece of the work.
“Some of the pieces [in “Considering Matthew Shepard”] were really heavy and hard to listen to, which I think is what makes this specific piece, ‘All of Us’ so hopeful and inspiring, because it comes at the end after the whole journey … and then it’s [looking] to the future, to hope,” Preheim said.
Preheim sent in a recording of herself singing from her home in Pennsylvania back in April when the request for audio recordings was first sent out.
“It’s really neat to have been part of something so big,” Preheim said.“Something that stuck with me as I listened tonight was the emphasis on inclusion and a community coming together. This call for ‘only in the love’ and ‘all of us’ is so important especially now during a time of physical separation and political polarization.”
When the video was released, the President of the University of Albany, Havidan Rodriguez, made opening remarks.
“What better way to bring our communities together than with the power of music?” Rodriguez said, referencing the way the coronavirus pandemic has brought communal music to a halt.
“I think this video is giving opportunities to people who are used to singing and being in choirs a chance to share their voices during a time where singing in a choral/communal setting is not possible,” Buckwalter said.
In his own introduction to the video, Johnson, having composed the piece, talked about how he hoped the recording would be a way of celebrating what it means to be together, even through times of great pain and injustice.
“Can we envision a world where we finally say no to anything that isn’t all of us? … In the face of such darkness, such injustices … is love anywhere to be found at the core of this life?” Johnson said. “This piece is part of the process of answering that question for myself.”
Despite the daunting process of sending in a solo-recording, Buckwalter, Peters and Preheim were excited to participate in the project.
“Recording myself singing along in my room with earbuds shoved in my ears and three devices going at the same time is not something I do on a regular basis,” Buckwalter said. “The most rewarding part of the experience was watching the video. It was powerful and chilling to hear 400 plus voices all at once.”
“Being invited to enter back into such a transformative work, alongside some of the Goshen community that I’ve missed dearly, is a memory I wish I could print and frame. It became even more precious as we remembered Deb Detwiler throughout the process, who’s light will always be tied to ‘All of Us,’” Peters said.
The project participants from Goshen College dedicated their contributions to Detwiler, whose final year was spent directing “All of Us” both in preparation for Conspirare’s PAS concert and the Chamber Choir and Orchestra tour the following spring.