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University Singers and Concert Choir Honor 25th Anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s Death

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Cal State Fullerton’s University Singers and Concert Choir collaborated with Fullerton College to perform “Meet Me Here,” a musical piece to honor the 25th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death and the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s commitment to championing equality for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

On Oct. 7, 1998, Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming was tied to a fence and killed outside of Laramie, Wyoming. His parents started the Matthew Shepard Foundation to honor his life and teach parents how to love and accept their children, no matter their sexuality. 

The foundation helped pioneer the country’s first federal hate crimes legislation with the passing of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009 and provided hate crime training to more than 1,000 law enforcement officers and 76 prosecutors.

Stacey Kikkawa from Fullerton Union High School initiated the performance and served as creative director. Cal State Fullerton music professors Rob Istad and Chris Peterson and Fullerton College faculty member Nicola Dedmon directed the choirs.

Istad said he and his colleagues decided on Craig Johnson’s piece, “Meet Me Here,” to honor Shepard’s legacy. The piece pulled Istad’s heartstrings.

“I am an out gay member of the LGBTQ+ community and will never forget the day that Matthew was murdered. I was a senior in college and very nervous about telling anyone about my sexuality,” said Istad, a Grammy Award-winning conductor. “The ripple of terror in the LGBTQ+ community was palpable at that time.”

Erika Jackson, one of two soloists in the performance, said that as the mother of a son who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, she felt the need to evoke sensitivity, musicality and inspiration in the piece.

“I have performed as a soloist many times, but this project had a personal touch. I wanted to provide comfort to those who are coping with trauma because of their sexual identity,” said Jackson ’16 (B.M. music education-choral). “I am grateful to say it was one of the most difficult yet rewarding solo opportunities I have ever been given.”

As a graduate student completing her master’s degree in music-performance, Jackson plans to apply to doctoral programs before launching a career in teaching and conducting at the collegiate level. 

Jackson said she returned to CSUF for her master’s degree because of the compassionate professors in the School of Music. She added that Istad and Peterson’s mentorship inspired her to pursue a career in choral music education.

“There is a special spirit and musical community that exists here because of their kindheartedness,” said Jackson. “In the future, it is my hope to serve other college students in the same gentle manner CSUF professors care for students here.”

Daniel Freeman, a member of the choir, said that as an openly gay student, he felt honored to perform the piece and create unity with all singers.

“I want to be able to continue sharing Matthew Shepard’s story and for people to never forget what happened,” said Freeman, a senior majoring in music-voice. 

Freeman said his goal is to become a professional studio and film musician performing in a choir for movies and video games soundtracks. 

“The constant exposure to different musical genres has expanded my adaptability, and comprehending intricate harmonies and arrangements is invaluable for studio work,” said Freeman, who has performed with the University Singers, Vocal Jazz and Opera.   

Joy Dorko, another member of the choir, said that she uses music as an empowering tool to uplift marginalized communities and hopes to channel her passion into becoming a high school choir director.

Dorko, a senior majoring in music-education said, “I felt supported by the solidarity expressed in the poetry and the universal support from the entire choir program.”

Emanating a message of love and embrace from the Fullerton singing members to LGBTQ+ communities, Istad said he hopes the performance fosters harmony and understanding. 

“We stand in confidence that it encourages others to listen and care rather than create hostility. Kindness and encouragement triumph over hate,” said Istad.

Written by: Vanessa Siguenza