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Spinning Light - using music to honor Matthew Shepard


The Shepard Symposium on Social Justice is an annual event held at the University of Wyoming. It hopes to bring attention to inequities still experienced today and find solutions. Dr. Anne Guzzo was asked by the conductor of this year’s music show to compose a piece of music in honor of Matthew Shepard, and she said taking this commission was an easy decision.

“As an LGBTQ person, I’ve had strong feelings about this for 25 years. I decided to find a way into this story, right? But what I wanted was, as you can tell by the title “Spinning Light,” I wanted to create a sense of positivity, a sense of progress,” Guzzo said.

Guzzo wove this inspiration throughout The Elevating Voices Concert - Spinning Light piece. It’s a four movement chamber orchestra piece with Dr. Erik Erlandson as a solo vocalist. It’s more than just in honor for Shepard. Guzzo wants the piece to represent queer people from all over Wyoming.

“I know we have a ton of work to do, don’t get me wrong. I felt like there’s a common dysphoric narrative. I wanted to make sure we also talk about queer joy. Queer positivity. Queer progress,” Guzzo said.

She also wanted to create an artistic piece that came from a person in Wyoming. She said most of the existing art about Shepard’s death and social justice comes from artists who are not from the state. Guzzo wanted to showcase the perspective of gay life from someone inside the state.

To start writing the piece, she had to do some research. The first idea she felt moved by was something Matthew’s father, Dennis Shepard, said in the courtroom.

“He said he had the beautiful night sky. The same sky he had looked at with Matt with a telescope,” she said. “And I have done that with my dad. You know, kids that grew up in Wyoming know the prairie, and they feel it.”

A long exposure photograph of stars over what appears to be a desert landscape, but it is too dark to make out details about the landscape.
National Park Service

Taking inspiration from the night sky, Guzzo incorporated science into her work. She researched how a star was born, the life of a star, and how its light lasts for years after it dies. This made her piece into a double metaphor, one for the murder of Matthew Shepard and one for the life and death of a star. She uses the process of a star being born to highlight and name each movement.

“We start with “Dust,” which is how a star is formed. And “Gravity” is the second movement, all of that weight starts to compress, and “Fusion” happens. And there's a collapse in that fusion process, and all that dust pushes inwards. And then if a star is born, the light goes on and on and on forever. And so everything in this piece leads to this last movement called light,” Guzzo said.

She said the death of the star represents the death of Matthew Shepard. But when a star dies, light continues for years after. She said that continuing light is like the Shepard family and all that they’ve done for the LGBTQ+ community. She wants listeners to take away the feeling of positivity, optimism, and sense of progress from this music. The concert is on October 9th at 7:30 p.m. in the Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts and is open to the public.

Originally from Casper, Wyoming, Taylor moved to Laramie, Wyoming in the fall of 2020. She is a fourth-year journalism major with a minor in jazz at the University of Wyoming. She has participated in many musical ensembles on campus, including the University of Wyoming Symphony Orchestra and the Western Thunder Marching Band. In her free time, she enjoys playing video games, watching cartoons, camping, and swimming.
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