Craig Hella Johnson remembers exactly where he was when he heard that Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, had been found tied to a fence on an isolated field in Laramie having been brutally beaten with the butt of a pistol.

“I was living in San Francisco and was the Music Director of the vocal ensemble Chanticleer at the time,” he tells Limelight. “We were having a morning rehearsal and were about to begin when one of the singers came to me, and he was in tears. I was quite new with Chanticleer at the time, and he was the first singer that I had actually hired on my watch, and so I was kind of keeping an eye out for him.”

Matthew Shepard. All photographs supplied by Sydney Philharmonia Choirs

The singer, Matt Alber – who now performs with Conspirare, the choral ensemble in Austin, Texas, of which Johnson is the founding Artistic Director and Conductor – told him that he had just heard on the radio about the vicious attack on the young, gay student. Before long it was all over the news. Like millions of others, Johnson...