When All is Done was commissioned by the University of Wyoming at the invitation of Nicole Lamartine, Director of Choral Activities and premiered at the 13th Annual Shepard Symposium on Social Justice. The work has its genesis in a request from Lamartine for a choral work commemorating the 10th Anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard in one of the most notorious hate crimes in modern U.S. history. As we discussed what kind of a work to create for this occasion, and as I searched through dozens of texts, I ran across the powerful poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872–1906), known to many as the father of black American poetry. The son of former slaves, Dunbar was keenly aware of the social cost and personal pain of oppression and hatred.
In choosing this poem—rather than one of the many poems written as memorials to Shepard—I made a conscious decision to create a memorial to him that would be an oblique rather than a direct reference to the specific event of his murder, a work that could serve as a universal memorial to all victims of hatred and oppression. After reading extensively about Shepard and about the event itself and the trial, I had the feeling that this is what he would have wanted.
On my initial reading of the poem, I heard the voice of the poet paint a graphic picture of the price of hatred and of the emptiness of loss and the grave. Yet ultimately this darkness leads to the light of redemption. As I reread Dunbar’s poem, I had a remarkably moving experience: Dunbar’s voice—reaching out across more than a century—becameShepard’s voice, speaking to all those who mourned for him. As I continued to read, their voices merged together, joining with the voices of all victims of hatred and oppression, crying out for justice, warning us of the stinging cost of hatred, yet selflessly and compassionately redirecting us all from despair and emptiness to the hope of a new morning in which we can all greet not the “setting sun” of the present day, but “the dawn” of a new age, that great Dream of Dr. King, in which love rightly transcends hatred and oppression “when all is done.”