John Shepherd served as organist at Central Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC from 1965 to 1967 and at Chicago Theological Seminary from 1967 to 1969. From 1970 to 1973 he taught music and art at Irving Intermediate School in Springfield, Virginia. He was Director of Music at Rock Spring Congregational Church in Arlington, Virginia from 1970 to 1972, at St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Lanham, Maryland from 1974 to 1977, and at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington from 1977 until his death in 1993. He was also a past dean of the District of Columbia Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
"Shepherd's special talent was working with volunteer choirs, helping them achieve a sound far greater than the individual parts," according to The American Organist.
His many choral compositions employ sacred and secular texts; ten have been published by Hinshaw Music and Choristers Guild. Shepherd himself wrote the texts for A Living Faith, As Tenderly as a Father, I Promise I Will Share, The Promised Messiah, Right on Time, Sing and Serve and others. In 1975 his Psalm 100 for SATB chorus, brasses, percussion and organ was performed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts by the United Church of Christ Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Alfred Neumann. In 1992 Shepherd won a national competition, sponsored by the Dallas Choristers Guild for the Children's Choir Festival in Dallas, for his composition A Living Faith.
Shepherd's instrumental works include a piano sonata, several chamber pieces for woodwinds, and compositions for organ — St. Michael Variations (1978), Darkness and Light (1981), a sonata written in 1969, and various chorale preludes.
"The hymn tune 'St. Michael' is number 444 in the Pilgrim Hymnal. It is hardly a theme worthy to explore in variations. In 1978 I regarded that fact as a challenge, attempting to create a musical 'silk purse out of a sow's ear.' If some of the fourteen variations seem quirky or peculiar (or maybe the whole piece), that's part of the idea." (composer's program note, 1987)
"I wrote Darkness and Light last December. It was commissioned by members of First Congregational Church as a gift for William Moremen, the senior minister, on the 25th anniversary of his ordination. The piece is a meditation on one of his favorite scriptures, Psalm 139, verse 12, "Darkness is no darkness for thee, and night is luminous as day; to thee both dark and light are one." The music unfolds from a set of three minor modes, darkness, and a set of three major modes, light. Unusual low and high registers are explored and stops singled out which rarely have a chance to speak alone. I hope you hear some fresh and colorful sounds from the organ." (composer's program note, 1982)
John Shepherd died of AIDS in Washington, DC at the age of 48 on October 7, 1993. He is survived by his partner Randy Jones.