Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)


Choral Conducting

Document Type



Joan Szymko (pronounced SHIM-koh) is an American composer-conductor with a prolific output of choral music. With over 100 choral pieces in print, her works are regularly heard at national and international festivals and competitions, including regional and national American Choral Directors Association conferences. She was selected to present at the 2020 World Symposium on Choral music in Auckland, New Zealand, which was unfortunately canceled due to the COVID pandemic. Szymko’s only major choral/orchestral work, Shadow and Light: An Alzheimer’s Journey, has been performed three times: in April 2016 by Eugene Vocal Arts; in September 2019 by the Oregon Repertory Singers; and in June 2019 by the Portara Ensemble in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2014, Eugene Vocal Arts commissioned Szymko to create a libretto that focused on Alzheimer’s dementia and compose the music for a major choral/orchestral work. After eight months of investigation, which included interviews with patients in various stages of the disease and their care-partners, as well as extensive medical research, Szymko conceived a work in three parts, totaling sixteen movements, and requiring 70 minutes to perform. Szymko developed the text for the work from patient and care-partner quotations, classic and contemporary poetry, scripture, hymnody, and her own observations. It should be noted that “care-partners” is a term Szymko uses to define those afflicted by Alzheimer’s and their loved ones. This dissertation will serve as a conductor’s guide to Joan Szymko’s Shadow and Light: An Alzheimer’s Journey. This project includes a detailed examination of the work’s history and interviews with the composer and the commission conductor. A textual analysis follows, including a comprehensive exegesis and structural analysis of all texts. The multifarious resources for Shadow and Light: An Alzheimer’s Journey mean that a critical evaluation of the work has to explore the selection process for each movement. A further examination of the relationship of music and text is gained through a conductor’s analysis of the score, including a bar analysis using the Julius Herford method. The inclusion of a conductor’s preparation guide for rehearsal and performance will conclude the project.



Committee Chair

Dickson, John