I was commissioned by Eugene Vocal Arts in 2014 through a grant from the Oregon Community Foundation's "Creative Heights” initiative to create the libretto and compose the music for a major work for chorus and orchestra on the subject of Alzheimer's demetia. After eight months researching both medical and personal aspects of Alzheimer's, including several interviews with care-partners (persons afflicted with dementia and their loved ones), I conceived a libretto in three parts with a total of sixteen movements, using quotes of patients, their lived ones, classic poetry of Dickinson and Rilke, hymn text and scripture, my own words, and compelling contemporary poetry directly related to Alzheimer's. "Shadow and Light, an Alzheimer's Journey" was composed over the course of 2015 in 16 movements, and is scored for SATB chorus, mezzo-soprano, tenor and soprano soli, and chamber orchestra (2,2,2,2 - 2hrn, 2 tpt, 2 perc, hrp, pno, strgs). My intent was to bear beautiful, loving witness to a growing population of care-partners that feels largely invisible and ignored, hoping to create something universal, beyond the scope of the disease. For their April 2016 world premiere performance of “Shadow and Light,” Eugene Vocal Arts Chamber Choir was named winner of The American Prize: Ernst Bacon Memorial Award for the Performance of American Music, 2016-17 (community division.) That premiere was met with accolades from audience, reviewers and from the granting foundation. Despite the tragic nature of the subject, chorus members, soloists and orchestra members found “Shadow and Light” a joy to perform. Commissioning Conductor Dr. Diane Retallack has remarked: “This is truly a masterwork and deserves a place in the standard choral repertory.” —Joan Szymko
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“Szymko has created a work here that is more than a piece of music… it should be played everywhere."
— Rachael Carnes, Eugene Weekly
“…a poignant, stirring amalgamation with moments that will tug on the heartstrings of any audience member.”
— Alison Kaufman, Register-Guard
"This work deserves a place in standard choral repertory.”
— Dr. Diane Retallack, director, Eugene Concert Choir & Orchestra
“I didn't know what to expect last week, and now that it's over,
I can say that it will stay with me as one of the most memorable experiences of my life as a musician. “
— David Straka, first cellist, Eugene Concert Orchestra