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Joan Szymko Biography

Joan Szymko

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Born: 1957. Living in: United States

Joan Szymko is a composer and conductor from the Pacific Northwest. With a catalog of over 100 published choral works, her music is performed by ensembles across North America and abroad. Abundant lyricism, rhythmic integrity and a vigorous attention to text are hallmarks of Szymko's diverse and distinctive choral writing. Fresh and inspiring, her text selections are as notable as her music. Especially significant is Szymko's contribution to the body of quality literature for women's voices. Her music is frequently heard at regional, national and international choral festivals and competitions. Since 2003, her music has been performed at every National Conference of the American Choral Directors Association. The ACDA recognized Szymko's lasting impact on the choral arts in America by selecting her as the recipient of the prestigious Raymond W. Brock Memorial Commission in 2010.

Composing for vocal ensembles is an extension of Szymko's creativity as a choral director. She has inspired community and church choirs in Seattle and Portland for over 30 years. Her passion for the singing voice, an embodied approach to sound, a dedication to craft and artistry, and her insistence on quality texts-all relate to her experience as a conductor and are reflected in her choral compositions. In addition to her own self published works, her music appears in the catalogs of Santa Barbara Music Publishing, Roger Dean Publishing, Walton Music, earthsongs,Treble Clef Press and Yelton Rhodes Music. She is a founding member of the Independent Music Publishers Cooperative.

Szymko was born in Chicago, the youngest of five children in a devout Catholic home where faith, education and the arts were core values. She began piano study at age eight, led liturgical folk music at Mass, sang in her high school choir, but most importantly she was an avid listener to a great diversity of music during her formative years. While classical keyboard music was the default soundtrack in the home (all the siblings took piano lessons) the stereo blared Gregorian chant, "Missa Luba" and "Missa Solemnis", Benjamin Britten and the Beatles, Mussorgsky and Mitch Miller, Prokofiev and Peter, Paul & Mary, Leontyne Price and Joni Mitchell, Leonard Bernstein and Led Zeppelin- among many many other artists. The bliss she experienced while playing and listening to great music compelled her to enter college as a music student. She began at the Chicago Musical College at Roosevelt University and received a B.S. in Music Education (1979) at the University of Illinois (Urbana) with a vocal/choral emphasis. She left for Seattle following graduation and soon began arranging and composing music to fill the repertoire needs of the progressively leaning women's and church choirs she directed there in the 1980's and early 90's. During her first decade as a choral professional, she expanded her knowledge of conducting and vocal pedagogy by way of numerous workshops and summer sessions. A year of composition study at the University of Washington (1988) and a successful musical theater collaboration, (Cradle and All 1990, solidified her determination to continue the pursuit of a career in music with an emphasis on composition.

In 1993 Szymko was invited to Portland, Oregon to take on the leadership of Aurora Chorus, a 100 voice women's community chorus. Soon after arriving in Portland, she founded the select women's choir, Viriditas Vocal Ensemble. She composed prolifically for this group as well as for Aurora Chorus and several of Szymko's best known early works were premiered by these two ensembles. With Viriditas (1994-2002) her mission was to provide an exceptional, eclectic choral experience for both singers and audience. Performances explored connections between music and ritual, unique collaborations, and were aimed at bringing down the "fourth wall" between performers and audience. She began and maintains a fruitful collaborative relationship with Robin Lane and Do Jump! Movement Theater (since 1994) and performed her music with the company in Portland, on Broadway, at the Kennedy Center and Geffen Playhouse in LA. (1995-2005).

Szymko compoesed her first large-scale work for chorus and orchestra when commissioned by Eugene Vocal Arts to both create the libretto and compose a work focusing on those faced with the tragedy of Alzheimer's dementia. "Shadow and Light" for mezzo-soprano, tenor, soprano, SATB chorus and 30 piece chamber orchestra was premiered in April 2016 to great critical acclaim. This notable hour-long addition to the choral-orchestral repertoire will be made available by Joan Szymko Music in 2017.

Szymko continues to live and work in Portland, Oregon. She served on the choral faculty at Portland State University as director of Vox Femina (2013-15) and has continued as Artistic Director of Auroa Chorus. As a visiting artist, and clinician she has workshopped her music with choirs in a variety of educational settings across the US and most recently, in the Netherlands.

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