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Passages: Gloria Wilson Swisher (’56 BA, Music), pianist, composer and longtime UW Music friend and advisory board chair

Submitted by Joanne De Pue on September 15, 2023 - 2:51pm
Alumna Gloria Swisher

Read full obituary in the Seattle Times

Gloria Wilson Swisher died peacefully on July 23, 2023 from the ravishes of Alzheimer's that robbed her of her prodigious memory and intellect for the past several years. Her loving husband of 62 years, Don Swisher, and her brother, the Rev. George S. Wilson, were present at her passing at the adult family home in Mill Creek that took loving care of her in her last years.

Gloria was born in the University District on March 12, 1935, daughter of Professor William C.E. Wilson and Naomi Steil Wilson, and lived there through her graduation from the UW School of Music with a BA, summa cum laude in 1956. She then went to Mills College on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship to study piano with Egon Petri and composition with renowned French composer Darius Milhaud, followed by the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester, where she earned a Ph.D in music composition and theory while studying under Bernard Rogers and Howard Hanson. Her Ph.D thesis was a clarinet concerto performed by the Eastman Rochester Symphony. Upon graduation, she accepted a teaching position at the Music Department at Washington State University.

Husband, Don, entered the picture early in their undergraduate studies at the UW, but they parted ways before graduation because of divergent post-graduate plans - he entered the Navy for 3 years followed by appointment as a Foreign Service Officer in the State Department. An early Christmas card sent from the DC area to Rochester rekindled the romance, and Don finally convinced Gloria to marry him 15 minutes before she flew to the West Coast to assume her position at WSU. They married 1 year later and began an itinerant life that included DC, Caracas, Venezuela, Veracruz, Mexico and 2 cities in Japan. They returned to Seattle in 1968 so Don could enter the UW law school and eventually its Asian Law program.

Gloria's musical life was a constant companion throughout. She began performing piano in public by age 12, began composing about then, and composed the music for musicals performed during her days as a student at Roosevelt High School. Her composition life flourished as an undergraduate. Several of her compositions were performed at the UW, elsewhere in Seattle, and in Olympia during this time. Her first published work came in 1960 -a choral anthem published by Carl Fischer music, and she now has at least 15 published works, ranging from her clarinet concerto to her flute concerto written early this century and premiered by the UW symphony in 2004. Several of her compositions are available through Ars Nova Press, a non-profit music publishing company formed to preserve the works of major 20th century composers of tonal music. In 2009, Robert Bigley wrote his DMA dissertation analyzing Gloria's choral music. Gloria also was part of a 2-piano team with her friend and colleague, Nancy Matesky, performing over a span of 20 years in the Seattle area. Many of her compositions were influenced by her travels, including a work commemorating the life of a Mexican friend, premiered in Sarasota, Florida, and several pieces based on her Japanese experience.

Gloria resumed her academic career upon return to Seattle, teaching part time at PLU and elsewhere before commencing a 30 year career teaching music theory and composition at Shoreline Community College. Her theory syllabus is renowned and infamous. She also taught undergraduate theory at the UW School of Music for one year until her health deteriorated.

Gloria was active in music circles. She was on the Board of Seattle Opera, served as chair of the advisory committee for the UW School of Music for about 2 decades, was a national officer in Sigma Alpha Iota, an International women's professional musical organization, and on the Board of Ladies Musical Club.

Gloria is survived by her husband, Donald P. Swisher of Seattle, 2 teenage grandkids - Jack Thomas Swisher and Ana Quin Swisher, and her brother, George S. Wilson. Her 2 sons, Donald William Swisher and Stephen Alexander Swisher, both predeceased her, as did her parents and her sister, Bernita N. Jackson.

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