Originally Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2012, 2:06 pm
Last Updated: Nov. 29, 2012, 2:28 pm

Augie composer greets the season with new work

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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com

Jacob Bancks, assistant professor of music at Augustana College, wrote a choral piece to be performed at Centennial Hall this weekend.

Jacob Bancks penned his first song in kindergarten and pretty much has not stopped writing music in the 25 years since.

The award-winning 30-year-old composer -- who teaches music theory and composition at Augustana College -- will have a commissioned holiday piece of his performed as part of this weekend's "Christmas at Augustana"concerts. Dr. Bancks received his master's degree in composition from the famed Eastman School of Music in New York and his doctorate in composition from the University of Chicago. He joined the Augie faculty in the fall of 2011.

His choral setting of the Latin text "O Magnum Mysterium" is a "masterpiece," according to Daniel Culver, professor of music and co-chair of the music department at Augustana. "It's a meditation that is beautifully written and will definitely have a big impact on the audience."

"It's for the night service before Christmas -- a meditative text on the nativity," Dr. Bancks recently said of his work for 100-plus voices and orchestra and his first for Augie. It's also the largest-scale choir for which he's written.

A 2008 recipient of a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, his other prizes include two BMI Student Composer Awards, a Century Fellowship (University of Chicago), the Howard Hanson Orchestral Prize (Eastman) and first prize in the Minnesota Music Teachers' Association annual competition.

Dr. Bancks' recent works have been commissioned and premiered with the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley, Pacifica Quartet, eighth blackbird, Schola Antiqua of Chicago, Cantori New York and marimba virtuoso Makoto Nakura -- with whom he recently worked in concerts in Japan.

Other commissions and performances have come from the Annapolis Symphony, the New York Youth Symphony, the South Dakota Symphony/Soli Deo Gloria, the International Double Reed Society and the Hanson Institute for American Music.

In 2007, his piece "Among the Leaves" was performed in Carnegie Hall by mezzo Kate Lindsey and the New York Youth Symphony (which included several Juilliard students) and a New York Times review called it"invitingly lyrical" and "colorfully orchestrated."

"That was absolutely thrilling," Dr. Bancks said of that premiere.

Born in Minnesota and raised in Sioux Falls, S.D., he grew up playing piano and violin andalways knew he wanted to work as a musician. "That was always clear to me. I had a violin teacher who inspired me, the youth symphony conductor," Dr. Bancks said. "He taught me, he wrote music, he just broadened my understanding of what music was and what could be."

He also was a composition major at Wheaton College outside Chicago, where he studied withAugusta Read Thomas, a former Chicago Symphony composer-in-residence. That was "a big turning point," Dr. Bancks said. "I loved seeing her in action."

He joined Augustana for its strong music department, its liberal-arts reputation and the fact that his wife Kara's sister lives in Taylor Ridge. Dr. Bancks' wife also teaches music appreciation at the college and is a professional clarinetist. They have two children -- Hannah, 3, and John, who will be 2 in late December -- and are expecting a third any day.

The composer enjoys writing for any musical combination -- orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo piano, voice, and choir. One of his current major projects is a commission for the prestigious U.S. Marine Band, which will premiere it on St. Patrick's Day 2013, in Washington, D.C.

"A couple years ago, I applied (to the band); they had an open position for arranger and I made the semifinals, but didn't make the finals," Dr. Bancks said. "I stayed in contact with them. I sent them an e-mail and asked if they were still interested in me writing something, and they said, 'Absolutely.' I spent time with them last year, and now I'm under deadline."

He is looking forward to writing a piece for the Quad City Symphony Orchestra, which he greatly admires. Dr. Bancks relishes opportunities to "work very closely with musicians, get to know them -- like a tailor, to make a suit that fits really well," he said.

He also serves as music director for St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Davenport. To hear excerpts of his compositions, visit jbancks.com/home/?page_id=8.

The "Christmas at Augustana" program will be held Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m. in Centennial Hall, 3703 7th Ave., Rock Island, with music presented by the Augustana Brass Ensemble, Augustana Choir, Cantilena Augustana, Jenny Lind Vocal Ensemble, Augustana Symphony Orchestra and Wennerberg Men's Chorus. Tickets are $20 for the general public, $16 for senior citizens and $10 for students and Augustanafaculty/staff.

Theconcert will end with the great fanfare of Walter Pelz's arrangement of "Angels We Have Heard on High" for combined choirsand orchestra.

Orchestra member Lizzie Lundine '15, a music education major from Villa Park,Ill., said: "The Christmas concert brings many of the music ensembles together. This combining of choirs, brassand orchestra brings more to the music than just notes and dynamics. There is a love for the season and a joywith friends and family.

"My family includes many Augustana College alumni, and they love to come back for thisbeautiful musical concert," she added.

More Christmas concerts

Other holiday concerts coming up at Augustana College, Rock Island, will be:

-- Handel's Messiah, 8 p.m.Saturday, Dec. 8, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9, in Centennial Hall: featuring the Handel Oratorio Society and Handel Oratorio Society Chamber Orchestra,  Jon Hurty, conductor; soloists: Emily Truckenbrod, soprano; Amanda Crider, mezzo-soprano;  William Ferguson, tenor; and Philip Zawisza, baritone.

Tickets: $20 general public, $16 senior citizens, $10 students and Augustana faculty/staff.

--Lessons and Carols, 4 and 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, in Ascension Chapel, 820 38th St.:
featuring the Augustana Chamber Singers. Free and open to the public.

Tickets for all of the college's Celebration of Christmas events, including Christmas at Augustana and
Messiah, are available through the Augustana Ticket Office at www.augustana.edu/tickets or by calling (309) 794-7306.