Posted Online: April 03, 2014, 12:10 pm

Augustana cello choir to give free concert

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By Jonathan Turner,

Photo: Submitted
Augustana music professor Janina Ehrlich, far left, with her cello choir last spring before an Augustana Symphony Orchestra concert.
When you talk about a choir concert, most people assume it features singers. A unique cello choir program next week at Augustana College proves that the warm string instruments can sing just as beautifully.

Cellist and music professor Janina Ehrlich will perform with eight Augie students, and soprano Michelle Crouch (an adjunct assistant professor of music) in a free program Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Wallenberg Hall at 3520 7th Ave., Rock Island, conducted by Daniel Culver.

The Cello Choir members are Nick Clark, Christina Hoskinson, Kelly Klees, Madison Logan, Paige Phelps, Bonnie Thornton, Henry Weberpal and Patrick Yasutake, who study with Dr. Ehrlich and get together to play weekly. The group only occasionally does public concerts.

"We thought there was some good music we enjoyed playing, and wanted to put to it out there," said Dr. Ehrlich, director of chamber music at Augustana, where she has taught since 1979. She earned her master's in cello performance from Indiana University and a doctorate in cello from University of Iowa.

"You're responsible for your own part, but it teaches you to listen," she said Thursday of playing in an all-cello group. "You're listening to the same instrument -- it's not like you're listening to a trombone or violin. We all take part in teaching each other when we do that."

As opposed to a rivalry, Dr. Ehrlich's student cellists (three are not even music majors) "are very supportive of each other," she said. "They have cello dinners, hang out together. The fun of this group is just sharing it."

With Augie colleagues Deborah Dakin (viola) and Robert Elfline (piano), she is a member of Tikkun, which performs a diverse body of music from the 19th century to the present.

Dr. Ehrlich's professional orchestral experience has included the Des Moines Symphony, the Orquestra Sinfonica Brasiliera (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) and 25 years in the Quad City Symphony Orchestra. But her favorite orchestral playing is in the Augustana Symphony Orchestra -- where she can sit surrounded by her students.

"My students are really wonderful people. I just love to be around them, we get along so well," Dr. Ehrlich said. "We take a lot of pride in playing music well." It's relatively common for other faculty to perform with students, she noted. "We try to do that here; it really helps the students learn."

She and other Augie ensembles also have been excited to perform the transfixing music of Estonian composer Arvo Part (b. 1935). Tuesday's program includes "L'abbe Agathon," from 2004, written for cello choir and soprano, with a French text about a monk named Agathon who brings food to a leper. The cripple says Agathon has been tested by God, revealing the leper to be an angel.

"It's so fabulous, just transcendent," Dr. Ehrlich said of the 14-minute piece. "It's really a spiritual approach." At Augustana, "we've been doing a lot of Arvo Part; everybody's been doing it," she said

The concert also features other modern music, including a polka by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

For 10 years, Dr. Ehrlich has been a member of the SBC Music and Arts Academy board of directors. Based at Second Baptist Church of Rock Island, this non-profit academy seeks to provide high-quality music lessons to children and adults from the economically challenged west end of Rock Island. Ten Augustana College students now volunteer their time to teach all instruments and voice.