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Bancks takes pride in composition program

December  29, 2016

A composer, professor and musician who can play the piano, organ, violin and viola just celebrated five years at Augustana.

After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 2012, Dr. Jacob Bancks set his course and is making his impact from Augustana. This may be his first teaching job, and he doesn't perform in public much anymore, but Dr. Bancks is already living his dreams, inspiring his students and making (sound) waves in the orchestra performance world.  

He is proud of the progress of the Augustana composition program, which he describes as "thriving." Not quite a decade old, the program has all the necessary infrastructure - studio teachers, ensembles and a strong music curriculum - combined with passionate and engaged students. The program currently has more student composers producing more quality work than at any time since he's been here.

As head of the program, Dr. Bancks teaches all of the composition courses and advises all of the majors and minors. He also works with his colleagues who run recitals and ensembles to facilitate performances of the students' work. 

The camaraderie in the music department continues to inspire him and his students. "When sharing musical ideas and concepts that are old to me but new to them, their excitement and engagement renews my love of the art of music," he said.

One of his own most noted compositions so far is a 2014 work he wrote for the Quad City Symphony Orchestra, "Rock Island Line." The piece has had national play, first on a national radio broadcast of Performance Today, followed by inclusion in a workshop presented by the Nashville Symphony.

Though inspired by a drive through the Quad Cities, Dr. Bancks said the composition isn't what it seems.

"Sometimes when I'm writing a piece, the title comes first. I remember driving down 7th Avenue (in Rock Island) wondering how I could make my QCSO commission full of 'local color,' and it occurred to me to listen to Lead Belly's iconic blues song "Rock Island Line." ... I decided to take the song and work it into a piece that had railway sounds and river sounds, just like the Quad Cities."

What he crafted is a colorful orchestral piece, and an enduring partnership with the Quad City Symphony Orchestra. He's continued his collaboration with the QCSO and has supplied two more written works for performance. A third is on the way.

Another project he's particularly excited about is an upcoming performance of his new "work still in progress," Occidental Symphony, by the United States Marine Band. The performance date is March 19, 2017, in Virginia, just outside the band's home of Washington, D.C. This will be the second time he's worked with what he considers to be the finest wind ensemble in the country.

(Dr. Bancks' website has recordings of his work, upcoming events, and snapshots of colleagues and performance venues.)