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Alumnus premieres cello piece in honor of Dr. Ehrlich's 45 years

"It was almost a total surprise," said Dr. Janina Ehrlich, a cello instructor who is retiring from Augustana after 45 years of service.

Janina Ehrlich

In retirement, Dr. Janina Ehrlich plans to read, garden and teach cello. "Can't just stop cold turkey, right?" she said.

The near-surprise? A cello piece recognizing her years of service to Augustana's music department,  commissioned by Dr. Ehrlich's husband, Dr. Daniel Culver, who was Augustana's director of orchestral activities for 42 years. Dr. Jacob Bancks, associate professor and department co-chair, wrote the composition, which will be performed by Dr. Ehrlich’s former student Grant Estes '21, in a recital on Sunday, April 14.

Dr. Culver had been secretly working with Dr. Bancks on the piece, titled "The Quarrel Between Winter and Summer," for several months — "until Daniel spilled the beans," laughed Dr. Ehrlich.

"As always, Jacob has written a masterpiece," she added.

Jacob Bancks

Dr. Jacob Bancks, associate professor and department co-chair, wrote "The Quarrel Between Winter and Summer," a piece premiering on Sunday, April 14, at 2 p.m., in Augustana's Wallenberg Hall.

For Dr. Bancks, the piece is an opportunity to thank both Drs. Ehrlich and Culver, who were pivotal mentors when he began his career at Augustana 13 years ago.

"Composing this piece allowed me to reflect on music, literature and life," he explained. "And it allows me to say 'thank you' to Nina for her mentorship, support and friendship."

Drs. Ehrlich and Bancks share an appreciation for classical texts and old music. ("She and I have nerded out more than once about a Gregorian chant or a salty Renaissance motet," Dr. Bancks admitted.) In composing "The Quarrel Between Winter and Summer," he drew from the Epic of Gilgamesh and a Sumerian legend on the origins of the seasons.

Grant Estes

"From my first lesson with Dr. Ehrlich, it was clear that she was the perfect teacher and mentor for me," said Grant Estes '21.

For the performance, Drs. Culver and Bancks tapped Grant Estes '21, who works as a freelance cellist and teacher in Chicago. Estes's connection with Ehrlich starts even before his time at Augustana; he began taking cello lessons with her in high school.

"I had just decided I wanted to make a career out of music, and I was looking for the best teacher in the Quad Cities," he recalled. "I was an energetic and passionate student, but my technique was quite abysmal, to be honest."

For the next six years, Dr. Ehrlich worked with Estes to improve his musicality and technique.

"Not only did Dr. Ehrlich enrich my cello playing, but she also pushed and mentored me in music research," Estes said. She even helped Estes apply for a Freistat Grant in 2019, which allowed him to study the life and music of Gustav Mahler in Vienna — an experience Estes calls life-changing.

For Dr. Ehrlich, Estes was a "dream student," and she cherished the opportunity to mentor him for so many years.

"It was so fulfilling to watch a student transform into a scholar right before my eyes."

– Dr. Janina Ehrlich

"It was so fulfilling to watch a student transform into a scholar right before my eyes," she said. "We now enjoy a friendship."

Dr. Bancks, too, recognizes Dr. Ehrlich's special connection with her mentees. Before the recent renovations to Bergendoff Hall, they worked in adjacent offices.

"I'd hear her play duets with her students," he said. "The benefit of this is enormous for student musicians, who pick up all kinds of skills just by playing along with expert musicians. I try to emulate her principle of self-giving, which is really an extension of the dignity she sees in each of her students."

"Honestly it's quite surreal that I was asked to perform ["The Quarrel Between Winter and Summer"]. I'm greatly appreciative of the opportunity."

– Grant Estes '21

Estes, who cites private instruction with Drs. Ehrlich, Culver, Bancks and piano instructor Dr. Charles Schmidt as his greatest influences at Augustana, is excited to work again with these instructors for the recital.

"This recital is incredibly meaningful for me, as I'm collaborating with all four of my undergraduate private teachers," Estes said. "Honestly it's quite surreal that I was asked to perform it. I'm greatly appreciative of the opportunity."

Estes describes the piece as musically compelling and masterfully written, with a lot of sentimental value.

"Commemorating Dr. Ehrlich's 45-year career at Augustana is a tall order, and 'The Quarrel Between Winter and Summer' does it beautifully," he said.

The recital with cellist Grant Estes '21, commemorating Dr. Janina Ehrlich's 45 years of service at Augustana, will take place Sunday, April 14, at 2 p.m., in Wallenberg Hall (on the second floor of Denkmann Memorial Building). In addition to performing the world premiere of "The Quarrel Between Winter and Summer," composed by faculty member Dr. Jacob Bancks, Estes will perform works by Bach and Myaskowsky (with Dr. Charles Schmidt accompanying on piano).

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