As a composer, conductor, translator, vocalist, linguist, and ethnomusicologist, Eric Banks has garnered international acclaim as one of the most creative choral musicians in the United States – for his unwavering commitment to music for unaccompanied voices. Hailing from Roscoe, a small town in upstate New York, Eric completed his BA in Music at Yale University (1990), where he studied with Fenno Heath and Marguerite Brooks. Upon graduation, Eric relocated to Seattle for graduate study in choral studies and music theory at the University of Washington with Julian Patrick, Jonathan Bernard, and Abraham Kaplan. Eric does not have a degree in composition. Eric’s MM thesis in Choral Studies (1992) is a performance edition of ‘Dixit Dominus’ by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani; his MA thesis in Music Theory (1995) is a postmodern analysis of Arvo Pärt’s symphonic ‘Credo’; his DMA dissertation in Choral Studies (1996) surveys the choral music of Mexican composer and Aztec ethnomusicologist Carlos Chávez. In 1997, at the conclusion of his graduate study, Banks was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and Lois Roth Fellowship to study Swedish contemporary choral culture. While in Stockholm, Eric sang as a chorister and soloist with several groups, including the Swedish Radio Choir and the Eric Ericson Chamber Choir.
In 1992, while still in graduate school, Banks founded the professional-caliber chamber chorus of volunteers, The Esoterics. Now in its 26th season under Banks’ direction, Seattle’s most innovative chorus has drawn international praise for performing rarely-heard compositions of contemporary music for unaccompanied voices, for infusing elements of the literary, theatrical, and visual arts into the typical concert experience, and for performing settings of poetry, philosophy, and spiritual writings from around the world. The Esoterics has performed over 500 concerts throughout the Pacific Northwest, has commissioned and premiered over 200 new works for a cappella voices in dozens of languages, and has mastered many of the most virtuosic works for chamber chorus of the last century. The Esoterics has released 21 CD recordings, and has been honored to compete in the Cork International Choral Festival (Ireland), the Certamen Coral de Tolosa (Spain), and the Andersén International Choir Competition in Helsinki. In 2011, The Esoterics and Banks were honored to perform Richard Strauss’ inimitable 24-part ‘Deutsche Motette’ at the National Convention of the American Choral Directors Association in Chicago’s Orchestra Hall. In recognition for his choral innovation, Banks and The Esoterics have been honored five times with the ASCAP / Chorus America Award for the Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music (in 2001, 2003, 2006, 2008, and 2017).
Always on the search for the next great choral masterpiece, The Esoterics inaugurated its annual choral composition competition, POLYPHONOS, in 2006. Through this competition, The Esoterics awards commissions to three composers each year, and makes it possible for these composers to travel to Seattle to witness the world premieres of their new work. As well, The Esoterics has demonstrated its continuing commitment to choral education in becoming the only choral ensemble in Washington State that grants continuing-education credit to its members who also teach in the public schools.
In his composition, Eric is drawn to ideas that are more ‘esoteric’ in origin, and chooses to express and elucidate concepts that have been undiscovered, under-represented, or are not easily decipherable by a wider audience. As a composer, Banks has harnessed his passions for poetry, foreign language, classical civilization, comparative religion, social justice, and the history of science – to create choral works that reach far beyond the scope of the established a cappella canon. His recent works have explored the sacred texts and singing traditions of other cultures, statistics of climate change, the mapping of trees, flowers, clouds, and stars, the martyrdom of those who speak truth to power, the suicide of a friend, and verses of hope for freedom by pre-gay and pre-lesbian poets. Eric is a polyglot, and translates nearly all of his own work from other languages. Eric has been awarded several composition grants, from the Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation, the Aaron Copland Fund for New Music, 4Culture, Seattle City Artists, the San Francisco Arts Commission, the Washington State Arts Commission, two awards from New Music USA, a composer’s fellowship from Artist Trust, as well as several consecutive years of ASCAP PLUS Awards.
Eric has received grants the National Endowment for the Arts, to compose, produce, and record three concert-length works – ‘Twelve Qur’anic visions’ (2005-2007), ‘The seven creations’ (2007-2010), and ‘I will remember everything’ (2013-2014). In 2008, Banks presented the paper “Contemporary American choral music inspired by Islam” at the ASWATUNA conference of Arab choral music in Petra, Jordan. As a Fulbright Fellow, Eric was visiting scholar at the Royal Conservatory of Music and Swedish Radio in Stockholm (1997-1998). While in India, Eric was a scholar at the Cama Oriental Institute in Mumbai (2007). In 2010, Eric was granted the prestigious Dale Warland Singers Commission Award from Chorus America and the American Composers Forum to compose an a cappella symphony, ‘This delicate universe,’ for Conspirare in Austin. This work was premiered by the Grammy-winning ensemble in May 2015. Since then, this piece has been performed by choirs in Finland and France, as well as by the Swedish Radio Choir. In 2011, Eric was awarded “Conductor of the year” from the Washington State chapter of the American Choral Directors Association for his ground-breaking work with The Esoterics. In May of 2013, Eric was featured in “13 for ’13,” a collaborative project between the Seattle Times and KUOW-FM that featured 13 artists who have had an impact in Seattle and are “poised to shape the cultural landscape in the decade to come.”
Also in 2013, Eric completed ‘Our earth,’ a series of three environmental chamber operas on Pacific Northwest native (Salish and Yakama) legends for Seattle Opera’s Education program. These operas have been performed in middle schools throughout Washington State over 100 times since completion, and were premiered by Seattle Symphony in May 2014. In early 2018, Banks composed ‘As palmeiras [The palms],’ an environmental cantata setting 37 poems and proverbs about the palm tree from around the world for the Vox Laci Festival in Lisbon, Portugal. In the autumn of 2018, Eric completed a triple-choral orchestral work for the Anchorage Concert Choral and Anchorage Symphony, ‘To have been there before,’ setting texts by John Muir and in Tlingit, the native language of Southeastern Alaska.
A frequent clinician, panelist, and adjudicator, Eric has been honored to serve as the North American judge for the 2013 Andrea O. Veneracion International Choral Competition in Manila and the 2015 Florilège Vocal de Tours, which awarded this year’s European Grand Prix of Choral Singing. Banks is a constant advocate for new choral music, and has presented on several panels at Chorus America and ACDA. In the summer of 2018, Eric was one of the judges of the World Choir Games in Tshwane, South Africa.
Eric has been commissioned by the Alaska Concert Chorus, the American Choral Directors Association, the Atlanta Young Singers, the Boston Children’s Chorus, Clerestory (San Francisco), Conspirare (Austin), Coro Allegro (Boston), Kitka (Oakland), the Philippine Madrigal Singers, the Rainbow City Band, St Jacobs Chamber Choir (Stockholm), the Singapore Youth Ensemble, the University Singers of California State University Fullerton, the Vancouver Men’s Chorus, the Verge Ensemble, Voces Nordicæ (Stockholm), the Washington Men’s Camerata (DC), and the Yale Alumni Chorus and Glee Club. His upcoming commissions include works for Ember (New York), Mikrokosmos (France), the San Francisco Girls Chorus, and Choeur Stella Maris (Paris).