Dorothea Austin Banner (Obituary)

February 3, 2012 § 21 Comments

June 26th, 2011, for immediate release:

Dorothea Austin Banner, 89, musician and professor (nee Dorothea Blaukopf), died June 25th, 2011 at her home, in New Hyde Park, New York. Born in 1921 in Vienna, Austria, into a Jewish family, Professor Austin-Banner was a concert pianist as a child. She fled Austria during World War II, on the final Kindertransport (Red-Cross sponsored mission for refugee children), taking care of younger children during her escape; her parents and one brother, Viktor, died during the war.

In England, Professor Austin Banner worked in a factory until Nelly and Rachel Leighton, Quaker philanthropists, took her in. A diplomate of the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, London, she studied performance with Tobias Matthay–one of the most famous instructors of the time–and gave concerts in which her interpretations of Liszt and Chopin were lauded. But for the rest of her life, she was haunted by the loss of her family and her homeland. Her performance and later, her musical compositions, centered on themes of loss, rage, love and displacement.

After her marriage to Dr. Hermann Augapfel (later Harry Austin), and her husbandʼs subsequent internment in a British camp for enemy aliens, Dr. Austin Banner began to teach piano. She continued to teach once the couple immigrated to the United States in 1949. They lived in Valley Stream, Long Island, and were active in the Jewish community and the local medical community, until Dr. Harry Austin’s death in 1974.

After a long hiatus from performance, Professor Austin Banner attended Queens College, where she received advanced degrees in music composition. Though her first love was classical music, particularly Bach, Mozart and Liszt, she became conversant in 20th century forms, including atonal and electronic composition. She was one of the first composers in the United States to use the Moog Synthesizer, and was invited for a year to Sydney, Australia to compose works on the Timbron, another early, but powerful, synthesizer.

Professor Austin Banner taught for almost four decades at Queensborough Community College. With others, she built the Music Department from a limited major with a few course offerings, into a large department offering majors such as performance, theory, music technology and music therapy. She became the chair of her department and fought tirelessly on behalf of her thousands of students. A popular and exacting teacher, she guided hundreds of students into musical careers, and stayed on as their mentor even as she trained new students. She also successfully fought against enforced retirement. When she left teaching in 2006, Professor Austin Banner was one of the oldest and most loved professors in the city university system.

Professor Austin Bannerʼs second husband, Gerson Banner, predeceased her in 2004. She is survived by three daughters and two grandchildren. She leaves a legacy of courage, hope, care and strength.

Professor Austin-Bannerʼs enormous collection of sheet music, books and teaching papers will be donated to the Queensborough Community College Library. Her students are planning to establish a scholarship in her name.

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