Campus News

Jamming with the Punch Brothers

December 3, 2013

Communications Staff

Members of the genre-bending, progressive bluegrass quintet Punch Brothers are the first artists to visit campus under the auspices of Oberlin’s American Roots Residency Fund, established by actor-comedian Ed Helms ’96.

During their three-day residency, the group facilitated learning opportunities and took part in informal gatherings that included coaching a student quartet in Mozart's String Quartet in G Minor, K. 387, a discussion of collaborative composition, a musical improvisation boot camp.

The group’ guitarist, Chris Eldridge, is a 2004 graduate of Oberlin. Enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences’ musical studies program, he worked closely with jazz studies professor and guitarist Bobby Ferrazza, head of Oberlin’s Jazz Studies Division.

“Everybody stands to learn from everybody else, and from all approaches to music,” says Eldridge. "There’s really no reason they should be separate, and no reason that they shouldn’t all be embraced. No matter what you’re doing musically, having a wider grasp and a love of different things will only help you to be a better musician.”

Formed in 2006, Punch Brothers boast members who hail from all over the musical map, from bluegrass to jazz to classical. Besides Eldridge, the Punch Brothers are:

• MacArthur Award-winner Chris Thile, who has elevated mandolin playing from its folk origins to the finest in jazz improvisation and classical performance;

• fiddle player Gabe Witcher, who has more than 300 records and countless movie and television scores to his credit, including the 2006 Oscar winner Brokeback Mountain;

• three-finger banjo player Noam Pikelny, who developed his bluegrass facility growing up in Chicago. He studied music at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana before striking out professionally and redefining the role of the instrument; and

• versatile bass player Paul Kowert. A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, he has performed with orchestras as a soloist and as a section member, in such internationally renowned venues as Switzerland’s Verbier Festival.

The Punch Brother will return to campus during spring semester to perform in concert.

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