Progressive Quintet Punch Brothers Named Oberlin Affiliate Scholars

December 3, 2014
By Erich Burnett
The band members show their new Oberlin ID cards
Punch Brothers (from left: Chris Eldridge ’04, Paul Kowert, Noam Pikelny, Chris Thile, and Gabe Witcher) pose with Ed Helms ’96 (far right) moments after learning they have been named Oberlin Affiliate Scholars. Each band member is holding an official Oberlin ID card, presented by Dean Andrea Kalyn. Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko

Punch Brothers, a virtuosic bluegrass quintet in their second year of residency at the Oberlin Conservatory, have been named Affiliate Scholars at Oberlin.

The announcement was made in an evening ceremony on December 3, as the band prepared to perform in an impromptu jam session with Oberlin students.

"Over the past year, Punch Brothers have enriched Oberlin in quite phenomenal ways," Dean of the Conservatory Andrea Kalyn said at the event. "We have seen reflected in their work a tremendous commitment to the same values that underpin everything we do at Oberlin: They are deep musicians, they have inquisitive minds and passionate souls, and they are extraordinary teachers.

"Punch Brothers have stretched our approach to what we do," Kalyn added, "and in every interaction they remind us to revel in the sheer joy and community that is music."

A rare distinction at Oberlin, Affiliate Scholars are named in recognition of significant professional achievement and with the purpose of facilitating artistic or scholarly endeavor in association with Oberlin. Affiliate Scholars are granted access to campus resources, including facilities, libraries, and archives, and may use the title "Oberlin Affiliate Scholar" in all of their professional work.

At the December 3 event, Kalyn presented a certificate signifying Punch Brothers’ status. Each member was given an official Oberlin identification card, like those used by Oberlin faculty, staff, and students.

Formed in 2008, Punch Brothers grew out of a collaboration between former Nickel Creek member Chris Thile, banjo player Noam Pikelny, violinist Gabe Witcher, and guitarist Chris Eldridge, a 2004 graduate of Oberlin. They recruited bassist Paul Kowert in advance of their debut album, Punch. The band released its third album, the acclaimed Who’s Feeling Young Now?, in 2012; that same year, its song "Dark Days" appeared on the soundtrack for the film The Hunger Games.

Punch Brothers are in their second year of residency at the Oberlin Conservatory, where they engage with students through a wide range of activities, including coaching sessions, master classes, lectures, and performances. In 2015, they will visit campus in mid-February to continue work with students and to present a public performance tentatively scheduled for February 19.

Punch Brothers’ Oberlin residency is made possible through the American Roots Residency Fund, created by actor-comedian Ed Helms, a 1996 graduate of Oberlin College and an avid musician, who was in attendance for the December 3 ceremony and jam session.

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