Chris Eldridge, guitarist with the Grammy Award-winning Punch Brothers, will join the teaching staff at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in January. Eldridge will be a Visiting Professor of Contemporary American Acoustic Music, teaching for three semesters beginning in January 2021.

The renewable appointment was made possible by support from banjo player/actor Ed Helms (The Daily Show, The Office), a 1996 graduate of Oberlin College. Eldridge will teach courses on American string band music and conduct private lessons with guitarists and singer-songwriters selected via audition. All courses and lessons will be available to students in the Conservatory of Music as well as the College of Arts and Sciences.

A 2004 Oberlin College graduate himself, Eldridge co-founded the Infamous Stringdusters in 2005 before moving on to help create Punch Brothers later that same year. In addition to Punch Brothers, Eldridge is one-half of a guitar duo with Julian Lage, with whom he earned a Grammy nomination for the 2017 album Mount Royal. From 2016 to 2020, he was also a member of the house band on Live from Here, the public radio program hosted by fellow Punch Brother Chris Thile. Eldridge has collaborated with the likes of Paul Simon, T Bone Burnett, Renée Fleming, Justin Timberlake, Marcus Mumford, Elvis Costello, and John Paul Jones, among many others. Punch Brothers’ latest release, All Ashore, won the Grammy Award for Best Folk Album in 2019. That same year, Eldridge was named Instrumentalist of the Year by the Americana Music Association.

From 2013 through 2015, Punch Brothers served as resident artists at Oberlin, interacting with students in a variety of settings and performing numerous times. The residency was also made possible through support from Ed Helms.

Like his bandmates, Eldridge delights in the opportunity to share his knowledge and further explore an essential but relatively little-known facet of American music. “There are a lot of people who don’t really know what this kind of music is,” he says. “You almost have to be an enthusiast to know about it. So that’s one thing I want to do: Just sharing the joy and depth and richness of the music, and all its roots and branches, is something I’m really excited about. It’s incredible stuff!”

The appointment is a return to Eldridge’s roots in more ways than one: In addition to his college music major, he taught an Experimental College course on bluegrass as a student. His sophomore-year Winter Term project was a life-changing week of study with guitar legend Tony Rice, and his senior recital was a hoedown at the Cat in the Cream Coffeehouse, with a number of accomplished guest musicians.

In his new role, Eldridge will teach remotely for the time being, a move necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic. A resident of Nashville, he plans to return to campus regularly and engage with students in person as soon as conditions allow.

“I’m really excited about coming back and mentoring young musicians, and of course I’m interested in learning from the students too,” Eldridge said. “It’s very much a two-way street. That was actually the biggest thing about me being a student at Oberlin, and that is something that has stuck with me to this day: I had truly amazing teachers, but the most important thing was being around other students who were so dedicated to whatever it was they were into.”

Eldridge’s appointment represents the latest step in Oberlin’s ongoing commitment to making the resources of its world-class Conservatory of Music available to students throughout the College of Arts and Sciences. All Oberlin students are invited to pursue minors in the college as well as the conservatory—including five interdisciplinary courses of study that unite both facets of campus. Those programs include minors in Arts and Creative Technologies, Music and Cognition, Music and Popular Culture, and Interdisciplinary Performance, as well as an integrated concentration in Arts Administration and Leadership.

For the year 2021, Oberlin established a trimester system of study that includes a summer session. The new system was created to effectively de-densify the campus while allowing for a safe, in-person experience for students. Eldridge will teach during all three semesters in 2021.

(Source: Erich Burnett, Oberlin News)

NOTE: go here to see a database of bluegrass-music related college level degree programs and opportunities.

Return to the December, 2020 issue of The Cornerstone.