Grammy Award winner and MacArthur Fellow Chris Thile, a member of the Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek and former host of the radio program “Live From Here,” returns to the Jorgensen Performing Arts Center tonight at 8 p.m. — this time via the digital stage. 

Thile is a mandolin virtuoso, composer and vocalist who has a broad outlook that encompasses many musical genres. WHUS had the opportunity to sit down with Chris Thile on a call prior to his upcoming livestream performance and speak about his musical upbringing. 

“I was born in Oceanside California, in 1981, into a very musical family, although my immediate family were not professional musicians,” he said. “My dad is a piano technician, he had that on sort of a professional musician track but then he met my mom and wanted to do something a bit more reliable. Then my mom comes from, pretty much everyone on my mom’s side was a professional musician or is, or could have been. Music was so important in my family.”

Music has been an integral part of Thile’s life, and he attributed much of his own stylistic development to his upbringing. Thile could not pinpoint just one genre of music that was influential to his style but said it was rather a combination of many. 

“I think that was a big part of how I became so mercurial stylistically is just that everything was being played and louded in the house,” Thile said. “My dad listened to a ton of jazz, there was always public radio on which meant there would be a bunch of classical. Then my folks were also hippies, so there was a bunch of folk music in the house. At a certain point they realized I was listening to absolutely no popular music.”    

Thile expanded on his journey toward becoming the genre-defying musician he is today by changing the way he engaged with the art: by placing himself in a blank slate for each piece that he listened to and truly trying to understand the words of the song. 

“So yeah, it was just kinda delighting in it all, learning to engage with every piece of music. Not in a, ‘what can this music do for me’ way but in a ‘what is this piece of music trying to do.’”

Thile had many early influences outside of his family but was able to stumble upon the sound of the mandolin at a fairly young age, which is where he discovered the sound of bluegrass through mandolinist John Moore. Moore inspired him to take it on learning the instrument himself. 

“Very early on for me, it became about people rather than genre,” he said. “This guy John Moore, he played mandolin. He is a super charismatic, great player, and I think if he played the  zither, I would have ended being a zither player. He happened to play the mandolin, I also did love the mandolin, I thought that was a huge part of what I was loving about his whole trip. I honestly think he was a real charismatic guy and I wanted to be like him, and so he played the mandolin so I wanted to play the mandolin.”  

Jorgensen has continued to offer virtual opportunities for people to engage with the arts safely amidst the pandemic. Tune in to see the musician in “An Evening With Chris Thile: Livestream from Jorgensen Stage.” The performance will feature a Q&A session moderated by Chion Wolf, host of the show “Audacious” on Connecticut Public Radio. For ticket information click here, for more information regarding future performances at the Jorgensen visit the Spring 2021 event calendar which can be found on their website. 

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Joe Vazquez
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