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Eric Thorin is a bassist and will be teaching at the new Folk and Bluegrass music program at UNC
University of Northern Colorado has a new Folk and Bluegrass Music Program
Pickin’ Sprouts - July 2017 Bassist Eric Thorin talks about UNC's new program
I recently talked with Eric Thorin about the new Folk and Bluegrass program at the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) in Greeley, at which he will instruct. Eric is most known for his electric and upright bass playing, though he still finds time to be a tuba player. Coming from a musical family, Eric started music very early, at 3- or 4-years-old, with Suzuki Violin, and while he does not still have the memories of the lessons, he does still have the fiddle, which his daughter is now starting to play. A few years later, he started piano lessons. Eric’s dad plays trombone, so when Eric joined school band, he started with trombone but “was led down the available frequencies all the way to the tuba.” Going into high school, Eric wanted to play in the jazz band, and picked up the electric bass, not playing upright until his freshman year in college. Eric comes from Denver, and when he was growing up, he played in a much more jazz and rock scene, also doing a little salsa music. He says that the local music scene has evolved into one of the richest in the nation. Eric thinks that Colorado’s beauty draws a lot of great artists to it. Because of this, the Colorado music scene is a melting pot of many different styles of music. Eric’s first professional gig was playing trombone with his dad in a big band when he was 16. Eric said that by growing up in a musical family, he was always surrounded my music, and felt comfortable with it. He said the best tools his family gave him were having him take piano lessons with a teacher that had him do a lot of music theory. He said that at the time, it felt like homework, but that he learned a lot about music through writing scales, studying harmony, and analyzing melodies. Eric said that he got to see a lot of shows of different genres, and he began to think, “This is something people do.” He said that it took him a while before he decided he wanted to do music professionally. “I thought I’m not good enough to do this, but eventually I had so many gigs there wasn’t time for anything else.” Eric first went to college as a math major at the University of Oklahoma, and was able to start taking lessons with a symphony player John Williams, who started Eric on the upright bass, and shaped his technique. Eric switched to a music composition major after he found he was playing much more music than he was studying math. Eric then began bass performance at the University of Northern Colorado. By going to school for music, Eric was able to work with incredible instructors, as well as open his ears to a large variety of music. He said that he learned and became very comfortable with music theory, and because of the large peer group, was able to learn how to play with other people. He said that though the university’s jazz program is what drew him to the school, he came out of it going down a different path with other types of music. Eric got into bluegrass by playing with Tony Furtado, who introduced him to the genre. Through playing with Tony, Eric got to meet a lot of bluegrass musicians. Eric moved to Lyons, and heard that Open Road needed a bass player for their upcoming album. He auditioned, joined the band and went on tour with them. That was his first introduction to playing refined, traditional bluegrass. “It was nothing like anything I had played before. When I first played salsa music I thought it was super forward driving, but bluegrass is doubly so, you are leaning forward and are about to fall on your face, but you don’t. It’s something that really stuck with me,” he says. Eric says that playing bluegrass has tremendously helped his jazz playing. He says that he has gained a much stronger sense of melody, and has improved his timing, as in bluegrass there is no drummer to rely on. A benefit of Eric’s musical education is that he can read music very well, which has opened up opportunities for gigs for him. When the musical Wicked came to Colorado, Eric got to play bass during the performances. Eric’s main project currently is playing in the Matt Flinner Trio with Matt Flinner and Ross Martin. A key part of the trio is their challenging Music du Jour feature, where they each write a song the day of the gig and bring those three songs to the show that evening. Eric says that they have learned not to do more than seven in a row, because the songs begin to sound like one another. Especially after several days, it can be hard to write something original, as you might have someone else’s song in your head. He says it is good practice because of the deadline. “A lot of times, things start coming out, but sometimes they don’t,” he says. His closest call was finishing a song 20 minutes before the show started, and they played it second set. Eric has produced two records for Mollie O’Brien and Rich Moore. Eric plays from time to time with Danny Barnes. He also has arranged songs for Elephant Revival when they play with the symphony, which he says is a fun challenge, because you have about 24 individual parts to work with, and they all have a role. This fall, Eric will be teaching at UNC Greeley’s brand new Folk and Bluegrass program along with Natalie Padilla, Martin Gilmore, Jordan Ramsey and Dusty Rider. The program is being offered because in more traditional music programs bluegrass is not offered like jazz and classical music. “In a lot of traditional programs, you can’t play a banjo.” Bluegrass is a separate genre of music than classical and jazz, and for many people it can be hard to switch to bluegrass if they have vigorously studied the other genres. “Even if you don’t want to go into bluegrass, having it as an option will make more well rounded musicians.” The program will be housed under the jazz school, and will allow for some “pollination” among all of the different programs. You can get a bachelor’s degree in Folk and Bluegrass performance, as well as a graduate certificate in performance. This opens the school’s existing undergraduate degrees to musicians who play and are interested in Folk and Bluegrass music. Eric’s advice for kids wanting to be musicians is “Play with everybody, every chance you get, especially people who are better than you.” Through playing with people, you learn a lot about playing, and a lot about your individual style. He also says don’t be afraid of theory and the written aspect of music. There are so many ways to approach getting across a melody, and the more you can understand what you are doing, the more you can do. “Find whatever box you are in, and step out of it.” You can find out more about Eric here, and find out more about the Folk and Bluegrass program here. Keep Pickin’.