Banjo Masters Residency: Béla Fleck, Tony Trischka, Noam Pikelny

By 
Nick Balkin
March 3, 2011
Béla Fleck
Tony Trischka
Noam Pikelny

Berklee College of Music's American Roots Music Program announces the Banjo Masters Residency, which brings world-renowned banjo players to Berklee to give students private and ensemble-based instruction over the next three years. The first three residencies feature Tony Trischka, March 2–3; Noam Pikelny, March 28–29; and Béla Fleck, April 5–6. Berklee's 12 banjo students will receive private lessons with each visiting artist. The Banjo Masters Residency is made possible by an anonymous $90,000 gift to the college. 

Classes are not open to the public but members of the media may attend by request. 

"This program provides a real-world learning experience with much less structure than the typical music residency," says Matt Glaser, artistic director of the American Roots Music Program. "Students will have time to hang out, one-on-one, with the masters of their craft and absorb new skills and ideas."

Tony Trischka's avant-garde stylings inspired a whole generation of bluegrass and acoustic musicians. He is considered "one of the most impressive banjoists alive" (Billboard) and one of the instrument's top teachers (Béla Fleck is his former student). A native of Syracuse, New York, Trischka has released many successful albums, both as a solo artist and with the band Skyline, as well as with Psychograss, a bluegrass supergroup with David Grier, Darol Anger, Mike Marshall, and Todd Phillips. He also recorded the theme song for Books on the Air and appeared regularly on A Prairie Home Companion. Trischka's Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular received a nomination for Best Bluegrass Album at the 2008 Grammy Awards. He has won three International Bluegrass Music Awards and an Independent Music Award. In 2009, he launched the online Tony Trischka School of Banjo.

Banjoist/vocalist Noam Pikelny, the "pros' top banjo picker" (Chicago Tribune), is best known as a member of country-classical chamber music group Punch Brothers. He was the recipient of the 2010 Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. He appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman playing a comedic version of "Dueling Banjos" alongside Martin, which he later performed with Martin and Punch Brothers. Pikelny's first solo album In the Maze was released on Compass Records in 2004 to critical acclaim. Since that time, he has toured with Colorado-based Leftover Salmon and vocalist John Cowan of Newgrass Revival. In 2006, Noam was recruited by mandolinist Chris Thile for his album How to Grow a Woman from the Ground, a collaboration that would eventually lead to the formation of Punch Brothers.

Béla Fleck is one of the world's most innovative and technically proficient banjo players. He has won 11 Grammy Awards, received 27 nominations, and has been nominated in more categories than any other musician in Grammy history. Best known for his work with the bands New Grass Revival and Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, he has performed or recorded with Edgar Meyer, Chick Corea, Doc Watson, Dave Matthews Band, Ginger Baker, Phish, and countless others. A New York native, he picked up the banjo at 15 after being awed by the bluegrass music of Flatt and Scruggs. While still in high school he began experimenting with playing bebop jazz on his banjo, mentored by fellow banjo renegade Tony Trischka.