It’s not often, as Yale’s president, that I get to leave behind my day job for an hour or two to indulge in my favorite hobby. But when the Professors of Bluegrass hit the stage at New Haven’s College Street Music Hall this Thursday evening to open for bluegrass legends David Grisman and Del McCoury, it will be more than just a toe-tapping evening for my bandmates and me—it will be an occasion that, to me, epitomizes our university and our community’s shared experiences on a number of levels.
Why do I make this claim? Since the group’s founding in 1990, the Professors have been decidedly both of Yale and of New Haven. We have included everyone from a professor of psychiatry to a Yale College and Yale Law School graduate who became Connecticut’s deputy commissioner for energy and environmental protection, to a former dean of Davenport College, to a gifted area woodworker and cabinetmaker—and many others. Music, after all, brings communities together. And bluegrass, like jazz, is a most American of musical forms, incorporating influences that reflect the diversity of our country just as they do of our university: Scottish and Irish immigrants to the Appalachian Mountains, African-American blues traditions, gospel-style harmonizing from the Primitive Baptists, and just a little overlay of the New York City Greenwich Village folk music scene of the 1960s.
Whether you are in the audience on Thursday night or browsing the historical sound recording collection in our Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, I encourage you to give bluegrass a listen if you haven’t already. And the other “Professors” and I are always looking for guest musicians!