by Brook Gardner-Durbin
Eric Funk knew he would grow up to be a musician at a young age. Both his parents were professional musicians and his three siblings followed them into the family business. “The question wasn’t whether I’d go into music … it was what specialty I would focus on,” he said. At three years old he realized he “heard music that wasn’t … out here [in the world]” and started focusing on composition.
While many popular musicians don’t enjoy classical, and vice versa, Funk says that “I can’t think of anything I don’t value.” His widespread appreciation let him pay his way through college by playing in a number of rock bands while studying more classical composition. “Playing both sides of the fence … it keeps you from being elitist.”
While Funk’s accomplishments include an astounding 118 major works of composition and dozens of awards, he is perhaps most well known locally for his program “11th and Grant with Eric Funk”. Now filming for its 10th season, the program serves as a showcase for Montana musicians, giving local artists a chance to tell their story and share their work with a far larger audience than they could normally reach.
“One of the current underwriters of the show first encountered it in Japan,” Funk says. “We’ve gotten fan mail from Germany, Japan … artists write, wanting to be on, not realizing it’s a Montana show.” The show uses an unusually large number of cameras and has higher production values than many similar shows, leading some viewers to believe the 11th and Grant is produced in New York, Los Angeles or another metropolis.
11th and Grant’s most distinguishing feature is the interview, where the artists have a chance to explain their inspirations, struggles and other aspects of their lives. “I really wanted to avoid something anemic where I just say ‘tell me about this song’ and then they play it,” Funk says. “It’s not about music, it’s about who [the artists] are. Often they’ll say something about life, or whatever, and then we cut into the song, and it magnifies it, letting you see the work in a different way.”
Funk began the show by drawing on his extensive connections, but as the show has grown in popularity it has expanded to recommendations and submissions. “I could probably do six or seven more seasons just with what’s been submitted so far,” Funk says, adding that there are far more quality submissions than can make the show. “A lot of great musicians just don’t work on 11th and Grant because it’s hard to capture the energy of a live show.” The show airs on PBS, so some quality bands have to be screened due to their lyrics. Funk also attempts to balance every season with a variety of genres and sub-genres, which can lead to bands being left on the sidelines not due to their quality, but their similarity to other bands which have already aired.
Funk also teaches classes at MSU in American Popular Music, Enjoyment of Music, Composition, Orchestration, and Masterworks, and has had the highest enrollment of any professor on campus for several semesters. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and 11th and Grant can be found on Facebook or at watch.montanapbs.org/program/11th-and-grant.