“I grew up as the orchestra kid,” said Thorgy Thor, who many know from her appearance on RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 8. Born Shane Thor Galligan, this queen of classical music is a triple threat who plays violin, viola, and cello. She has performed at some of today’s most prestigious venues including Le Poisson Rouge, Lincoln Center, and Carnegie Hall.
“There are two things I love,” she said in a recent interview, “being able to completely change your identity artistically from head-to-toe and have a blast, and exploring this intensely meticulous musical side where you fall in love with your instrument.”
Thorgy confessed, “I feel like in a lot of my life and in drag culture that I’m the most conservative person in the room. I attribute that to studying music for as long as I did because you have a relationship with an instrument, and a practice schedule. It’s very demanding of your time. You have to perfect your craft. In clubs, it’s like, ‘Yeah, whatever!’”
When performing in clubs, she’s not always playing her favorite music. “I’m always listening to classical music, in my car, everywhere. I can’t really stand a lot of pop music to be honest. If something plays on the radio over and over and over I just can’t get into it.”
In fact, the more popular a piece of music is, the less likely she is to enjoy it. “When something is shoved in my face that I should like, I’ll immediately not like it. I’ve always been that person. With pop music you gotta give me time so I can tear it apart.
“Lady Gaga? It took me a long time to come around to her. When you listen to some of her music, you realize it’s actually really well written. Then you look at what she’s doing artistically on top of it, and then you hear her talk, and she makes me think, ‘You know, you’re really brilliant. You’re an artist.’ Now I’m in love with Lady Gaga.”
But for Thorgy, other pop musicians don’t often measure up. “I didn’t know who Selena Gomez was. I don’t know who half these people my friends listen to are. It just flies right by me because I don’t pay attention to pop culture as much as I should. Shame on me. I should pay attention more. Does that have something to do with my background? Probably.”
Thorgy got her start as a musician very early. “I was a very, very active kid. My parents couldn’t handle all of my energy. I did a lot of sports. Sports and sports and sports. I was a competitive swimmer until I found out I was allergic to chlorine. Once I couldn’t do swimming any more, my parents encouraged me to do every musical thing possible. That’s when I really started to take it very seriously.”
Growing up on Long Island, Thorgy participated in “competitions, and all the festivals, and all the summer programs.” She said, “My babysitter played violin, so I always knew that instrument attracted me. Violin was always my first choice. When I started getting tall quickly, my teacher put me on viola. So I learned viola quickly. Everybody knows a good violist is someone you hold on to.”
Later in life, she taught herself how to play cello. “It’s funny,” she mused, “now, I work more on cello than I do violin or viola. My violin player friends are always like, ‘You play cello too?’ Because it’s very different. It took me a very long time to tell myself, ‘Don’t put your thumb there, don’t put your thumb there!’”
She pursued a degree in music, first at the Hartt School of Music, Dance, and Theater at the University of Hartford. “I felt like I wanted to move into the city because I wasn’t working enough. I’m a very business-minded individual. In high school I started my own business. I would hire out string players to play weddings and events on Long Island.
“I heard about the conservatory at Purchase College and they had a work program that really hired you out.” There, she finished with a dual degree in violin and viola in performance. “But I always tell people I minored in drag history,” she said. “Going to a conservatory, Thorgy had the opportunity to explore many diverse interests.
Reflecting on her days as an undergraduate, she said, “It was a very open campus, and it was great to experiment with art. I just remember people bringing out instruments into the open spaces on campus and dancers would come out and we’d just play and dance and do this for hours.”
What is some of her favorite repertoire?
“As an orchestra player, I’ve had the honor of playing first violin, second violin, viola, and cello in many of Brahms’s symphonies. The listening is so much different when you have to listen to other parts that you don’t hear when you’re playing first violin. I always encourage everyone to learn every string instrument. It really does change the way you play. It gives you a different perspective.”
But as much as she loves Brahms, she said, “There’s nothing more rewarding than sitting back and playing Bach cello suites. My teachers used to tell me when I was very young, ‘Bach’s cello suites and all the string sonatas and partitas are pieces you learn but you never stop learning.’ You can come back 20 years later, and still be like, ‘Wow!’
“I think one of the foundations of being a good player is coming back to repertoire to perfect things and change the way you see something. I like to go back and play something that I used to play on violin and see how I’ve changed as a person. I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels that way.”
Another of her perennial favorites? “The Borodin String Quarter No. 2 in D is something I could play every day. I’m just a sucker for the Romantics.”
Thorgy loves exposing classical music lovers to drag, and drag lovers to classical music.
“Find what you love and tell everyone about it. When I’m in an orchestra setting I tell everyone, ‘I love doing drag, and I love the make up, and the theatrics.’ I watch people watch me enjoying it and then they come to the shows and say, ‘This is so much fun.’ More people just need to experiment and try new things and talk about it. Don’t be ashamed that you’re liking new things.”
She also plans to combine her two loves in a big way: the Thorchestra.
“Everyone hears that and thinks it’s funny," she said. "But I want to form a drag orchestra that I conduct,” drawing from her friends and colleagues, and perhaps even fans. When Thorgy encounters fans, she said, “One out of every five people say to me, ‘I’m a French horn player, I wanna play for your Thorchestra.’ I’ve gotten hundreds of emails through my website from people all over the world. ‘Hey I’m from London and I play harp.’ I’ve gotten like six harp players that wanna play in the Thorchestra.”
“It would be a big dream to conduct and share stories with audience like about how if Brahms were still alive today I’d probably sleep with him.”
Plans for the Thorchestra are still in the works. “It’s very important for me to present this and have it be something very special rather than be thrown together. I hate when things are thrown together. I think that’s why I might’ve appeared neurotic in RuPaul’s Drag Race. I just want the Thorchestra to be so good.”
Learn more about Thorgy Thor on her website