I love when rock and classical come together. My playlist is filled with the Piano Guys, 2Cellos, the Vitamin String Quartet, and bands that use classical instruments like Yellowcard, The Script, Wakey! Wakey! and more. I played the violin for 10 years and one of my biggest regrets is not learning how to play the piano when I was younger.
Once again...I love classical music.
This past weekend, I took a lightning quick trip to Philadelphia to see my friends Trusha and Kamna. Trusha and her husband Thomas invited me to see Ben Folds with the Philadelphia Orchestra on Friday night and I said yes--but I'll admit I had no idea what I was in for. I haven't listened to Ben Folds-he's had a long and storied career in the alternative music sphere, but he wasn't on rotation for me.
Because he was playing with the Philadelphia Orchestra, however, I was definitely in. Any city that has its own orchestra has cherry picked a legion of talent from the masses, and I knew that at the very least, I'd be enthralled and entertained by the instruments.
I may not have known Ben Folds before I entered the Kimmel Center, but I will remember the experience for a long time to come. His piano melodies fit flawlessly with a symphony behind it, and could be played acoustically or with a rock band, and it would flow equally as well.
His concert style is casual--he injects a ton of stories about his time touring, and the hilarious anecdotes behind his songs. For example...he told us about how he was in Europe touring, and had taken too much cold medicine prescribed by a doctor, trying to get rid of a sore throat so he could perform. So he is high as a kite on stage, forgets the lyrics/song he's supposed to play and decides to make something up. Unfortunately for him, the only thing on the American news that day (contrary to European news) is the notable story about a former astronaut who wore a diaper to drive cross country and murder her cheating boyfriend...The result was the following lyrics:
Here in Cologne
I know I said it wrong
I walked you to the train
And back across alone
To my hotel room
And ordered me some food
And now I'm wondering why the floor has suddenly become a moving target
Four, three, two, one,
I'm letting you go
I will let go
If you will let go
(Four, three, two)
Says here an astronaut
Put on a pair of diapers
Drove eighteen hours
To kill her boyfriend
And in my hotel room, I'm wondering
If you read that story too?
And if we both might
Be having the same imaginary conversation
I looked up the lyrics to find out exactly what they were and the fans who commented spoke about how deep the song is and how it captures long distance relationships perfectly--and it made me smile. Writers often have to pull random deep stuff out of nothing, but Ben Folds clearly did it better--not only did he write a song on the spot in Cologne while doped up on prescriptions, he played it classically on a piano (something I can't do sober), and then created a song that fans consider deep.
The most memorable portion of the concert though wasn't the song about the astronaut...it was his final song of the night (prior to two encores). The story behind it is that he was recording a live album in Chicago when a fan shouted "Rock this bitch!"
"I don't know that one," responded Ben. "But I'll try."
That improvisation also turned out so well it ended up on the album...and now if someone shouts it at a show, he considers it a code of honor that he has to play some variation of it with those lyrics in it.
What he did in Philadelphia was far more than a funny story. He stared at his piano for a couple of seconds, and literally wrote a symphony orchestra piece on the spot. He devised segments, measures, chords, and harmonies for the first and second violins and violas, came up with a bass beat to undercut it all, had the cellos play something else, figured out a tune for the woodwinds and brasses, and then added an entire percussion section with specifics on what notes to play.
He did it in under ten minutes.
"Does anyone have a flugelhorn back there?" He interrupted.
A musician produced one in the back of the stage.
"You know what to do." said Ben.
And we got a mid-improvisation Flugelhorn solo.
Then he sang the entire improvised song with the profound (I'm kidding) lyrics: "Rock this bitch, Philadelphia."
I've never seen anything like it. It takes some serious musical genius to manipulate notes and harmonies on the spot for an entire orchestra, and improvise a song.
When I was little, I watched a movie on Beethoven--Beethoven actually went deaf mid-career so some of his most well-recognized movements were created through expertise and feeling vibration, but not through actually hearing the music. Even when I was younger, I remember thinking you'd have to be able to "see" music in front of you to do it accurately when you can't hear, and I was reminded of that when I watched Ben Folds put it all together.
The night was an experience to say the least and I was so amazed by the talent that I had to write about it and let you all know...maybe look up a video or two of Folds' improvisations and check him out.