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BEN FOLDS: HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

by Rich Lewis

It’s good to get home for the holidays and on Tuesday night, Dec. 8, Ben Folds will be performing with the Piedmont Wind Symphony at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. A native of Winston-Salem, Fold’s career has seen multiple platinum albums, world-spanning tours and television appearances.

“Man, I mean it feels good to be doing this show,” Folds said. “I don’t get back much anymore and it will be nice to play there again. It does make for a special show to be in your hometown, if nothing else just because there’ll be more family there.”

“More or less this will sort of be a Best- Of gig,” he continued, “because this is literally me, coming home. The Piedmont Wind Symphony hadn’t done a show like this before and they contacted me with a bunch of my songs arrangements changed to fit their instruments. I looked at what they had sent and it was great!” Folds and the Piedmont Wind Symphony will be performing his hit songs including “Not the Same,” “Stephen’s Last Night in Town,” “Zak and Sara,” “We’re Still Fighting It,” “The Luckiest” and others as well. In addition, they will be doing some of the songs off his latest album, So There, which already has a strong classical influence. The symphony will also be performing a number of holiday favorites to really get the season underway.

Piedmont Wind Symphony’s Maestro Matthew Troy said, “As a longtime fan of Ben Folds, I am so thrilled to announce this musical collaboration and bring him home for the holidays. I know this will show the community that the Piedmont Wind Symphony has a unique voice and is an important ensemble that brings world-class talent to the Triad.”

Or back to the Triad in this case. Some artists might be a bit daunted by such a transformation of their songs, particularly one whose work has often been classified in the alt and indie rock genres, but Folds is no stranger to the classical side of music. In college he studied under a percussion scholarship and prior to that he’d been in the North Carolina School of the Arts Young Symphony. And no matter the musical genres he worked with over the years, there was always a foundation rooted in good classical structure.

“You couldn’t really say it’s a natural progression,” Folds said, “because it’s really always been a part of what I’ve done.

I was always curious and interested; I was always a student of music.

“And I like instruments “¦ I like a lot of instruments together,” he continued.

Folds has also been performing extensively with symphonies and orchestras around the world, but how does one prepare when traveling from city to city, performing with entirely different sets of musicians each time?

“I’ve been performing with orchestras for the last 10 years, so I’m pretty well practiced at it. It’s not a problem unless I’ve taken some time off – then I just forget how to play. I don’t forget the songs or the melodies, I really forget how to play and sing.

“I don’t really feel bad saying that since I stole it from Paul McCartney who has the same problem,” Folds said with a laugh. “Really, I have to sit back down and practice until I get the playing skills back. If you aren’t doing it every day, it goes away. The rest of the performance just comes naturally.”

He first performed with an orchestra 10 years ago while living overseas. The first gig was with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and he eventually came back to the United States and had his first gig of that type with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. It really seemed to work out and he’s performed with some of the best symphonies in the United States and abroad.

His classical writing recently produced a Concerto for Piano and Orchestra that debuted last year with the Nashville Symphony. The Concerto also appears on his latest album, So There, which features heavily the classical chamber music group yMusic, who have been touring and performing with Folds. yMusic, based out of New York City, has developed a reputation for bringing a modern edge to classical music in recent years, and their instrumentation has certainly dovetailed nicely with Fold’s creations. Pop music mainstays like guitar and drums gave way to flute, trumpet, clarinet and a strings trio. Not everyone could pull that move off, but somehow they did.

“Innovations in pop music come slower and slower each year,” Folds said. “I think one awesome door to walk through is this, the world of classical music from whence all our ideas of composition grew. That world is hurting now and it could use pop musicians. And pop musicians could use the classical world because it’s so full of possibility and sounds. It’s endless.”

The new album is meeting with great success and the collaboration between Folds and yMusic is seamless, as if they had been doing this for years. Chamber pop might seem like something odd, but Folds has made a career of turning odd pairings into something transcendent.

In the ’90s, his trio, Ben Folds Five, emerged right as the heydays of alt rock and grunge had crested and begun to fall. As the music scenes of Athens, Georgia and Seattle began to drop out of the pop charts, Folds and his bandmates joined in with something more introspective and piano-driven, something with a bit of punk sensibilities and solid songwriting that got critics and fans listening.

Their second album, Whatever and Ever Amen, went platinum in the United States, as well as in Japan and Australia (gold in Canada). The deeply personal song Brick became a radio staple, along with the songs The Battle of Who Could Care Less and Kate. Overall, it did really, really well considering it was recorded entirely in a two-bedroom house that Folds was renting in Chapel Hill.

The group’s next album together, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messer, actually holds some of the classical seeds that would lead to the current album and Fold’s concerto.

Folds went on to have a successful solo career after the group parted ways. He’s had numerous albums on his own while touring throughout the US and internationally, balancing performances and songwriting. Through the years, he’s managed to keep the wry humor and keen insight that have been hallmarks of his work. For a guy whose career spans a bit more than three decades, he’s not just stayed relevant, but has managed to innovate constantly along the way. The only thing he could be accused of selling out has been a long list of auditoriums and performance halls.

Over the last decade, he’s also lent his talents to soundtrack work, most notably for the animated movie Over the Hedge, where he reworked his hit song Rockin’ The Suburbs to fit the plot pf the movie, and introducing his work to a whole new generation. His work was also featured in the movie Hoodwinked.

Folds was a judge for four seasons of the NBC a cappella singing competition The Sing-Off. On top of all of that, he’s been busy as a producer, musician and arranger as well for other people’s albums. He’s worked with folks ranging from Weird Al Yankovic to William Shatner. Somehow in all of this, he’s kept up a touring schedule as well, both alongside symphonies and with his own bands.

This year has been a particularly busy one for Folds. After the mid-September release of So There, Folds has performed concerts throughout the eastern portion of the United States, including an appearance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. At that appearance he was asked by Colbert and his bandleader Jon Batiste to perform Sly and the Family Stone’s great “Everyday People” in a super group alongside such greats as Mavis Staples, Brittany Howard, Buddy Guy, Derek Trucks, Aloe Black and others. This week, before heading to Winston-Salem for the holiday concert, Folds will be performing with the National Symphony at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

Not bad for a guy who graduated from RJ Reynolds High School and learned to play piano by ear listening to Elton John and Billy Joel. He’s gone on to share the stage with both of those luminaries, by the way.

Let’s not forget the Piedmont Wind Symphony!

The Symphony began in 1990 and features more than 45 incredibly accomplished players of woodwinds, brass and percussion instruments. Smaller than a symphonic orchestra, the Piedmont Wind Symphony still packs a mighty punch yet offers a precision that is hard to match with a bigger ensemble.

The Wind Symphony also doesn’t feature a strings section, and generally has a smaller percussion section than many orchestras. In addition, a number of the instruments are played by individual performers rather than by groups, producing a tighter, more precise sound profile.

The group was formed to provide their type of music to the broadest possible audience, always with a mind toward education for listeners of all ages. Many of the performers in the symphony are also educators themselves, some holding masters or even doctorates in music.

The Piedmont Wind Symphony produces a number of performances each year from October through June. Their PWS Presents Classics concerts are held throughout the season, there is an annual Holiday Pops concert as well as a Student Side-by-Side concert. Beyond this performance with Ben Folds they have also performed with such stars as Arturo Sandoval, Neil Sedaka, Paul Anka, Kenny G, Maynard Ferguson, Dionne Warwick and AMERICA.

Currently, the Piedmont Wind Symphony Orchestra is under the artistic direction of Maestro Matthew Troy. An educator as well, Troy has conducted across the country. He has led the North Carolina Symphony, the Greensboro Symphony, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, the Portland Symphony, the UNC School of the Arts Symphony and the Salisbury Symphony. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from UNC-Greensboro.

This is Maestro Troy’s first year as the conductor and artistic director of the Piedmont Wind Symphony.

The Piedmont Wind Symphony Orchestra is supported through ticket sales, individual and corporate donors and even CD sales. Major sponsors for the Symphony include BB&T, Meghan Parsons Marketing +Design, Our State magazine, Windsor Jewelers and the Winston-Salem Journal. !

WANNA go?

Call or Ben Folds and the Piedmont Wind Symphony will be performing at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday evening, Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices range from $35 to $75 and can be purchased through www.ticketmaster.com, Ticketmaster outlets or by calling 1-800-745-3000. In addition, there are special floor-level VIP seating in a cabaret style available for this show. You can inquire about them by calling the Piedmont Wind Symphony office at 336-722-9328.

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