It’s no secret that Ben Folds is a ridiculously talented songwriter, but he really proved it beyond a doubt when he wrote a hilarious song in 10 minutes flat, with the help of audience members and the National Symphony Orchestra. The singer-songwriter was performing at the Kennedy Centre when the host asked the audience to help him write his next tune.
After the host consulted the crowd for ideas, Folds was given the following song brief: Write an upbeat song in A minor that used a lyric from the event’s program, which was “These new spaces are all designed to be flexible.” You can hear how brilliantly he was able to turn these simple instructions into a song completely on the fly.
Folds has shown himself to be quite the comedian over the years in addition to his musical chops, and this gig was no exception. He soon created a stately piano part and had the crowd rolling with his silly delivery of the nonsensical lyrics he was given.
Folds quickly gave instructions to the different parts of the orchestra, first giving a catchy rhythm to the cellos, then a melody to the wind instruments and later multiple parts to the violins. The old joke is that rock musicians are trash with music theory but Folds displayed a nuanced knowledge of how to arrange an orchestra in record time. He’s been the first artistic advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra since 2017 and below you can hear him play his new song “Fragile” with them.
Folds gave out his instructions to the orchestra with his typical wit and had the audience laughing with his quirky delivery throughout, dropping lines like “if there’s a trumpet player that wants to take a solo after the first chorus when I run out of ideas then you can just take that.”
True to his word, Folds wrapped up the writing within 10 minutes, almost to the second and then joined the orchestra in playing the tune. Conductor Edwin Outwater led the orchestra expertly as Folds riffed on improvised lyrics about the construction of the Kennedy Centre. It takes quite a songwriter to make lines like “for more than 45 years the JFK Centre for the Performing Arts has served as a living memorial” sound natural in a pop song but Folds does it in style. He quickly got cheers and laughs from the audience, and despite the ludicrous lyrics, the song is actually quite beautiful and the music stands on its own quite well.
Fans loved to see the master songwriter at work, adding comments such as “I think the coolest part of this is that this isn’t a one time thing – Ben does this with basically every orchestra show he does around the world. New song each time; it’s great.” and “I once read that his college friends used to watch him do this. That he would sit by the window of his dorm and write songs on the fly about people walking by. He’s truly a musical genius, there is no doubt.”