Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, was the venue, Wednesday, June 11, 2014, for a most entertaining educational event, Inside Music Series with Ben Folds and the Kansas City Symphony. Mr. Folds, an accomplished rock musician, played movement two and three of his unconventional "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra," with the Kansas City Symphony; then he joined associate conductor Aram Demirjian on stage for an informal question and answer session with the students who were assembled in Helzberg Hall.
Bathed in red lighting with silhouetted shapes projected on the back stage wall, Mr. Folds played the piano conventionally, at times, but, at other times, he was leaning over the keyboard while strumming the piano strings as if he were playing a flat, oversized, guitar, or, holding his hands on some strings as he stroked the keys, to get plink-zing effect as he released the hold pedal or took his hand off of the strings. The orchestra was not asked for odd playing of its instruments, but the percussion section was kept busy. As to the marriage of the rock musician on the piano with the symphony orchestra, nothing seemed out of place; there was music of an unusual nature, but it fit together well; enough said.
The very active question and answer period took most of the allotted time. Mr. Folds was asked how he gets his melodic ideas; he answered that he frequently hums to himself until he is able to record the ideas. Aram Demirjian quipped that when he is thinking music, he conducts with no one in front of him, which some people might find a little eccentric.
When asked which of his own songs is his favorite, he responded that his most recent piece is usually his favorite. He could not name the one song in the world that was his favorite.
The students were able to witness an accomplished musician interacting with a first-rate orchestra on music that might be more accessible to this age group than is normally heard from this stage. They were introduced to the concept that music is music; that it is creativity, that the sources vary and the results are as individualized as there are people making it.
The students appeared to have been introduced to Mr. Folds' music and background and were eager to talk with him. Having an open conversation with him gave them the opportunity to develop a realistic sense of professional musicians, that they are flesh and blood, and not really so different from other people whom they know.