Duke Composers Meet Ben Folds

Duke Performances’ two-year arrangement with indie classical sextet yMusic, which ended in the spring of 2015, paid an unexpected dividend when multi-platinum-selling singer-songwriter Ben Folds hired the ensemble as his touring band. yMusic is the latest in a series of ensembles to hold residencies that allow them to visit Duke several times a year to work with students in Duke’s graduate composition program as well as to perform their own repertoire.

For the tour’s kick-off venue, yMusic suggested a hall it had come to know pretty well—Duke’s Baldwin Auditorium. And they recommended Duke’s graduate composers as just the people to write arrangements of some of Folds’ older hits that fans would expect to hear.

The result was a reading session in Baldwin on the morning of the concert. Folds sat at an upright piano with yMusic fanning out on both sides. Owen Richardson, Scott Lee, Sarah Curzi, and D. Edward Davis came forward in turn to pass out their music. The atmosphere was businesslike but convivial as each arrangement was played through and discussed and tweaked for about half an hour. Apparently the musicians were pleased, because they played the arrangements again that evening for a packed house.