I first heard of Ben Folds when he played at Dartmouth in 2002, and it wasn’t until hearing his music that I realized pop-rock piano music existed. Until Ben Folds, piano music was either classical, jazz/gospel, showtuny Broadway, or easy listening. I’d always considered pop-rock as something you couldn’t do without a guitar or drums, preferably both. What would show up as a power chord for a guitar, for example, would be transcribed as a few whole notes for a piano – and holding a chord for a few measures obviously doesn’t resonate the same on a piano as it does on an amp’d guitar. Yes, I’d played Billy Joel and Elton John, but the more rock-like stuff by them just never sounded right on the piano for me, though over the years my view of this has changed a bit.
With Folds, piano holds its own in the genre: repetitive melodies and structures create a sense of percussion, and though the basic rock chord progressions are there, they don’t sound empty, like they’re waiting for a drum fill, due to embellishments and jazzy riffs. Plus, I can play each successive verse louder than the last, and it’s ok. Much of Jason Robert Brown’s music is in this same style.
I saw Folds play at Yale once – he broke a piano string halfway through, so he finished the show on a guitar. Very impressive stuff.
So, in honor of Folds voting to keep the Dartmouth Aires on The Sing Off, here’s my attempt at Philosophy (the sheet music I’m using only contains snippets of the piano part, so I’ve taken extreme liberty with this rendition).
Philosophy, by Ben Folds:
As a bonus: if you haven’t seen the Ben Folds Ode to Merton in Charlotte, this is a must see for any fan. There was a guy, Merton, who would show up on Chatroulette, a web site that would randomly pair people up on video chat. Merton would make up songs on here, and inspired, Folds did this live at a concert in Charlotte.