Many composers might balk at being asked to compose a song on the spot for an entire orchestra, but not Ben Folds.

The singer-songwriter, pianist, and record producer, best known for his years with the alternative rock band Ben Folds Five, is also the artistic advisor for the National Symphony Orchestra, and, it turns out, a hell of an improviser.

Folds composed the above piece live with the NSO, during their Sound Health in Concert: Music and the Mind.

He was given a key (A minor), a tempo (upbeat), and a sentence (“These new spaces are all designed to be flexible.”) and ten minutes to build his song.

And build, he did!

It’s fascinating to watch him construct the piece section by section, and also to witness the immense talent of the orchestra and conductor Edwin Outwater as they utilized and synthesized Folds’ directions.


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The video also serves as a reminder to always challenge ourselves about what is possible, artistically and in life.

As the common wisdom goes, “If something that you’re doing doesn’t challenge you, then it doesn’t change you.”

Or, as Folds put it, sometimes we must challenge ourselves to go from fortissimo to “fivetissimo!”

How are you pushing yourself?

Each day we have the chance to go beyond our limits, whether that’s composing a song in a day, learning a completely different style of music, mastering irregular rhythms, sight-reading chamber music, or any activity that causes you trepidation.

What would you try to learn if nothing was stopping you?

If you need some inspiration, head to Strings’ How To section and try one of our many lessons on technique, style, and musicality.

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