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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Expansive musical note, sounded by APAP opener Chris Thile, echoed by closer Ben Folds

Chris Thile at APAP

It was certainly unplanned, but Chris Thile, who opened the 2020 Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) conference on Jan. 10 with a couple solo mandolin pieces followed by a few pertinent words at the opening “The Power of Risk-Taking” plenary session at the New York Hilton Midtown, was echoed by Ben Folds, who followed his closing “Ben Folds on Art, Life and Music” plenary session observations (also at the Hilton, on Jan. 14) alone at the piano.

The gist from both concerned this year’s conference’s overall “Risk and Resilience” theme, the “risk” part in particular.

“We don’t challenge ourselves as artists,” Thile suggested, then submitted an effective if unexpected condiment analogy centering on his intense love of ketchup.

Indeed, Thile gets upset if his favorite ketchup brand is unavailable, or worse yet, taken. Transposing this to his music listening habits, the star mandolinist and Live from Here radio show host admitted that he finds himself typically putting on “the same Radiohead record” and Glenn Gould Plays Bach, then encouraged others to play “something that’s a little bit uncomfortable, [and] remember what it’s like to feel stretched”--and take that feeling out into their communities.

Thile further urged his fellow musicians to “be an audience member.”

“We’re professionals in this room,” he asserted, “and need to rise up.”

It was noted at the closing plenary that Ben Folds has worked in numerous music genres including pop, rock, classical and even polka.

Folds then drew laughter when he said, “I don’t play in heavy metal bands often, but you want to be a bit of a [musical genre] tourist,” and reflecting Thile’s comments, held up opera great Renee Fleming as an example of an “open-minded and [musically] curious” artist.

Folds, incidentally, made note of his memoir A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons, which was published last year. He suggested that everyone in the audience who had reached the age of 45 take a three-month sabbatical and “write your own damn memoir,” because it “lightens you up” by unloading onto paper the weight of information accumulated and carried in a 45-year-old’s head.



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