Tell Stories Through Your Music, Like Ben Folds

Not So Different

Long before he cemented place in the hearts of a cappella enthusiasts through his hosting gig on The Sing-Off and even before the University A Cappella project through which he first developed in-roads with the a cappella community, Ben Folds was offering up valuable source material to the a cappella universe.

Sure, his piano-driven, intricately layered songs lend themselves well to a cappella. Beyond that point, though, Folds has long cultivated a unique ability to tell compelling stories through music. A part of it's the lyrics, through which Folds has woven many-a-story about the likes of Fred Jones, Annie, Tom and Mary, and any other number of characters. Folds so often transcends the line of writing from personal experience to writing original stories within songs.

In addition to the words, the music itself of a Folds composition tends to tell a story all its own. Consider "Wandering," a sleepy little tune about lost love that culminates in narrator asking his ex if she remembers any number of moments from their past as a couple, before the crescendo collapses and he almost whispers "because I won't remember anymore."

While the preceding example may ultimately amount to little more than a clever application of dynamic variation, there are lessons to be learned. Is your execution of the music just imitating the original, or communicating how your group feels about the song, and the story you're seeking to tell? Do the facial expressions of the group members reflect the emotion of the song, or just the blank slate of a bunch of musicians singing out of habit?

After an audience leaves your show, few of them will recall every musical detail of your technical execution, but they will remember the experience of the show. The stories you tell should be a defining factor in this experience; and if they're not you're wasting a valuable opportunity to connect.