Most college students only dream of sharing the stage with a musician like Ben Folds. For senior Greg Magee, that dream became a reality when he performed with Folds and the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center last Thursday.
Magee was one of eight college students selected to sing in a choir alongside the main act during the “Ben Folds Rocks the Pops” concert. The theatre major applied in early September for the coveted role by recording and submitting a YouTube video showcasing his vocal talents.
“I didn’t really think I had a good chance of making it,” Magee said. “It’s really an opportunity unlike any other.”
The opportunity put the Maryland native in front of 2,300 audience members, a full capacity crowd, according to NSO Managing Director Patricia O’Kelly.
Preparation for the large performance could put any singer on edge, and the rehearsal process was something Magee had never dealt with before. The tenor was sent his sheet music through e-mail and then had one chance to rehearse with the rest of the group – on the day of the concert.
“It’s been the most solitary preparation I’ve ever had to do,” Magee said.
Folds is primarily known as a solo piano artist with eclectic lyrics and unconventional stage behavior. Working with college students is often a part of his act. Just last spring, he performed at a concert with Jason Mraz and the GW Vibes a cappella group in the Smith Center.
“I love Ben Folds,” Magee said. “College students are his bread and butter.”
For the performance last week, Folds sat at his piano with the orchestra and choir behind him. He played hits such as “Zak and Sara” and “Lullabye” in a set that lasted a little more than an hour. Dressed in a red polo and sneakers, even Folds’ appearance was a stark contrast to the black-tie dress code of the NSO musicians.
“I think the orchestra will give it a different take on his songs – usually you don’t hear songs by artists done with full orchestra,” said sophomore Chris Deschenes, a student who snagged a ticket to the show at the last minute.
Mary Larsen, who traveled from Georgia to see the concert, said that it was a good opportunity for college students to showcase their talent in a national arena.
“It gives new artists a spotlight on a big stage to see what it’s like,” Larsen said. “It means a lot, as a fan, that he appreciates us enough to include fans in the show.”
For Magee, the experience to sing the songs “Evaporated,” “Cologne” and “Effington” behind the man who wrote them is something that will stick with him for a lifetime.
“It was very surreal, definitely the loudest applause I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “It was very cool.”
Magee can next be seen, albeit on a smaller stage, in the GW Department of Theatre and Dance’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” starting Oct. 29 in the Marvin Center’s Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre. Meanwhile, Folds will continue his national tour, hitting New York and Washington state during the next few weeks.