WGBH has enlisted a bit of star power to host its holiday musical event this year.
The public broadcasting station has tapped Ben Folds to helm its upcoming TV special “’Tis the Night with Ben Folds & Friends.” The holiday extravaganza is set to air Thursday, Dec. 13, at 8 p.m. on WGBH 2.
Ben Folds talks '’Tis the Night' WGBH special
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While the acclaimed musician always has a busy schedule, he made sure to make room for this event, as he’s a huge supporter of public programming. Folds felt particularly “honored” to host “’Tis the Night,” as he believes WGBH is a “legendary” station that’s important to our culture.
“It’s the kind of thing I like to do sometimes. I’m a fan of public programming and it’s fun,” Folds tells Metro. “This is very really, very old school. It kind of reminds of some of the programming I liked as a kid.”
In addition to Folds, the special features performances by a number of area organizations, including the Boston Children’s Chorus, as well as singers from Harvard University and the New England Conservatory. The brainchild of station manager Tony Rudel, “’Tis the Night” will attempt to put a fresh spin on holiday programming by adding some twists to fan-favorite classics.
Highlights from the special include a jazzy take on “Jingle Bells” as well as a duet of sorts between Folds and 24-year-old tap dancing star Caleb Teicher, who dances and sings “Little Drummer Boy” while Folds plays along on the snare drum.
“It was cool. It was out of my comfort zone a little bit because I was playing a marching snare and Caleb was singing – he’s a very good singer,” says Folds. “We both like to do stuff that’s scary, so that was just scary enough.”
Another highlight from “’Tis the Night” is a performance of “Silent Night” by Handel and Haydn concertmaster Aislinn Nosky. While Folds calls the rendition of the holiday tune relatively “simple,” he praises Nosky for her “beautiful sound.”
“The whole thing was for me not to step all over her by playing the piano too hard,” Folds jokes.
Speaking of Handel and Haydn, the oldest continuously performing classical music ensembles in the country, the two-centuries old group will perform “Messiah.” Handel and Haydn actually presented the work’s American premiere back in 1819, and have performed the piece each year for the past 164 years.
“It’s a very interesting, little old-fashion chamber orchestra,” says Folds. “They tune much lower. It’s very much of the era in which the music was written.”
“It’s pretty interesting to hear the music sung and performed as it was composed,” he adds.
Since today’s media landscape is filled with all sorts of entertainment sources, from apps to streaming services, Folds is happy to shine a spotlight on public programming. The musician believes stations like WGBH are important to the fabric of art, culture and society.
“It’s not the kind of music or programming that gets hundreds of millions of click on the Internet,” says Folds. “But if that’s the way we decided our society completely, we wouldn’t have as much backbone.”
“It’s just good,” he adds. “I’m for all kinds of outlets for music and art, but the public outlet, I think is very important.”
“’Tis the Night with Ben Folds & Friends” airs Thursday, Dec. 13, at 8 p.m. on WGBH 2.