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NEC Students Perform on WGBH Holiday Special With Ben Folds

‘Tis the Night features NEC students performing alongside violinist Aisslinn Nosky, dancer Caleb Teicher, and singer-songwriter Ben Folds.
Darynn Dean sings and smiles in front of a winter wonderland background

This year’s WGBH Holiday Special ‘Tis the Night with Ben Folds & Friends will feature New England Conservatory students performing alongside Handel and Haydn’s celebrated Concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky, dancer-choreographer Caleb Teicher, and acclaimed singer-songwriter Ben Folds, among others.

"This broadcast, a throwback to past holiday shows that would showcase a variety of musical acts, also gives me the opportunity to work alongside some incredibly gifted performers from the Boston area and beyond,” said Folds.

soprano Saori Erickson and pianist Bethany Pietroniro performing Ave Maria (Sam Brewer - WGBH)
Soprano Saori Erickson ’19 MM and pianist Bethany Pietroniro ’21 DMA perform “Ave Maria.” Photo: Sam Brewer/WGBH

Viewers who tune in for the premiere on Thursday, December 13, 2018 at 8:00pm will hear NEC students soprano Saori Erickson ’19 MM and pianist Bethany Pietroniro ’21 DMA perform Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria.”

In addition, jazz vocalist Darynn Dean ’19 and jazz pianist Matthew Thomson ’19 MM perform their original arrangement of “Jingle Bells,” crafted under the guidance of NEC faculty Dominique Eade ’82, ’89 AD.

Thomson also appears with guitarist Andres Orco-Zerpa ’20 MM and bassist Tyler Wagner ’22 to accompany Ben Folds and Caleb Teicher in their voice, drum, and tap dance arrangement of “Little Drummer Boy.”

A fresh “Jingle Bells” arrangement: Darynn Dean and Matthew Thomson share their process

Matthew Thomson ’19 MM:

“Jingle Bells” has been covered many times, so it was tricky creating an arrangement that was original. We were aiming for something that was energetic, but not too cliched.

Darynn and I worked out multiple ideas as to how we would approach the song. We had two lessons with Dominique Eade, and with her help, we were able to connect all the musical jigsaw pieces together.

vocalist Darynn Dean and pianist Matthew Thomson perform Jingle Bells on Tis the Night (Sam Brewer - WGBH)
Jazz vocalist Darynn Dean ’19 and jazz pianist Matthew Thomson ’19 MM performing “Jingle Bells.” Photo: Sam Brewer/WGBH

Darynn Dean ’19:

Dominique had this idea for the intro based off the changes of John Coltrane’s “Countdown,” you know, like third relations. Which is super jazzy, but it doesn’t sound jazzy—or, it sounds jazzy but it doesn’t sound like John Coltrane. It sounds really pretty.

I brought to the table this ostinato theme that we used throughout the whole thing for theme and variation, with a Latin kind of feel. And then Matt did a reharm of Jingle Bells that was more like traditional swing.

So it was a pretty diverse and interesting arrangement. We had three minds working toward the highest good of the arrangement.


For me, the day of the shoot was less stressful as I had been to the studio the day before to rehearse for a different song with Ben Folds. The studio had an audience, which made the experience a little more intense, but Darynn and I fed off the crowd’s energy. They were just as excited to be there as we were, so that was comforting.

Darynn and I thought we would only have one take, but we actually had a few takes, which relieved some pressure. We did two full takes, and they asked us which one we preferred. We agreed that the first one felt more natural.


The producer was like, “Act natural!” so we acted as natural as we could. But also, my almost four years performing here have included really great opportunities—like the Kennedy Center and singing at Jordan Hall with the big band—and that really prepared me to be ready for any kind of event and not feel like a fish out of water.

So when it was time to record, I was like, “Hey! This is what I’ve been doing for the last almost four years now!” It was comforting to realize that all the work I did—because we did a lot of work for it!  We actually practiced and rehearsed quite a bit—made me feel like, “I know this.”

Being at the Conservatory has shown me that performing is a snapshot of everything that comes before it. And I felt—very much so—well prepared and comfortable and excited to have fun.

Ben Folds and Caleb Teicher and NEC Students perform on Tis the Night (Meredith Nierman - WGBH)
NEC student trio performs withBen Folds & Caleb Teicher on Tis the Night. Photo: Meredith Nierman/WGBH