Ben Folds played backup for a few minutes Thursday night when Ben Schneider, 11, played his song "Sky High."
"Are you excited?" one person after another had asked young Ben as he entered the Majestic Theatre so he could meet his idol. Ben always had the same, ready answer: "Yes!" It was usually followed by a tap of his cane and a little jump.
Ben's father had written a heartfelt message to Folds' manager that resulted in this opportunity to meet the singer-songwriter.
It read, in part:
“My name is Rob Schneider and I am writing to you for two reasons.
First, I’m writing to tell you about a huge fan of your music, my 11-year-old son Ben.
Ben’s birth mother's water broke a week before she went to the hospital. He was born in septic shock and spent his first 30 days in intensive care. We knew Ben would have some special needs and we felt like it was our calling to be his family. We adopted Ben in June of 2005.
But he was born with a lifetime of thing to overcome.
He is a Hispanic albino, which makes him look like a blue-eyed, blonde-haired Caucasian.
When he was six months old, we learned he was legally blind. When he was 1, we were told he had cerebral palsy. I remember a doctor explaining his limitations to me then 'he won’t, for example, be able to play the piano.'
At age 2, Ben lost all speech and was diagnosed with autism.”
Thursday afternoon, Ben got the chance to meet the musician who inspired him to play piano.
Little Ben's story is of the against-all-odds variety: Doctors told his parents he'd never be able to play the piano.
Ben joined about 100 people at the downtown Dallas venue for a VIP experience in which they got to sit in on the musician's sound check and have a picture taken with him. Though it was only practice, it felt like an intimate concert experience.
As Ben was ushered into the hall from the lobby, one woman said, "Who is he?" But Ben had questions of his own: "What's your name?" and "When's your birthday?" he'd ask.
Parents Rob and Jenn Schneider were with him, as well as his older sister, Becca, 15. After Folds finished rehearsal, about four songs, they waited for their moment. Ben had more questions: "Can I tell him I love him?" and "Is it appropriate?"
"Yes, it's appropriate this time," said Jenn Schneider.
The waiting was the hardest part, of course. “Where is Ben Folds?” and “Can I say hi to Mr. Ben Folds?” Ben asked.
“A lot of stuff doesn’t come easy for him,” Rob Schneider said, “but music really does.”
When it was finally Ben's turn, he asked his idol a question. "What's your name?" he asked.
"My name is Ben Folds," the singer-songwriter said and returned the question.
"When's your birthday?"
"Sept. 12, 1966," Folds answered.
Then Ben’s father, Rob, asked if he wanted to pose for a picture with Folds.
“No,” the child said. “I wanna go to that piano.”
And, to everyone's surprise, Folds asked a question of his own: "Why not?" And so Ben did.
It seemed fitting that Folds had played "Capable of Anything" during the VIP meet and greet. And then, on a Thursday evening during Autism Awareness Month, the young man challenged by blindness, cerebral palsy and autism was the one teaching the lesson.