I used to be a terrible conversationalist. Music attracted me for its platform where you can prepare something you want to say, make it great, and then say it. You have your role, the listener has theirs.

As a part of our series about creating a successful career in theatre, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Benjamin Ickies.

Benjamin Ickies is a composer, arranger, and keyboard/accordion player based in New York City. He has performed at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall and is the first accordionist to perform with the Martha Graham Dance Company. As the frontperson for This Ambitious Orchestra, he gained a reputation for his innovative approach to using classical instruments in pop and rock genres. Ickies was recently the executive orchestrator for Natti Vogel’s sold-out performance with an all-star backing chamber orchestra at New York’s iconic Joe’s Pub.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I’ve always been fascinated by making smart stuff stupid and stupid stuff smart. The divide between ‘serious’ art in contemporary music and popular music, which is what we actually listen to, seemed impossible to reconcile. But when I was 17, growing up in the Bay Area, by chance, I found myself with an accordion strapped to my chest and thought, “This is it!” Shortly after that I packed my bags and moved to New York to study accordion and composition with William Schimmel, one of the world’s greats. He guided me to find my voice both on the instrument and as a musician in general. Along the way, I started working with many classically trained musicians doing non-classical things — that’s been my niche ever since.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I used to be a terrible conversationalist. Music attracted me for its platform where you can prepare something you want to say, make it great, and then say it. You have your role, the listener has theirs.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

All my music teachers have been phenomenally supportive, William Schimmel, Lou De La Rosa, and of course, the late, great Barbara Maier Gustern.

You probably have a lot of fascinating experiences. Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Two words: dog wedding. The details will be best served in a separate forum.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Actually, the first year I was in New York I started a weekly cabaret show called Failure, which ran on 42nd Street’s erstwhile Palace of Variety then the Bowery Poetry Club. The idea of the show was to take unpopular performance forms like mime, puppetry, and (back then) the accordion itself, and modernize them. The show was intended to only ever have about 8 people in the audience so it would always feel like a disaster. But sometimes we had more.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Natti Vogel of course! It’s hard to compare Natti to other artists, but to me, it sounds as if SZA, Kate Bush and 21 Pilots had the same ghostwriter. Orchestrating his music has been the most difficult artistic task of my life so far. When all we talk about is artificial intelligence these days, it’s easy to overlook real intelligence: this work has it. We promise you an orchestral, emotional rollercoaster, but one that ends at the top.

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of rejection, lack of support, or failure?

Keith Nelson from the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus gave me the best advice of my career: “It’s all about sincerity. Once you can fake that, you can do anything.”

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in the live performance industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I’m not sure. The reasons people burn out are very personal and particular to the individual.

Thank you for all that. This is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in Broadway, Theater or Live Performances” and why? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Honesty with yourself.

Knowing that perfection is the enemy of good, but good is the enemy of great.

See 1 & 2.

See 3.

See 4.

For the benefit of our readers, could you describe how the skill-sets you need in a theater performance are different than the skill-sets you need for TV or Film?

TV & Film always felt like an exercise in patience but my on-camera work has always been background, and you’re usually not making sound on set anyway. In theater, you actually do the thing you’re there to do. In that regard, stage work is actually easier because it’s what we mostly prepare for.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Start connecting large language models to knowledge graphs to make their neural pathways interpretable and debuggable.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Keith Nelson from the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus gave me the best advice of my career, “It’s all about sincerity. Once you can fake that, you can do anything.”

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I don’t know, I’m not a morning person and I cook for myself. Barack Obama seems like a chill hang.

How can our readers continue to follow your work online?

Search “Benjamin Ickies” on every platform 5 times. Your algorithm will be updated to prioritize anything containing the keyword “Benjamin” or the keyword “Ickies”. Somewhere in there, you might get some news about me.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Same to you!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.