Audubon Symphony Orchestra Tackles Techno Tunes
Video game music has come a long way since its beepy-boopy beginnings.
What was once little more than a synthesized fanfare that played at the drop of a quarter has now become fully orchestrated accompaniments to life-and-death quests, daring rescues and otherworldly conquests.
In fact, the breadth and depth of modern-day video game scores has been bumped up to the point that, much like the sweeping film scores of Hollywood, it is now concert-worthy.
And popular, especially with younger listeners, which sparked in Becky McCarren, Vice President of the Audubon Symphony Orchestra, an interesting idea. She explains: "I went to our board of directors last summer and said, ‘Our traditional audience is aging. Sooner or later, it's going to dwindle away. We've got to play music that someone in a younger age group wants to hear.'"
McCarren, who is also first cellist with the orchestra, turned to her children for help. "They're between 20 and 30 years old, and I asked them why they and their friends don't come to orchestra concerts. They said, ‘Mom, if you played something we wanted to hear, we'd come.' And when I asked them what they would want to hear, they told me: Video game music."
The symphony's board approved. The next challenge was finding the scores, the sheets and sheets of written music that the players perform.
McCarron began researching various publishers and found a disappointing scenario: Most video game music generally went unpublished and was not available for purchase by orchestras.
But then, she stumbled on a breakthrough. "The concerts given by the Gamer Symphony Orchestra at the University of Maryland all involve video game music, and they make their arrangements available to other music groups. If the original scores aren't available (they are often discarded), the student musicians will listen to a piece again and again and again and transcribe the notes part-by-part for the entire composition. It's a painstaking task, but the results are amazing."
The Gamer Symphony Orchestra at the University of Maryland performs "Hikari"
Slowly, McCarron accessed enough music to lay the foundation for a concert. To round out the emerging program, film scores were added. Including a medley by John Williams (Star Wars, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark), the theme from The Hobbit and variations on the music of the Star Trek franchise.
"Theme from Tetris," McCarron says, "took an interesting direction. The music is actually a Russian folk song, with lyrics in Russian. So we're bringing in a choir to sing it." The cellist was also interested performing in the tuneful accompaniment to the Mario Bros games for Game Boy (encouraged again by her children), but the orchestrations did not exist for the 34 full instruments of the orchestra.
"Maybe in a future year," McCarron projects.
The Video Game and Movie Mania series includes:
- Metal Gear Solid Medley
- Halo Theme Song
- One Winged Angel (Final Fantasy)
- Symphony for the Hero of Time (Legend of Zelda)
- Hikari (Kingdom Hearts)
"One Winged Angel is very interesting," McCarron describes. "It's dark, with a vocal part that sounds like Gregorian Chant. It's something in line with the film scores of Danny Elfman, who did Beetlejuice and The Nightmare before Christmas. My kids were like, "You've got to do this!'"
The orchestra is wrapping up its concert series for this season. The current program debuted at Park House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and at a rehearsal following the initial performance, conductor Michael Smith was fine-tuning the performance: "Those of you with the quarter notes - that's the violins and the violas - you need to push them out. Those of you playing eighth notes need to push them out even more."
Smith was pleased with the overall presentation, even when recognizing that the video game program may not have been what the Park House seniors expected. "While most of the concert went over the heads of our audience," he said, "one gentleman did come up to me afterward and tell me how much he truly enjoyed the video game selections. It was the 17 year-old security guard sitting at the front desk!"
To experience the soaring sounds of the Audubon Symphony Orchestra playing the best that gaming has to offer music-wise, there are two opportunities left:
- Wednesday, May 14, at the Phoenixville Dogwood Festival
- Saturday, May 31, at the Elmwood Park Band Shell
Both evenings are free. These sunset concerts won't even cost a token.
The energetic performance is sure to be exciting, but afterward, all that fresh air may leave you seeking respite. For a truly special night out, follow the Audubon Symphony with a stay in one of our nearby accommodations. If you're looking for a meal to precede your getaway sleepover, give a try to Pacific Prime. The expert chefs there can orchestrate a meal that will have you singing their praises.