Video Games Are Saving Symphony Orchestras
The air was gently warm; the grass, green. Gentle breezes rustled the branches as the local birds flew by. The Contrabassoon bellowed off distance in the nearby theater, powerfully loud enough to the point of getting goosebumps as it hits that low G note. I arrived early into the outdoor Greek Theater in Griffith Park, three hours early, in fact. I didn’t want to pay the twelve dollars nor spend the the time fighting for parking at a sold out venue. And as I sat my self down on a local bench, I didn’t know that I would be treated to the rehearsals of The Symphony of the Goddesses concert. Nostalgia bumrushed me with equal anxiousness as I was about to experience something both new and old, familiar yet unknown.
Video games were once considered a gimmick back in its infancy. To suggest that an established and well accomplished symphony orchestra would perform music from this medium would have been considered blasphemy back when video games were thought to be a waste of time. Now estimated to be over a 111 billion dollar industry, video games are here to stay and they are not skimping on their music budgets.
Legendary composers like Yoko Shimomura, Nobuo Uematsu, Koji Kondo, and Tenpei Sato have made melodies that perfectly captured the mood for many games that relied heavily on gameplay mechanics instead of graphic fidelity to sell a game. The music itself used to differentiate titles of similar content. For example, Megaman is rather mediocre in its platforming. Yes, it’s challenging but so is Bionic Commando, Contra, Shinobi and Ninja Gaiden. People have an easier time remembering the Blue Bomber because he had a kickin’ soundtrack, heavily influenced by the Rock and Heavy Metal of the time.
These days, studios like 343 industries and Epic games have no qualms about hiring no-name composers to write the soundtracks of their games-- a gamble that has resulted in some of the best soundtracks to any entertainment genre. It seems like something, by comparison, Hollywood adamantly resists on doing (not that I’m complaining after all, I’m a huge John Williams fan).
Making the jump from game soundtrack to concert playlist seems like the next logical step; the score has already physically been written for an orchestra to perform.
According to a report by the League of American Orchestras, attendance had declined by nearly 30 percent by 2011 since 1991. Various orchestras had to file for bankruptcy or were forced to downsize as a result. Even cinema concerts, such as Star Wars, couldn’t entirely offset the decline, despite tripling attendance. And why would you expect it to? Symphony orchestras have only recently embraced video game concerts since 2010 and you expect to offset a twenty year decline in just five years? Even though gamers have been stigmatized as socially awkward basement dwellers, this wouldn’t be the first time gamers have “saved” an organization; often pulling in millions for cancer research, schools, hospitals, and neighborhoods.
We gamers are a passionate bunch. We feel close to the protagonists of our games because their struggles often mirror our own or force us to look deeper into ourselves leading to some of the most cathartic experiences. Music made that journey into Zanarkand; that run from the Brumak; the comical fight for netherworld supremacy and Ezio’s renaissance swagger real. Surrounded by others of like minds and circumstances looking up with adoration to those performed with such veracity to the original source yet adding the same expressive imaginative magic that we would as we mirrored those 8 or 16 bit tunes in our heads; to experience music live like that, made it all tangible. And for that, I would gladly pay for a seat to experience it.