Friday, July 8, 2011

Video Games Live: Suddenly Orchestras Are Cool Again

I’m a violist.  That means I play the viola, not the violin.  They’re very different instruments.  But that’s beside the point.  I’ve been playing in orchestras for a long time, and I’ve learned to really enjoy classical music as a result of it.  While I enjoy playing in concerts, I find listening to an orchestra concert far less entertaining.  Sitting still for an hour and a half is not my idea of a good time, so I can sympathize with how orchestral music has been declining in popularity in recent years.  However, there is one concert series which I think is bringing orchestral music back in a big way.  Today’s post is going to be about Video Games Live.

Hosted by Tommy Tallarico, this organization has travelled several times around the world putting on high-energy, awesome concerts of music from the full spectrum of video games, starting with Pong and going all the way up to present day.  Beginning with this introduction, they then go on to perform a selection from about 50 different games.  They don’t have a travelling orchestra, however.  Instead, they send the music ahead to the local city orchestra and give them a little time to prepare before they arrive and set things up properly.  I imagine it must be an awesome experience to be playing in that orchestra.  It’s not often that a professional orchestra gets to play with electric guitar accompaniment and a full light display with screaming fans jumping around.

That’s the thing I love the most about these concerts: the atmosphere.  Instead of everyone sitting around and listening politely to a group of musicians perform a recital of some of the great works from video games history, everyone is cheering and singing along and calling for their favourite songs to be played next (the most recent VGL I attended had to do Chrono Trigger as an encore because the fans were demanding it so loudly.  Yay).   The host, Tommy, is great fun, and he knows how to keep people excited.  He also joins in sometimes, as when they did the Castlevania music he stepped forward on the electric guitar, which was quite awesome.  Also impressive is the one musician that does tour with them: Martin Leung, more famously known as the Blind-folded Pianist.  After attaining global Youtube fame for playing the Super Mario music on the piano while blind-folded, Video Games Live asked him to come on tour with them and perform Mario, Tetris, and other songs with amazing ability.

There’s nothing like a full orchestra to give you the full experience that you were meant to receive with video game music.  The VGL version of Kingdom Hearts is beautiful, and seeing a live African choir performance of Baba Yetu from Civilization IV is fantastic.  I’ve said before that a lot of older music was designed with simpler music technology and so the simple melodies that became so iconic in Mario and Zelda were the result of necessity more than anything else.  Hearing the modern versions played live though, makes you wish they had had this ability all along.  I cannot recommend these concerts highly enough.  Outside the concert hall there are many different game stations set up and there is always something cool happening in addition to the actual concert itself.  Boredom is extremely unlikely.

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