Pong and Puccini

When one thinks of video game music, what comes to mind? The bleeps and bloops of Super Mario Bros.? Contra and its amazing 8-bit keyboard lines? Typically, when one thinks of video game compositions, the idea of symphonic music rarely comes up.

When one thinks of video game music, what comes to mind? The bleeps and bloops of Super Mario Bros.? Contra and its amazing 8-bit keyboard lines? Typically, when one thinks of video game compositions, the idea of symphonic music rarely comes up.

However, the intricate and elaborate music that has graced such games as Halo, Fable and the Final Fantasy series has captured the hearts and minds of hardcore video game fans for years.

Now, the beautifully crafted and very often overlooked music that has been the soundtrack to alien raids, mystical quests and Martian beatdowns comes to life with Video Games Live—a live, symphonic performance of some of the greatest video game compositions to date. Tommy Tallarico, video game composer and accomplished musician, has been traveling the country since 2005 and capturing the ears of the sophisticated concertgoer, all while drawing in a whole new generation of admirers to the symphony.

When Tallarico decided that video games weren’t being regarded by the general public as a viable and important role in the musical community, he decided it was time to take it to the streets with Video Games Live. In 2002, he began the process of symphonic composition of the pieces, and then acquiring the licenses—and convincing people that his idea was a beneficial and feasible one. By July of 2005, he was ready for his first performance.

“I was apprehensive about the first performance,” Tallarico said. “It was with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. But when 11,000 people showed up, I knew that this proved a point. People are interested in video game compositions.”
This was further exemplified when letters and e-mails began pouring in with support for his vision.

“The greatest praise came from non-gamers,” Tallarico said. “Parents that brought their children, grandparents taking grandchildren that had never been to the symphony before. Most of the non-gamers were just expecting bleeps and bloops. They were very surprised by their experience.”

To accomplish this daunting task, Tallarico must go through a difficult process to acquire and prepare local orchestras with his music.

“A lot of the music is difficult and challenging. Not only is it beneficial to utilize local symphonies to add great legitimacy to the show, but it is also great for the symphony to help usher in a new generation to appreciate the arts,” Tallarico said. “First, I send sheet music to the symphonies and create MP3 files of all the individual parts and the entire piece. Many symphonic musicians may know what Beethoven sounds like, but may not know what Sonic the Hedgehog sounds like. Luckily, these musicians read music like we read books, you put it in front of them and they go. The day of the show is the first time everyone’s playing together.”

While this is somewhat of a relief, knowing that his work is in the hands of professionals, it is also a bit unnerving.

“Each time we work with a new symphony, there’s a learning process on both sides because these are classically trained, talented folks whom are now tackling video game music,” Tallarico said. “So when we first get to the auditorium, the musicians are a bit apprehensive but once they play the music you can see their faces light up and they realize that this is strong, emotional music.”

The program itself is two-and-a-half hours with a brief intermission. Prior to the performance, there is a small preshow festival with a costume and cosplay contest, game demos and game competitions—including a Guitar Hero competition that takes place before every show. The winner of the competition gets to come on stage during the show to perform alongside Tallarico, while the symphony accompanies them.

“In the show, music is not the only aspect. We have elaborate visuals, interactive elements with crowd, that help combine the power and emotion of the symphony, the energy of a rock concert and the visuals and technology of video gaming,” he said.

The greatest aspect of Video Games Live is the coming together of two rarely associated genres: video games and classical music.

“When I was growing up, I grew up in a rock ‘n’ roll family, always into rock music,” Tallarico said. “When I was 10, I saw Star Wars for the first time. It was the first time music and a symphony hit me. Hearing John Williams made me want to listen to more classical music. That turned me on to Beethoven and that’s when I said, ‘I want to be a composer.’ Thirty years later I’m where I am and it was started with a love for classical music that was introduced through pop culture. As video game composers, we draw inspiration from classical composers. These are our heroes. The interesting thing is that once the performance happens and the symphony musicians hear a crowded auditorium cheering, that’s when the magic from those folks comes through. They have never had an audience cheering and yelling for classical music. It really is a great experience.”

Video Games Live
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway
Nov. 7, 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 8, 3 p.m.