For most of us, listening to game soundtracks and fan remixes is the only way to enjoy game music. In Japan, concerts with game music happen all the time. Lately both Canada and the U.S.A. have been getting game concerts, and I was lucky enough to attend one with a friend!
The decision to attend the concert was highly impromptu. The night before the concert, my friend and I spent an hour deciding on whether to go, where to sit, how much to pay and whether or not we would get VIP tickets. In the end, we settled for non-VIP tickets that cost us a pretty penny.
We also didn't buy the concert program that PLAY! was selling for $20. As concert-goers, we expect programs to be included with the ticket - especially when the ticket is costing double. After looking through another person's copy, we learnt that the program wasn't even specific to the Toronto performance.
Before the concert began, conductor Arnie Roth introduced everyone. Famous game music composers from around the world were in the spotlight as they then entered the room. There was Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy), Takenobu Mitsuyoshi (Shenmue), Chris Tilton (The Incredibles), and Jeremy Soule (Star Wars). They each waved and the crowd would cheer for them as they took their seats.
The concert was notably kid-friendly. A large screen showing game footage of the music being performed provided much distraction but I must point out that all the Square-Enix songs were suspiciously not accompanied by any footage. Nevertheless, everyone was encouraged to make noise during songs, something unheard of in normal concerts. There was even pizza (seriously!) made available during the intermission.
During the concert Takenobu Mitsuyoshi did a surprise performance. He actually went on stage and played the piano, singing "Let's Go Away" (from Daytona USA). I was shocked because I recently played the game at an arcade myself! Mitsuyoshi had a cool rock n' roll voice and sang the English lines pretty well, even singing out the melody of the song that he didn't play on the piano. After he finished singing, he threw Sonic the Hedgehog dolls at the audience - everyone jumped for them in desperation like they were wedding bouquets!
It's hard to pick my favorite songs from the concert but I have a few in mind. Liberi Fatali from Final Fantasy VIII (opening song) was a great listen because of the choir participating. I also liked the Chrono Trigger & Chrono Cross Suite because Rony Barrak, a talented darbouka (middle eastern style drum) player, accompanied the songs as a special guest. The Metal Gear Solid main theme was also very well done despite the version of the song used. I must say though, the opening with Super Mario Bros. was a crowd pleaser.
Several bonus songs were performed just for the Toronto concert. This included music from Blue Dragon – the upcoming game that Nobuo Uematsu is composing for, and Castlevania. Although Castlevania is famous for having organ music, they didn't have a real organ hooked up and used a synthesizer instead.
After the concert, anyone with VIP tickets got to meet and greet the special guests in person. Since I didn't have a VIP ticket, I was lucky enough to meet Vincent (engineer by day, conductor by night) who was locked and loaded for the after-concert festivities. Suffice to say, he's passionate about music and videogames, especially Nobuo Uematsu's work!
On the upper level of the Hummingbird Centre, all security and staff were present. The guests sat at a long table, signing items and talking as the autograph line moved along. My friends and I were prepared with tons of posters, game cartridges and CDs!
I asked Arnie Roth (the conductor) how many rehearsals he did and he answered, "Two rehearsals. It was JUST enough to make the concert happen... the amount of rehearsals depend on the level of musicianship of the orchestra."
Since my brother and I are also aspiring conductors, we asked Roth for some advice. He told us, "The more you know the music, the more you bring it out... the more energy you put in, the more energy you get back from the orchestra."
Then we finally had our chance to meet the man who revolutionized the epic score for video game music – Nobuo Uematsu. I shook his hand. Then felt his power surge through my body. Clips of Final Fantasy music even started playing… okay I might have imagined that part. In any case, we deeply thanked him for his music.
After he signed every single Final Fantasy VII CD I owned, I realized that his English was actually pretty good. I asked him how he got into composing video game music and he answered, "I started composing for fun when I was 10 years old... and video game music... Well, it was an accident. I actually wanted to be in the film industry and compose movie scores."
Nobuo then gave little special smileplease.co.jp postcards and buttons to me and my friends since we were the most hardcore fans there. I told him, "I'm going to conduct a concert of your music someday!" and he responded "Oh goooood, good!" After that we took some photos!
PLAY! - a Video Game Symphony
Vocal Horizons - Vincent Cheng's website
Smileplease - Nobuo Uematsu's website
Rony Barrak - Lebanese percussionist
PLAY! A Video Game Symphony