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Epic Win: A geek girl’s desperate journey to Distant Worlds

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Let me preface this by stating, on the record, that I am a proud geek.

I will not argue the semantics of labeling myself a “geek” versus a “nerd”, though those among both ranks and in between will say that there is a difference between the two. There is, and I am certain that I fall into the Geekus Maximus species. I could write a whole blog on origins of both terms and their overlapping similarities and stark differences, but that would be digressing. I also will not delve into inaccurate and annoying stereotypes of geeks and nerds perpetuated by the media. Just know that I am not a balding man living in my parents’ basement, and my diet consists of more than just Mountain Dew and microwave mini pizzas. I don’t even drink sodas.

The point is, I am a geek, and when I found out that the Houston Symphony would be presenting Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY, I knew that come Hell, high water, Ragnarok, or the second coming of Cthulu, I would not miss this concert. There would be an even more devastating event, however, that would seek to thwart my attendance to the concert I had been longing to see since Dear Friends – Music from Final Fantasy began its North American tour in 2004. But that’s skipping ahead.

A bit of my geek history: I’ve been a gamer since I was a wee lass of about 6 or 7, weaned on the Nintendo and SNES, raised on the Sega Genesis, and went on to big girl games on the Playstation. Final Fantasy VII, released in 1997, was my first RPG (Role-playing game, for you non-gamers. Think of it as a very involved adventure game. And by involved, I mean 30+ hours of blood, sweat, and thumb blisters to reach completion.) I think FFVII was my first long-term, committed relationship. As I was limited to playing video games only on weekends by my parents, it took me about 5 or so months worth of Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays to complete it. At the end, I had logged a total of 72 hours and 56 minutes. I had never devoted that much time, focus, and love to anything in my mere 12 years of life. I wept openly as the ending sequence played and the credits rolled. It was about as moving as watching the earth give birth to the sun at dawn.

It wasn’t just the amazing graphics (Well, amazing for that era of video games.), rich story, and enthralling characters that had drawn me into FFVII and the following titles, but the music as well. Even at the age of 12, there was something about the melodic, emotion-inspiring, soul-touching soundtrack that spoke to my spirit in a way that the Spice Girls and N’Sync could not. Now that I think of it, playing Final Fantasy VII was probably the catalyst for my love of instrumental music. In 1997, people did not so flippantly use their credit card online as we do today, and eBay was a new and exciting marketplace, though not yet as popular or trusted. I begged my parents to let me purchase the four disc Final Fantasy VII soundtrack, imported by a Japanese seller. It was weeks before it arrived. I cried when it did, and proceeded to listen to nothing else for the next month or so.

Fast forward 12 years to Fall 2009 when over a meal of quesadillas at Chuy’s on Westheimer with coworkers, my boss told me that he was considering lining up a Final Fantasy concert for one of the 2010 summer specials. He asked me, as a fan, if I thought such a concert would garner enough interest to be profitable and if people would come. My response, after a squeal of ecstatic delight and some sputtering was a resounding “Hell yes” or some more cruder variant of. Final Fantasy fans are rabid and faithful and being that there had been a limited number of US venues on the Dear Friends and Distant Worlds tours, especially in the south, I knew that such an event would bring flocks of fervent Final Fantasy fans from Texas and beyond to Jones Hall. My boss took my words to heart, and I like to believe I had a hand in bringing Distant Worlds to Houston. The concert, which would include a meet and greet with THE Nobuo Uematsu, renowned Final Fantasy composer and a pioneer in game music, was formally announced and booked for July 24. Two and a half months before the date, I already had my tickets and was counting down the days. My geeky soul could know no greater elation.

And two months before the date, it would know no greater pain. Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana had to have had a personal vendetta against me. I don’t know why, as I had only visited the campus once on the day my little brother began college there four years ago, and had never wished any ill will or gruesome deaths on its students or faculty. All the same, BSU decided to schedule its summer commencement ceremony on July 24 at 10 AM. The very same date as Distant Worlds. MY concert. I had never loathed an institution of higher learning before, but at that moment, I called BSU every depraved, lewd, inappropriate, and nonsensical slur I could think of.

Forced with the decision of missing out on the concert of a lifetime and attending my beloved little brother’s graduation, or possibly suffering banishment from my family and skipping out on his ceremonies to attend Distant Worlds, I was in a conundrum. A bad one. I admit to shedding tears in frustration a few times. My coworkers, knowing my ardent love and unbound excitement for the concert, encouraged me to try to make both work. With 9 hours in between graduation and concert, there had to be some way I could be both doting, dutiful sister and fanatic geek girl.

I managed to book a flight that would arrive in Houston at 6 pm on the 24th. My friend, just as devoted a fan as I (and who I owe so many cookies and hugs to), would pick me up and we would have plenty of time to make it from Hobby airport to Jones Hall for the 7:30 pm start time. There was little room for error and delay, but it would work.

In theory. I must have jinxed myself. Or pissed someone off in a previous life.

The first blow came two days before, when my shuttle bus from Muncie, IN (a good hour away from the Indianapolis airport) was canceled. Or filled. I don’t know, but it just didn’t exist anymore. My parents, already upset that I was “putting a stupid video game concert before family” (Oh, the blasphemy! I cringe at having to type the very words!), refused to rush away from my brother’s ceremonies to see me to the airport. It was by the kind grace of an obscure uncle I hadn’t talked to in at least 8 years that I was able to procure a ride that very morning after the graduation to Indianapolis International. I made my first flight to Chicago with an hour until my next that would take me to Hobby. I was halfway there!

The second twist of the knife came at 3:30, when the plane for my 3:20 flight had still not yet arrived. Boarding would not start until 4. At 6:45, the plane was just beginning its descent into Houston. I probably freaked out the older woman and man I sat between with my nervous twitching, sweating, and muttered curses. Would my friend still be at the airport?! Would I make the concert?! There would be late seating, but I knew they were playing Prelude first, one of my favorite pieces. I would weep openly like many babies if I missed it.

Ever dutiful to me and our shared geekery, my friend, who had been circling Hobby airport for nearly an hour, was still there waiting for me. I tossed my bags into the backseat and did a flying leap into the front. It was 7:08 by the time we got on I-45, which inexplicably was backed up with traffic (On a Saturday evening?! Por que, Houston?!). My coworkers and a friend who had come to see the concert from Louisiana were texting me: “Where are you?!” “They’ve started seating!” “You can make it! Go go!”

At 7:30, we were parked and literally running through the parking garage. We bolted, panting with labored breaths, sweating, up three flights of stairs and ran across Louisiana Street. We shoved our tickets at the ushers. Beyond them, I could see the doors to the hall being closed, slowly and threateningly. Melissa and another coworker saw us and were gesturing frantically. Everything moved in slow motion. I did not breathe and my heart did not beat. Dancing Mad was on repeat in my head.

We literally passed through the door into the hall just as they were closing up for the concert. It was a photo-freakin’-finish, but we made it.

Natalie and her friend Kerry at the post-concert meet and greet with Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY composer Nobuo Uematsu and conductor Arnie Roth

In the end, I heard the entire concert, from the harp-lead, graceful Prelude to the operatic, thundering One-Winged Angel, a fan favorite encore that had the entire crowd brimming with a nerdy energy that was thick and tangible in the air. I attended the Q&A session and the meet and greet after. Composer Nobuo Uematsu and conductor Arnie Roth already knew of me and my desperate journey to get to Houston, as our magazine editor, Jessica, had told them about my devotion to Distant Worlds earlier during rehearsal. She even got them to sign a magazine for me wishing me happy birthday.

I was delirious with contented bliss and general weariness from moving since 7:15 am when I went to bed that night, my headphones on with my newly purchased and signed CD cradled lovingly to my chest. Aerith’s Theme lulled me into much needed sleep as I reflected on how I never imagined I would make that night work. But I did, and it was the best night any geek girl could ever ask for.

Written by Natalie

July 28, 2010 at 8:58 am

Who Wants to Live Forever

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On July 22, The Music of Queen will join Houston Symphony for a full rock-band concert experience

So, I was recently asked what my favorite Queen memory is … and I honestly didn’t know the answer.

I’m too young to have experienced the greatness in person, but I’ve reaped the benefits of their immortality.  Most Queen moments in my life include singing at the top of my lungs in the car to Queen’s CD’s or to the classics I have loaded on my iPod.  And if you don’t already know, Queen is great running music.  They’re always my first choice, although my urge to sing along can make this difficult. I usually just end up looking like Chad from Burn After Reading on the treadmill.  Air drums are much easier than trying to sing along in that scenario.

I didn’t really know anything about Queen until I was in high school.  Of course, I knew some of their songs due to various happenings throughout my life, like “Bohemian Rhapsody” in Wayne’s World and “We Are the Champions” through back-to-back Houston Rockets Championship. And I also knew that “Under Pressure” sounded a lot like “Ice Ice Baby” (just as much as I know you die hard fans are cringing right now at that admission).  But I didn’t even know who sang those songs.  My big brother was the one who introduced me to the band, and I’m eternally grateful to him.

The thing I love the most about Queen is how they can relate to my everyday life.  I like to listen to “Fat Bottomed Girls” while running and “Bicycle Race” while riding the bike.  My husband and I like to duet to “Don’t Stop Me Now”  cause we’re “Havin’ a good time, havin’ a good time…”.

Anyway, once I became a Queen fan, I was always impressed how their music has stayed relevant and engaging.  As recently as last year, Queen music has been featured in TV shows, movies and even Broadway.  From Glee (Yes, I’m a proud Gleek) to Lady Gaga (who got the inspiration for her fame name from Queen’s “Radio GaGa”), to Wayne’s World, Moulin Rouge, Shaun of the Dead and Happy Feet. Did I mention they also got their very own Broadway and West End show? Their music is all around us even today.

Why is this the case?  Well, the music is just plain FUN.  It’s also relatable, sing-along-able, iconic and … well, fun.  The other reason it is picked to be in so many movies is because you can pretty much find a Queen song to go into any scenario.  Perhaps I am such a fan because of the theatricality of the group and their music, especially Freddie Mercury.  I feel like I’m in the midst of a BIG SHOW whenever I hear one of their songs.  It makes people (at least it makes me) want to sing and dance and put on lots of eyeliner.

Needless to say, I’m super excited that the Music of Queen is coming to the Houston Symphony.  And as a marketing person all I want to do is project this excitement to other people so they will come see the show.  Luckily, Queen has given us lots of tools to get the word out — what more could a marketing person ask for with songs titles like “The Show Must Go On” and “We Will Rock You” and one-liners like “It’s a kind of magic”?

If you join us on July 22nd at Jones Hall, we can promise a fun, sing-along-able, theatrical and still relevant concert that everyone can enjoy, and “We Will [definitely] Rock You.”  I’m living proof that you don’t have to be of the Queen era to love this music.  It transcends the 70’s and 80’s and lives on today!

So to all you Queen fans, since I was so lame and couldn’t think of just one favorite Queen moment, I want to hear your’s.  Comment and let us know what you remember about growing up with (or getting thrown into) The Music of Queen!

Written by Allison Gilbert

July 1, 2010 at 9:25 am

A Celestial Summer in the City

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One thing that is always fun for us while we’re planning our Summer in the City concerts, is that we’re able to go a little bit outside of the box with our programming and marketing. It’s our hope that by doing so, we’ll get some people to experience the Symphony who may have never done so before, and also offer up programming that has a fun and relaxing vibe perfect for the summer months. Fresh faces, new concert experiences and a varied audience are what make our July concerts great for everyone!

Think of it as a 3-week span in which you can not only hear famous, well-known classical pieces such as Gustav Holst’s The Planets, but also get sprung forward to hear the Star Wars Suite, followed the next weekend by a double whammy – a symphony “rock concert” highlighting a classic band, and a video gamers dream concert (complete with a composer who attends the performance!)

Clarinetist Stanislav Golovin

Coming up next week, Hans Graf will be back in town, wholeheartedly welcoming you to the annual Houston Chronicle Dollar Concert on July 10. For only $1 per ticket, come hear your Orchestra in Jones Hall, as well as Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, performed by Stanislav Golovin, the grand prize winner of the Ima Hogg Competition.

And of course, we’re all excited to bring back two performances of The Planets — An HD Odyssey plus Star Wars on July 16 & 17. Those of you who didn’t make it to the January world premiere event now have the chance to experience this multi-media project before we take it to the U.K. in October.

So the question is: Will you be joining us?

Going Lady Gaga Over Summer Concert Tickets

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So as many of you have probably heard, dance-pop superstar Lady Gaga’s July 25th performance at the Toyota Center sold out within…hours, I think.  It’s no secret then that Houstonians are gaga over the 23-year-old singer/songwriter with a flair for theatrics.  Not to worry, though, since the famed artist added another date on July 26th for an extension of the Houston portion of her “Monster’s Ball Tour.”

But what of fanatics are clamoring for Houston Symphony tickets?  I know what you’re thinking…”C’mon, that doesn’t happen with a Symphony concert,” you say.  Well, although we haven’t yet had a sell-out a la Gaga, I’d say the Symphony’s experienced its share of a ‘Gaga Effect’ of sorts this season.

Our four sold-out January performances of The Planets—An HD Odyssey (and praised performance in New York’s Carnegie Hall) resulted in a series of concerts to be unmatched in the Symphony’s history.  And it’s these performances that have inspired the addition of a fifth concert this summer (only a week before Gaga’s concert, in fact.  Hey, nothing prevents you from catching two concerts in two weeks, right?!)  Be sure to attend The Planets—An HD Odyssey plus Star Wars this summer for a taste of what Houston concert-goers have dubbed a true hit, with the addition of all-time favorite John Williams music from the legendary Star Wars movies.

In fact, we’ve just announced our 2010 “Symphony Summer in the City” concert series, which will also feature Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY.  Within hours of the announcement, Final Fantasy fans were on our site clamoring to get the best tickets in the house, together with an exclusive meet-and-greet opportunity with composer Nobuo Uematsu.  I think I may smell a sell-out.  Houston – let’s make it happen!

But back to Lady Gaga.  If you’re a fan, you’ll enjoy an interesting synergy with our third “Symphony Summer in the City” concert.  Gaga nicked her name from Queen’s song “Radio Gaga,” and has gained inspiration from the British rock band described as giving the greatest live performances ever.  You’ll not want to miss the Houston Symphony performing The Music of Queen on July 22.

Hear singer Brody Dolyniuk, who captures the sound and essence of Freddie Mercury, while the full orchestra and a rock band provide the power and harmony for a complete concert experience, including concert lighting and sound. This concert will feature music from albums such as Classic Queen, A Night at the Opera, Sheer Heart Attack, Jazz, News of the World, A Kind of Magic, The Works.

Houston, when was the last time you went ‘Lady Gaga’ over concert tickets?  We want to hear about it.  Leave a comment to share your story, and the writer of the best comment will win two tickets to their choice of one of our July concerts.

Written by glenn taylor

April 19, 2010 at 10:40 am