Inside the Houston Symphony

Taking you behind the music–one concert at a time!

Posts Tagged ‘video games

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

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?

Hans Zimmer is my Beethoven: The Music of Movies, TV and Video Games

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I bet you are humming the theme, aren't you? My point exactly.

I don’t know if I would classify myself as a fan of “classical” music. I enjoy it, for sure, but I admit my knowledge of the classical genre prior to working for the Houston Symphony was less than accurate and expansive. Pretty sad, actually. I now know that I dig Gershwin and can name concertos by Mahler, Beethoven and Mozart that I recognized by sound before, but never by name. And I just saw Amadeus. Like two weeks ago. Yeah, I know. Way behind.

What I have enjoyed since I was quite young and am an avid fan of is instrumental music (yes, in the sense of a more general genre). It was a love that was always there, a natural interest like my ardent fondness for drawing, writing and sleeping.

The day I said to myself “Oh hey, I really like instrumental music…” was when I looked at my iTunes and realized a good 70% of my library was composed of video game soundtracks, scores from movies and television, jazz and a genre of instrumental hip-hop that is fused with orchestral inspirations. No lyrics. No vocals. Just pure orchestral and/or synthesized sounds.

I’ve always lamented that contemporary instrumental music isn’t as acclaimed as instrumental classical music. And I know there is more to it than just an overshadowing presence of cookie-cutter pop and rap that dominates current music trends. There is a definite lack of admiration for the genre, despite the fact that it is ever present in the most popular of entertainment forms, specifically movies, TV and video games.

Instrumental music in the entertainment industry serves to accomplish what most classical pieces did for their accompanying operas back in the day: to further add emotion to a visual scene. I am sure most classical enthusiasts would balk at the idea of a song written for the Pixar animated movie Up to be on par with Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Yet arguably, contemporary composers that lend their talents to create the soundtracks to visually stunning and inspiring movies can be considered just as talented and integral to the current entertainment art forms. Not to mention, through awards like the Oscars® and the popularity of purchasable soundtracks, there is definitely a strong appreciation for movie music. The Houston Symphony has seen a large, positive response to concerts such as The Music of Star Trek and More Sci-fi and Red Carpet Oscar Party, which featured music from past and recent Oscar® hopefuls. Still, music composers don’t receive as many accolades for their work as the producers of the movies. I mean, are not John Williams and Hans Zimmer the Mozarts of our era? I would bet most people wouldn’t remember ALL the details of ALL the Star Wars movies, but they could hum the theme song on cue if asked. Duuuuun-duuun-dun-dun-dun-duuuuuuuuuun dun–!

And then there is video game music, practically ignored by the masses as a fine art. While most probably still think of game music as the bleeping, blooping polyphonic sounds of 80s and 90s titles like Frogger and Super Mario Bros., current titles boast expansive, amazing scores as impressive as their ever evolving visuals. Nobuo Uematsu, composer and arranger for the renowned Final Fantasy series, has a cult following of fans dedicated to his music and was named one of the “Innovators” in Time Magazine‘s “Time 100: The Next Wave — Music” feature. There are symphonic concerts that focus solely on game music; for three seasons, Houston Symphony presented Video Games Live, a concert that presented segments of the most well known pieces from classic and current games. Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy is currently being performed all over to the world from Stockholm to San Francisco, most if not all of the shows sold out. There’s obviously much more to this genre than bleeps and bloops (just take a listen to these amazing pieces from Echochrome, or this rousing battle song from World of Warcraft). If only more of the music-loving public would look past the stereotypes and stigmas of video games and see that.

Despite my biases, I don’t know how current instrumental music measures up against classical music. A hundred years from now, will music lovers celebrate the scores written for movies like Avatar or soundtracks of artistic, genre changing video games like Shadow of the Colossus? Will the “new” classical be dominated by pieces written to supplement other art forms like movies, television and games? Maybe. Maybe not. Classical music has a degree of celebrated antiquity to it that current instrumental genres and pieces may never acquire.

All the same, contemporary forms of instrumental music in movies, TV shows and video games can be as beautiful and emotionally evocative as their classical predecessors. I would sacrifice a large chunk of my salary to hear some of John Williams’s work from Indiana Jones or Harry Potter in a salon in Vienna. Probably will never happen, but it’d still be kind of cool.

Written by Natalie

March 31, 2010 at 8:50 am