Videogame music

Out of the blue, unsolicited, from Matthew Burns in Los Angeles, came this marvelous comment on the LA Philharmonic’s performance of music from the videogame Final Fantasy. I hope everybody takes it seriously, and reads to the end, for Matthew’s answers to a couple of questions I asked him:

 So how many standing ovations do you think a modern – as in still living – composer of orchestral music could get in one night? The answer, as I saw it the other evening at the first live concert of video game music in the United States, is upwards of five, because after that I lost track. And while this might have been a wonderful bridge between generations, a pseudo-classical concert for the kids, I’m also worried that the musical establishment will, in response, just get angrier and more elitist.

I’ve never been to a symphony concert so giddy with palpable, almost insane excitement. Nobody’s parents were in sight, the participants were young and willing, and the adolescent spirit of the whole event came complete with a premature ejaculation of cheering and applause the instant the first song started. Being there (I am a fan, myself), being part of the crowd who jumped to their feet and hollered their appreciation and who took multitudes of photos, even though photography was forbidden, I suddenly thought of the refrain – “why can’t we get kids into the concert halls?” And that question was silly, meaningless, because here they were, in their Korn t-shirts and their yellow sneakers, filling the place (tickets sold out in 72 hours), experiencing an orchestra that honestly looked bewildered, maybe even envious, at the response their performance received.


Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya did an admirable job, giving into a performance of music from a video game series (video games!) more energy than I assumed he would, and, speaking to the crowd, said he hoped that the attendees of this concert would return to see the LA Philharmonic again sometime soon. And of course they will, provided that the music is relevant to them. My friends are already discussing what video game music they’d like to hear performed next – yes, I hear you groaning.


And to the LA Philharmonic, if any of you are reading this: I’m sorry you didn’t much like the music you were playing. It showed. But whatever you may think of it, I don’t want to hear any more hand-wringing over how to communicate through the generation gap. There’s a clear way, and it entails a certain swallowing of pride, just as when you speak to any adolescent. Haven’t you ever wished your parents would loosen up a little? And did you see – did you really see how eager those kids were to be there?

When I got this, I replied with many thanks, and much appreciation. I also asked Matthew two questions. What did he think of the LA Philharmonic flutist who was quoted in a press report, saying she didn’t like the music? And would he go to a normal LA Philharmonic concert?

Here are his answers:

For the flutist. Well, my honest opinion of this music is that no, they aren’t staggering works of genius. She probably has much more musical training than I do, and her point is well taken. But she’s never played the games they come from, either. And I would like to tell her about a guy at work I know named Nathan (I work at a video game company).


Nathan has never graduated high school. For a while, he lived in a car.

Nathan’s musical diet, as you might expect, tends towards metal, maybe some hip hop, I don’t even know. But the music of Final Fantasy brought us together, and our talking over the month and years eventually led to his purchasing Carmina Burana, in search of the source of the sound he’d heard previously only in quoted form.


Soon afterwards, I lent him a recording of Mahler’s 5th Symphony. Did he become an instant convert and renounce his barbaric ways? Of course he didn’t, but his musical boundaries were expanded in a way they wouldn’t have been otherwise. So it was he who really convinced me to go to last night’s event.


I would certainly like to go to see the LA Phil (or any classical concert), but I already had a vague desire to do so beforehand. The usual things stopped me: time, money. But the other problem is that if you are a person of my age (23) who is not in academia, and you want to go to a concert of Tchaikovsky or whoever, you can be certain that you are going alone. Even if I somehow convinced, coerced, or blackmailed a couple friends to attend, we would be an island unto ourselves inside the hall. And that’s where the impulse to buy tickets completely dies.

I listen at home.


The Final Fantasy concert, on the other hand, felt in an odd way like home. We all cheered because we all recognized the part where so-and-so sacrifices her life. The actual plot point, and the actual music, doesn’t really matter. What mattered was that 2,000 people got together and simultaneously remembered an emotional point in a certain video game, with the music helping them along. And the experience was shared so strongly by the audience that the enthusiasm resonated and reinforced itself, and they became wild. It was crass and commercial and genuine, all at once.


Symphony orchestras should absolutely do more concerts of this nature, if they can deign to accept them. I hope they can, and learn to have some fun with them at the same time. It’s video games, after all.

There’s a lot to think about here.

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