When people think about video games, whether they are for XBox or PlayStation, most contemplate the visual component. Jumping over chasms. Grabbing coins to buy better defensive weapons. Defeating evil characters. Nigel Horne, however, is more drawn to the hearing aspect of games. Scores from games such as Legends of Zelda, Final Fantasy series, and a medley of music from various Super Mario games interest him.
As composer and conductor for the Washington Metropolitan Gamer Symphony Orchestra (WMGSO), Horne’s aim for all the group’s performances is to showcase video game music as a genre in its own right–almost as a set of genres. “I am attracted by the fact that the group can draw on music that would appeal to different performers and different audiences alike,” he said.
Recently, Horne had back-to-back conversations with orchestra members–one discussing a piece for just two harps and one involving a selection harking back to the days of the big band era of the 1930s and 1940s. “I thought, at that moment, just how amazing this is,” Horne said of the orchestra. “That I can be talking about so very different styles of music to essentially the same set of performers and how that would tweak different parts of my brain. That’s what I am hoping the audience members will take away from the concert.”
WMGSO is set to take the stage of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre in Rockville at 7 p.m. June 25. With four to five concerts every year, audience members are usually split 50/50 between diehard gamers who want to hear the music in a concert environment and those who never play video games, but want to listen to compelling music. “All of our seasons are unique so we will be performing music that we will not have performed before,” Horne said. “Music, such as this, is not readily available. I can’t go into my local arts and music store and pick up a copy of an arrangement of the music from ‘Final Fantasy’ that has been orchestrated for a symphony orchestra.”
So how do they perform these pieces? They compose and arrange them in-house. French horn player Matt Eisenberg said he likes the collaborative process of the orchestra. “Unless you are in a group that’s commissioning new work, you don’t often get the chance to interact directly with the person who is in charge of putting notes on paper,” he said. “Generally, we, ourselves, do it. This season we are playing a piece that I arranged and that was a new experience for me.” That piece is Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” from the video game “BioShock.” The Silver Spring resident enjoyed the arranging process and is working on a couple of other pieces for future performances.
“Every season, at least, which usually has two concerts, will be completely unique in the music that it does,” Horne said. “On the other hand, we have put together a tried and trusted routine which showcases the full orchestra, the instrumentalists alone, the choir alone and also some small groups.”
Orchestra members range in age from their late 20s to mid-50s, with the average age hovering around 30. There is no formal audition–except for soloists–but potential new members come in to play for a rehearsal. “What we are really after is ‘Will somebody fit in with us when we are sitting down and playing a performance?’ ” Horne said.
Rockville resident Sarah Elkins attended a WMGSO concert last spring. “I enjoyed the variety of the music and the musicality,” she said. “A lot of attention to phrasing dynamics. It seemed like a performing group that really cared about giving the music their best.” She joined the chorus in February. “What I really like about this group is every time we work hard, and I can hear us getting better every time,” Elkins said.
Growing up in England, Horne taught himself to read music. His parents enrolled him in a brass band after seeing his devastation over their getting rid of a toy piano that–unbeknownst to him–had worms in it.
Horne—who has a degree in computer science from the University of London, a postgraduate research degree in composition from the University of Leeds and music degrees from the Open University and The University of Sheffield– is not a video gamer. Instead, he confessed, he took the job with Gamer for the opportunity to conduct a symphony orchestra.
“Star Wars IV: A New Hope,” was a turning point in the public’s perception of the importance of music, Horne said. Previously, with a few exceptions, most people could not identify who composed a score or played the music in a movie. “Music started to become far more crucial to the movie,” he said. “You would have albums by the London Symphony Orchestra come out that just had music from the film of ‘Star Wars.’ …It struck me that there is every chance of video game music taking off in a concert setting in the same way that movie music now is performed, or can be performed, in the concert setting as much as it is in the theater setting (while) watching the film.”
When searching for selections to fill a concert program, Horne wants compelling music. “It has to stand on its own two feet,” he said. “It has to stand in a concert setting when the only input that the brains of the audience (members are) getting is what they see and hear on the stage in front of them. The music is capable of (holding audience attention), and frankly, many of the (selections are) amazing stuff.”
For information and tickets, visit www.wmgso.org.