UM orchestra specializes in video game music
Greg Dohler/The Gazette
The theme from the original "Super Mario Brothers" video game hardly evokes the term "classical masterpiece."
But don't tell that to members of the Gamer Symphony Orchestra at the University of Maryland, College Park, who have transformed video game themes from "Sonic the Hedgehog" to "Portal" into classical symphonies.
Over the last three years, UM musicians have turned the GSO into a 95-piece orchestra with a 20-person chorus that plays nothing but music from video games.
"The perception is that we're just playing the music straight from the games," GSO president Rob Garner said. "It has been a challenge to get people to come for that first time. Once they've done that, they say, Wow, this is what you're talking about.'"
The GSO started in the fall 2005 when a group of UM marching band members found a common interest in video games. The group started to get together on weekends to practice.
In fall 2007, the GSO added a vocal chorus, and in May it sold out the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
Garner, a flugelhornist in the orchestra, said transforming music from the older gaming systems such as Nintendo or Sega Genesis can be more difficult than the newer music.
"It takes a lot more creativity," he said. "We look at these songs and hear these rudimentary rifts that are two or three lines and expand them into a piece of classical music."
Garner said the GSO's average song is approximately two pages of music.
Brittany Klein, a UM junior and chorus member, said even before joining the GSO, she recognized the complexities of some video game music.
"I'd already bought soundtracks to video games before [joining]," she said. "I have a soundtrack to one of the Final Fantasy' games. It's a beautiful soundtrack."
She said she thinks the GSO does a very good job of both new and old music.
"I think that would indicate we're doing a good job considering the nostalgia factor," she said. "Everybody wants to hear the game they played as a little kid put into an orchestra. This year, we have Tetris,' but we also have a beautiful choral piece from Xenosaga.' I think everyone is really going to enjoy that."
Klein, a mechanical engineering major, said some of her friends and her parents do not play video games but still come to see the orchestra.
Matthew Kirschenbaum, an associate English professor at UM, has become a fan of the GSO after seeing them on campus.
He said at first he was surprised to see people "taking the kind of music you hear in video games seriously."
"I was expecting Pac Man Fever,' and these guys are serious musicians," he said. "It's not just a gimmick. If you look inside the video game industry, the musical elements are taken very seriously. These guys have picked up on that."
The GSO is holding its winter concert Dec. 4 at the UM Memorial Chapel. For more information, visit http://umd.gamersymphony.org.
E-mail Jonah Schuman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To hear an clip of the Gamer Symphony Orchestra, go to www.gazette.net/links.