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The Orchestral Zelda

by David King on November 13, 2013 · 1 comment

Video Games Live
Proctors, Nov. 8


It’s intermission at Proctors last Friday night and a mix of people of all ages are streaming out into the lobby—from five-year-olds in Mario Bros. shirts to elderly couples in neat, crisp formal attire, and even one or two teenagers and 20-somethings in cosplay outfits dressed like elves and warriors. This un-Proctors-like show was collaboration between Proctors and Pastime Legends, a local video game store owned by Joe and Emily Pirro.

“There is just something about this area,” Pirro told me during the intermission. He is referring to the Capital Region’s love of video games—not just the product that you buy and play but the culture, history and community that surrounds them. It is almost surprising then that Video Games Live, a traveling concert series featuring local professional and amateur musicians lead by two video game composers that performs classical arrangements of video game soundtracks, made its first appearance in the region only this past week.

The concert series that has toured the world was lead by Tommy Tallarico. The game soundtrack composer and oft-video game show host on the G4 network played bro-ish frontman to a group of local professional musicians who worked with the Niskayuna High School band and chorus on a number of popular game scores. Moving from gaming’s earliest days to its latest, the orchestra brought the soundtracks to life. They exposed the music’s classical influences and sometimes deceptively simple compositions, all the while a video screen in the background showed highlight reels of the games the orchestra was playing.

The compositions grew more complex as the group moved into the modern age of games, and this required increasingly skillful and nuanced playing. The Nisky choir’s performance on the themes from Halo and Skyrim was stunning and moving. My pregnant wife, who is in her third trimester, soon found her stomach was playing host to our unborn daughter’s first dance party as she bopped along to the music of Nintendo’s Zelda series.

I admittedly went to the show as a skeptic. As much as I have touted the artistic merit of video games in the past, I was unsure I wanted to spend two hours at Proctors at a video game nostalgia fest. I want to know what’s next. However, I was caught up in the sometimes childlike aura of the songs that were, in a way, a soundtrack to my childhood. I was emotionally overwhelmed by hearing human voices and fingers evoke the more complex modern compositions.

Perhaps it was my skepticism that helped me find my one hang up for the night—Tallarico himself. Yes, his act as MC helped keep the crowd interested, and his over-the-top guitar antics likely drew in some of the younger audience members. The immature Youtube videos displayed between songs did draw laughter from the crowd–despite the fact that they were the equivalent of video game dick jokes. But Tallarico spent too much time hogging the stage, telling his story, and making a sustained plea for the legitimacy of video game compositions as an art form. It began to feel like a one-man show, and muted the attention the young musicians behind him really deserved. His bedazzled jeans and tough-guy skull T-shirts rubbed me the wrong way, but in the end he deserves praise for finding a way to involve young musicians in a professional performance and giving them invaluable experience. Perhaps at this point Tallarico could take it down a notch and let the music speak for itself.

The audience did not need any convincing that the music they were listening to was a legitimate art form and for the most part probably could have taken the art without Tallarico’s awkward rock pomp and frat-room humor. With that said, I hope to see Video Games Live return to the area but this time with more music in tow.