Let me tell you about how far game music has come since I was a young child…
When I was a young girl, I loved Final Fantasy. All my school assignments, given that I had a choice, was related to Final Fantasy. I’m such the evangelist, that I took a tape recorder (the one my mom used to learn English) and held it up to the TV to record the songs in order to play Final Fantasy music for people.
I remember at the end of the school day, Mr. Martin, my band director, was at his normal post of the hallway dismissing students, and I stopped to play him some selections from my tape recorder. My plan was to get him into the music so that we could play it in my 4th grade band class. I even remember holding the recorder up to his ear, playing the theme for the Big Whale, and trying to explain to him that the Big Whale was not only an airship, but a ship that flies to the moon. I thought that perhaps Mr. Martin would like the music so much that he would automatically find a way for us to perform it. That didn’t happen. I did, however, take matters into my own hands, and sitting on my bed in 5th grade with my flute, I struggled to play the song from the Torian Castle by ear, writing down the notes that sounded right– my first musical transcription. It wasn’t until middle school that I discovered NoteWorthy shareware and learned how to view the musical notation in MIDI files (I’d eventually have a huge collection of FF MIDIs).
In high school, I was a percussionist in the marching band. Our percussion instructor, Brent, would often arrange music for us (I played the vibraphone in the front ensemble). Since marching bands come in all shapes and sizes, the music is often arranged and tailored anyhow, so I really thought that I could push for a Final Fantasy themed halftime show. Eagerly, I told my instructor that I had a song to show him. He immediately responded with, “we are not playing video game music for our show.” Ouch!…, but persistent as I am, I told him it wasn’t video game music (…thinking that he wouldn’t know… and hoping that it was possible we could avoid any preexisting stigmas… however…). I retrieved the midi file from rpgamer.com and he was totally on to me. He said, “you’re going to tell me that a song from a rpgamer.com isn’t video game music?” Later on, through ebay and video game sound tracks, I started my collection of video game music CDs. The only progress that I made, in high school, with playing FF music was in self-teaching the Chocobo song on 4-mallet marimba (my first transcription of chords), Melodies of the Lute, the Final Fantasy 4 Prelude, and arranging a marching band medley of FF4 and FF5 tunes (that no one ever listened to).
I did of course try again in college marching band and was told that we couldn’t do it, because last time someone tried, they got sued; however, by college, my main interest was in Jazz music. I took an independent study with a professor in Jazz theory, and (independently) I arranged the Theme of Love from Final Fantasy 4 for a sax quartet– my first attempt in arranging a Jazz tune. It’s interesting how most of the music revolves around FF4, especially since, by then, there were already so many good FF songs to choose from. It’s also interesting how FF music motivated a lot of my musical firsts. In any case, my appreciation for Final Fantasy music was quite a lonesome endeavor.
I played my first FF in 1990, and 15 years later I was able to experience one of the most unanticipated emotional explosions of my life. Below is a letter I wrote back in 2005 to my little brother.
To my little brother, written in 2005:
melodies of life you are the only one who understands….. i dont know how you would…or why i think so… i wasnt going to go, it was an extra $50, and i didnt know how to get there. this random girl at the conference talked me into it the night before, so i got on ticket master and bought myself a terrible seat (one of the last ones left) that night, i was picked up at the conference center by this girl and her final fantasy xi MMO party. i wore a grey skirt and a black top. we parked a good distance away, and the concert hall was at the top of a pretty steep hill. in my tall shoes i walked up (literally) 6 blocks. i entered the hall and saw all the musicians warming up their instruments in orchestra formation. there were big screens overhead that projected the concert logo, “dear friends, music from final fantasy.” as nobuo uematsu entered the stage, the crowd gave a standing ovation. i remember the mc was pretty horrible, it was some pretty blonde girl who had never played a video game before. i couldnt believe what i was about to experience. the songs i listened to from my SNES and my nintendo were going to be performed by professional musicians. they played those songs, showing clips from those games, every final fantasy just about. when they played theme of love from final fantasy 4, these emotions they flooded my conciousness, and i i remembered….i remembered how much i loved playing these games, how much i’d forgotten about being a child. i picked up a piece of myself that i had left far behind and remembering made me cry. it wasnt mere nostalgia, no, it was that i look back and i can see how far back it is. u dont even know me from back then, still, i feel like you are the only person in the world who understands. i curled up into a little ball in the back of the hall and just cried like a stupid little girl. that night, i thought of you….i wished u were there, b/c you are the only person who understands that piece of myself. you played final fantasy with me…..that made me happy….in a way that i cant explain….when i was little i use to play final fantasy with my best friend, and those are my happiest memories… the music. it made me realize how far God has brought me….it made me realize how far He has brought the world. the music showed me that people can listen to video games in concert halls, and it can make them cry. it showed me how free i was to live out my dreams…..it showed me the great things to come….i could feel it through the music…. ….i wish you were there, so i didnt have to be by myself….
The following year at GDC 2006, I was recounting how I cried like a little girl at a video game concert to my friend, George, and I distinctly remember him saying…”I’m not gonna lie,… I cried too.” …I suppose, in that moment, I felt a little less alone in my appreciation.
About the author: Sherol is a PhD student with interest in telling stories through games. She loves Jazz music, Jesus, and had a crush on Super Mario when she played her first video game at the age of 5.