Game on: The Legend of Zelda

Promoter/producer Jason Michael Paul champions video game concerts with Legend of Zelda

Classical music and video games might initially seem like incompatible pastimes, but promoter/producer Jason Michael Paul brings together his passions with concerts like The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddess. On May 12 at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, Eímear Noone conducts a four-movement symphony of composer Koji Kondo's music from the venerable Nintendo game franchise. Paul estimates that he began playing The Legend of Zelda when he was 11 years old, and explains what audiences can expect from a video game concert.

Where did the idea for a video game concert originate?

I started working for PlayStation when I was 21 years old — I'm 35 now — and I was doing a lot of special events, including trade show booths. I've also worked as a production manager for live performances, notably with the Three Tenors. While on tour with Luciano Pavarotti, I saw an opportunity to combine my passion for opera and classical music with games. In San Jose, Costa Rica, Pavarotti performed at the Estadio de Nacional, a venue with a huge sound system. Before the show, I had a CD with music from Final Fantasy, and I just blasted the track "One-Winged Angel" through the speakers. That's when I realized, "I can do this."

What was your first video game concert?

In 2004, I did the first-ever video game concert in the United States at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. There had been previous video game concerts in Japan and Germany, but they only involved music. This show, Dear Friends: Music from Final Fantasy, also had a video component. It sold out in three days and the reception we had was raucous. Show's like this are a kind of "thank you" to the fans of the game. My other show, PLAY! A Video Game Symphony, was a catalog of music from numerous games.

How do you build a show around a fantasy adventure game?

Symphony of the Goddess is a spin-off of The Legend of Zelda 25th anniversary concert. The music tells the story of The Legend of Zelda. Any time you have such a talented composer as Koji Kondo, and such a rich 25-year history, not just with game play with also the music, the story just comes out. We have like mini-movies, edited and synchronized with the music. And we have sound effects from the game, but arranged so we can imitate them in a musical presentation. Performed by a big orchestra, the music becomes so much more.

I guess players of the early Zelda games couldn't appreciate Kondo's soundtrack on a more primitive system.

There's a huge difference, technologically, with old game systems. Just through the storage and compression rate on the cartridge, it's not really designed that for that kind of soundtrack. Now, with games in Dolby Digital, the musical possibilities are completely different.

Who's the audience for this show? Is it more than just gamers?

The whole mission is to create a show that appeals not just to Zelda fans, but to anyone who sees the show. The majority are Zelda fans, but there are also video game music fans, classical music fans, and people who are into pop culture who want to hear something different. We get all ages. We have families that come to the show, and you'll see a father educating kids on the games they grew up playing. A lot of times it's a kid's first concert, and it's their first symphony concert. Everyone knows that orchestras are literally playing to dying audiences. What better way to see a show that's bringing in new audiences?

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