Video games in symphony hall

How classical orchestras started experimenting with video-game music.

London Philharmonic Orchestra
The Greatest Video Game Music 2

An unexpected album topped the online music charts in November. For about a week, the London Philharmonic Orchestra pushed aside pop megastar Taylor Swift to seize the No. 1 slot on Amazon's most-downloaded list. What was this breakthrough hit? Not Brahms or Beethoven, but "The Greatest Video Game Music 2."

The album covers more than two decades of video-game tunes – from the 16-bit beeps of Sonic the Hedgehog to the viking horns of Skyrim.

Game and movie soundtracks have opened up classical music to a new, younger audience, says composer Andrew Skeet, who arranged the album. But translating this wide swath of music into something appropriate for the London Philharmonic presented a challenge.

Newer games, such as last year's Assassin's Creed: Revelations, already feature fully orchestrated soundtracks. Those songs were easy to record. However, Mr. Skeet had to rework the older selections, expanding the melody of synthesized "chiptunes" to take advantage of a choir, strings, and woodwinds.

After the release of its first video-game album – which sold more than 100,000 copies – the London Philharmonic performed the music live in concert. "A lot of people that went told me that they'd never been to an orchestral concert before," says Skeet. Many said they planned to attend more.

Orchestras around the world have experimented with performing video-game and film soundtracks. The website Movies in Concert has tracked more than 4,000 such concerts over the past three years. While most of these draw from cinema, concert series such as Video Games Live, Distant Worlds, and Nintendo's Legend of Zelda anniversary concerts have launched world tours.

And last year, the theme song for Civilization IV, "Baba Yetu," by Christopher Tin, won the Grammy for best instrumental arrangement accompanying vocalists – making it the first video-game song to receive such an award.

Skeet says this recognition is not just good for video games, but also for classical music. He thinks the classical recording labels rely too much on reissued albums and old masterpieces.

"Classical music needs to find a new audience," he says, "not just become a museum."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.