Editorial: Nerds at the Symphony

This past Saturday I saw my second orchestrated performance of beloved video game music at Toronto’s Sony Centre. Earlier in the year I was treated to my first taste of the fairly-long running Dear Friends series. It was a surreal experience to be in such a large classy theatre with people who were largely my own age who were also wearing mostly casual clothing. Indeed, the tone of the performance was more relaxed than I expected. I had mixed feelings about that, but overall the experience of hearing a live orchestrated performance of some of the music closest to my heart – including an unexpected favourite – was an extremely positive one. That is not even mentioning being able to applaud the man himself, Nobuo Uematsu, as he stood on stage.

Link's Awakening was also a nice surprise.
Wind Waker music orchestrated is delightful.

Therefore I had a decent idea of what to expect as I entered the Sony Centre over the weekend. There were still some surprises, however. For one thing, Nintendo did a better job of setting up an appropriate atmosphere in the lobby by use of impressive Link cosplayers (including a few Femlinks) while atmospheric Zelda music played over the speakers.

Speaking of cosplayers, there were far more people dressed festively compared to Dear Friends. I suppose it makes sense as the Zelda franchise has more overlapping characters when compared to Final Fantasy. Outfits ranged from pixie-style green dresses to full-out Link costumes, my favourite being an extremely well-constructed Minish Cap outfit.

In terms of the performance, Symphony of the Goddesses dipped into a more talented pool of musicians than Dear Friends did, and the choice was quite evident. All pieces were impeccably performed and I will gladly admit to having tears well up during the overture and ocarina medley.

Words from the conductor and show’s director were just as sincere as the words from those who spoke during Dear Friends, but also were better prepared and I was grateful for that. The whole night felt closer to a proper symphony experience when compared to Dear Friends. And that sort of professionalism was one of the things I was anticipating most about seeing those performances.

Yet, at the same time, I recognize that nerd culture is typically made up of a more casual and rambunctious lot and I liked some of that spill-over. Case in point, the costumes and flexible dress code. I also appreciated the feeling of camaraderie as a sold-out crowd would cheer and laugh at the same moments. Before the internet was so tied into our daily lives, it was easy to feel alone as a nerd going up. Even now, while we all find each other online, to experience hundreds of people in the same room laughing at footage of chickens getting their revenge on Link in Kakariko Village is an extremely satisfying feeling.

Majora's Mask is a gem.
I fear we’ll never see such a strange and dark Zelda game again.

But at the same time, that feeling caused the room to get a little too comfortable at times. Calling out requests for the encores might have been funny once, but just because the conductor handled herself well should not mean the behavior should continue. I understood feeling excited – I was certainly excited myself – but context is also important and after a while the shouting between numbers and cheering at every change of melody in a medley got tiresome.

I hope I do not paint the wrong picture because the audience could have been accurately described as polite and respectful, but it is just strange when two distinct cultures collide. I think it is a collision that makes sense, but one that has not had a lot of opportunity to evolve yet. Therefore how is one supposed to act at an event like Symphony of the Goddesses? As a patron of the orchestra, something more demure and formal is expected. But as a collective of nerds, there is a pride and energy that should not be stifled. I appreciate both of these seemingly contradictory things, so I wonder what the right balance might be.

In terms of the setlist itself, Symphony of the Goddesses did not disappoint. It favoured the 2D games, but this was actually something I appreciated. It was surprising how much of the music I recognized from games I have not completed. My only disappointment would have been a lack of music from Majora’s Mask, but when the orchestra prepared for a shocking third encore, it was mentioned that they had to include a particular medley based on the sheer number of ravenous requests that poured in for it. And thus my Majora’s Mask thirst was quenched.

What about you LusiNotes? Have you shared my privilege of seeing your favourite video game music performed live? What experiences did you have? Do you make the same observations of the strange melding of nerd culture at the theatre? Or am I just an old man? These questions are not rhetorical, luckily, we have a comments section!

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