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Video Game Turned Symphony Comes to Newark

Chad Seiter doesn’t like the term “video game.”

“To me, it makes it sound like its own little thing — this small, little term for something bigger. It’s a video game, yes, but it’s also an immersive story,” Seiter said.

Seiter and collaborator Jeron Moore believe the classic Nintendo game The Legend of Zelda, like all good stories, stands on its own — no console required.

The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses is a live orchestral concert comprised of music from the game spun into symphonic movements, and set against a background of its video sequences. With consultation from the original creators and Nintendo, Moore produced the project and Seiter arranged the music.

“We love [The Legend of Zelda] and it needed to exist,” explained Moore, who is still puzzled as to why the score hadn’t been turned into a symphony previously. “It…has such a huge mythology and it rivals franchises like ‘Star Trek’ that have these gigantic worlds with their own details and physics and everything. It was just the logical choice, really.”

As lifelong fans of film composers like Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams, and now working in the film/TV business themselves, Moore and Seiter wanted to share Zelda with the world the way they had always heard it. “We’re both really, really passionate about orchestral music,” said Seiter. “We chose symphonic movements because a symphony is basically an orchestral method of storytelling.”

Recently celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Zelda franchise offers a lot of material to work with. “It takes place in a magical world,” said Seiter. “You expect soaring strings and French horns and woodwinds. You expect the whole picture. When picking out pieces, we musically laid down the story merely in chronological order. Then we started going through them and seeing what puzzle pieces would fit together in making symphonic movements.”

As the show tours, various orchestras are contracted to play the concert, including previously London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, as seen in the video below. New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) will play the Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses concert coming to New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC).

Following other pop culture-friendly concerts, like a screening of “Casablanca” with live musical accompaniment, NJSO is excited about what the show will mean for attracting new audiences. “If someone comes to a Zelda concert and they hear this magnificent orchestra on stage, maybe that piques their interest about NJSO and orchestral music in general,” explained Roger Wight, NJSO’s Director of Artistic Planning.

Similarly, Moore is pleased to be playing his part in cultivating appreciation for video games as an art form. “[Parents and grandparents] end up coming for their children, but what is…really satisfying is that the people who have no connection to the franchise walk away thinking, ‘Wow! There’s some art in this!’” he said.

For those who are already video game lovers, the concert means a trip down memory lane. Marc Sequeira is a lecturer and coordinator for the Game Development Program at NJIT who has worked on video game design in some form since the late 1980s. “Some of those soundtracks are special because…we grew up with them,” he explained. “I think Legend of Zelda sort of sounds operatic. Sounds like Tristan und Isolde or something like that… The actual music itself would stand up.”

Fellow fans of the music will be pleased to know that, while the orchestrations have been modified to take advantage of a full symphonic setup, Seiter and Moore worked hard to stay true to the game. “There’s this one piece called ‘Ballad of the Wind Fish,’ which you basically have to collect all of these musical instruments in order to play that unifying melody throughout the game,” said Seiter. “So, basically what I do is I take that melody and I trade it throughout the orchestra in those instruments.” And while musicians who play the game’s primary instrument, the ocarina, are hard to come by, Seiter believes he’s found a serviceable proxy in the piccolo line.

Details like these will no doubt provide an added layer of meaning for Zelda buffs, but Seiter is confident that all concertgoers will take away something from the experience. “I think people leave our show feeling really great about it because we didn’t show them a video game, we showed them a story — which is something everyone can understand.”

The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses with New Jersey Symphony Orchestra comes to NJPAC Saturday, Aug. 10.

For a preview of the performance, watch London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra perform Dungeons of Hyrule overture from The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses: