Oregon ArtsBitch

Video game music: Turning passives into players

Video game soundtracks are encouraging a new generation to play not just games, but also music.


Civil (Explore) Piano Sheet
by BMacZero » Sat Dec 29, 2012 8:34 pm
Just got this game over Christmas, and I’m trying really hard not to play it 24/7! The game and UI designs are really excellent.
And of course, the music is also amazing. I was listening to the soundtrack and the track Civil (Explore) caught my attention, so I started trying to transcribe it for piano. Thought I’d share here for any other interested pianists. This is about the second half (1:38 on). Enjoy!


Now I’m pretty suspicious that the first phrase (16 bars) is wrong, so I’d love some input on that. I’m pretty confident with the rest of it, though.
And let me know or remove this if this violates any rights to the music.
(Thread from FTL.com’s forum)


“It would be nice if he would play a little classical music.”
“What do you mean?”  I ask the mother of my new piano student.
“Maybe some Mozart or Beethoven?”
“Ben Prunty IS your son’s Mozart!  And furthermore, he’s part of the new classical music!”

"Legend of Zelda: Symphony of Goddesses" comes to Portland's Keller Auditorium Sunday. Photo: Andrew Craig.

“Legend of Zelda: Symphony of Goddesses” comes to Portland’s Keller Auditorium Sunday. Photo: Andrew Craig.

My student is a Beaverton fifth grader who’s a recent convert to the video game Faster Than Light (FTL) and to the music of the game’s composer, Ben Prunty. While his mother was pleading with me to inject a little classical music (as traditionally and too narrowly defined) into his assignments, he was quietly telling me during lessons what was going on in these newsgroup communities which are in effect rebuilding classical music. These boards typically involve young people who are so passionate about the music that accompanies the video games they play that they’re doing anything they can to find out how to play that music themselves. It’s a huge phenomenon that has huge implications for the future of classical music. When I asked my student why I’ve never heard about this or why these scores have been so inaccessible, he said, “Because no one listens to ten year olds.”

My first assignment to this student was to find a copy of the music “Civil (Explore)” from FTL. He brought back the printed copy downloaded from the FTL forum above. His mom, seeing his enthusiasm for the music, has since come around to the value of this new classical music.

One of my other students, Nicholas Casali, a Legend of Zelda freak, has a much more understanding mom who bought him an entire book of Zelda tunes published by the market savvier Alfred Publishers. He’s methodically working his way through the entire book with its tricky rhythms and quirky harmonies.

Nicholas is only one of the hordes of Zelda fans, young and old (the game has been selling millions of copies for almost 30 years) who’ll be packing Portland’s Keller Auditorium (one of the biggest performing arts venues in town) this Sunday for the latest touring extravaganza, Symphony of The Goddesses. In March 2013 Nicholas attended the Oregon Symphony’s sold-out tribute to Zelda and composer Koji Kondo in the hallowed halls of the orchestra’s home, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Two years later in March 2015 he was back to hear rePlay: Symphony of Heroes, returning yet again in September 2015 to hear the OSO fete Pokemon, both to packed houses. He or other multi-generational attendees might not be going back to hear Beethoven, but with three trips to concert halls in one year, at least we’re getting a different and substantially younger audience to venture into places considered intimidating, possibly helping to overcome at least that barrier to exploring Beethoven. To underscore the “classical” connection, this performance features a four movement symphony arranged from the music written for various editions of the game, performed by a 90-piece orchestra and chorus made up of local musicians.

Last year, ArtsWatch covered how popular and seriously classical video game music has become — the soundtrack of our time.  It might be a bridge into other types of classical music or it might stand alone in its own classification with its own huge audience and fan base much like earlier classifications:  Baroque, Classical, Romantic… Hollywood film scores, Videogame soundtracks. More important than the possible seeding of new listeners for old music is the nurturing of new generations who want to play — not just listen to — classical music of our time and before.

What happened? Where did it all go right?


Over the Hills, to Portland’s multi-cultural present

The energy at Portland's ethnic community events is great, and so are the performances


“You come every year!”

I do not recognize this observant Sri Lankan woman in a peacock blue sari, who’s obviously proud of the show we’re both attending.
“Yes, I‘ve been here since nearly the beginning,” I reply.

Last month, I was at a Sri Lankan event feting the community’s children with dance, drama and song— the fourth annual Pipena Kekulu (Blooming Buds), and I’ve attended all but the first. This time, Oregon state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian presented one of the three welcoming speeches, with touching thanks to the community for allowing him and his wife to participate once more in the sharing of children’s arts/entertainment activities, his own children having left the nest, both happy successful artists/entertainers.

Oregon Buddhist Temple in Portland, USA celebrated the Vesak Festival last May with Sri Lankan Buddhists living in Portland.

Oregon Buddhist Temple celebrated the Vesak Festival last May. Photo:  ceylontoday.lk.

I attended the first such event in 2013 because I feel part of this community whose many children I have the privilege of teaching piano. I keep going because these events are ebullient. In fact, I’m stepping it up this Saturday, catching Sunil Edirisinghe and Neela Wickramasinghe in concert at PCC Sylvania (see listing at end of this story). Sri Lankan pop stars as popular on the island as Lady Gaga, but they are so underground outside of the culture that you have to call several numbers to secure tickets. Portland is the smallest city they’re playing on a tour which includes London, New York (where they drew 1,200) and Los Angeles (where they drew 1,000). Sri Lankans from Seattle and Vancouver BC will be making the journey to catch this show. In addition, performers from Pipena Kekulu 2015 will be opening. That’s like Bethany elementary school kids opening for the Rolling Stones. And yet, when I search the web for them, no website or Facebook page or Twitter or ANYTHING comes up. Promotions and marketing are as baffling to some of these ethnic communities as they are in the classical music milieu. In fact, Oregon Arts Watch might be the first Oregon arts/entertainment publication starting to cover and preview events like this when we find out about them.

These community and professional shows are part of a world of “ethnic” arts unknown to many Portlanders, especially those east of the West Hills. These events are worth knowing about — not just for their own joy and beauty, but also for what they can teach us about restoring Western classical music’s connection to the larger community.


Letter to a Young Composer

Your clever techniques and new ideas are only the means, not the end.


“Right in the middle of the First Allegro came a Passage I knew would please, and the entire audience was sent into raptures — there was a big applaudißement; — and as I knew, when I wrote the passage, what good effect it would make” . . . (Mozart’s letter to his father 1778)

J.S. Bach knew how to mix intellect and emotion in his music.

J.S. Bach knew how to mix intellect and emotion in his music.

Dear Young Composer,

Thank you for pitching your piece to me. I love playing pieces by Oregon composers and nurturing the careers of young composers. But when I or my classical bands commission pieces, the FIRST thing we insist on from the composer is AUDIENCE ACCESSIBILITY. This does not mean dumbed down. We’ve played audience-loving 12-tone (Hendrik Andriessen’s “Theme and Variations”), and prepared piano trios that kicked dance-ass (Kevin Gray’s “Mebasi” – written in 2008!). Plenty of composers past and present have written and are writing music that is simultaneously innovative, intellectually stimulating, but most of all emotionally moving. It’s doable: the young Cascadia Composer Brandon Stewart recently achieved it with The Telephone, his 2014 setting of a poem by Oregon’s Judith Barrington, a true account about waiting to hear whether her parents lived or died in a shipwreck.

It’s not easy, and it means feeling/thinking like an audience member. Mozart was famous for drinking beer at the back of a hall, while eavesdropping on nearby conversations when his new compositions were being debuted. 

Judging from your output, I’m pretty sure the conservatory or music school you attended spent less time on the the practicality of Mozart than on the philosophy of Modernism.

After two world wars fractured our insides so that we no longer trusted the manipulative power of music, many composers instead created strictly intellectual concepts to insulate themselves from feeling. The audience no longer mattered. It became a swap meet: Engineers for artists, concept for feeling. And you, young composer, got stuck in the middle, pleasing your music faculty stacked with concept driven engineers. I am sorry for you.

However, the back of my neck starts tingling in a bad migraine way when you get glassy-eyed, rapturously describing the concept that underpins your composition and how the idea is translated in every aspect of the piece. You have confused the means with the end. Use your cool devices to express an impassioned moment, feeling, noun. Otherwise, I do not care about your pitch class. I do not care about your hyperextended harmonies and their modulations. Nor do I care that your obsession with a certain number extends beyond the chosen numbered pitches to rhythm manipulation . . . . AND NEITHER DOES THE GENERAL NON-CLASSICAL AUDIENCE WHO WE DESPERATELY NEED TO COURT TO THIS GOD-FORSAKEN GENRE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“It wasn’t the format that made the art great. It was the fact that somehow while playing around with something new, suddenly [artists] found they were able to put their entire selves into it. Only then did it become their “shtick,” their true voice, etc. That’s what people responded to. The humanity, not the form. The voice, not the form. Put your whole self into it, and you will find your true voice.”

Ignore Everybody by Hugh McLeod 2009,  p.104.

I also want to be clear that emoting without vocabulary is whiny-indie-junk and I have no patience for that shit either, nor does any audience. They are ALL smarter than we think! I think you are smart to work on the craft of your art, extending your vocabulary to capture what you passionately feel and want to project to us in the audience. My favorite composers (Bach, Ravel, Svoboda) are equal parts engineer and artist, but the engineer – the grunt worker – is subservient to the artist – the connector .

Strictly-Commercial-The-Best-Of-Frank-Zappa-coverConnecting with the audience may be underpinned by spectacular conceptual feats of innovation and intellect, but unless I cry or wanna grab a gun and go postal or Conga with jubilation til the cows come home, being stunned by a triple axel on the ice ain’t gonna do it for me. Having said that, Bach so moves me emotionally that his masterful intellectual underpinnings push me over the edge and make me want to stalk him in the afterlife. But the empty virtuosity of Frank Zappa’s “The Black Page” does nothing for me. Of course, not all output by my favorite composers knocks my socks off. I don’t care for a lot of Bach’s or Svoboda’s music – mostly when it gets process bound and far away from their emotional core. Conversely, I love Zappa’s “Joe’s Garage” – a conceptual album that traces the life of an ordinary Joe, making me feel the part of Joe, in increasingly extraordinary circumstances.

So, my young friend, you must write something for my bands or me that will appeal to an audience and make them not only want to hear your piece again, because my bands keep commissioned pieces in their ongoing performance repertoire, but will actually make an audience want to PLAY those pieces! And that’s what will REALLY feed this genre: Active playing participation. NOT just passive listening. 


Cascadia Composers review: Strange Brew

Ingredients for a full fun house


The impresario ushers me in. “It’s chaos in there,” he twitches. “Of course it is,” I smile. Dan Brugh, mad scientist of concert presenting for Cascadia Composers, isn’t smiling. He turns and chases someone I’ve never seen in this organization, holding a wastepaper basket full of white sausage-like stuffed alien animals I’ve also never seen in this organization. Composers At Play: New Art Music That Has Some Serious Fun with Improvisation is the title of tonight’s event. If it were going smoothly and everything was under control, it wouldn’t be improv now, would it?


He’s a witch of trouble in electric blue

In his own mad mind he’s in love with you, with you

[The Audience!]

(“Strange Brew” – Cream) 

For this show, Brugh (pronounced “brew”), like any smart presenter targeting a general audience, set the scene for a family friendly concert with the venue he chose, southeast Portland’s Community Music Center in the middle of a family friendly neighborhood, and the playful graphic design he delegated to Cascadia composer and performer Jennifer Wright.


Jennifer Wright’s program designed for Cascadia Composers At Play concert.

Jennifer Wright’s program designed for Cascadia Composers At Play concert.

But that alone doesn’t account for the bewitched behavior of the evening: Composers laughed and played and gushed over fussing kids, performers loosened up and showed spontaneous comedic sides and toddlers danced. Brugh’s uncanny instincts for figuring out what audiences — not just performers — need is what makes his Cascadia shows so successful.

Not every concert — not any concert – can be like this one. But anyone can learn from it some things that make concerts of original music more likely to please even the youngest, toughest critics. What was Brugh’s secret love potion #9?


Oregon Symphony & Ben Folds review: The Show Must Go On

Pop pianist shows classical music how to rock audiences.


“While y’all were in your practice rooms practicing eight hours a day,” Ben Folds told the Oregon Symphony on stage at Schnitzer Hall September 20, “the rest of us were out getting laid.”

Best known as a pop pianist and singer-songwriter, Folds sits on the board of the Nashville Symphony. He’s touring a piano concerto he wrote. And he seems to thrive when thrown to the lions . . . . conservatory musicians behind him, a hungry mob in front. He’s a showman on the order of Leonard Bernstein. Eyes rolled when I recently blurted this to a friend who thinks no one will ever match Lenny. He’s right. Folds supersedes him. Only because times have changed and Folds is hipper than thee and me and he takes no prisoners.

Ben Folds rose to the occasion with the Oregon Symphony.

Ben Folds rose to the occasion with the Oregon Symphony.

Folds is obviously not intimidated by the musicians’ pedigrees, displaying his gushing wry affection for them and their prowess, but he also understands that the music itself can still appeal to much bigger than the narrow “classical” audience — if only it’s presented in a way that reaches out to 21st century audiences. As he showed last month in Portland with his piano concerto and his electric connection to listeners, Ben Folds is the perfect evangelist for symphony orchestras, nay, all of classical music.


Rx for PDX and BKLN

Concerts suggest treatment options for music scene delusions of grandeur, inferiority complexes


PATIENT #1 DIAGNOSIS: Delusions of Grandeur

Patient presents with the following symptoms.

SYMPTOM 1: Hypertrophy of reputation: hype without content.
Example: exploding piano title etc. should have called it imploding piano.

EXPLANATION: Kathleen Supove’s piano recital at the Brunish Theatre on the evening of Saturday September 6 left me whelmed, neither under nor over. Fear No Music brought her to town thanks to new directors Kenji Bunch (artistic director) and Monica Ohuchi’s (executive director) Brooklyn contacts from their recent past lives in New York. Like Bunch, Supové grew up in Portland. I am looking forward to Bunch corralling more of our fledglings who left/fled town — both to fete them and to compare them to our own who migrated here or natives who stayed/returned. This time, Portland came out ahead of Brooklyn.

Kathleen Supové.

Kathleen Supové.

The best things about Supové are her wacky press photos and her refreshingly un-PR self-revelatory quotes, captured in Jana Hanchett’s Oregon ArtsWatch preview. Supové possesses a much-needed (in the classical music genre) sense of branding – both visual and textual. It isn’t that no one has said it before; it’s that she says it quicker and bloodier: “What really cemented it for me is the ‘dharma’ aspect of [contemporary music]: that you could help create the performance tradition for each piece; that you weren’t the three-millionth person playing that Beethoven sonata, oppressed by years of other people’s traditions.”

Or charming dry personality-revealing comments about her current Digital Debussy Project in which she commissioned several Brooklyn buddies like Annie Gosfield to contribute pieces: “Annie could give you a whole speech of how she felt like she had to wrestle Debussy to the ground. She said it really messed her up,” said Supové. “I mean, she’s OK now.”

Had I read this engaging preview prior to the concert, raising my own hopes artificially, I would have been several degrees less than underwhelmed after the actual event and this article would have been a rant. As it was, I was not surprised. Maybe I’m buzz-proof, but Supove’s millennial “Run Lola Run” Berlin stage attire looked a little dated and kitschy for me, foreshadowing a bait-and-switch from balls-out pyrotechnics to fake sex. My trepidation increased when she walked out to the piano in Portland’s Brunish Theater and politely addressed the audience, displaying slouching posture and total lack of charisma on stage. The blah opening set the stage for the rest of the show.


Cascadia Composers’ “In Good Hands” concert: Bringing students the music of their time

Tomorrow's Oregon musicians play music by today's Oregon composers.


The young performers were warming up; some with Chopin Nocturnes, which they played with studied rubato (that technique where you hold a note longer than rhythmically intended or on-purpose rush a passage, all in the name of playing expressively) handed down from teachers. Or they held notes that meant nothing in the sentence surrounding them except self-indulgence or dry harmonic leading tone stresses—that is, staying on a penultimate note longer than usual and thereby, in theory, sustaining tension.

It wasn’t a promising sign.

The 29 young pianists, students of 13 Oregon Music Teachers Association teachers, were about to star in a public concert on a weekday summer afternoon at Portland Piano Company. . . to a packed house! I was not there to hear Chopin, or any other library or dead composer. That might be typical of a private teacher’s studio piano recital and I avoid those, as do my students who play whatever the hell they want in recitals — from improvised blues duets with their dads to pieces they write to chamber music or pop songs played and/or sung with their invited friends. They even bring me snippets from dead white guys like Beethoven they picked up, asking me to find the rest of that song for them to play, having no idea that song (“Für Elise” or “Moonlight” Sonata or whatever) was written over 200 years ago and not today.

Young hands played Oregon music at Portland Piano Company. Photo: Benji [Bao] Vuong.

Young hands played Oregon music at Portland Piano Company. Photo: Benji [Bao] Vuong.

My belief that students can show us the future was why I was participating in the “In Good Hands” concert, leading a performance of a recent piece by the dean of Oregon composers. I was also here to witness what I thought was an urban legend—the marrying of young students of OMTA teachers with music by local  Cascadia Composers.

For me, this type of event—the introduction of young impressionable performers to up-to-the-minute local music—is more important than hearing yet another touring artist playing yet another cycle of Beethoven sonatas or Bach’s Goldberg Variations (and needling my students to go hear them . . . which I won’t!). The way too many of us teach music is killing the music we love, and events like “In Good Hands” show us how to change.


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