Rob Garner and the Washington Metropolitan Gamer Symphony Orchestra on Top Score

by Emily Reese, Minnesota Public Radio
September 5, 2013
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — For the members of the Washington Metro Gamer Symphony Orchestra, video game music is more than just entertainment.

"Video game music is certainly a very large part of my life and I'm thrilled to see that it's becoming a huge part of a lot of other people's lives too."

Rob Garner is the Public Relations Director of the Washington Metro Gamer Symphony Orchestra. The all-volunteer ensemble plays orchestral arrangements of video game music, like this piece, from a game called Super Mario Galaxy.

"All the music we have is arranged in-house, or we've done some exchanges with other groups of a similar nature. There's a group in Boston, the Video Game Orchestra, and they at one point loaned us an arrangement of Mario Galaxy, which we still use. We're now reaching a point where there are quite a few of these kind of ensembles out there, so we can do these sort of collaborative things which we couldn't do two, three years ago.

"Somewhere in the neighborhood of Fall 2005, there was a woman named Michelle Eng, who played viola in one of the university ensembles. And she had the idea for an ensemble dedicated exclusively to orchestral video game music and orchestral arrangements of video game music. At the time, there were about two dozen of us on a good day. The group is now at something like 120, 130 — and that includes a sizeable chorus.

"As we aged out of that group, we looked around and wondered where the next step for us would be, and as it turned out, we just had to create it for ourselves."

The Washington Metro Gamer Symphony Orchestra is all-volunteer, but musicians need to audition for a spot in the orchestra.

"The repertoire has included pieces from Donkey Kong 64, Mario Galaxy, Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Xenosaga; Tomb Raider, from Portal 2 and we've got another one that's kind of a fun piece - heavily adapted from the music of Angry Birds."

Garner explains how the group found a conductor.

"We put out an open call. The candidate we ended up selecting is a gentleman named Nigel Horn. He is not a video game fan. That's a little overly harsh. He does not play video games. What's really thrilling about Nigel is that he was attracted to the ensemble on the merits of the music. When he heard about the concept of the group — video game music in a community orchestra setting — he just told us, it was a five second decision for him to do it.

"I think one of the most satisfying parts of the whole concept has been that just because we exist, and just because we're playing video game music with orchestral flavor — that in and of itself isn't really news anymore because so many people are doing it. So on the one hand, that stacks the cards against us a little bit in that we have a higher threshold to reach in order to make ourselves relevant. From the standpoint of someone who's so enthusiastic about the music, that is a really great problem to have."

Hear the Washington Metropolitan Gamer Symphony Orchestra and Rob Garner on the new episode of Top Score from Classical MPR, also on iTunes.

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