It’s not every day you see a girl dressed as Midna going to a symphony. But that’s exactly what I saw as I drove up the road leading to the Cobb Energy Centre in Atlanta, Georgia. It was the first telltale sign of an evening that would be anything but ordinary. This was the first concert in the Second Quest of The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses. It would be an event that was– dare I say– legendary.
I had been here before, about 14 months previously, as part of the symphony’s first national tour. Tonight I arrived feeling like a grizzled veteran, a man who had seen some serious stuff. You could spot the people like me, their vintage first season symphony T-shirts dotted the lobby here and there. But we were about evenly matched by those wearing the new symphony shirts, and how I wished I could be like them, if just for a few hours. To approach the symphony with a clean memory is truly a magical thing.
I had gotten my tickets the day they went on sale, an anniversary present from my girlfriend. We’d gone to the first season and were thrilled to see that the symphony was choosing Atlanta as its first stop of the Second Quest. We had to settle for the third level seating– same as last year– due to our college student finances, but we weren’t missing this for the world. The time from buying the tickets to the actual symphony seemed like ages, and I had nearly forgotten about it when the first week of June rolled by.
I have to pause the symphony story for a moment, and tell you a story of myself as a young gamer. I was as dedicated a Nintendo fan as you could be in the late 90s and early 00s. I consumed every bit of Nintendo as I could and memorized every trivial fact there was to know. My family wasn’t very well-off, so I mostly played older games and was stuck to last-gen systems back then. But that didn’t bother me too much; in fact, it allowed me to fixate on games for longer. I payed particular attention to the music, and in time I became a living music box of Nintendo music. I would literally spend most waking moments humming video game music, to the point that I would drive my mother insane on car rides.
And it was this obsession with game music that made me seek out more information about it. I learned the names of the composers, and the common games they scored. I would remix video game soundtracks in my own head, re-scoring them with marching bands, rock music, and of course, orchestras. A friend of mine in middle school somehow came in possession of a Japanese CD, and on it was my first exposure to orchestrated video game music. It was the Hyrule Symphony, a loving rendition of many of the main themes from Ocarina of Time. I was smitten, and I listened to the CD repeatedly; my standout favorites were Goron City and the Ocarina Medley. It was here that I started a fantasy of one day being able to listen to my favorite video game music in symphony form, one that would be fulfilled a decade later.
So, I was beyond ecstatic to attend Symphony of the Goddesses in 2012 when it came to Atlanta. I laughed, I cried, and I cheered. The producers of the symphony were true fans of the games, and it showed. The symphony was a trip through the history of Hyrule and the entire Zelda franchise, as told in four distinct movements interspersed with smaller pieces. At the end of the show, as the musicians took their final bows, I looked around. Around me was a sold out theater of 2,750 seats, all filled with people in a standing ovation. To think that a video game from over 25 years ago could become something like this was unbelievable. I saw firsthand the power of video games and their music in bringing people together.
It was this experience in my memory that made me rush to get tickets to the Second Quest of this symphony as soon as I could. The main four movement symphony was to remain intact, but the promise of new content had me jumping at the opportunity.
So, back to the lobby in June 2013. Around me were familiar faces of all kinds: Zelda, Skull Kid, Groose, Ghirahim, and so many Links. One cosplayer that I found particularly clever was the ever-punctual Hyrule postman, who arrived an hour and a half before the concert. I had my Nintendo 3DS with me (I had forgotten to bring it last year) and StreetPasses came to me like water from an eternally overflowing fountain. Every other person had a 3DS on hand, and I couldn’t help but smile at how surreal all of this was. It’s a fancy symphony, yet it’s largely attended by people playing video games and cosplaying. This is a high society event I could get behind.
The theater doors eventually opened and people spilled into the massive auditorium to take their seats. Before me was the same empty stage I remembered from the year before. I basked in the grandeur of it all before taking my seat. The 30 minute wait until the show started was nerve-wracking. I passed the time by going through my infinite StreetPasses, chatting with my girlfriend, and befriending the gentlemen seated next to me. They were also Zelda Symphony veterans and seasoned Nintendo fans; we talked about everything from E3 to Shin Megami Tensei.
Finally, the lights dimmed and the musicians took their seats. The sounds of the orchestra rumbling from its hibernation echoed throughout the room, and shivers went down my spine. If Reggie Fils-Aime had been there, he would have had a comment about readiness to offer.
The conductor, a lovely woman named Eimear Noone, took the stage and introduced the act (she has also done many video game orchestras and is incredibly talented, I urge you to check out her other work). Her distinctive Irish accent was perfect for the show; it set a tone of medieval high fantasy. The music then came to life as we were treated to a general overview of musical themes from The Legend of Zelda, just like last year.
Jeron Moore and Chad Seiter, the masterminds behind Symphony of the Goddesses, took the stage and teased the concert that was to follow. They promised great new content for those of us who had seen the show before. This Atlanta show was the first time the new material from the symphony’s second quest was being played, something I was truly honored to discover. Before the music started again, we were told another lucky fact: June 6, the night of this concert, was the exact 20th anniversary of Link’s Awakening, and the concert was kicking off with an incredible tribute.
This Link’s Awakening celebration was a brand new arrangement, and it was amazing. Gorgeous 3D renderings of places on Koholint Island played on the background screen as familiar Game Boy sounds were given new life. We went on a journey through the entire game from start to finish, and I realized just how bittersweet the story of this 20-year-old tale really was. Immediately after, the orchestra took us on a trip through Spirit Tracks, which was new material once again. The symphony was on track (hah!) for a great show.
The Zelda 25th Anniversary Orchestra video from Nintendo Video, also conducted by Eimear Noone
After that, the symphony began in earnest, with its signature four movements covering Ocarina of Time, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and A Link to the Past. This was the bulk of the music, which was the same as last year’s performance, but it was just as great. There’s nothing like hearing it live. One highlight was when the conductor Eimear paused the symphony right before The Wind Waker movement. She talked about her history in an Irish town on the coast, and then pulled out an exact replica of the legendary Wind Waker baton to conduct the movement. “Let’s wake the winds” she said as the crowd roared.
The remainder of the show was just as good as I remember. I always get tingles when the Dark World theme kicks in during the ALttP movement. This time, I was really able to focus on listening to the music and analyzing the entire experience– last year, I had been a bit starstruck. I found it very cool to be able to pick out which sounds were coming from which instruments as iconic battles played on the screen.
The main symphony finally came to a close, but we weren’t done yet. Moore and Seiter came out once more to introduce the encore pieces. First, we heard a Majora’s Mask medley, a segment from last year and one my favorites. The way the Clock Town theme gradually goes from the carefree sound to the menacing third day version is great. The symphony ended with two more encore pieces; they were completely new to the show, and probably my two favorite pieces of the night.
Live recording of the Majora’s Mask medley from the 2012 tour.
Dragon Roost Island from The Wind Waker was the first of these, and it was unlike any rendition of the music you’ve heard before. The sounds of the island were most assuredly left intact, but the orchestra just made it all seem larger than life.
The final and best piece of the night was taken from Skyward Sword. The orchestra played an intricate arrangement of the Ballad of the Goddess and Fi’s Theme interwoven together, and wow. When the ballad quieted and Fi’s Theme was played in a piano solo with subtle orchestral accompaniment, I was hit with a surge of emotions. The game isn’t even two years old, but its sounds still make you feel nostalgic.
With that, our quest had come to its end. It was just as good– no, it was better– than the first season. We often talk about music taking us on a journey, and this symphony quite literally does. It takes us on a journey through time, and a journey through each Zelda adventure. I loved this show the first time, I loved it the second time, and I’d love it a third time if it ever comes back.
I keep thinking that shows like Symphony of the Goddesses are in many ways the culmination of many gamers’ greatest dreams. It legitimizes games as an art form. It gives life to experiences from our childhood and beyond. It let’s us hear the music we love in a brand new way. Here’s hoping that the Zelda Symphony has more quests left– but if not, I’m sure there are many other Nintendo worlds to explore…