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Behind the Scenes: Gamer Symphony Orchestra Tryouts in Montgomery County

“We can use this as a lever to make this a serious, accepted musical style,” says Nigel Horne, Washington Metropolitan Gamer Symphony Orchestra conductor.

Musicians audition for the Washington Metropolitan Gamer Symphony Orchestra on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013 in Rockville. (Credit: Tiffany Arnold | Rockville Patch)
Musicians audition for the Washington Metropolitan Gamer Symphony Orchestra on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013 in Rockville. (Credit: Tiffany Arnold | Rockville Patch)

It quickly became clear during Thursday night’s audition in Rockville that the musicians involved with the Washington Metropolitan Gamer Symphony Orchestra don’t see themselves as digital denizens from the land of pixels.

Though, at least one of the chorus members was playing a video game on a tablet while the orchestra worked through passages from “Objection!”—the theme from the Nintendo game, “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.”

Newly minted, the Washington Metropolitan Gamer Symphony Orchestra aspires to be a community ensemble of musicians who appreciate good music anywhere, even if it’s the soundtrack to a video game.

“We can use this as a lever to make this a serious, accepted musical style,” said conductor Nigel Horne.

Horne, who has a degree in computer science, is the musical director of the Rockville Brass Band and said he didn't give it five seconds of thought when he was asked to lead the gamer symphony. 

He said there’s not much difference in conducting a well-known classical piece than, say, the theme for Super Mario Bros.

“I approach it as a piece of music,” Horne said. “I do not approach it as making it sound like Super Mario Brothers … whatever the game may be.”

The WMGSO has held two informal auditions in Rockville. About 25 musicians showed up to the most recent one on Thursday. More are scheduled into September.

Tuba player Ben Stanfield said he wasn’t sure which brought him out Thursday night: the love of music or the love of video games.

“Probably the music,” Stanfield said, before puffing through a passage of sheet music as musicians warmed up and tuned their instruments.

Horne led the musicians through songs from “Super Mario Galaxy,” “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” and “Phoenix Wright.” There were things that needed fixing, like times when there was too much legato and not enough staccato and having to determine they should “kill” the cymbal crash in a particular part of a song—someone anonymously shouted “fatality,” mimicking the phrase from Mortal Kombat and drawing chuckles.

There were also the subtle details to be worked through, like the issue of striking balance—playing the music in a way that doesn’t give away what’s to come next, according to Horne.

Trumpet player Robert Garner, the symphony’s official spokesman, said the orchestra has been in the works for more than a year. Garner was once the president of University of Maryland’s gamer orchestra.

“We all grew up in that group, graduated, looked around and realized there wasn't really an entity out there where we could keep playing this music,” Garner said.

Soprano Ayala Hurley, the orchestra’s president, said she performed with Garner at University of Maryland.

“I jumped at the chance because it didn't seem like anything else was picking up,” Hurley said. 

Garner said the orchestra hoped to have its first performance in spring 2014 somewhere in the Rockville region.

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