I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never played most of the games referenced at Sunday’s concert “Press A-Flat to Play” at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, but nevertheless, it was one of the most fascinating concerts I’ve been to this year. The event was very well attended, with very few open seats. Centered around Dr. Matthew Thompson’s research of video game music, the evening consisted of performances by the six students that make up his video game music piano studio.
Presented in the museum apse, there was a juxtaposition between the video game scenes projected on a screen behind the piano and the large classical paintings surrounding the audience in gilded frames. In part, I think, this highlighted one of the purposes of the concert – to feature video game music as art. From the program notes: “Game music is crafted to further plot development, much like music in an opera, a music or for a film…Video game music, native to the Age of the Internet, is relevant, important, and as much art as anything else you’ve heard in this space.”
I particularly enjoyed the concert because, unlike traditional performances where the performers play the pieces in the program one after another, Dr. Thompson spoke in between the pieces, highlighting various parts of the upcoming piece. For instance, prior to the performance of “Stand Your Ground” from the game Final Fantasy XV, he discussed the difficulty of creating a piano arrangement that mimics the sound of the full orchestra that the piece was originally scored for. Before the audience enjoyed “Concert Paraphrase on Dearly Beloved,” Dr. Thompson mentioned that the piece references works by Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and Chopin. For me, these reflections added to the value of the performances, such that even though I was not familiar with most of the music, I still greatly enjoyed the concert.
One of the pieces that I couldn’t not recognize, and probably one of the audience favorites of the evening, was a jazzy version of the Super Mario Brothers theme. As not Dr. Thompson noted, not all arrangements of video game music attempt to be faithful to the original!
Finally, I could not help but notice the acoustics of the museum apse. Underneath the high ceilings and surrounded by stone columns, each note echoed through the space, creating a unique sonic effect that you wouldn’t normally experience in a concert hall!