Jason Michael Paul Takes Video Game Soundtracks Off The Consoles and Into The Symphony Hall.
Jason Michael Paul isn't a big gamer. Not these days, at least.
“I'm a casual gamer,” he says rather modestly, as if his whole career doesn't involve video games.
Alas, he says he very much recalls growing up around the medium: “I mean the NES alone, almost everyone had one of came into contact with one,” he remembers. “Obviously, when you have a 25-year history with a franchise like that, a huge and diverse audience is developed. So, yeah, the [Legend of Zelda's] gold cartridge, when it first came out, it was obviously a big moment in my life.”
If only retroactively: After growing up and going to school in the San Francisco area, the 35-year-old Paul entered a career in live-event production, eventually finding work as the production manager for concerts from Luciano Pavarotti and The Three Tenors. It was only then that he realized that something was off about the symphony audiences he so diligently entertained.
“I would see a very old, pepper, gray-haired audience,” he says.
So he came up with what he thought would be, in his words, “the perfect bridge” for changing the appeal of symphonic performances: taking the songs his generation knew from the video games of their youth and helping produce orchestra showcases of these songs throughout the country.
Almost immediately, young music fans embraced his offerings and showed up in droves to opera houses and symphony centers around the country, beginning with a 2004 concert of the songs from the ground-breaking, role-playing Final Fantasy series.
“I think it was just a matter of time, really,” he says over the phone of his video game concept, while preparing for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's performance of The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses at Strauss Square tonight. “We're at a point where the crossover between video games and film is second-nature. Video games have even outpaced films in gross per year. [Orchestras] can now see the benefits of this kind of concert helping them appeal to a younger demographic.
“But, yeah, it was definitely a huge struggle in the beginning — to the point where people wouldn't even look at [my proposals]. They called it Muzak. Even today, some of the players are always a little apprehensive. And naturally, I think. But they're also not necessarily accustomed to getting huge applauses like this, either.”
An easy indicator of his shows' successes in recent years: This is the second time his Zelda tour, which honors the game's 25-year anniversary, has been performed in Dallas in 2012 alone; since the Zelda tour kicked off in Dallas on January 10, Paul's show has been taken to another 25 cities. It helps that he's got the approval of the game's original composer, the legendary Koji Kondo. In fact, all of the songs performed at the Paul's Zelda shows were hand-picked by Kondo for Pual to produce.
“We perform it as a four-piece symphony,” Paul explains. “It's a very real, true replication.”
Still, there are struggles: The early Zelda songs were originally produced in MIDI formats. At their core, though, Paul argues that the songs in his show remain “all the same.” And that's an encouraging thing for him indeed. Still-active gamer not, the still-young Paul hopes he can continue to mine video game territory as he continues along with his career.
“My goal is to help create a new genre just for this,” he says. “I want to shows that are entire catalogs of games — and every game you could possibly imagine. Maybe do an all-Nintendo show. Maybe a whole show just devoted to Elder Scrolls.”
If he's confident about one thing, it's that both he and the symphonies he works with now know that this kind of offering draws an audience — one that, with any luck, can help symphonies appeal to the younger crowds that they'll one day rely on for support.
“It just means,” Paul says excitedly, “that the stakes will only be bigger from now on.”
The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses will be performed tonight, October 12, at Strauss Square.