Video Game Music as art?

By Moira E. McLaughlin
Tuesday, February 22, 2011; 5:51 PM

Quick! What do you think of when you think of video games? Fun? Action? Adventure? Your mom and dad telling you to turn off Mario to do your homework?

What about thinking of video games and the music that goes with them as art?

That's the way Tommy Tallarico thinks about it. He's been composing video game scores, meaning the music for the games, for more than 20 years.

"If [the classical composer] Beethoven were alive today, he'd be a video game composer," says Tallarico, who has composed 275 video game scores and is in Guinness World Records for having worked on the most video games.

In an effort to show non-gamers how significant video games are, Tallarico helped create "Video Games Live," which comes to the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda on Saturday. A professional orchestra including string instruments, horns and drums, and choirs will perform the music from video games including Tron, Frogger and Donkey Kong. The two-hour show has been touring the world for six years, often selling out.

"It's all the power and emotion of a symphony orchestra combined with the energy and excitement of a rock concert," Tallarico says. Throw in some cool lighting and a big stage show, and you have an idea of what "Video Games Live" is about.

Tallarico grew up in Massachusetts loving music and video games. He would take his dad's tape recorder to the arcade to record his favorite music.

When he was 10 years old, he saw (and heard) the movie "Star Wars." "That was the first time where I actually really paid attention to a symphony, and I was like, 'Wow, what is this?' " He started researching John Williams, who composed the "Star Wars" theme, along with Beethoven and other classical composers.

"I was like, 'My gosh! This is unbelievable! This is what I want to do! I want to learn to write like that,' " he says. "And so because of pop culture [such as] 'Star Wars,' that's how I was introduced to classical music and took up a passion and love for writing for orchestras."

He hopes that "Video Games Live" will inspire kids in the same way. Most of the people who come to the show have never heard a live orchestra, he says.

"We're helping to usher in a whole new generation of young people to come out and appreciate the arts and appreciate a symphony, and I think that's important," he says.

No one, he says, would say that Beethoven's music is not art. Now, the line between classical music and video game music, with its live choirs and orchestras, is becoming less clear, Tallarico says.

"Art is something that moves you. . . . People cry during our show," he says. "If Beethoven's music [is] considered art, then so too will video game music."

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