RIT’s Game Symphony Orchestra celebrates the music of video games

The orchestra unites almost 150 students to practice and perform songs from popular games

Game Symphony Orchestra

RIT’s Game Symphony Orchestra, more than 150 members strong, rehearse Monday nights in the Davis Room, Student Alumni Union. The next concert is scheduled for April 28.

Finals week is approaching and, in addition to studying, a club of students, nearly 150 strong, gather to perform “Snake Eater” from the video game Metal Gear Solid 3, the title theme from Octopath Traveler, and “The Battle at the Summit” from Pokémon Sun and Moon.

Listening to music from video games can often come with a stigma. At RIT, however, the highly popular Game Symphony Orchestra gathers often to share their passion for game soundtracks through musical performances—and to have fun doing it.

From 8-10 p.m., on Monday nights, students from every college at RIT bring their instruments to full orchestra practice to perform songs such as “The End Lies Ahead” from Xenoblade Chronicles and medleys from games like Skyrim. Many students stay late to play in ensembles, practicing songs with less instrumentation. The students also have sectional practices, where they perform with similar instruments that can add an extra two hours of practice time every week.

Despite all the challenging work that goes into operating a smooth orchestra, Ben Coukos-Wiley, a fourth-year game design and development major from Takoma Park, Md., and the conductor of the orchestra, said that one of the main goals is to have fun playing the music. He also spoke about what brings people into the club and why it has maintained such strong membership.

“People come to the orchestra because they want to play music from games, but they stay here because they have found a community,” Coukos-Wiley said.

Although they call themselves an orchestra, the GSO plays several genres of music, including jazz and string pieces like “Hornet” from Hollow Knight, and has even performed a few ballads, including “Baka Mitai” from Yakuza 0, in the past. They are willing to experiment with anything and everything, as long as the songs are from video games.

Gabi Johnston, a fourth-year graphic design major from Easton, Conn., and president of the GSO, shared the process by which the orchestra’s e-board selects the songs that they perform in their concerts at the end of the semester.

“We typically do song selection during the breaks between each semester, because not only are we sitting down and asking whether the music is well-orchestrated, but we also have to determine if it’s relevant, if people are going to like it, if it’s from a game that people know, and whether it’s very difficult to play because we have to consider a variety of skill levels,” Johnston explained.

RIT’s campus seems to be the perfect setting for the orchestra to prosper.

“We’re not just a tech college. You can find the intersections of your interests. I really enjoy video games and playing music, and it’s great having a unique opportunity where both these niche interests intersect,” Johnston said.

The orchestra holds their concerts near the end of the semester, but gives students other ways to get involved such as attending release parties for video games, like the recently released Final Fantasy 7: Rebirth.

The next concert is April 28; previous Game Symphony Orchestra concerts are available on its YouTube channel.

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