Legend of Zelda fans know that if there’s one thing that truly makes this video game series spectacular, it’s the music. How can you make the musical experience of an established series even better? Develop a live concert that tells the franchise’s story through four movements played by professional musicians. The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses tour does exactly this.
On June 22nd, I was given the honor to interview Jeron Moore (Lead Creative/Showrunner/Producer) and Chad Seiter (Music Director) during the Austin, TX show regarding their experiences on the concert and about the Legend of Zelda series in general. Jeron and Chad, both avid fans of the series, had much to say. The full interview can be read in its entirety below.
Tickets and a schedule of the tour can be found by clicking here. If you’re from Texas and missed the chance to see one of their original stops, you still have a chance to see a live show. The tour will be stopping again in Dallas, in addition to making its way to San Antonio.
Image courtesy of Derek Brad. Thanks again to Jeron and Chad for the amazing interview!
Williams: My name is Matthew Williams and I am a writer at the VGTribune. It is an honor to talk to you all about the Zelda Symphony.
Jeron – you’re the Lead Creative, Showrunner, Producer – the ‘Jack of All Trades’ of the Zelda Symphony. There has to be an amazing story behind obtaining an opportunity like this. Can you give me some insight into how you got this opportunity – what’s your story?
Moore: With regard to that, I do feel immensely lucky to be doing what I am doing. It’s a ‘dream come true’. The opportunity to work on a franchise like The Legend of Zelda and being a part of its translation into a concert property is just cool. It’s a lot of fun and it taps into every angle of the franchise that I am passionate about – the music, the story, the visuals…the heart of what makes ‘Zelda’ Zelda. I’ve worked in game audio and been a passionate film/music geek since I was 6-7 years old. I’ve been listening to orchestras and playing Zelda and Mario ever since I was really young. I picked up…well my parents got me an NES and the original Zelda gold cartridge when I was a little tyke. I’ve been on board since day one. I tell people I feel like I’ve grown up with the Zelda franchise, but I also feel like it’s grown up with me. I’ve been able to see its entire arc to the present day – and that’s really special.
Williams: That’s an amazing story – you feel like it’s grown up with you. The transitions we’ve seen the Legend of Zelda grow from the 8-bit, 16-bit, 64-bit and now to the current gen. Along with the advances in technology, the advances in music is just as equally as important. How did the idea of the Zelda Symphony come about? How much development went into making this a dream come true for so many?
Moore: Chad do you want to start on that?
Seiter: No you go ahead.
Moore: Well, it involves Chad, which is why I asked him. It was an idea in the back of my mind for a long time. I was Producer on a concert series called Play! and we had a Zelda segment. It highlights segments from a multitude of different franchises. The Zelda franchise and the piece that we played for it was always a fan favorite. It was interesting to see how everyone was in love with Halo, Mario, Final Fantasy… but there was always a different temperament to the cheering and the applause that Zelda got when it was presented… that was reaffirming to me more than anything, that the franchise and its music meant as much to others as it did to me. I’ve seen the Lord of the Rings go on tour… Final Fantasy concerts (in fact, our Exec. Producer Jason Paul began the Final Fantasy concert craze). This is not a new concept – taking your property and translating it into concert format. But it hadn’t been done with Zelda, and it just seemed like an obvious thing. But no one had done it! So someone’s got to stand up and say ‘Hey – I’ll do it!’. It’s the combination of having the right team in place, the right ideas, the right presentation and of course… the right relationships. I met Chad when I moved back out to Los Angeles about 2-3 years ago. We became really good friends. So one day I approached him and said ‘What do you think about this?’ (idea of a Zelda Symphony). I had asked Chad to do some new arrangements for Play! and I felt that was a good warm-up.
Seiter: Including Zelda.
Moore: Including Zelda, which was actually the 25th anniversary arrangement for the CD that shipped with Skyward Sword. We used ‘Play!’ as a test market for that arrangement and as a live, organic, pitchable idea to Nintendo to show them, ‘Hey! This is just a smidgen of what we’d like to do.’ We sat down and started plowing through Nintendo music. It wasn’t a matter of knowing the material – I have every Zelda soundtrack known to man. I have multiple copies and multiple versions of the soundtrack from each game. I’m crazy. But, it was more of a matter of digging through it all and organizing it in a way that made sense to get to the core of what Zelda is about. When you take something to the concert hall, you can go at it in a haphazard way, jumble it up and use it is a ‘taste tester’ of all the different things that you have. All the different melodies and themes that are represented by a video game – this is a format that works for Final Fantasy because those games are not tied together by a persistent narrative. Individually, they are their own story and their own universe. But for Zelda, all of those games have some sort of visceral connection and we didn’t know what it was until Hyrule Historia was released, which was the unveiling of the official timeline. But before that, I was aware of all the theories and all the fan stuff I geek out about. With that in mind, Chad and I gave our pretty best guess on how to present this in a linear way that made sense and followed the timeline that we thought was correct. Fortunately, it did end up being correct. If you’re going to take the Hyrule Historia that has three different branches, and somehow consolidate it into one production (because we clearly can’t put the audience in one room and say…‘OK – it’s choose your own adventure, so go to that room for that story, go to this room for this story…’ – holy cow, that’d be a million dollar production.
Williams: It’d be very long too!
Moore: Yes, very long and confusing. So what we’ve done is put it all together in one sleek package that represents the stories, the themes, and all the nostalgia that we have for these characters and their journeys. It highlights the differences in each game as well because as the series has grown and developed over the years, the aesthetics have further developed and the visual style has changed as well. It’s really cool – when you listen to the four movement symphony that Chad has so lovingly arranged, it changes character, but there a little things in each movement that are consistent… threads that flow through each one that remind you that this is all taking place in the same universe. Different time, different people, but it’s all tied together and it’s the concept of the Goddesses that exist outside of what is happening in the land of Hyrule that hold it all together. They’ve been “up there” since day one, watching it unfold, and… that’s the long, crazy, emphatic answer.
Williams: No you hit it right on – you mention that the four movements are essentially telling a story in the Zelda Symphony. The four games being Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, Ocarina of Time, Link to the Past?
Moore/Seiter: Yep, those are them!
Williams: Are these the main stories in the timeline? How are you able to fit other snippets of other Zelda games into this main timeline?
Seiter: Well, we actually don’t do that – the thing about the symphony is an actual, honest to goodness four-movement symphony where all the themes are organized in actual symphonic form. What’s cool about this is each movement tells a story as if you were watching a film or listening to a film score. So movement one is the Ocarina of Time, where it tells the story of that game from beginning to end. Movement two is Wind Waker, and it does the same thing all the way to movement four. We have a recap at the end of movement four of the main theme to remind everyone of why they are here. We thought if we were to include all kinds of other material, it would sound unorganized and disjointed and I personally thought it would sound cheesy. I wanted this to be a really tight story. We spent a lot of time designing the story we were going to tell with the music. We went through the music of all the games…probably every single track, and started organizing them. As I started writing I knew…‘Alright movement four is going to be about 12 minutes long’. It ended up being 12 minutes and 30 seconds, so I just cut things as I go. We found creative ways of how to tell the story of Link to the Past, which ended up being my favorite movement.
Moore: Bear in mind that being fans, it was easy for us to sit back and think of the elements that were most important to us in order to tell the story. With A Link to the Past, being a semi-early console title, there wasn’t a lot of music to choose from, simply due to hardware limitations and how the music was implemented, so we were able to coil that down into something tight and succinct. With the other games, some of those themes from A Link to the Past make appropriate reprisals, and so we made a series of difficult decisions where and when we’d actually introduce those themes. With Princess Zelda’s theme, you hear that at the beginning of the show in the Overture, and sprinkled throughout the rest of the evening, but we don’t really give it to you until the fourth movement, A Link to the Past, because for Chad and I that was the ideal version, and that was the game where her theme was first introduced.
Seiter: That was my favorite game. But going back to all the content, we knew there would be a lot of music that people were going to want to hear that didn’t make the cut into the story that were either from other Zelda games or were from other parts of the game that didn’t have anything to do with the story. So we designed the show to have interludes throughout. At the beginning, there’s one in the middle and of course the encores, which are the most popular/highly requested. It’s a lot of fun to do it that way. As a result, I think we get a lot of positive feedback from audience members on how organized the show is and how well it flows.
Williams: The way each movement transitions into the other – is that a metaphor of how the timeline exists between each story? Or is that not the way you designed the symphony? If a Link to the Past is the very first movement and it leads up to Ocarina of Time or the second movement, is that a representation…
Moore: Well, you’re referring to release chronology versus the narrative timeline. Sure, A Link to the Past came out before Ocarina of Time, but it’s actually further in the timeline, so we made that the final movement, a fittingly nostalgic, triumphant finale.
Seiter: It was the first Zelda game that I was finally smart enough to be able to beat.
Williams: What’s your favorite Zelda game?
Seiter: Definitely Link to the Past.
Moore: I have a favorite one for every generation, so that’s not saying a whole lot. But my top three are A Link to the Past, The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess.
Williams: No Skyward Sword?
Moore: Skyward Sword is great, don’t get me wrong. I finished it, I just haven’t lived with it long enough.
Williams: Did you ever play the Zelda CD-I games?
Seiter and Moore (laughing): Ahh…
Seiter (laughing): Totally different…
Moore (laughing): We try not to talk that about those…
Seiter (smiling): Those are not here in the show.
Moore (laughing): Surprise Encore… Faces of Evil!
Williams: So you’re back in Texas – the tour kicked off in Dallas. That show sold out at least a month or two in advance. Coming back to Texas, you’re here for the next three weeks. You have your show here in Austin, and two shows in Houston. What’s your reception of the Texas crowd towards Zelda? How did the crowd in Dallas react when you first kicked off the tour? Do you hope to achieve that same anticipation and excitement when you’re performing here and in Houston?
Seiter: It’s important to note that this is a much bigger show than our Dallas show. It’s almost twice as long I would say.
Moore: Is it?
Seiter: Almost. We’ve added a lot of music based on the feedback we were getting. The Dallas show was a great orchestra and a great program, but I’m much more proud of what we will see here tonight as we have grown and perfected the concert and its presentation. I think it will be really evident tonight how solid it has become.
Williams: And you’re working with the Austin Symphony Orchestra – how has it been in comparison to other shows, like say…Vancouver?
Seiter: We use local musicians everywhere we go. What I’m proud of is that every local orchestra brings a different kind of flavor and passion. What sounds phenomenal here is great… but in another orchestra, it’s the woodwinds that shine…and in another orchestra, it’s the brass, and in this orchestra it’s the strings that shine. They all bring something to the table. I haven’t been disappointed yet – they all are really spectacular players. I’m really happy that we get to do this. The players have five hours of rehearsal time. They’ve never seen the music before.
Williams: Sight reading at its finest.
Seiter (agreeing): Sight reading at its finest. Tonight, you’ll hear Majora’s Mask, and they’ll have only played it once. So they spent a total of… how long is the piece?
Moore: I think 6 and a half minutes.
Seiter: About 6 minutes is all we spent on that piece… and one play through. It was spectacular, so we moved on. I’m proud that all these orchestras are local and we get to provide to local economies and support symphony musicians in a waning field.
Williams: Music, especially gaming music, tries to provide an emotional connection. The industry has been trying to connect a player with a character in the game. Orchestral members are used to playing music for film…
Seiter: They usually play symphonic works. A few of our orchestras, like the orchestra we used in Los Angeles, was mostly constructed of all my best friends, because I do a lot of work in film and television. I’ve worked with them for the past ten years. They’re some of the finest musicians on the planet, so it was fun to bring the show to Los Angeles. I constructed the perfect orchestra.
Williams: And that was for the E3 showing?
Seiter: Yea, this year at The Greek (Reference to the ‘Greek Theatre’).
Williams: I was really sad I didn’t get a chance to see that.
Seiter: I would say that was in the upper echelons of our better performances.
Williams: That’s awesome that you use local artists – how do you find them in other areas with cities you might not know of as much?
Seiter: I have several different ways of doing it. Sometimes I have connections in the cities. Sometimes when I don’t know the city, I will look up local orchestras there and check iTunes for recordings that they’ve done and feel it out to see which one would work best for what we’re presenting. Sometimes I use what’s called a ‘pickup orchestra’, where I hire one guy to put together the musicians. It’s ‘our’ custom-built orchestra tailored specifically for the show, similar to what I did in Los Angeles as I had mentioned. Markets I don’t know as well or don’t have connections to, I will go with the local orchestras.
Williams: Does Nintendo provide any musical assistance to you?
Moore: Yes, Nintendo is really proud of this concert and they’ve been absolutely involved. Koji Kondo and his team have had their eyes on everything we’ve done. In some cases, they’ve provided notes and suggestions. Amazingly, nothing has come back with red marks all over it. Just gentle fixes or providing deeper understanding into what Kondo-san originally intended, which we don’t have the privilege of always knowing. The music that you’re hearing in Symphony of the Goddesses is interpretive, but we’ve tried to interpret it in the most authentic and faithful way possible. We wanted to make it bigger and better than you’ve ever heard it. As a child, I could only imagine what the music would sound like if played by an orchestra, and I knew that Chad felt the same way. Producing this concert has provided an opportunity to actually see that dream to fruition. Of course, getting to work with the guys who actually helped to mold and create the property has been unreal. Eiji Aonuma has also been very involved. All of their feedback has just been priceless. The spirit that they pour into the games is definitely felt in what we’ve been able to do in the show.
Williams: The opportunity to get a chance to work on this production… I’m sure you’re both very skillful in music production and music arrangement. What’s your background of how you got into music? Where did you first find your love of music and how did you see it come to fruition?
Moore (staring at Seiter): You start!
Seiter: I grew up playing video games and Zelda for 25 years. My first video game was Super Mario Bros. when I was just a tiny little lad. I always loved video games and always played them way more than I should have. As I grew, I discovered I loved orchestras and loved listening to orchestras. I just listened to so much classical music, and then eventually I started listening to film scores and musicals. Eventually it made sense for me to turn music into my business. It was around my freshman year of high school that I started writing original music. I went to college and eventually said…’I’m gonna get going on this’, so I moved to Los Angeles to work in film, television, video games…you name it. I’ve been training for so many years. I worked on TV shows where I had the privilege of working with an orchestra…a couple of times a week sometimes, which is a very rare opportunity since TV/music is mostly synthesized. I called it a boot camp essentially – we all called it a boot camp, where we would just try things and learn from our mistakes because TV is a field where you can make a lot of mistakes and no one notices. From there, people started asking ‘Was it hard to put this together musically? What was the hardest part?’ I always say, ‘It really wasn’t hard because I feel like I’ve been working on this project for 25 years.’ From the beginning, I’ve been listening to these themes my entire life. At some point I started visualizing ‘What if I heard it this way?’ What you guys are hearing is very interpretive from the originals in the sense of I’m showing you guys how it made me feel. As a composer, if I’m not telling you a story and making you feel something, I didn’t do my job right. What you’re experiencing is how I felt like…getting drawn into the Dark World…that’s my favorite moment of the whole thing!
Moore: Wind Fish?
Seiter: Ballad of the Wind Fish because in Link’s Awakening, the theme comes together across a variety of different instruments. So I made it trade around the orchestra – the melody and everything. You’re just hearing years of pent up Chad, intellectualizing Zelda music in the nerdiest way possible.
Williams: Your portrayal of how you see the music, would you say it’s very similar to what you hope the audience feels? As a composer, you said you want to be able to let the audience know how you felt. Is it your job to make them feel something different?
Seiter: I think it’s a combination. But there’s also knowing how to tell a story correctly. For example – my favorite thing about the Zelda Symphony is the Ganon and Ganondorf battles. In every game, Link reaches Ganon and the listener needs to know, ‘This is the scariest moment of his life…this is a defining moment.’ Musically, I can screw that up, so I work hard not to. I want you to feel like this is the scariest moment of Link’s life because if you are not on the edge of your seat, again…I didn’t do my job right. I want to draw you into it and want you to feel the relief of Ganon’s defeat. I always have a little thing in there…this little triumphant, victorious thing and I always work it in the main theme or whatever is representing Link in that game. I always try to get that in there. I think it really shows and it makes a really great performance that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Williams: Yes – agree with the emotional connection to the audience. Jeron, how did you come about in your musical fruition?
Moore: You know much like Chad, I grew up listening to music. I can attribute to my parents. I was listening to video game music, and before I understood what a soundtrack CD was, my parents had me watching Fantasia and loving that. As Walt Disney intended, that was an introduction to classical music for me. Of course, I had some odd introductions to film music. At 7 or 8 years old, my sister introduced me John Barry’s score from the film Out of Africa, which he had won an Academy Award for. It’s a gorgeous score – if you haven’t heard it, do yourself a favor and check it out. That said, it’s not really the kind of album you’d think a 7-year old would fall in love with.
Seiter: It’s funny he mentions that because I also loved Out of Africa. Part of the reason the show sounds the way it does is because of understanding how music is recorded and sounds. (Turns to Moore). It’s funny you mention that because one of my Recording Engineers throughout the years recorded Out of Africa… way back when. He’s the one who taught me how music is supposed to sound when it’s recorded.
Moore (laughing): …and I didn’t know that!
Williams (laughing): You always learn something new.
Moore: Definitely – as a young film geek, cinephile, and soundtrack nerd I soon discovered that all the movies that I really loved, cheesy or not… Total Recall… dare I say Supergirl with Helen Slater… The Ghost and The Darkness, First Knight, any number of Star Trek entries… I kept coming back to these movies and realized that they weren’t all great movies, but they all had great scores. Oddly, it turns out the same guy that wrote the music for all those movies was Jerry Goldsmith.
Seiter: Who is my favorite composer!
Moore: Of course, Chad and I really connected on that level – having a love for Jerry’s music.
Seiter: You hear a lot of Jerry Goldsmith’s influences in the music of the show. When we did our E3 performance at The Greek, what was funny was many of my orchestra members had played on all of Jerry Goldsmith’s scores over so many years since the 60’s. Many of them came up to me and said, ‘I see what you did there…’
Moore: One of the great pleasures Chad and I had. Side note: as an early twenty-something, I’d actually had a rare privilege during college while living in Los Angeles. A good friend of mine, who was orchestrating and conducting for Jerry at the time, invited me to several of Jerry’s scoring sessions (The Last Castle, The Sum of All Fears)… unknowingly at the time, a couple of his final films before the industry lost him in 2004. I actually had a chance to sit behind the man himself as well as his recording engineer, Bruce Botnick…
Seiter: Who recorded our Zelda album!
Moore: Ah, you stole my thunder!
Williams (excited): Ahhhhh!
Moore: After being away for several years, upon moving back to Los Angeles and jumpstarting Zelda Symphony, Chad and I got to hire Bruce. Full circle for me, to have met him as a college student, then getting to come back, hire him, and see him apply the same mastery as when he worked with Jerry… that’s just crazy and…
Seiter: It’s the coolest thing ever.
Williams: A very tightly knit industry it sounds like.
Seiter: It is.
Williams: Have you had any other influences in your own musical career that you’ve gotten a chance to work with?
Seiter: I have to give a lot of credit to a man named Michael Giacchino, who won an Academy Award a year or two ago for the score to Up. Michael fully trained me and made me the musician I am. I’m proud to call him my friend. Without him, this show probably wouldn’t be happening as it is currently.
Williams: Jeron, what about for you? Koji Kondo? Have you all ever interacted with him directly?
Moore: Yea, actually I wasn’t able to go to Tokyo for the 25th Anniversary Symphony. I was too busy prepping the Los Angeles and London shows that followed shortly after. But Chad and our colleague Jason went and got to sit through all the rehearsals and go get sushi and hang out.
Seiter: I have a cell phone picture of me and Kondo-san sitting next to each other reading a score. It’s one of my favorite photos.
Moore: I had met Kondo-san previously a couple of times before in the company of Nobuo Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda, Yuzo Koshiro, Jeremy Soule and a bunch of other guys who had made guest appearances at Play! A Video Game Symphony, the other show that I produce with Jason Michael Paul. I did not get to see him again until he made his surprise appearance with Eiji Aonuma for the 25th Anniversary Symphony in LA. They then flew with us to London and did the same thing there. It was a lot of fun, working alongside them to present this wonderful music.
Williams: It would be an honor to meet Kondo-san in person. So some of you got to go to Tokyo and experience it out there – Zelda is obviously a very big franchise out there. Did you ever get a chance to interact with the Nintendo of Japan team as well as Nintendo of America? Iwata and Reggie?
Seiter: I don’t know if we really ever interfaced with… well we met them.
Moore: We’ve all met them – and Reggie was at the E3 unveiling.
Seiter: He was?
Moore: Yeah! Two E3’s ago, when we did the Overture… the surprise performance with the orchestra rising from the floor.
Williams: Awesome – you all have given me some great answers. I have one more question. I’m very much interested in hearing more about how you try to tell the story of Zelda to the audience. The audience in Austin – some of them will be non-gamers and may not know of Zelda. What is your goal when you try and arrange the story together in a way that can tell non-gamers about the greatness that is the Legend of Zelda? Is it in the same way you try and tell gamers?
Seiter: When we started trying to tell the story, we never really thought about it so much. We just wanted to tell a story and tell it correctly – we knew that the Zelda fans would love it. But what we came to find as we moved along was that everyone loved this. For me, classical and symphonic music was an important part of my life growing up. I love it that a lot of people who have played the games want to come hear the music performed live. What I like even more is people are coming to our shows who don’t know what Zelda is. Someone might bring their kid and they’re going to love it. I had mentioned Michael Giacchino earlier… he had never played a Zelda game before, yet he was at our show at The Greek, and said he loved it. If you tell a story correctly, everyone’s going to understand it. One of the things that our show provides is a clear understanding of the main story that we’re trying to tell… which is the relationship between Link, Zelda, Ganon and the Triforce. We can’t touch on every single little topic, but we make sure that the story is clear. People coming in not knowing what the Triforce was, leave knowing what it is.
Williams: It sounds like you give them an overview to entice them enough to go find out on their own more about the Zelda franchise.
Moore: I’ve seen that. I’ve seen guys who bring their girlfriends, where the girlfriends have only watched them play Zelda, asking…’Why do you spend so much time doing this?’ Then after the show, they’re hyped up, saying ‘I’m ready to go play a Zelda game’…and that’s cool. Somehow, this love that we’ve infused in the music is infectious. I think that’s a real testament to the franchise and Kondo-san and his team. Of course, we’re just grateful and honored to be able to do this at all.
Williams: Well, I am very excited for tonight’s show and I do hope that gamers and non-gamers alike will become excited about what is to come in the next couple of hours. I do especially hope that non-gamers who don’t know about the Legend of Zelda turn into fans, so they can realize how great this franchise is. It’s through the great work that you two do, as well as the rest of the Nintendo team…that makes us gamers and others around the world happy. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to interview you all. Thanks for coming to Austin – hopefully you can come down again soon.
Moore: Thanks Matt!
Seiter: Thank you, Matt – see you in Houston!