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Originally published Monday, January 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Seattle Symphony playing with video games

I have a gaming chair. It cost about $20. Do you think I could get the Seattle Symphony to install one for me in Benaroya Hall? That's where the Symphony will soon stage two performances of "Play! A Video Game Symphony."

Special to The Seattle Times

Concert preview

"Play! A Video Game Symphony" with conductor Arnie Roth and the Seattle Symphony, 7:30 p.m. Thursday and 1 p.m. Saturday, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $17-$95 (206-215-4747 or www.seattlesymphony .org). Note: Thursday's concert is sold out, but tickets for the Saturday show were available at press time.

I have a gaming chair. It cost about $20 on sale at Target. It's one of those butterfly-shaped plastic jobs you find in the dorm rooms of underperforming undergrads. I like it for one simple reason: I don't have to strain myself to hold up my head after six or so hours of nonstop gaming.

Do you think I could get the Seattle Symphony to install one for me in Benaroya Hall?

That's where the Symphony will soon stage two performances of "Play! A Video Game Symphony."

A video game ... symphony? So do the violinists who warm up with a little bit of Wagner's "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg" know that they'll soon be playing selections from "World of Warcraft" instead?

And from the gamer's perspective, why would anyone want to sit down for an evening at the Symphony, listening to music composed for video games, rather than, say, playing video games?

Obvious questions, yes. Find the answer in the popularity of "Play," a downright global phenomenon. It's been staged everywhere from Stockholm to Singapore.

The Seattle Symphony originally had one "Play" performance scheduled, but ticket demand outstripped supply, and they added a Saturday matinee.

So what's the appeal? Jason Paul, event organizer and producer, says these performances are "an experience to be shared with many other gaming fans." According to Paul, people enjoy these events because they take gamers out of their normal zone — say, their own personal gaming chairs — and bring the music to life in a new way.

The central appeal for gamers might simply be novelty, of listening to a chorus and a big, professional orchestra — soaring strings and booming drums — playing the songs they're used to hearing while collecting gold coins and shooting bad guys. A "Play" performance takes a recent phenomenon (when compared to 300-year-old classical compositions) and expresses it in a radically different way. Sort of like seeing Beyoncé singing Shakespearean sonnets.

The lineup of music from video games includes some all-time fan favorites that appear in almost every "Play" event, including music from "Final Fantasy," "The Legend of Zelda" and "Super Mario Bros.," among others. Along with a live performance, crowd-pleasing scenes from games are projected above the orchestra and choir. Evidently, this combo has caused audience members to break into standing ovations in other cities.

The Seattle shows will also pay homage to Marty O'Donnell, a Seattle resident and composer of the music for all three "Halo" games; O'Donnell is scheduled to attend the concerts. Paul says composer appearances are another part of the excitement, as fans get to be closer "to the luminaries who actually compose the music and work on the games."

Influential composer Jeremy Soule, who also lives in Seattle, will attend as well. The symphony will perform some of his compositions for the game "Oblivion" and from "Guild Wars." ("Wars" was developed by Bellevue-based company ArenaNet.)

Soule recently attended a "Play" performance in Chicago.

"What blew me away," Soule says, "was the level of enthusiasm the audience had for this music. People were singing along with the various melodies." He describes the dedication as similar to the most die-hard indie-rock fans. "It was very obvious that they knew my music as well as I did," he says.

Soule likes that the conventions of gaming are turned upside-down, with the music taking center stage rather than the visuals.

And, he adds laughing, "we all need to get out of the living room once in a while. I consider 'Play' to be the ultimate video-game surround system."

Jennifer Buckendorff is a frequent contributor to The Seattle Times.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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