What many people have probably suspected for a long time has been borne out in an audience study undertaken by London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra: younger listeners are gaining their first experiences of classical music through computer games.
The study found that 15 per cent of children aged six to 15 had “discovered classical music as a soundtrack to a computer game, with boys more likely to do so than girls”, writes The Independent. A similar proportion, 16 per cent, experienced classical music for the first time on YouTube. Encouragingly the study also found that 29 per cent of children had been introduced to orchestral music at school, although an alarming 32 per cent “said their school did not encourage them to learn a musical instrument”.
The study concludes that “film, gaming and online media were replacing the classroom, amid funding cuts, in nurturing an early interest in the world of orchestral music”, The Independent reports. It quotes RPO’s managing director James Williams as saying that many children in the study “have come to love the sound of the orchestra through the gaming experience”, and that “in the fast moving digital age, children are getting a myriad of opportunities to discover the genre through visual and online media”.
Now all this is highly interesting, and it may well be replicated broadly in the Australian experience. Outside the structured educational environment of piano lessons, classroom music and other formal music teaching, we can see that children are able to discover classical music through their own initiative – although of course they may not be able to name or categorise it as such.
What it also says is that context matters. One imagines that few of the children in RPO’s survey will have witnessed classical music in live in concert, and to reach out to them as a future audience might only be realistic and possible using platforms they are familiar with: screens and projected images.
Already there is Video Games Live (VGL), which began in the Hollywood Bowl in 2005. In this a live orchestra performs video game music to video footage and synchronised lighting and effects. It came to Australia in 2015, visiting Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. Then there was The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddess, which brings together a full orchestra and choir and accompanies it with images from The Legend of Zelda series of video games. It went to Sydney, Melbourne and Perth in 2017.
An Australian-themed video game concert initiative that played in Melbourne earlier this month is UnderSCORE. Described as “a symphony dedicated to Aussie games”, it featured a 24 piece orchestra playing soundtracks from Florence, RUMU, Hollow Knight, Hand of Fate and Earthlight.
One imagines much more could be done in this burgeoning sector. A watershed event was the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Video Games Unplugged concert in 2012, which presented scores from Final Fantasy, Assassins Creed 2, Uncharted 2, Bioshock 2, Secret of Mana and other games. The QSO repeated it in 2013. Since then, there have of course been many more such concerts by Australian orchestras. One view is that orchestras should not be wasting their time with such “ordinary” material as this, but the truth is that they need all the audiences they can get, and here is one golden opportunity.
How to actually connect with the intended audience is another challenge, and websites such as Video Games Live do list live concerts of video games music. Orchestras it includes are the LA Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Houston Symphony, Hollywood Bowl Symphony and the Pittsburgh Symphony, along with a good many outside the US such as the English Chamber Orchestra, Royal Scottish National and others in Sweden, Spain, Hungary, Germany, Czech Republic and Poland. But there is not one Australian orchestra in its listings – maybe it’s time to change that.