Last month, Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions came through New York City, drawing swarms of nerds, nerdlings, and nerd families (myself included) to Madison Square Garden. Navigating through a swarm of young, excited kids and aging Pokémon masters, I eventually reached my seat. My inner child exploded and dopamine rushed from my pituitary gland as the familiar notes from the Pokémon menu screen rushed from a live symphony of trained, professional musicians.
I've heard the tune thousands of times, since I first slid a Pokémon Blue cartridge into my Gameboy Pocket when I was four. Two decades later we're both grown up, as I get to write professionally about my love for these pocket monsters, and conductor Susie Seiter—dressed in a Professor Oak-style white lab coat—conducts the Orchestra at St. Luke’s through songs with names like "Pallet Town" and “Friends, Fights and Finales,” forming a chronological timeline of Pokéventures.
Chad Seiter interpreted and composed all the songs his wife conducted from the Madison Square Garden stage. He and creative producer Jeron Moore listened to every single song in the Pokémon catalog. It was "not an easy undertaking," the composer tells The Creators Project—in order to get a feel for the emotions and narrative of the score. Moore and Chad played the games for hours on end and watched footage of other players for hours more, cherry picking the pivotal moments from Pokémon Red and Blue, all the way through X and Y. Think getting your first Pokémon, encountering Teams Rocket, Magma, or Plasma, and fighting near-mythological battles with the likes of Red, Wallace, and N.
At first, my personal investment in the narrative peaked during Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal—my favorite games in spite of the frenzy around the original 151 Pokémon characters—but seeing the values of hard work, friendship, and loyalty threaded throughout more than 20 different iterations awakened a newfound appreciation for the stories that new Pokémaniacs will grow up with. Which is exactly what the team was going for. "I would ask myself, what signifies the core experience this music represents?" explains Moore. "Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and encapsulating the moments that tie a person's memory of the music, to their visual and tactile experience with the actual game, is the ultimate mission."
Lofty goals aside, the strongest thing Pokémon Symphonic Evolutions has going for it is that the Seiters and Moore get the games. "It's all about Catch, Battle, Trade," Chad says. "Finding a way to really capture the essence of those things; the sense of adventure, companionship, character growth, the challenges faced—without being overbearing on any one particular element, for instance, too many battles (easy to do) vs. not featuring enough story or other aspects—that was the most challenging part."
The music, both fresh and familiar, reinforces the first impression and makes it universal. Susie, who has also taken a Legend of Zelda symphony on tour with her husband and Moore, says, "I believe an audience that is not used to symphonic music still craves the same thing that regular symphony attendees crave: stimulating orchestrations and beautiful melodies. I also encourage all audiences to cheer and react so that they’re enjoying the experience as a community."
Video game music has a passionate following among gamers—just check out chiptune punk outfits like Kirby's Dream Band or read the YouTube comments on these gaming classics—but seeing my childhood obsession validated in Madison Square Garden feels great on the scale of how Star Wars fans reacted when Star Wars: In Concert started touring the orchestral circuit back in 2009. And it feels good.
Listen to an exclusive preview of the Pokémon Symphonic Evolutions, a skin-prickling overture based on the original Pokémon menu screen music, below:
Pokémon Symphonic Evolutions is currently touring the United States, with dates planned through February 5, 2016 and further performances planned in Europe. Find your town's performance on the official Pokémon website.