UMD Gamer Symphony Orchestra attracts students interested in both music and video games

IMG_6917By Charlotte Dulany

The University of Maryland’s Gamer Symphony Orchestra (GSO) performed orchestral arrangements of video game music to a packed house April 21.

The orchestra performed music from a variety of genres, including pieces from Kirby, Journey, Monster Hunter, Maple Story and more.

This is the first time GSO has hosted two dates for their spring concert, as tickets for one-day performances, in past years, have sold out in the Dekelboum Concert Hall.

The GSO is a student-run ensemble is assembled of over 100 musicians, including 30 singers, devoted to performing orchestral arrangements of video game music and using it as an educational tool.

GSO was founded in 2005 and attracts students with an interest in both video games and music. They have played to packed houses four years in a row, have performed twice at the Smithsonian American Art Museum as part of their Art of Video Games exhibit, and again in the Watch This! Revelations in Media Art series.

IMG_6897“We’re not looking for potential members with excellent musical ability, but more of a community,” sophomore chemical engineering major Hojin Yoon said.

Yoon joined GSO his freshman year when he talked to club members at the First Look Fair.

“I knew I liked video games and music, so this seemed like a perfect fit,” Yoon said.

Yoon is now GSO’s secretary on their officer board and saxophonist. GSO’s rehearsals run two hours a week, and four hours a week in the time leading up to a performance.

“It is stressful to balance GSO with academics, but as long as you enjoy what you study and what you do outside of the classroom, everything will work out,” Yoon said.IMG_6904

Senior computer engineering major Eileen Liu started playing piano from a very young age, and found GSO when a friend recommended she join her freshman year. “We have a lot of heart, and you can hear that in the music,” said Liu.

Many GSO members have not formally studied music. For Cecelia Vetter, graduate student of the Master of Library & Information Science iSchool, it all began in fourth grade when her parents told her to pick a string instrument and she chose the biggest one she could find: the cello.

Now, playing the cello comes second nature to Vetter. “It is an intimate instrument that I’ve played for over ten years, and the way it feels when I play is very calming,” said Vetter, who is now co-director of the cello section.

The appeal of an entirely student-led orchestra is what draws many members  in as well.

“Everyone is here for the music and to have fun, not to be assessed,” Vetter said. “Sometimes rehearsal is more fun than the concerts because we’re all friends just hanging out playing music we like.”

IMG_6903Potential members are encouraged to sit in on rehearsal, and being a video game fanatic is not a requirement. Vetter, someone who has never found interest in video games, found appreciation for the culture through the music — though she does not think she’ll start gaming anytime soon.

For Chase Frederick, senior computer science major, the blend of video games and music is what the orchestra is all about.

“I have put a lot of myself into this group, and it is rewarding to see our work culminate into something so special,” Frederick said.

Frederick is a choir director in GSO who knew he wanted to join the orchestra before he began his freshman year at this university. He saw a link to one of GSO’s performances on a video game remix site, and was “instantly hooked.”

Frederick also arranged pieces for the ensemble, such as Smiles and Tears from Earthbound and Big Arms from Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles which have often brought him to tears in his performances.

“As much as we are an ensemble, we are also a social group where anyone can grow and completely be themselves.”

“You don’t have to play the video game to appreciate the music in this laid-back, quirky community,” sophomore mechanical engineering major and violinist Elizabeth Childs said.

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