Revolutions and Revelations
One thing I’ve never run across during my trips around our Sun is anyone who did not like music. Sure, there’s forms of music we may not care for; but I’ve never heard someone say “I just don’t care to listen to music.”
Like you, dear Reader, I too have my own favorites as well as genres that I don’t particularly care for. I even shake my head at the occasional song where I wonder how that group or individual managed to get a recording contract. Other times I’ll witness a phenomenal street musician who absolutely, positively should be given a contract on the spot. Life sure is funny.
Music, I feel, is the most emotive form of human communication, even surpassing the written word. With words you run into language barriers, misinterpretation and confusion. Music is the mathematics of sound. Mathematics is the language of the Universe. It’s why we sent music into space with the NASA Pioneer probes back in the 70’s. That said, let us hope that whatever alien life discovers those probes listens to the musical genius of J.S. Bach (Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F, First Movement) or Chuck Berry (Johnny B. Goode) before they tune into any current TV show starting with the words “Housewives of…”. Otherwise we are all dead.
I have significant appreciation for music in the areas of movies and video games. I feel music in video games has evolved in leaps and bounds from the original 8-bit bleeps, boops and the occasional p-tew! of a ship firing lasers from the original Galaga, Pong and Nintendo games. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m not much of a gamer. But I do enjoy the music from a number of video games. I’m going to outline several of them here, with some insightful contributions from my sons. I’ll also be including some music from a few of my favorite movies. I would encourage you to watch the YouTube videos and judge for yourself. You may find something new you never knew you would like!
Chevaliers de Sangreal by Hans Zimmer from the movie “The Da Vinci Code” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5FyRZbqfeM
In this piece we have an unmistakably classic Hans Zimmer orchestration using his signature style of slow, sweeping strings as the backdrop for violin arpeggios that build and crescendo as our hero Robert Langdon experiences a significant epiphany near the end of the movie. Listening to this piece with headphones on and eyes closed makes me feel like I’m being guided through doorways and passages much like Dante was guided by Virgil and revealed things beyond wonder. It’s a magnificent composition I could listen to over and over that exudes hope and discovery and a sense of amazement. 
Exchange of Courtesies – by Takeharu Ishimoto from the video game “Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3Ax8aUFN7w
At only 1:07 in length this quartet of strings from FFVII:CC is one of my favorite pieces and still remains one of my boys’ favorite games to revisit. It was with FFVII:CC that I began to discover how intricate video game music was becoming and how the music was woven into the game almost as a secondary character helping tell the story. This brief, staccato piece is used twice in the game and is intended to be a song of friendship between the characters Zack, Cloud and Cissnei. I find the piece to be reminiscent of poignant moments in life that we carry with us, albeit brief yet memorable with the song ending as abruptly as it begins. 
All Along the Watch Tower – by Bear McCreary from “Battlestar Galactica” (2004 – 2009) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUchAD44xA8
This remake of the Jimi Hendrix / Bob Dylan classic tale of the Joker and the Thief becomes both a shifting point and a cornerstone of the updated Battlestar Galactica at the end of season three and is crafted by one of my favorite contemporary composers, Bear McCreary (graduate of USC and whose credits also include music from the TV shows The Walking Dead and Outlander).
Using a Drop C tuning and Eastern scales and modes to create a menacing, malevolent feel, McCreary cleverly ties together an eclectic array of instruments ranging from sitar, Taiko drums, heavy distorted guitar power chords and fretless Bass to provide the viewer/listener a feeling of confusion, disorientation and obfuscation. In the show, five of the primary characters separately discover a dark secret about themselves and then each other as the song drones in the background. I distinctly recall watching with my sons and being blown away by the reveal in this season ending episode that climaxes with the song. The main riff becomes a recurring element through the series finale and remains a favorite. 
At World’s End Suite (Will and Elizabeth) – by Hans Zimmer from the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean – At World’s End https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKxwXUXDTv0
What better setting for a love story than treachery on the high seas battling the East India Trading Company, firing canons, deep sea monsters, Davy Jones himself and of course swashbuckling Pirates?
Here again we see the brilliance of Hans Zimmer using adagio strings that allow a single violin playing a simple yet heartbreaking melody which swoons the listener. It encapsulates the moment where Will and Elizabeth are married among sheer chaos only to be separated except for one day every ten years. Zimmer transitions seamlessly to pounding drums, sweeping strings mixed with horns and baritone choir chants that make one feel as if they’re on the bow of the Black Pearl with sea spray splashing their face. It’s a triumphant song fit to soften the heart of even the most scurvy of Pirates.
Since they’re closer to the video game arena, I asked my sons to come up with a single song they find significant to them and try to put some words around why. Here’s what each of them submitted:
“Mother, I’m Here” (Zulf’s Theme) – By Darren Korb from the Video game Bastion
In Bastion, you, the player, meet and befriend a character named Zulf. Your character and Zulf are different races, but become friends due to a catastrophic event which has devastated the world. As the game progresses, you discover the country Zulf hails from has survived the calamity and were the ones behind the world’s demise. Zulf – wanting to side with his people – betrays you and steals a critical artifact related to the storyline. Of course, being a video game, you are tasked with going after him to recover the item. You travel to the enemies’ homeland were Zulf has retreated, and begin wreaking havoc against their forces.
After you recover the item, you discover that Zulf’s people have turned on him and are angry that he has unintentionally led you to their homeland. At this point, you are given a choice. You can either abandon your weapons or carry Zulfs unconscious body back with you. Or you can continue and fight your way out. Should you choose to bring Zulf you, this track plays. The theme of Zulf, a man who only wanted to do what was best for his people, and, frankly just wanted to go home. As you move through the rest of the level, the enemy forces stop attacking you; paying respect to your valiant efforts and allowing you to move through unharmed.
Listening to this song brings me a feeling of melancholy and sadness; sadness for a broken man, a man who believed he was doing the right thing. A man who felt obligated to betray his friends, and for the journey it took me to get to that point in the game.
Note: Additionally, after completing the game, this theme is combined with the theme of one of the other main characters, and plays during the credits.
Music, in my opinion, is the outward expression of our inward emotions. It is hard to explain happiness, sadness and anger. These complex feelings can be relayed better through music, rather than words. The emotion that I want to focus on doesn’t really have a word, but if I had to choose one, it would be ‘goodbye’. Not the sort of goodbye that you say to your friends after a night out or the farewell after a family gathering. This is the goodbye that you never want to say. Rather than explain this feeling to you, I will give an example from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
In order to set the stage, I will have to spoil the end of the game. You have been warned.
The Legend of Zelda is an extremely popular franchise, dating back to the original NES (Nintendo Entertainment System). In each story, you traverse the land as the hero, Link. Along your journey you meet friends, vanquish evil and save the day. In the Zelda franchise, it is typical that the main character never speaks. Instead, the writers give a companion to Link, having them be his voice in the context of the story.
At the beginning of the game, Link takes up the ‘Goddess Sword’ which is a blade that receives its power from the Goddess Hylia. The power of this sword is amplified when it is raised skyward, pointing towards the heavens (Hence the title, Skyward Sword). The blade has another unique trait as well. In order to aid the hero on their quest, the Goddess has given the blade a living conscience. As Link wields the Goddess Sword, the voice within introduces itself as Fi. Throughout the remainder of the game, Fi becomes a mentor, a guide and a friend to Link. Together they solve puzzles, rescue the innocent and purge evil from the land.
At the conclusion of the game, the Goddess Sword (which has now become the Master Sword) must be returned to its pedestal to await the next hero. As Link drives the sword back into its resting place, Fi once again speaks to him. The purpose that was given to Fi has been completed. This is the last time that Link will be able to speak to Fi, before she goes into an eternal sleep. The song that I have chosen, “Fi’s Farewell”, begins to play as she says her final goodbye.
“I do not have the capability to fully understand the human spirit, Link…but now, at the end of my journey with you, as I prepare to sleep within the Master Sword forever, I experience a feeling I am unable to identify. I lack sufficient data to be sure of my conclusion, but I believe this feeling correlates closest to what your people call…happiness”
“Our partnership is at an end, and even as we speak, I feel my consciousness fading away. Before I enter the sleep that calls me to the sword, I wish to relay to you words that I recorded many times over the course of our journey.”
“…thank you, Master Link…may we meet again in another life…”
For my song I chose, “Sanctuary” by Utada Hikaru; from the video game Kingdom Hearts 2.
My favorite lyric from the song is, “My Sanctuary, where fears and lies melt away”.
Caution: Spoilers ahead!
This is my favorite song of any game I have played because I feel it encompasses what it truly means to be human because Sora sacrifices himself to save worlds, but does it primarily for his friends. It’s in this moment he understands himself, as he’s lost everything yet will pay the ultimate price in an attempt to get it back.
Currently at this point in the game, the main character; Sora has lost his best friend Riku (male) to the darkness (who willingly gave himself to it), and the capture of his other friend/love Kairi (female) and the destruction of his home world; losing everything dear to him.
Throughout this adventure, Sora comes to find new friends who are in the same situation about their king, and that this “darkness” is taking over multiple worlds. He finds the love of others, friendship, courage, doing what is right, but most of all finds the importance of being true to himself.
As you can see dear Reader, the beeps, boops and bonks of the video games my generation grew up playing have given way to full blown thematic orchestrations that – in my opinion – rival even the works of the Classical Masters. Reading the posts from my sons, it’s important to note these songs are a part of the fabric of their childhood and they have brought the memories of these songs with them during their own revolutions around the sun. These are songs that move them deeply and truly touch them at an almost spiritual level.
So much like the nostalgia some might feel hearing “Over the Rainbow”, recalling the fond memories watching Dorothy’s adventure to OZ with wide-eyes and in glorious Technicolor, our children will carry with them the memories of playing these incredible games, hearing the music and again becoming part of the story as one of their favorite characters, remembering how being (or following) that champion or villain made them feel, and taking them back to the first time when it was all brand new.
Shall we play a game?
 I highly recommend also listening to the entire soundtrack of the movie “The Village” by James Newton Howard as well. Spectacular violin work.
 “Under the Apple Tree” is another favorite of mine. Worth the listen.
 “An Easterly View” from the season 4 finale is an absolute masterpiece. Placed in the context of the show, it’s a heartbreaking piece between two of the main characters, Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) and Laura Roselin (Mary McDonnell)
 Also check out the Davy Jones theme at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UfT0jVzNkw. I also paid homage to this piece which you can enjoy at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZGzOLl9AN0&list=PL0VLigSSpa1RVhRo0j-4ZmFcA2TBfI8nR