SonyUK Game Music Recording Session Experience with the RPO and University of Suffolk

Grace Harman Music

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On the 21st of December 2018, Suffolk Youth Orchestra members got the unique experience of recording video game music, written by students at the University of Suffolk. Throughout the day we were mentored by Royal Philharmonic Orchestra musicians, and here is my take on what happened…

We arrived at 10am, ready for a fun-filled day. First things first, we had a brief talk with the organiser and one of the teachers at Suffolk University, about what the students had been studying and how they created these parts for us to play. She said, “the students studied John Williams and a bit of Hans Zimmer, and this is where their inspiration was taken from”. She further added that the music was going to be recorded using microphones placed around the room and would further be modified and edited by the students in post-production. We also got to have a listen to the piece beforehand, as the music students played the composition through the program ‘Sibelius’. 

After our meeting, we started sectional rehearsals on the music. The trombones, French horns, tuba and trumpets were together. The trumpet section had one part, for six players, and I was leading the others. At first glimpse, the part was jam packed with flourishes. For example, the dynamics were intricate, and articulation was finely placed. In terms of the trumpet part, there was a section where a minim was ‘piano’, which was followed by a semibreve at ‘mezzo piano’. This section had to be played with intelligence, as it seemed that us trumpets needed to slowly crescendo and soar above the orchestra.  

As an orchestra, we played these small decorative ideas with great care, and followed the composer’s ideas and orders carefully. We worked on several parts of the music with a Royal Philharmonic horn player, Phil, who said he had worked on many professional film recordings, previously, so he understood the conditions we had to play under. One main aspect that we paid close attention to was projection and sound quality. Phil said that “as a brass player, you need to project your sound over the orchestra, and articulate notes carefully, as they might not appear through a microphone”. This is understandable, as brass instruments in film and video game music often resembles heroic and ferocious scenes. Obviously, one of the most famous examples is the “Star Wars” theme, by John Williams, as the piece begins with a trumpet fanfare, to engage and excite the audience, and the music we were playing reminded me of this idea. 

After our sectional rehearsal, and a quick break, we gathered together as a full orchestra, to run though the piece, and eventually record it. I absolutely loved the piece, especially as you could feel it telling a story. The music started with strings playing tremelo, then a strong wind section entered with loud triplets and crotchets. Slowly the texture became denser, until the music suddenly turned more playful and bright, with a Horn melody dominating the piece. In the middle of the piece, a more legato melody was heard, once again on the horn, showing a more delicate and calm side to the story, before it raced to the end, for a big finish, in which the whole orchestra played off-beat semiquavers simultaneously. 

At 12 noon it was time to record. The members of Suffolk University suggested we play it through three times, for us as an orchestra to nail the piece, and the students to get the mixing and audio correct. There were some things we had to do differently, when recording for a video game. For example, we had to watch like hawks to stay in time with the conductor’s baton, as one beat out of time, and we had lost the whole piece. Also, at the end of the music, we had to stay still and not more for about 5 seconds, to allow for delay and editing room for the University students. This was exciting, and all part of the fun!
Overall, it was a very exciting and fun day, and I am very grateful that I got the opportunity to try something new, that I hadn’t got the chance to do before.

Thank you very much to the University of Suffolk students and staff, and all the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra members, for their mentoring and help to make this happen!

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