Towson alumni blend their love for video games, music

By: Daniel Kundrat, Contributing Writer
Screenshot by Meghan Hudson, Arts & Life Editor

The Baltimore Gamer Symphony Orchestra, a community orchestra from the Baltimore area, translates video game-music into orchestral scores. Filling these chairs are some of our Towson Tiger alums, from the BGSO media coordinator, Carrie Wood, to the conductor of the orchestra, Tad Howley.  

Wood graduated from Towson with her Bachelor’s in mass communication in 2011 and her master’s in professional writing in 2014. Aside from her academic experience, Wood was involved with the marching band and pep band, and even wrote for The Towerlight, eventually becoming arts editor and briefly editor-in-chief. 

“I’ve been playing video games ever since my mom hooked up her old Atari 2600 for me to play Frogger and Pac-Man on when I was a little kid,” Wood said.

She currently plays the bass guitar for BGSO and is an all-time multi-tasker on the team, running their social media accounts, creating flyers and ads, and even putting together the game footage that runs alongside their performances. Wood has been a part of the gamer experience since she was a child.

“My favorite piece that I’ve arranged and had performed is probably Bazelgeuse’s theme from ‘Monster Hunter World,'” said Wood. “Bazel is known as an ‘invading’ monster in the game, and he just kind of shows up out of nowhere and ruins your whole day – his theme has kind of an air raid siren quality to it, and it’s just super cool.

Howley graduated from Towson in the spring of 2018 with a degree in music. He has been in almost every ensemble one could think of at Towson. He spent time with the Symphonic Band, the Orchestra, the Trombone Ensemble, the Early Music Ensemble, and the World Music Ensembles. 

According to Howley, he had been aware of a Gamer Symphony Orchestra at University of Maryland since he was in middle school. He ended up attending a few of their concerts, which inspired him to start his own Gamer Orchestra in Towson.

“I found that several other members of the [TU] student body had been working on starting a Gamer Orchestra in Towson for some time,” he shared. “After struggling to get the project off the ground, we came across another group trying to start a Gamer Orchestra, this time based in the greater Baltimore community. These were mostly made up of alumni from the UMD orchestra, and their experience with that group became an invaluable asset. We ended up merging our efforts with them, and together founded the Baltimore Gamer Symphony Orchestra.”

According to Howley, he has honed his leadership skills from working with conductors of the ensembles he has been on, from the Symphonic Band to the Orchestra ensemble, using them as models for how to run rehearsals with the BGSO. 

“The biggest issue we run into is repertoire,” Howley said. “A lot of videogame soundtracks are composed and recorded electronically, and so full orchestral scores can be quite hard to come by.”

He now leads rehearsals, supervises repertoire selection, and as he puts it, waves a stick in a threatening manner. 

“The ending credits music from Star Fox 64 has been one of my favorite pieces since I was five years-old,” said Howley. “Getting to lead a performance of it from the podium was an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life.” 

Aside from the general bumps, they also find it difficult to play classical-game tunes that were composed 30 years ago from a sound card that could handle four tracks at the most. 

“To take a piece of music that only has four different parts and arrange it for a 50-piece orchestra kind of becomes a really complex math problem,” Wood said.

One might ask why an orchestra would play something so unorthodox to their very instruments?

“People tend to have a lot of strong memories attached to their favorite games, and hearing a piece of music from that game performed live is something that hits that nostalgia button for a lot of our audience,” said Wood.

Howley believes that video game music is a unique art form.

“It has all the color and expressiveness of classical music, particularly from the romantic era,” he said. “By bringing us together with these concerts, we can work to reconnect not just with these moments, but also with ourselves and with one another.”

The orchestra has performed a number of pieces from all different types of games, ranging from classics like Mega Man and Donkey Kong, to modern games like Skyrim. 

The BGSO takes these tunes to a variety of settings in Baltimore, including the Baltimore City Schools, Gamescape at Artscape,  Free Fall Baltimore, and even the Baltimore Maryland Zoo

BGSO was previously meant to perform at “Made in Maryland,” to perform pieces from big hits like “Fallout” and small indie projects like “Flutter Bombs.” However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic their performance has since been cancelled. As of now, they are still slated to perform at the Baltimore War memorial on May 30.

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