Let me start by sharing with you a link to a TED Talk. Yes, it’s a link to a TED Talk, and I know we’re all skeptical about TED Talks since some guy made the article equivalent of a TED Talk telling you that TED Talks were lying to you and, thus, because we’re no longer capable of doing any critical thinking for ourselves, we just took it at face value.
…Wait, was that just me?
Anyways, if you haven’t already, don’t click the link…just yet, anyways. It’s a great thing to put off for later, and I want to get this music to you. In short, Benjamin Zander has 1) awesome piano skills, and 2) a massive love for classical music. We’ll get back to him in a minute. For now, let’s get this ball rolling.
So you’re probably wondering what a video game from the 90s has to do with classical music, and why it’s on this blog (if you’re not, that’s okay, too). First of all, this isn’t some Pong chiptune. Nobuo Uematsu is arguably the hand that lifted video game music from its cradle, and that’s apparent in this arrangement, “the Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII.”
Fascinatingly, and somewhat tangentially related to my main point, if you were to play FF7, you wouldn’t actually hear this melody in the game until the first minor arc of the story was closed.
In Benjamin Zander’s TED Talk, he goes on this little tangent about storytelling, how the mind is geared towards completing a cadence, but as storytellers, we want to prevent that completion for as long as…not possible, but interesting (a much more difficult measurement). To me, this is the seed of the meaning of life.
Yeah, I went there. But let’s run with this a little bit.
For a long time I’ve had the mantra, “I cannot die yet, as I still have something left to learn.” It’s a (much simpler) variation on a quote attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte: “Destiny encourages me towards a goal of which I am ignorant. Until that goal is obtained, I am invulnerable, unassailable. When Destiny has accomplished her purpose in me, a fly may suffice to destroy me.”
Pretty cool quote, yeah?
When we wake up in the morning, we think, “This is it. This is all I am. I am everything I ever will be.” We know this to be wrong; some part of us knows otherwise, but we still think it anyways. We look at our past, imagine our futures and only see ourselves as we are that morning. If we are in debt, we always have been and always will be in debt. When in love, we have always been and will so die Romeos and Juliets. But this isn’t how time works, and that’s why things like the closing of loved ones’ lives serve as such an important shock to us.
We need to delay our completion, our resolution; there’s still stuff left to do. Isn’t that life?
Why I think this arrangement of Nobuo Uematsu’s “Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII” is so powerful is that, in it, I hear a complete circle of time. Maybe you can hear it, too. The way the theme goes from its minimalistic violin opening to the addition and interplay between the French horns, violins and wind section, each getting their own turn at the familiar melody, is very similar to the passage of a day, or a life, or any similar such reiterative progression. From groggy dawn to blaring zenith, the chord progressions seek resolution, but are not granted until we return to a quiet, final flute and horn return to the melody.
I know I shouldn’t speak for him, but I like to think Chopin would approve.
Photo: Taro Taylor/Flickr
Post note: If you’ve never been a fan of video game music, I’d encourage you to check out this whole album. It’s some of the best arrangements of Nobuo’s best work from a whole generation of Final Fantasy games (VII-IX). It defies genre and the expectations one has of “video game music.” For all we know, had they been making Role-Playing Games in the 1600s, Bach would’ve been composing for them. Okay, maybe not Bach. But Beethoven, definitely.