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Young Cleveland Musicians Score a First in the Video Game World

Contemporary Youth Orchestra
Courtesy of Contemporary Youth Orchestra
Contemporary Youth Orchestra
The Contemporary Youth Orchestra was founded 21 years ago in Cleveland. Cleveland State University is its host.

Technology has been changing the music world at an allegro pace. In Cleveland, a group of young musicians stays on tempo by exploring new avenues of expression and new ways to be heard.

In today’s State of the Arts, WKSU’s Vivian Goodman reports that includes orchestral music for video games. 

Even if you’ve never touched a joystick you’ve probably heard some video game tunes.

But music for the games we play has come a long way since Nintendo put the Mario Brothers to work back in 1983. Just ask Sean Beeson, lead composer for Neoglyphic Entertainment.

“Video game music really can’t be categorized.  There’s composers that are matching and mixing different styles, different genres, different cultures and eras of music into very original pieces.”  

An epic theme for a new game

Sunborn Rising cover
Credit Courtesy of Neoglyphics Entertainment / Neoglyphics Entertainment
Neoglyphics Entertainment
Sunborn Rising is Neoglyphic Entertainment's newest video game. Animated media and an immersive book also use its theme music.

Beeson composed the theme for Neoglyphic’s  latest  game: “Sunborn Rising.”

The company’s co-founder Aaron Safronoff wrote the story that inspired the music.

“We follow the adventure of a creature that’s more similar to a cat and a panther mixed as she delves down through her world and tries to find out what has caused the world to be plunged into darkness.”

At the podium conducting the recording of the theme was Liza Grossman, founding music director of the Contemporary Youth Orchestra.   

A significant first
The ensemble Grossman’s led for more than two decades, hosted by Cleveland State University, has hit a milestone.

“CYO is the first youth orchestra to record the theme song for a video game,” she’s proud to say.

Neoglyphics co-founder David Ramadge says CYO was a natural choice.

“We believe young people have a lot more willingness to experiment with different types of entertainment. And when we’re talking about a book that has music with it, as well as a game, as well as animated media, which are all the things that make up the world of "Sunborn Rising," we thought that a group of young people would probably gravitate towards that and understand it really well.”

Liza Grossman says her players fit the bill. They love adventure.

“They’re willing to dive into the unknown and not dip their toes in the water but just jump right in.”  

Part of CYO’s mission
Grossman met composer Sean Beeson last summer and pursued the project because it fit CYO’s mission.

Liza Grossman and Sean Beeson
Contemporary Youth Orchestra Music Director Liza Grossman and lead composer for Neoglyphics Entertainment Sean Beeson met last summer.

“We have been known as the only youth orchestra in the country that focuses just on contemporary music, but really who we have become is an orchestra that is focused on the entertainment industry as a whole.”  

Since 2007, CYO’s annual series “Music and its Industry” has featured collaborations with guest artists like Jefferson Starship, Pat Benatar, and most recently, Graham Nash.

Two years ago, CYO became the official orchestra of the Alternative Press Music Awards show.

“Through exposure to cartoon music and movie music, and contemporary composers, award-winning living composers and young composers, playing with rock artists, being part of a televised event and award shows, it’s a real trip through the galaxy of the entertainment industry,” says Grossman. 

A professional experience
Recording music for a video game exposed her high-school age players to yet another career path.

“We went through this entire professional recording session with Sean in the audience as the composer. He would say ‘Let’s take a run without the percussion,’ or ‘Violins can you bring it down here?’ or ‘I want more energy from this.’”   

The composer considered it a rare opportunity.

“Being from Ohio and being able to work with kids that are from Ohio, and being able to work with kids that are very passionate about games.” 

Passionate players

Matt McGuire
Matt McGuire is in his second season with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra. He also enjoys playing video games.

Matt McGuire has the passion. He’s a Firestone High School senior and member of the Contemporary Youth Orchestra.

McGuire’s looking forward to CYO’s concert Saturday at CSU’s Waetjen Auditorium.

Titled “POWER UP,” it’ll feature the Sunborn Rising theme and other epic video game music.

McGuire’s been playing cello with the orchestra for two years, and video games long before that.

“Some of them we’re playing the music from, such as Fyodor Scroll’s Skyrim. It’s a lot of fun because it helps me understand the music, and I recognize the music from the game and the context it fits into.”  

Familiar themes
Music director Liza Grossman says a lot of the music will be recognizable.

“Mario Brothers and Zelda and Halo and Final Fantasy, and like sort of progress through time on how the music has evolved and how the games have evolved.” 

Grossman confesses she is not an avid video game player. “I was back when you stopped by your dad’s office and asked him for $5 in quarters to play Pacman.”  

But for composer Sean Beeson, video games have meant much more.

“My best memories of childhood are playing games. I’ve always loved technology and I’ve always loved music, and this career is really a combination of those three things.”

The internet made it possible for Beeson to launch his career from rural Ohio. “I work with people all over the world and I’ve barely met any of them.” 

But he’ll be on hand to hear the Contemporary Youth Orchestra perform his music Saturday night, along with live gameplay on a giant screen.