Reno Video Game Symphony
The Reno Video Game Symphony began as a few friends jamming in an apartment and arranging video game songs for a three-piece ensemble comprised of percussion, guitar and clarinet. It’s grown into a nonprofit organization with a symphonic and incidental orchestra, several smaller ensembles, and a focus on music education. This season, the organization’s leaders hope the RVGS will be 50 musicians strong.
The RVGS started as the Reno Video Game Orchestra in 2011 and grew to include several dozen members quickly. They liked the name but were late to the relatively new game of playing video game music and soon faced trouble.
“We actually did get cease-and-desisted from Video Game Orchestra from Berklee [College of Music] in Massachusetts,” said founding member, conductor and clarinetist Symberly Schuler. “They sent us an email and said that they didn’t want to get their lawyers involved. We were stealing internet traffic.”
Interestingly, while Berklee’s and Reno’s video game orchestras are now among at least a dozen such organizations that all specialize in arranging and playing copyrighted video game scores, this newspaper’s research revealed only one associated trademark. The name “Video Game Orchestra and Choir” was registered to Maria Lepire, who founded the Video Game Orchestra and Choir at the University of California, Los Angeles while a student there, and her trademark is listed as abandoned. Even so, faced with the threat of a trademark dispute from another group, Schuler and the other members changed their organization’s name.
Today, Schuler said, the term symphony fits better with the organization’s mission, anyway, which includes giving musicians opportunities to arrange video game scores for the orchestra to play. The group’s experienced arrangers run a thorough review of all the pieces members submit.
“We break it down,” Schuler said. “We explain, ‘Here are the things that are technically incorrect, that have to be changed. And here are suggestions.'”
The goal is to get members’ arrangements to a “playable” stage and then work to improve them further.
“It’s something that I’m really happy we provide for people,” Schuler said. “There’s a lot of video game music out there … that’s never been written. … So much of it is composed entirely on the computer and not using standard score software.”
Rehearsals start on Saturday Sept. 22, but Schuler said she wanted people to know that it’s not too late to join the RVGS.
“We do open rehearsals all the way up until just a couple of weeks before the concerts,” she said. “So people are allowed to come in and try us out and play with us.”
It’s also a social occasion. RVGS members have a potluck and play games after each rehearsal.
“We play video games, or a lot of people play Magic: The Gathering,” said oboist and board vice president Jessica Anzalone.
For a while, they tried watching video game movies.
“They’re awful,” Anzalone said. "We watched the Super Mario movie. It’s so bad.”
According to Anzalone and Schuler, non-musicians are welcome—and needed—to help with things like fundraising and social media management.
“We want to fill the room with people who want to help us,” Schuler said.