CBS News: How video games are saving symphony orchestras

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Symphony orchestras across the country are downsizing because of dwindling attendance, but in an unusual twist, certain shows are delighting a new generation of fans and helping concert halls sell more tickets.

At the Music Hall at Fair Park in Dallas, a symphony orchestra played to a crowd where some fans were actually dressed in costume, CBS News' Omar Villafranca reports.

Fans were there to experience music from their favorite video game, "The Legend of Zelda," organized in a four-movement symphony.

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Music from "The Legend of Zelda" is played by a symphony orchestra. Some concert-goers attended the show in costume.
CBS

"'Zelda' is a game that to me is probably the most important contribution to video game history," said the show's producer, Jason Paul.

While working with opera star Luciano Pavarotti, Paul came up with the idea of fusing live classical music and video game visuals.

Paul said he knew his idea would click the first time he experienced his show in 2004.

"It was an instant success," he said. "It was a virtual riot at the box office. Now we're really at a all-time high."

Most of his shows on an international tour have been sold out, including the one in Dallas, Paul said. Fans bought 3,000 tickets, and each concertgoer spent at least $10 on souvenirs.

That's a promising note. While there has been a small increase in ticket sales over the past five years, it's not enough to stem the 29 percent dip in classical music participation from 1991 to 2011 reported by the League of American Orchestras. Since 2010, orchestras in Philadelphia, Louisville, Honolulu, New Mexico and Syracuse have filed for bankruptcy, and many others have had to downsize.

"Symphony orchestras have to take a look at what are the audience demands because if they are not serving the audiences in their community, then frankly they are not relevant," said Catherine Cahill, CEO of the Mann Center in Philadelphia.

She said Zelda and Pokémon concerts have brought in crowds and cash. Up to 6,000 fans have flocked to the pop-culture offerings - double that of the average classical performance.

"If you really want to hear great symphony orchestras, your interest may not be Bach, Beethoven and Brahms -- it may be video games," Cahill said.

"It's actually very deep and very complex, colorful and very rich, tender, it's full of melancholy, and those are the things that make, that will make it last for the next 50 years," said Amy Andersson, the music director and conductor for the "Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, Master Quest" tour.

The musicians performing at these shows are classically trained, including Andersson. She said video game soundtracks may not be traditional classic music but deserve respect.

"It's storytelling through music. How is that different from Mahler's Second Symphony? Stylistically it's different. But humanly, it's the same thing. We're telling stories, we're touching hearts," Andersson said.

The music is also opening up the symphony orchestra to a new generation of fans, like Caleb Pryor. The 19-year-old said he'd never been to a classical music performance but owns over 400 songs from the Zelda games.

Pryor said he never thought he would attend a symphony to hear video game music, but when he heard about the tour, he "was super excited."

"I'm absolutely loving the fact that I'm here right now," he said.

It's that enthusiasm from the non-traditional crowd that strikes a chord with the musicians on stage.

"They clap, and they cheer, and they get on their feet, and I think the orchestras for the most part are stunned. It's a thrill to see the musicians, I think, get the recognition that they have always gotten but in a different way, in a very spontaneous, free way," Andersson said.

Asked if she thought the success of symphony orchestras was a fad, Andersson said, "No, it is not a fad. Gaming is here to stay. It's not going away. And as long as there's gaming, there are fans who love the music, and that means there are fans who will come to these concerts."

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