University of Maryland’s Gamer Symphony Orchestra (GSO) is a student-run symphony orchestra and chorus which holds a free concert regularly and during the annual charity fundraising events held for the benefit of the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. What makes it such a gamechanger in the world of classical music is that it is the first ever collegiate ensemble exclusively devoted to performing orchestral arrangements of video game music and using that music as an educational tool. Moreover, and membership in the campus-based ensemble is not audition-based and most of its members are non-music majors.
The Gamer Symphony Orchestra was created in 2005 by Michelle Eng, a violist in the University’s for-credit Repertoire Orchestra for non-music-majors. She was inspired by Tommy Tallarico’s Video Games Live tours, Internet sensation “Video Game Pianist” Martin Leung and the Final Fantasy concert series, “Dear Friends”. The ensemble’s first performance took place in a Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center classroom on April 28, 2006. Their first public concert was held the next day, during “Maryland Day” at the university’s annual open house. The orchestra played for a lunching crowd in the Baltimore Room, off the student union’s food court. They performed a rudimentary arrangement of the theme from The Legend of Zelda by Rob, along with versions of “Hikari” and the Final Fantasy prologue.
In just five years, GSO has gone from a group of six people talking about video game music to a renowned 120-piece ensemble with a legitimate international profile. It now boasts a roster of more than 100 musicians, including 30 singers. It has played to packed houses for four years in a row at the university’s 1,100-seater Dekelboum Concert Hall and at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. While it still encounters financial challenges and there continues to be a confusion on whether it is promoting camaraderie or musicianship, it will surely look forward to celebrating its 10th anniversary in the Fall of 2015.