Covering a Tune: Arranging Music for Beta Test Presents: HEROES! Part 5

This is my 5th and final blog post on arranging the music for the new Beta Test Music concert, Beta Test Presents:  HEROES!  In this entry, I talk about arranging music from “The Legend of Zelda:  A Link to the Past” for the ensemble.  This is a continuation of Part 4.  Also, in case you missed it, here’s links to Part 1 and Part 2 talking about “Super Mario Land 1/2″ and here’s Part 3 talking about “Sonic the Hedgehog”.

Performance Considerations:

The Legend of Zelda:  A Link to the Past, composer:  Koji Kondo

Koji Kondo should be a household name.  I think he’s getting close.  He conducts many of the video game concerts that travel across the globe.  He is probably one of the top 5 most famous game composers and definitely in the class of Nobuo Uematsu, Noriyuki Iwadare, Motoi Sakuraba, et al.

Yes, he’s the guy who wrote the original Zelda music.  He’s also the writer of the music for Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 2, Doki Doki Panic (Super Mario USA), Super Mario 3, Super Mario World, Super Mario World 2:  Yoshi’s Island, Star Fox, Star Fox 64, the entire Zelda series, etc etc.  He’s basically Nintendo’s main composer.

Kondo’s influence comes mainly from his background as a jazz keyboardist.  He started out as a sound programmer (you know, before Finale did it all for you) back in the 80s.  The legend is he was recruited from an arcade where he was playing a Nintendo arcade console and humming along to the music, loudly.  Fact of the matter is University of Osaka was approached by Nintendo to find sound programmers who knew composition.  Kondo fit the build and was recruited.

Kondo also states that he was heavily influenced by Rachmaninoff, especially his 4 piano concertos.  It’s very evident in his musical creations, such as this:

(credit:  GilvaSunner)

You can really hear that octave+ per hand.

For arranging, I decided on the usually quartet + piano.  In retrospect, the absence of drums really hurts my arrangement.  If we play it again, I will adjust that accordingly.

The Legend of Zelda:  A Link to the Past – Intro/Prologue

(credit:  TheRealBlueFlame)

I decided to also include the little 15 second intro when you originally turn on the cartridge.  I put the parts in the piano and then the heavy brass.

For the prologue, there’s a LOT going on but I figured the tuba fit to replace the kinda cello/bass root-fifth-octave pattern.  The tremolo part in the strings was NOT going to happen so I just made those block chords.  I arranged the trombone and tenor sax to be in tight harmony (though it will not be performed that way).  You’ll notice it should sound pretty full.  The piano will be covering many of the holes created by having a small ensemble.  I think the effect is pretty cool.

The Legend of Zelda:  A Link to the Past – Light World Dungeon

(credit:  jumpropeman)

I figured the echo-y cello sound could just be replicated by the tuba.  To create an added effect, I have the rest of the instruments in the band play and hold random notes from the fixed patterns at the beginning to create an echo of sorts.

I felt like having the tenor play the first melody made more sense than the clarinet.  I needed the clarinet to be… trumpet-like for counter melody.  I think it works.

There’s a complicated interplay between the piano and trombone where they have to time it just right to make sure they don’t play the note together.  You should notice this if you pay attention to how I scored it.  Hopefully, that effect will work very well.

The Legend of Zelda:  A Link to the Past – Boss Battle

(credit:  Renegade466isback)

I put the heavy bass in the tuba.  There’s no timpani or drums for that matter so I had to kind of hide that under the intensity of the line.  I doubled the bass line in the piano to make sure I could take breaths.  The rest of the group is (and this is the scientific way of putting this) just going “buh buh buh, buh buh buh” for about 45 seconds.  I originally had this part repeat but for performance purposes, it was removed.

The Legend of Zelda:  A Link to the Past – Death Mountain (Four Swords arranged)

(credit:  saladin4)

I wanted to make sure the piano and the tuba could control the tempo.  There’s a lot of block chords that need to be covered and having a stern and nasty pulse would drive it forward.  I scored melody through the 3 other instruments (1, 3, 5 essentially).  In order for the effect to work, they have to play very much together.  During the B part, I scored it really light to create a kind of… falling out effect.  I then had it ramp up to the final “Four Swords” part of the piece to round it out.  I keep tempo have it immediately lead to…

The Legend of Zelda:  A Link to the Past – Light World Theme

(credit:  seanehawk)

The famous part.  I had to fiddle with the key to make it work.  I don’t really like this in G minor/Bb major.  It’s too… I don’t know.  I think we make it work.  I was debating between Eb and Bb major and there was just no real way to make the trombone lines and clarinet lines playable.  The main melody and the counter melody had to either start low and go to mid range or start mid range and go to high range.  I opted for Bb which would allow the clarinet to start low and go to mid range.  The trombone, playing the counter melody, would have a really hard time playing it in the low to mid range due to all the slide positions involve, though.  Trigger helps but tenor trombone sound in the C in the staff to the F just below the staff is just not meaty enough to produce what I was looking for.  Thus, I had to score tenor trombone from mid to high range.  It’s not really ideal but Doug does a great job making music out of it.  I gave the option for the pianist to double ANY of the counter melodies.

Lastly, I made sure that the tuba played those wonderful arpeggios from the part.  You can watch me attempt to stumble over those later this evening!

I added about 15 seconds of new content to the end of the whole piece to tie it up.  I tried to make it dark and punishing.  It may just be that.


8 minutes of prime Zelda entertainment.  And tonight, you can hear it live!  And all the other pieces live, for that matter!  It should be a great show.  Again, you can buy your tickets in advance here and again, please show your support by “like”ing us on that there Facebook.


About Classical Gaming

Steve Lakawicz holds an MM in Music Performance from Temple University as well as a BM in Tuba Performance from Rutgers University . His teachers include Paul Scott, Scott Mendoker, and Jay Krush. His love of video game music has lead him to form a blog, Classical Gaming, to promote discussion both casual and academic about the music of video games. He is the co-founder of the video game/nerd music chamber ensemble, Beta Test Music and regularly composes/performs chiptune music as Ap0c. He currently resides in Philadelphia where he teaches college statistics at Temple University. View all posts by Classical Gaming

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