Covering a Tune: Arranging Music for Groundhog’s Day with Beta Test Music – Part 4

On February 2nd, my band, Beta Test Music (betatestmusic.com), will be performing another big concert of video game music and other nerdy favorites at First Unitarian Church in downtown Philadelphia (see here for information and tickets).  This series of posts will highlight the music that I arranged for the concert, explaining the choices in musical selection, instrumentation, and overall presentation.

In Part 1 and Part 2, I discussed my musical selection process/performance considerations for my medley of music from Akumajou Densetsu (Castlevania III) for Beta Test Music and 2a03+VRC6.  In Part 3, I discussed my arrangement of music from Earthbound/Mother 2.  TODAY, in Part 4, I’ll talk about my arrangement of tunes from Nintendo’s Pokemon – 1st Generation (Red, Green, Blue, Yellow).

First Impressions:

Pokemon is the undisputed best selling RPG of all time.  The series has made BILLIONS of dollars for Nintendo.  The characters from the games and anime are instantly recognizable… and so is the music.  This was another game I really wanted to cover with Beta Test.  There are sooo many fans of the series and so many remixes of these tunes.  I really felt like Beta Test should have their own Pokemon medley.  I wanted to present a piece that invokes the nostalgia of being young again and using Game Genie to cheat and catch 30 Mews… or… uh…  maybe something more wholesome – like stealing your friend’s Pokemon cards…. well… maybe being a youngster wasn’t all that fun, in retrospect.

The point is- MANY of us played and loved this game.  And it would be nice to have a moment where we can all sit down and enjoy the game together.  Also, I thought it would be super fun to play… and it really is.

I’ll also credit MissingnoXpert‘s Let’s Glitch Pokemon Yellow series for inspiring me to get this work completed.  And, just so you know, I’m not using any cheating devices right now.

Musical Selections:

Pokemon – 1st Generation, composer:  Junichi Masuda

So, and I just learned this today actually, the game came BEFORE the anime series.  The music in the anime series is actually based off the original compositions for the game by Junichi Masuda.  And here I was going to go on and on about how this music was adapted from the anime.  I’m glad I looked that up first.  Sheesh.  I love the Information Age!

Okay, so without going into incredible detail about sound, the music was written for Gameboy, meaning there should be only 3 polyphonic voices that really have to be mapped to instruments.  It also means that well… some of these lines will be very difficult to play on real instruments because Gameboy sound programmers usually take advantage digital sound’s speed.  I would have to tread lightly.

I also didn’t want to bore the audience terribly.  Each town has a theme, each cave has a theme, etc- a lot of these are just incidental.  For instance, does anyone really have an attachment to this?:

I mean, we all probably remember SOMETHING about Mt. Moon… but all I remember is spamming Repels and being annoyed by it.  This is actually an interesting track… but in terms of performance, we may as well just be Jigglypuff.

A lot of the town themes were kind of clunkers too.  Don’t get me wrong, they fit into the game really well but in terms of performance?  Not so much:

(Mark should cover that on toy piano, actually…. just a side thought.)

Anyhow, I decided that it would be a lot more fun to create a Pokemon medley that gives you the experience of turning on the Gameboy, loading your file, and getting into a fight- a small narrative if you will.  It was a little artsy, even for me, but I felt like that was the best way to treat the game.  So, here’s what I did.

Performance Considerations:

This piece was originally arranged for Beta Test’s old configuration (clarinet, tenor sax, trombone, tuba, piano, and drums).  I had to rearrange it for the new set up (soprano sax, french horn, trombone, tuba, and drums).  I removed the piano in the new version for simplicity.

So, back to my “narrative”.  What happens when you turn on your Gameboy to play Pokemon?

Pokemon – “Opening”

Boom – this intro.  I figured I would start off with this.  I consulted the anime/Super Smash Bros versions of this particular song to add some extra color.  I placed the upper lines in the soprano sax.  The french horn gets a chance to lay into those counter-melody responses (much like in the anime version of the song).  Tuba holds down the bass and the drums provides a steady beat.  This clip above, actually, shows pretty much how long this section will take.

Now, let’s load our file.

Pokemon – “PokeCenter”

We load the file and find ourselves in the PokeCenter.  When I used to play, I remember saving MANY times in the PokeCenter, especially while changing Boxes or getting ready to turn the game off.  I felt it would be reasonable to assume that you may find yourself starting here, checking your Pokemon, and leaving.

For this, I made it a “low end” solo.  I have the tuba take the melody, trombone take the bass, and french horn, which loves to play upbeats, play upbeats.  It’s cute.  I hope I don’t crack a note.

So, let’s walk out of the PokeCenter then, shall we?

Pokemon – “Cerulean City”

Oh, we’re in Cerulean City.  Cool.

For this, I covered it straight up.  I have soprano sax take the lead voice.  French horn gets to rest for a bit.  Trombone and tuba split the bottom voice (upbeats and downbeats respectively).  Right before it repeats, I have the soprano sax drop out and let the 3 brass instruments have a nice little chorale.

Let’s say we want to LEAVE Cerulean City.  It’s kind of boring…. so we’d probably:

Pokemon – “Bicycle Theme”

Get on our bike!  That’s a good idea.  We can get out of the city and try to find some Pokemon trainers to fight!  I included a version of this song above that is 10 hours long.  Enjoy!

I have soprano sax cover the upper line and trade off with the trombone half way through.  Because I’m a total maniac, I assigned the tuba to play ALL of the lower voiced notes here…. so both downbeats and upbeats.  We’ll see how well I do at the concert.  It’s really hard!  I’ll need to find a way to take a breath since well… computers don’t breathe.

Okay, we leave the city and bike around until-

Pokemon – “Female Trainer Encounter!”

YOU ENCOUNTER A LASS!  OH NO!  And her heroic battlecry:  “My boyfriend is cool!”  :/  I… see.

Covering this is easy – I have the band play it for a couple seconds so we can contemplate what the Lass is trying to say…  and then!

Pokemon – “Trainer Battle”

Lass sends out Jigglypuff and we’re not impressed.

Soprano sax takes over the upper line.  It was nearly impossible to figure out a way to get the other instruments to play the opening lick, by the way.  So at the beginning, the rest of the band kind of just… makes some hits while the soprano sax drives us into a new tempo.

The piece is a straight up cover.  Tuba covers the bass lines (both the downbeat and upbeat… which is tough… again).  Trombone takes over some of the melody as we go through.  French horn is assigned to kind of bridge the gap between all the of the parts.  It should be SUPER EFFECTIVE!  Yes.

Now that we’ve ultimately embarrassed the Lass…

Pokemon – “Trainer Victory Theme”

We win!  Yey.

I have tuba play the melody here again, in a trio set up with the trombone and french horn.  Soprano sax enters and we wind down to the end of the piece.

Results:

A fainted Jigglypuff.  To hear us perform this live, you’re going to need to be at Beta Test Music‘s show this Saturday, February 2nd, in Philadelphia – “Groundhog’s Day with Beta Test Music“.  I hope to see you guys out there.  And for those of you who won’t get a chance to get out there, we’ll have some live recordings up afterwards!  So there’s always that.

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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