PLAY! Interview with Jason Michael Paul
PLAY! Interview with Jason Michael Paul
conducted by Patrick Gann
PLAY! A Video Game Symphony has made some big waves since it started in 2006. Dozens of game music composers, arrangers, and performers have made special appearances at the many shows performed in the concert series. The show has had widespread appeal in the US and abroad, and it tends to feature plenty of big-name RPGs, which is why we've taken interest.

PLAY! has released a live album from one of their shows, so fans who can't make it to a major city for a concert can have the listening experience at home, but this month, residents near Salt Lake City (Utah) can check out the revamped show, scheduled for November 17th.

We were able to speak to the show's producer, Jason Michael Paul, before he left for Utah to prepare for and perform in the latest show. Check out what he had to say about the show's past, present, and future in the following interview.

RPGFan: Jason, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions about PLAY! A lot of our readers may not know this, but the PLAY! concert series comes complete with its own fanfare, penned by Nobuo Uematsu himself. Tell us, how did this come about? Did Uematsu volunteer to write a piece, or did you ask if he would be interested? What's the story here?

Jason Michael Paul: I asked Uematsu-san to compose the Opening Fanfare and due to our relationship he accepted the offer. We have worked together since 2003 when I produced Dear Friends, More Friends, and now PLAY!. He has always been a supporter and this was the ultimate contribution as I feel he is the most prolific composer of VGM. It adds a tremendous amount of credibility to our project.

A photo of Uematsu from PLAY!'s opening concert in Chicago.

RPGFan: The concerts in the PLAY! series tend to include a special guest composer whose work is emphasized (examples: Nobuo Uematsu, Jeremy Soule, Koji Kondo). As a result, your full repertoire has grown by leaps and bounds since you started these shows in 2006. What are some of your favorite memories from these "concert-specific" performances?

JMP: The premiere in Chicago in 2006 was a once in a lifetime show. Every major composer was there. The likes included Kondo, Uematsu, Koshiro, Mitsuda, Soule, Hayes, O'Donnell, Salvatori, Mitsuyoshi, etc. Solo performances by Kondo were amazing. Truly the highlight of this run!

RPGFan: Arnie Roth and Andy Brick have been the conductors of choice for your tours. What is it like working with these gentlemen? What do each of them bring to the performance that makes it unique?

JMP: Arnie Roth and Andy Brick are truly professional and at the top of their field. They have contributed immensely to the video game music genre. PLAY! owes a lot of the success to them. They are organized and make for a fluid production. My job is easier with these two professionals. They have performed the music numerous times so the rehearsals and performances are seamless! It makes my job as producer easy. Arnie has years and years of experience. He has conducted, performed, music directed, and the list goes on. He has extensive experience in pops productions. He has worked all over the world and is regarded in entertainment circles as a go-to guy for productions involving orchestras and choirs.

Andy has extensive experience in composition, conducting, arranging, and teaching music. He specializes in soundtracks for movies and video games. He is a gamer and knows the music and the games, making the connection to the audience that much more real.

Arnie Roth conducting at the 2006 Chicago opener.

RPGFan: On average, how much rehearsal time does the local symphony orchestra where you're performing put in before the show? And have the performers themselves generally been interested in the music, or is there still a stigma among some of the musicians about playing "merely game music" at a concert?

JMP: Typically, two 2.5 hour rehearsals and a performance. Many musicians are overwhelmed by the response of the audience. Many performers generally love the music and appreciate the opportunity to perform.

RPGFan: We've been told that there will be a lot of new arrangements from different games and series in the upcoming shows at Utah and Oregon. Can you give us a hint at what might be played? Perhaps some RPG-specific items?

JMP: We encourage our followers to check the website periodically for updates. If fans have not already registered, they can do so by going to the website: play-symphony.com. Fans can also follow Play! on Twitter and Facebook.

RPGFan: Speaking of which, we know that PLAY! got its start and roots with Square Enix and Final Fantasy (with the Dear Friends tour). As a result, many of the RPGs covered in PLAY! have been big-name titles from Square Enix, such as Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, and Chrono Trigger/Cross. Have you considered perhaps contacting Atlus to see if you could perform any songs from their catalog, which includes the prolific Shin Megami Tensei series? Our own readership would certainly be excited about that!

JMP: We are constantly working to expand the PLAY! catalogue, and the titles you have referenced from Atlus are among those being considered.

The Persona Music Live concert was a success in Japan, but it used the P3/P4 stand-by of rock, pop and hip-hop. Could SMT orchestral arrangements be a worldwide success?

RPGFan: Is there any hope that Koichi Sugiyama would allow you to perform a Dragon Quest medley? We hear he holds the rights to his music pretty close to the chest, and few people outside himself are allowed to touch those tunes.

JMP: That's not likely.

RPGFan: Nearly everyone who plays RPGs is excited about Final Fantasy XIII. Have you had the chance to study composer Masashi Hamauzu's previous work? (SaGa Frontier II, Unlimited SaGa, parts of Final Fantasy X). Are we foolish to hold out hope of PLAY! doing FFXIII tunes in the near future, or is that a real possibility?

JMP: I am familiar with composer Masashi Hamauzu's works; however, at this time I am not in the process of adding his works to the program.

RPGFan: Is there a rivalry between yourself and Tommy Tallarico, who runs the more rock-focused Video Games Live concerts? Any animosity whatsoever? Or are you just two people each taking game music in whatever direction you see fit?

JMP: No rivalry! We have two different shows. I am too busy to be concerned with his doings. I run two businesses and I am a father. I wish him the best.

RPGFan: Are you a fan of video games? If so, tell us about some of your favorite games, particularly any RPGs you've really enjoyed over the years.

JMP: Of course I am a fan. I have been playing video games since I was a child. My generation doesn't know any different. Final Fantasy, Oblivion, Guild Wars, World of Warcraft: these are all games past and present that I have played and continue to play.

RPGFan: The CD/DVD combo for sale on your site features a recording from Prague, performed by the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. How did it feel to take your show out of America and into international territory? Is there a different feeling among the musicians or audience members?

JMP: The recording is amazing. Doing a major recording at Dvorak Hall in Prague is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was an amazing opportunity! We only had a select group of audience members. Every international performance of PLAY! from Europe, to Australia, and even Asia, has sold out! We are blessed to have fans worldwide that make us feel welcome wherever we go.

You want it? Go ahead and buy it!

RPGFan: One thing that's typical for concert-goers to see at your shows is a large screen that projects footage from games during the orchestral performances. However, there are times when the screen is left blank. Can you tell us about the process of getting the rights to play footage from a game at your concert? Is there ever a time when your team simply decides not to pursue the possibility of the added visuals because the legal wrangling would be too much of a hassle, or do you always try your best to have a visual element in place?

JMP: The only visuals we don't have licenses from is Square Enix only titles such as Chrono and FF. We have Kingdom Hearts because it is a shared property with Buena Vista Games.

RPGFan: As the game music genre and industry have matured in the last two or three decades, what would you say are the best and worst aspects of the business?

JMP: Entertainment is a risky business. Anytime you have to rely on the audience to purchase tickets it can be scary. I would say that is the worst part. The best part is seeing the reaction of fans who appreciate the work that I do. Standing ovations, letters of acknowledgement thanking me, and other forms of encouragement are what make this line of work worth it.

RPGFan: Thanks again for your time. We hope you have a great reception in Utah and Oregon, and more importantly, that you yourself enjoy hearing the shows that you work so hard to put on for the fans.

JMP: Thank you! I am eternally grateful for all of the support that you have given me over the years. With your support I can continue to do what I love.

Our thanks go to Jason Michael Paul, as well as the show's promoters, conductors, performers, and everyone else who has put effort into PLAY! over the years. We hope that the PLAY! concert series continues for years to come.

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