My wife always claims that I’m hard to shop for because, although I drop all kinds of not so subtle clues about things I’d like to buy, it’s hard to find something meaningful that’s not just another video game or cool trinket. The surprise isn’t there. On March 28th, 2012 though, my dear wife not only got me a great gift but a surprising one as well.
Realm of Memories is a series where we reflect on our absolute favorite moments in The Legend of Zelda games. These could be the times we first fell in love with a game, were moved by the events of the story or actions of a character, felt triumphant when overcoming a tough boss or challenge, or we had an experience so unique that the adventure truly became our own. The Zelda series has touched our lives in many ways, and just as Hyrule has endless stories to share, so do our writers!
Our wedding anniversary was a few days before March 28th, and my wife had told me that my gift hadn’t arrived yet, but it would be arriving on that day. I shrugged it off, but I found it interesting that she wouldn’t tell me what she had gotten me. Usually she would, but this time she grinned as she gleefully guarded the secret and watched me squirm with curiosity. Over the course of the next couple of days, my mind played out all kinds of scenarios from small things like a new book to medium thing like games to big gifts. It was in the big gifts category that my mind gave out. I had no clue what someone would even get me that would be considered “big.”
The morning of the twenty-eighth dawned, but the secret still held. My wife said the gift would arrive that afternoon, and I waited excitedly, curiously, fearfully with baited breath like a resident of Clock Town staring up at the approaching moon. After this kind of build up, would I feel let down?
As we drove home from work, my wife sprung it all on me. We would only be making a quick stop at home to pack because we were flying to San Francisco that night to see the Zelda concert, The Symphony of the Goddesses. My brain failed to function at the sheer thoughtfulness of this gift. I’d mentioned the concert series to my wife when it was first announced, and she’d kept that little nugget buried away in her brain, making plans to surprise me with it. As we hurriedly packed, I felt like those rich people you hear about in television shows who can fly to an exotic location for such a small thing as their favorite dessert or something. We were just flying up the state, but it was still such a fancy thing that she’d been saving up for in secret just to surprise me.
A few hurried hours later, we entered the gorgeous hallways of the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. The architecture was beautiful. Classical white walls were colored tan by the warm lights of the room. The area surrounding the space where the orchestra would be playing ascended straight up from quarter circle outcroppings. In front of us was an organ that was mostly covered by a screen they’d be using to show clips from previous games. The spot where the orchestra sat was surrounded by a brown wooden semi-circle that I can only assume helps improve the acoustics.
As we sat down, I was struck by the differences in clothing choices. The extravagance of the cosplayers’ costumes contrasted against those fans sporting their favorite simple Zelda t-shirt. Other audience members were dressed in their finest as if they were about to listen to a symphony from Mozart or Beethoven, and who’s to say that the musical styling of the master, Koji Kondo were any less?
As the lights went down, I flashed a big smile at my wife before settling in. The music and the video presentation started, and it felt like home. As the overture played, scenes from each game in the series accompanied the “Zelda Main Theme”, “Gannondorf’s Theme”, and “Zelda’s Lullaby.” As I heard these familiar tunes, I remembered so many past times in my life: playing The Legend of Zelda with my mom, delving into A Link to the Past with hard-earned money from recycling, and exploring the 3D lands of Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess.
Every song was beautifully performed by the San Francisco Symphony, but one particular track etched itself forever in my memory to the point where if you get me talking about Zelda music, I will mention this moment. My daughter can attest that I’ve told her about this moment at least a dozen times or so.
Against a stormy background, a sleepy Link wakes up to hear his uncle leaving to heed Zelda’s telepathic call. Various tracks echoed as the story of A Link to the Past continued to play out chronologically on the screen. Following Agahnim’s defeat and Link being sucked into the Dark World, the music became very quiet. Just as soon as it disappeared, the beginning of the “Dark World Theme” started to repeat quietly. I loved this track from the game, so I couldn’t wait to hear it played by a symphony. I was surprised though because the introduction seemed to repeat over and over quite a bit more than I remembered. It seemed to do this for a long time as it built up more and more energy and tension before suddenly pausing. A second after the pause, a tremendous burst of drums sent literal shockwaves through my body as the theme started playing in earnest. The building anticipation of the theme and the ecstatic release emphasized by the drums is a nerdy moment I’ll always treasure.
As song after song played, it felt like I was listening less to music from my favorite game series and more to the soundtrack of my life. After the concert, my wife and I left the beautiful symphony hall but a part of my soul was left in that space, dislodged by the surprise of my wife’s generosity and the booming drums of the Dark World.