The Mario Generation

I am part of the group collectively called Generation Y. We’re also called the Millennials and the Peter Pan generation (for the peculiarity to stay at home longer, get a job later, and … you know, not grow up in the same ways of our parents). We are a generation of democratic and political change, and we are less likely to practice religion and more likely to discuss controversial topics.

But I like to call us the Mario Generation: the first generation of game consoles and fantasy quests. (There were those before us who pioneered arcade and computer games, but it wasn’t until the late 1970s and 1980s that the games were available to the masses.)

My family had a Nintendo in the 1980s. I remember my older brother and cousins making fun of me because I kept jerking the remote up and to the right whenever I wanted Mario to jump over a crevasse or my rider in Excitebike to make it over a hill. “That’s not going to make you jump further, dummy!” (It does now, though, thank you Wii).


Excitebike, where I’m usually the red one, scrambling to get back on the bike

PlayStation revolutionized graphics and gaming systems, and Final Fantasy VII graphics wow-ed us all in 1997. There are so many consoles and so much change, I do not have the space to chronical it all (kind of like the “Cave of Wonders” level in the Aladdin game, where you ran out of space so fast on the flying carpet from the rising lava; I never could beat that game without using cheat codes).

I recently bought an adapter for my Super Nintendo that has been in a box and gone through four moves, but I refused to throw it out. The only game I have is Donkey Kong Country, but that it’s been a lot of fun re-living that part of my childhood (what do you mean it’s been 6 hours? I just started playing like 2 minutes ago!).

As the game consoles and technologies have changed, so has the music. The music from these early video games are lovingly called 8bit music or chiptune, a synthesized electronic sound. And now full orchestral works and music changing with the characters actions are common and expected. The video game music is now considered its own genre with its own masters (like video game, composer pioneer Nobuo Uematsu who is famous for his music in the Final Fantasy franchise).

Nobuo Uematsu

Nobuo Uematsu

I can’t wait to hear all my favorite game songs in full orchestra form. It’s so exciting to see the accumulation and the future of video game music in this week’s Video Games Live performance. We’re also lucky enough to have someone from our own state of Utah who is living the dream of writing music for video games: Bountiful-native Chance Thomas wrote “Theme for Rohan” for the Lord of the Rings Online game. He will be conducting the Utah Symphony in its world premiere. To check out his song—recorded with the Utah Film Orchestra and Salt Lake Choral Artists—visit his website!




All the Tour’s a Stage

There is absolutely no way that the Mighty 5® Tour could have happened or been successful without the hard work of Chip Dance, our Production and Stage Manager. Chip had the job of finding a stage, driving the stage down to Southern Utah and setting up the stage. It was way more complicated than just putting up some wooden thing for people stand on.

USUO: How do you plan for such a complicated set design and venues?
CHIP: For the three venues where we would be needing to build the stage from the ground up, I started by doing a stage plot of the orchestra based on the instrumentation of the chosen repertoire . That gave me a sense of the size of stage we would require. Through my experience in the entertainment industry I knew that mobile “stage vans” existed, so I was only faced with finding one that would accommodate our space requirements and would be capable of meeting the demanding Mighty 5® tour schedule.  Then I adjusted the stage plot to fit within the footprint of that particular stage.


The planned set up at Teasdale.



The planned set up for the stage at Teasdale.

Once I knew what stage we would be using and the requirements for getting that stage into position at the venues, I visited each venue to measure and take photographs  of the area. With a 53 foot trailer pulled by a  big rig tractor, weighing a total of ~80,000 lbs and standing over 13 feet tall, there are many factors to consider when determining where the stage should be set up and how it is going to get there.  With the help of Google Earth, renderings and maps were created to show the staff, board, crew, local representatives, vendors & volunteers what we hoped the finished venues would look like with the real stage in place.


The field at Moab

USUO: How long does it take to set up and take down the stage and equipment?
CHIP: The stage structure itself, with added lights, some sound and banners took us approximately 3 hours. Adding the orchestra chairs, stands, instruments and the rest of the sound equipment took another 60-90 minutes.  However, there was a large learning curve involved and the first two venues, including getting the stage van into position, actually took much longer than that. The first day, in Teasdale,  we started at 8:30am and were just finishing as the gates opened at 6pm. In Moab it actually took 5 hours just to get the stage van close to where we wanted it, but you can read more about that below.

Following the concert, from approximately 10:15pm until 2am, everything packs up and loads-out.

The stage truck

The stage truck before set up. All folded up and waiting.


USUO: Have you had any problem: something breaking, something missing, something not working properly? How do you handle that?
CHIP: All three venues required re-grading of existing dirt roads to allow such a large truck access to the desired staging areas. That was all handled in advance by the local venue representatives.

However, at Red Cliffs Lodge in Moab, re-grading wasn’t enough. Unfortunately Moab received record monsoonal rain the night before our load-in. The overly saturated grass was no match for the 80,000 lb stage van. Despite our suggestions of alternative staging, such as under an existing covered pavilion or directly on the grass,  the owner of Red Cliffs lodge, his general manager and their crew were insistent that we “plow”  (pun fully intended) ahead with the original plan. Part of the solution was to send some crew into town to purchase $500 worth of plywood to put down on the grass for the trucks to drive over. However, $500 worth of plywood doesn’t go as far as you might think. We had 16 full, heavy duty 4 foot by 8 foot sheets plus some scraps that the lodge provided, but that wasn’t nearly enough to cover the distance we needed. So, the crew, including some of the Red Cliff staff and the owner himself, had to “leap-frog” a “plywood highway” across the ~250-300 feet of grass we were trying to protect.  In addition to the 80000 lbs stage van, we also have two 26 foot box trucks weighing up to 26000 lbs each (one with sound & Lights, the other with orchestra equipment). But after all the trucks had driven over the plywood a couple of times, there was not much more than splinters remaining.


The truck in Moab.

The truck in Moab.

The truck in MOab

The truck ripping up the ground in Moab



Mud and tire tracks from the truck in Moab

USUO: How many members of your staff do you have?

The production staff consisted of:
Me, Utah Symphony Stage and Production Manager
Mark, Utah Symphony Properties and Assistant Stage Manager
Two 2nd Assistant stage managers, part–time with USUO
Jay, the Opera Assistant Technical Director (acting as Mighty 5 tour crew chief for the labor force)
8 stagehands from IATSE Local 99
3 Audio technicians & 1 lighting technician from Performance Audio
2 stage technicians from StagePro in Kansas who provided the stage van
4 laborers from Diamond Party Rental who provided the large greenroom tents for the orchestra
My boss, Jeff, and co-workers, Cassandra & Charlotte who pitched-in regularly with everything from buying plywood or pizza to setting up music stand lights.
And even the COO David & CFO Steve, who helped at the end of each night by retrieving sandbags and banners from around the venues.

USUO: What is the most difficult park in coordinating so many people and so many different pieces of equipment?
CHIP: They all had a unique challenge. Teasdale was a community park without any services you would hope for in a venue. Moab’s challenge was the rain and mud. Bryce’s challenge was the remoteness. Zion’s challenge was the heat. Moab was the most challenging.

USUO: So far into the tour what has been the best part of your work?
CHIP: Despite being the first to arrive at each venue, as early as 7:30am, and the last to leave each venue, as late as 2am, I was proud to have such a dedicated, hardworking and positive team working alongside of me. It is because of that team that I was able to rest my feet after the final concert, full of pride and with a sense of satisfaction, knowing that we did it, we made it happen, and we survived the Mighty 5® .

Stage all set up

Despite the technical difficulties, the show and the Tour was a success.


Beautiful Music, Stunning Vistas: A Mighty 5® Fan Account from Jeff Albertson

It’s not often I have the time, or the inclination, to see a symphony. As a former Navy deep sea diver, survival instructor, and pilot rescue swimmer, my interests were strictly in the physical world. My hobbies have always been in that direction as well. Then we (my wife and I) had a child, and my world grew. I now have four amazing kids, all different, all disparate in their interests. But that first one, while into many things, found her passion in the arts. It’s because of that interest I learned about symphony and opera; wonderful art forms I knew nothing about.

Fast forward to the present. My purpose for being in Utah is to move my second youngest daughter to college at Utah State (GO AGGIES). In the course of that process, we are spending time with my oldest, who now works for Utah Symphony | Utah Opera.

Ashley and Jeff Albertson

Ashley and Jeff Albertson exploring the national parks during the Mighty 5 Tour.

We have hiked the wonderful trails of Arches National Park. The Red Rock. The Delicate Arch. The massive, stunning vistas. Amazing. Humbling. And the Utah Symphony was in the midst of its Mighty 5® Tour. Symphony concerts set around the various parks; the concert I saw in Moab was stirring and beautiful. And as limited as my knowledge of the classics is, I found myself familiar with nearly every piece. Voices of Spring, sung by Celena Shafer, was not only strong, but also so appropriate given the setting. And Summertime (from Porgy & Bess) is always a personal favorite. I’d advise anyone to take some time to go see the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera in a venue near you, or in their Salt Lake City home.

Beautiful Scores Come from Video Games Too

On September 6, the Utah Symphony is excited to present Video Games Live!  During this concert you’ll be able to listen to some of your favorite video game scores like Final Fantasy, Warcraft, Skyrim, Shadow of the Colossus, Journey, Tetris, Mass Effect, Mega Man, and the WORLD PREMIERE of Lord of the Rings Online!

We have come a long way since Super Mario or Donkey Kong.  Music in the world of video games has drastically changed thanks to the help people like Chance Thomas.  He is a local guy who has composed many different scores throughout his career; his most recent is the “Theme for Rohan” which is the main theme for the expansion pack of the Lord of the Rings Online called The Rider of Rohan.  We had the privilege of having a phone conversation with him about his career and his inspiration as he was composing for the Lord of the Rings game.

Chance Thomas

Chance Thomas, composer of “Theme for Rohan” from the Lord of the Rings online video game.

Music has been a big part of his life.  At the age of 10, he was in musicals and in different theatrical performances, then it progressed into his own rock band while he was in high school.  It was during that time with his band that he began composing his own music.  After serving a mission for his church in Italy, he attended Brigham Young University (BYU) where he was set to get his business degree. In the back of his mind, though, he kept wondering if he could make a career out of music.  It wasn’t until he realized that BYU had a recording studio that it was even a possibility.  The more he was in the studio, the more he loved it. By the next semester he switched to the School of Music.

While attending the school, he discovered a new program called Recording Engineer and Production, which he absolutely loved because his course work consisted of composing songs and then performing them.  It is through this program that he learned and acquired many new skills that have helped him throughout his career.

In the late ‘90s, he applied to work for Sierra Entertainment as the composer of music for their video games.  Since he was new he wanted to do things differently, so he pioneered the idea of having a live orchestra perform the music for the games. Many people thought he was crazy and didn’t think it was possible or worthwhile. Even the musicians in the orchestra were skeptical, but he persisted and it was a grand success.  The first video game he composed music for was Quest for Glory V, which is a landmark achievement still being talked about today. He told us that Utah has had a big impact in the video game community—not only was Quest for Glory V recorded in Salt Lake City at the L.A. East Chapel Studios, but many other well-known games like Dungeons and Dragons, Doda 2, Avatar, and the Oscar winning animated short The ChubbChubbs have also been recorded here. For a complete list of all the music he has written for video games, you can visit his website.

Fast forward to present day, Chance has composed many different scores for video games and has become world-renowned for his complex musical scores. “When given the task of composing for the Lord of the Rings Online, I was very aware of the loyal fan base, and I wanted to make sure I did it properly,” he says.

His main goal while composing was to create the music in the manner that Tolkien would have envisioned it to be. In order to achieve that, he read through all the books taking notes where Tolkien mentioned the different types of instruments used by the characters.

Chance Thomas' Copies of The Lord of the Rings

The copies of Chance’s books with each mention of music marked.

“These are the [copies] I researched for 5 years: locating, collating and interpreting every reference to music, sound, instruments, voices and effects of music on the world.” The difficult part was taking all that data and combining it into a musical score.

In the end, he composed a unique and beautiful score that he is proud of.  He wanted to let people know that his version of Lord of the Rings is slightly different from the theatrical score. “It is more rustic,” he says. “I wanted to capture the heart of the books and story lines. Instead of an over the top powerful epic Hollywood type score.” You can listen to the song here.

Don’t miss the chance to see Chance guest conducting his composition on Sept. 6 at Video Games Live! For more information, please visit our website.

~ Gabriel Cabal

Mother Nature and Music: A Mighty 5® Fan Account from Andrew Wilson

Two of my absolute favorite pastimes are: 1) spending time enjoying the great outdoors and 2) experiencing live music. These are also two of the main reasons why I love living in Utah, am proud to be a Utahn, and that I thoroughly enjoy my job. When there were rumblings at work that we were putting together the Mighty 5® Tour, my interest was piqued and I kept my fingers crossed that I would be able to assist with the tour and hopefully go along! Flash forward and now I’m in Moab staring out my hotel window at the redrock that I began a lifelong fascination as a kid. The icing on the cake? I get to share this experience with my mum at my side, as she decided to join in and volunteer for the tour!

rock formation

Don’t sneeze! An awesome example of the great rock formations in Southern Utah!

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VIP at the Mighty 5®

Natalie Cope is the Special Events Manager for the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera. It is her job to coordinate events and activities for our VIP guests. The Mighty 5® Tour has given our VIP patrons a wonderful opportunity to explore the natural beauty of these national parks. I spoke with her on Tuesday morning about the VIP events of the tour.

USUO: What are your duties for the tour?
Natalie: I have planned all VIP activities and excursions through the tour. That includes dinners receptions, the outdoor things we’re doing like hiking and horseback riding, and post-concert receptions.

USUO: What are some of the VIP events being held at Mighty 5® this year?
Natalie: Last night, we did a reception at the Historic Gifford Homestead at Capitol Reef. It’s an intimate setting and picturesque. It feels cozy because it isn’t as busy as the rest of the park. The people at the park went above and beyond with flowers and decorations. There were hummingbirds flying around the tables. It was beautiful. There were even deer just wandering around; they were not afraid of us at all. They like the fruit trees that grow there. The Superintendent of Capitol Reef came out and had some remarks. It was really great. All the VIPs walked over to the Chamber concert at Fruita Campground afterward.

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There is absolutely no way that the Mighty 5® Tour could happen without having volunteers to help run and organize the show. The Utah Symphony and Utah Opera have always been deeply indebted to our volunteers and this experience is no different.

I had the chance to talk to Melissa Robison our Volunteer Coordinator, and Publication and Front of House Manager. She has been working hard on working with and training volunteers to make the Mighty 5® Tour spectacular.

Also, if you want to volunteer (and get into these sold out shows), you can still sign up! Just contact Melissa (her number is at the bottom).

USUO: How do you get enough volunteers to make everything work?
Melissa: When we decided we were going to do this tour, we knew it would be impossible to take our awesome volunteer network with us. Fortunately for us, our Education Department already reaches down to Southern Utah, so we decided to look at local volunteers. We created a flier and sent it out to the Chamber of Commerce and arts and local schools and reached out that way to gather volunteers. We did a lot on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, too. Contine reading

The Mighty 5® Tour has Begun

Dear Internet Reader,

Monday marked the first day of the Utah Symphony’s Mighty 5® Tour, and all I can say is “what a whirlwind!” For me, just seeing this massive event come to life is spectacular. All of the planning, people, departments, community support, artists and donors involved…this was a huge undertaking, and now we’re seeing the results of all of our efforts.

Yesterday, Pat Richards, board chair of the Utah Symphony, made a lovely speech thanking everyone who was involved to make this happen. And honestly, I can’t say it any better than she did.

Pat Richards

Utah Symphony Board Chair Pat Richards

Last night, the Aspen Winds Quintet kicked-off the Mighty 5® Tour with the first chamber concert. Their performances of Nielsen, Copland, and others was inspiring. I was happy to see so many had people turned-out to enjoy it. In fact, so many people showed up that there wasn’t enough seating. People brought their camping chairs from their cars and campsites and joined us behind the bench seating. Contine reading