Selections from Final Fantasy
September 21, 2020
I teach piano to adult students (high school students and up). For grown-ups, I ask them to bring in sheet music that motivated them to start lessons. People are often motivated to learn because they have a song or two that they eventually want to be able to play. Even though it might mean skipping ahead a little in terms of learning technique, I like to start looking at their dream songs together, so that we can build a road map together where they can see the path to their goal.
One of my students brought this book, Selections From Final Fantasy, and said they wanted to learn “Melodies of Life” and “Tifa’s Theme”.
I’m not very familiar with video game music, so to prepare for the lesson, I got a copy of the book for myself, opened to the first song, and started playing. The song was called “Aeris’ Theme” and it was originally composed for the piano. The arrangement was beautiful and very satisfying to play! Even if you don’t recognize the song as being from a famous game, you could easily just enjoy it as a piano song. I enjoyed that song so much, I wondered what the other songs were like, so of course, I just went ahead and played through the rest of the book.
That was fun, but one sight reading session wasn’t enough for me to be able to play all of the songs comfortably. This book is definitely designed for early advanced students. You need to be able to play at least Sonatina to master each arrangement in this book. The left hand part isn’t limited to a support role. To scale up the sound, the left hand moves a lot and adds color to the songs, and that is something that, for me anyway, takes time to learn. So I have been enjoying these songs both because they are fun to play and for the challenge they provide.
Since I liked these songs, I did some research on the composers: Nobuo Uematsu and Masashi Hamauzu. I was guessing both of them probably have some sort of classical music background. Well, I was half right! Mr. Hamauzu was born into a musical family, and after graduating from Tokyo University of the Arts with a degree in classical vocal music, he joined Square Enix. On the other hand, Mr. Uematsu describes himself as playing “DTM (Desk Top Music)” without having a “proper music education.” According to the story he tells, he was hired just because he happened to bump into Mr. Sakaguchi (the creator of Final Fantasy) near the Square office. Mr. Sakaguchi knew him because he had done some freelance work for Square games in the past, so he asked Mr. Uemastsu what he had been up to recently. When Mr. Uematsu answered that he was still composing songs, Mr. Sakaguchi asked, “How would you like to join our team?” And that was that.
The more I know about the background of the composers, the more I am interested in the music, especially the pieces Mr. Uematsu wrote. Now I am trying to educate myself by listening to the original sound from the games and watching explanatory videos about the scenes from the Final Fantasy series, while thinking about how I can better play those arrangements on the piano.