Interview: Jessica Gethin conductor for The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses
Before it arrives, there’s actually one part of it returning to Australia and that’s Jessica Gethin, the conductor of the symphony. Jessica is in-fact a Perth local, much like most of the Vooks team too! We got to have a chat with Jessica in between shows about what it’s like to conduct a Zelda Symphony, her history with games and more.
What is your history with music?
I grew up in a very musical family, we were influenced by a whole range of different genres ranging from the early classical symphonic repertoire to jazz and contemporary, in hindsight I realise now how lucky I was to be surrounded by so much live music as a child! I graduated with a Bachelor of Music Performance in Western Australia then worked professionally as a violinist, playing in orchestras, appearing as a soloist and with chamber ensembles until I moved into symphonic conducting about 15 years ago.
How does one get into conducting, specifically?
There are a few different pathways, some start out as symphonic players, some are répétiteurs
/pianists that work with opera companies and such. You need to have a pretty unique set of skills; a really strong sense of musicianship and knowledge of music theory and history, good communication and leadership skills and be prepared to study hard and take all opportunities you can to grow and gain experience on the podium in the early years. I completed a conducting internship with a youth orchestra and then took part in Symphony Australia’s Conductor Development Program and it gradually progressed into a career from there to where I am now.
You’ve conducted Beethoven, operas, and Disney, and now you’re conducting one of the most iconic and revered video game series soundtracks of all time: what does this mean to you as a professional musician?
I’ve always believed in breaking down the genre barriers… good music is simply that, good music! If it is written and orchestrated well and performed with integrity, it doesn’t matter if the musical origin is one of the great composers, an opera, a Disney show or video game. I always bring the same musical expectations and preparation with each program and every orchestra that I’m working with and treat the music with the same respect. At the end of the day, one of my primary jobs as conductor is to shape and mold the sound, define the orchestral colour and unify the interpretation so the work has direction and meaning beyond the notes on the page, which can be done with any score.
Video game creation, from coding to composing, has traditionally been a male-dominated field, but female representation is improving. There appear to be parallels within professional conducting, and in a 2015 ABC interview, you mentioned female conductors were still very much a minority. What is the significance to you in being such a groundbreaking figure in the field of professional conducting, being named in 2015 one of the 100 most influential women in Australia by the Australian Financial Review, earning one of six Inaugural Fellow positions for the Dallas Opera’s Institute of Women Conductors, and now conducting for a medium well-known for its male dominance?
It’s true that the number of female conductors is still in the minority but I’m starting to see a change, more acceptance, and opportunities. These days I just focus on the music, bringing what I can to each score and working hard to deliver my best performance each time I step on the podium. I hope in doing so that it helps pave a way for other female artists in the industry or perhaps inspires the next generation to pursue their passion, be it conducting or video game creation!
What are the main challenges and differences in conducting for video game music in comparison to classical music written specifically for orchestral arrangements?
I really love collaborating with other genres and being challenged by new projects. Fortunately, the orchestral writing for Symphony of the Goddesses is so well orchestrated that we feel very at home with the music! The original video game music has been arranged very symphonically so it makes our job as musicians easy, while still allowing the audience to connect with the original themes they know and love. The orchestra and chorus play live to screen footage, so we use a click track to keep this all synchronised, so the main challenge is how to make it sound free with lyrical phrasing and a natural sense of direction within the limits of the click track. The score is beautifully eclectic in its writing, journeying through the big, powerful and exciting themes to the more tender and melancholy moments. It’s a real joy to both conduct and play… as well as attending in the audience!
Do you have a prior connection to Zelda and video games on the whole, or is this an entirely new experience for you?
I must admit prior to this I’m was a Zelda newbie! However, I have an eight-year-old son who loves video games and has enjoyed discovering The Legend of Zelda with me so I’m getting to see it through his eyes! I’ve really enjoyed discovering the history behind it, learning about the Kingdom of Hyrule, the Triforce, Link’s adventures… it’s exciting to bring it all to life on the stage with the live orchestra, chorus, and footage.
Are there any orchestra members who are fans of the Zelda series that you are aware of?
Yes, I believe so! I have had a few musicians who have contacted me saying how very excited they are to play the music they know and love so well from playing the game.
You are renowned for a high caliber of performance, and your ability to draw the best out of the musicians you work with: what personal flair and input can Zelda Symphony attendees expect from you during the tour?
I really love collaborating with and performing for people who are passionate about their cause, and the Zelda fans certainly lead the way in this! I hope to bring the same enthusiasm and energy shown by those who know and love the game to the music itself. I also hope to introduce our regular orchestra concert lovers to The Legend of Zelda and vice versa, the video gamers to the orchestra; a wonderful exchange! It is such a fantastic show that will be enjoyed as much by devoted Zelda fans as orchestra concert attendees who are new to Zelda.
What advice can you give to aspiring professional musicians and those who want to create music for video games and other mediums?
Listen as much as possible to the great composers and orchestrators for sound influence, talk to musicians who know their instruments and craft better than any text book, observe as many as rehearsals as possible, find mentors in the industry and take every opportunity presented to grow and develop as an artist.
Thanks to Jessica for her time.
Christopher Button contributed to this interview.