This past October marked the arrival of Symphony of the Goddesses in Boston. The night before the performance on the 18th, I had the privilege of showing the concert’s Producer and Creative Director, Jeron Moore, around good old Beantown. During a night of burger-fueled shenanigans around the city, we sat down to have a chat about the making of Symphony of the Goddesses. Inside, he reveals his favorite songs, explains the purpose and inception of the show, and recounts his personal interactions with some of Nintendo’s most legendary icons.
If you prefer to listen to the spoken interview, rather than reading the transcript, you can do so here.
Colin McIsaac: What first got you interested in Zelda and what’s your favorite memory?
Jeron Moore: Well, what first got me interested in Zelda… I have to blame that on my cousin Thomas. My parents and I had driven up to Oklahoma City when the game had first come out. He’d gotten it for Christmas and was like, “You’ve gotta come in here and check out this game!” Of course, the NES was on the TV in his parents room, that way they could keep an eye on us.
He’d already made it through to the end and was facing off with Ganon. He got up for a bit and let me take over… so I’m playing the game, and of course being a Zelda n00b (not to mention 6 or 7 years old), I die! I’m totally fascinated by the game, but I get frustrated and I turn it off, because I’m done. Little did I know at that time, you had to hold the reset button in order to initiate the save feature. Anyway… I didn’t do that… and he lost all his progress. Thomas came back and nearly murdered me. *chuckles* In fact, his parents put him in the corner for what felt like the rest of the day, because he just was livid. And of course, I felt awful.
And that’s… That’s how I learned how to play Zelda. So I have my cousin to thank for teaching me how to save my game. Haha. I don’t know if that answers your question. That’s one of my earliest Zelda memories, and definitely one of my favorites.
CM: What did gaming mean to you as a kid, and how has that feeling persisted or changed growing up?
JM: Gaming for me as a kid was all about going on an adventure and going someplace I hadn’t been before. The thing that I remember most as a kid is this crazy imagination that I had. I was always roleplaying X-Men, or Wizards and Warriors—Not the Nintendo game, though I did play that as well, haha—But you know, imaginary stuff.
And that to me was creatively stimulating, but video games, Nintendo, was just something I looked forward to doing. I would wake up early in the morning before school just to play it, and then I couldn’t wait to get home afterward. I may have been obsessed.
CM: Sounds like me!
JM: *chuckles* Yeah. It was just special. It was something that I got to share with friends and family, and if they were tired of it, I got to do it by myself. I was a young little geek and it appealed to my fascination with gadgets, and cartoons, and music—I mean the tunes, the melodies, the things that Koji Kondo came up with for Mario and Zelda, and at that age, I was also playing Castlevania, Mega Man, Blaster Master, The Battle of Olympus and anything else that was on the system at the same time. You just walk away humming those melodies, and of course, when you’re young and have a really active imagination, with those graphics being as basic as they were, you’d imagine it as being better than it actually was.
So yeah, that concept kind of persisted for me as time went on. I mean, graphics have gotten better. I don’t know that games necessarily have. They’re still plenty fun, but they’re different. I mean, I can’t wait for Halo 4 to come out in a couple weeks, and Assassin’s Creed III is going to be awesome. But we’re still buying New Super Mario Bros. U, and that’s in the style of Super Mario World, another classic that I grew up playing.
CM: How did you get interested in music?
JM: How did I get interested in music?
CM: How did you get interested in music?!
JM: Why, that’s a good question! ...How did I get interested in music? How many times can we ask this question? Haha.
When I was young, around the same time as I was introduced to Nintendo, my older sister Michelle had introduced me to some orchestral scores that she had grown fond of, one of which was The Man from Snowy River by a composer named Bruce Rowland. It’s a really marvelous Australian western. It has a lot of French horns, soaring strings, and the album cover had this cowboy and a horse against a sunset. For whatever reason (we’ll blame my imagination again), I just liked that image and all the things the music would conjure up inside of me. I’d get into the car with my sister, and I’d just proclaim, “I want to listen to the music with the horses! I wanna listen to the music with the horses!” So she’d put it on, and she eventually gave me the cassette tape.
And then a few years later she introduced me to Out of Africa by John Barry, which was an Academy Award-winning score and feature film. It was a really atypical genre of music for someone my age to fall in love with, because I didn’t know anything about the movie, and at that age I don’t think I would have been interested in the movie, knowing what the movie’s about, had I tried to watch it. But the music just completely captured me. In fact, Kyle, you should do a cover of Out of Africa sometime. (We’ve got Kyle Landry here hanging out with us!)
So yeah, those are a couple of important milestones for me, and all the while, I’m playing Nintendo and falling in love with these melodies that Koji Kondo with Super Mario Bros. and Zelda, and Kinuyo Yamashita with Castlevania created. And of course, Nobuo Uematsu for Final Fantasy, which were difficult games, but the music kept bringing me back. All of that spilled over when everything I loved about Nintendo got bigger and better with the Super NES. Being 31, I’ve had the privilege of seeing video game music go through its growing pains… from 8-bit to 16-bit to more advanced redbook audio (like Sonic CD) and now fully orchestral recordings. It’s been a fun journey, and now there are symphonic concerts celebrating all of this stuff and turning public perception on its head, which just takes it to a whole other level.
CM: Speaking of which, I’m actually really disappointed that the cases these days don’t come in the gold editions anymore.
JM: Well, you know, on that note, our team has the honor and privilege of doing something really special, and that was producing the 25th Anniversary Symphony orchestral recording that shipped with Skyward Sword. I had no idea how it was going to be packaged. I knew it was going to be a bonus disc, but when I started seeing the promo images for it, I was like, “Okay, I see what they’re doing,” and then when I finally got it, I was like “Holy—holy crap!” The disc was gold, and then underneath it was a full-color disc for the game. And it was like, “Wow… our disc was the gold one.” What I had a hand in producing was kinda the “gold cartridge” of the package, which was really special and sentimental for me.
We’re just all big fans who have grown up with this stuff. Really, you just pursue what you like and what you’re passionate about, and if you’re persistent, you can carve a career for yourself. If you get lucky, and a lot of it’s not luck, either, it’s forming the right relationships and following the right line of decisions and just knowing your stuff, you can get far with that. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Jason Michael Paul, Chad Seiter, Eímear Noone and our entire team for the 25th Anniversary Symphony in collaboration with Eiji Aonuma, Koji Kondo and their team. To do that was in and of itself amazing, and what we’re doing now with Symphony of the Goddesses just takes that to the next step and carries it forward in a way I think people will really enjoy.
CM: How did you get chosen for Symphony of the Goddesses?
JM: I got chosen, but it wasn’t because I just got chosen out of the blue. I pitched the idea. It was something that I really wanted to do and I was already associated with another concert series with Mr. Paul entitled PLAY! A Video Game Symphony. We already had an established relationship with Nintendo with that concert. I had always wanted to do a Zelda concert. I’d been nagging Jason Paul about it for a while, and I eventually was just like, “Look, this is what we need to do,” and he was like “Okay! Put it together. Put the pitch together, put the pitch together… We’ll take it to Nintendo.”
And so, I hunkered down with my buddy Chad [Seiter]. We put in a lot of time and energy and just countless hours into how to refine this and make it the quintessential experience. We focused on what was important and pulled it together, presented that concept to Nintendo, and they were like, “This is great, but we want to do this first,” and that was the 25th Anniversary Symphony. So we put that together, and then we introduced Symphony of the Goddesses.
CM: I know Zelda’s got a ton of great music, everyone knows that. Are you able to choose a favorite song?
JM: A singular favorite song?
CM: Maybe two or three.
Kyle Landry: Obviously the title theme.
JM: Well yeah, there’s the main title theme, but I kinda feel like that’s—
JM: I really like Hyrule Field from Twilight Princess. The main theme from Twilight Princess. And I feel like you get that theme in a lot of different ways throughout that score.
KL: Do you have another one? Another favorite? I mean, that’s a really interesting question.
JM: Dark World theme. Can’t really go anywhere without the Dark World theme.
KL: What about from Zelda 64 specifically?
JM: I really like the Deku Tree’s theme.
KL: ~Dooo dooo dooo dooo dooooooo~
JM: Yeah! It’s ominous and creepy and sad.
KL: ~DAAA DAAAAAAAAA~
JM: *laughs* You’ll hear that tonight.
KL: What about Kakariko?
JM: Well, Kakariko Village was in Link to the Past. And that gets to the core of something that frustrates me: A lot of people think, “Oh, that’s Zelda’s Lullaby,” you know? And that’s what it was called in Ocarina of Time, but it’s always been Princess Zelda’s theme, and it originated in A Link to the Past.
CM: Well, I think that with Ocarina of Time, Nintendo adopted the title as “Zelda’s Lullaby”
JM: Well, I think a lot of people feel like…
CM: It wasn’t even Zelda’s theme, though, too, it was the maidens’ rescue theme.
JM: Well, it was, but… She was always maiden number one.
KL (smiling): Always.
JM (smiling): Always.
KL: Coming from Link himself.
JM: But no, I’ve seen on YouTube, older people correct younger people on, “No, that theme originated in Link to the Past.” When you come to the show tomorrow night, you won’t get Princess Zelda’s theme in its full glory until you get to the movement focused on A Link to the Past.
KL: Am I gonna cry tomorrow?
JM: Kyle, if you don’t, I’ll make you cry afterward.
Kyle and Jeron model some tasteful hats
CM: Which is your favorite Zelda game?
JM: I would say Twilight Princess.
CM: Yeah, it sounds like it! *giggles*
JM: Closely followed by… I mean, A Link to the Past is really—Chad and I like to joke around that that was the first game we were smart enough to actually beat. Somehow, I beat the first two, and don’t ask me how I got through Adventure of Link, but somehow I did.
CM: I was surprised. Everyone always says it’s so hard, but I was fine until the very end. The Great Palace… If you’re still alive by then, you’re very lucky.
JM: I think I was just a little psychopath at that point in my life, and nothing was gonna keep me down. But no, Wind Waker, and I think Link to the Past. Those are my top three, and I can’t really put one ahead of the other, though I will say that Twilight Princess resonates very strongly with me. And probably for a lot of the reasons that I enjoyed A Link to the Past. I felt like there were a lot of parallels between A Link to the Past and Twilight Princess, you know? It took the best of what made Ocarina of Time great, and then it borrowed all the things that made Link to the Past awesome and amazing and revolutionary, and then packaged it up into what may not have been a revolutionary game, but a really classy game.
CM: What other franchises have influenced your passion for video games and their music?
JM: Long before there was World of Warcraft, there was Ultima Online, one of the first MMO’s, which a lot of people probably don’t even remember. It’s still around, I think, but the game was based on a franchise called Ultima. I got hooked early on with the NES game, Ultima: Exodus, and then later in my teens with a game called Ultima VII: The Black Gate, and that had some really awesome music. This was developed by a company called Origin Systems, which EA later bought… and then dismantled, as they seem to do.
KL: Yep, that’s what they do.
JM: That, and then another franchise by Origin Systems called Wing Commander, was another game that I just absolutely adored. And the music throughout that entire series was great. In fact, it motivated me enough to… see, this is where I start dating myself and people don’t really understand what I’m even talking about. Once upon a time, sound cards were all the rage. Your computers didn’t come with onboard sound, so like with video cards, you had to carefully choose your sound card. And then you could actually upgrade the MIDI wavetable on the sound card. You could buy a premium MIDI wavetable, which was like an add-on, and you could snap it onto your Sound Blaster, and it would make the MIDI instruments on your sound card actually sound better. And I actually went and spent the extra money to make the music in my game sound better. All the soundfonts were better samples.
That was all PC gaming… I was a big PC gamer… I guess I should have specified that, because I got into PC gaming really heavy, and I did play a lot of Nintendo as well. At some point I had a SEGA. Played Sonic. Frustrated the hell out of me. Didn’t really get into it. I had the SEGA Command console and then the SEGA Genesis, and I think you could get the SEGA CD with that?
CM: And the 32x, and the…
JM: Yeah, all that stuff.
JM: But really, I was always a Nintendo guy. I didn’t get a PlayStation when it came out.
KL: Me either.
JM: Didn’t have a PS One or PlayStation 2.
KL: Me either.
JM: I actually borrowed a friend’s PlayStation 2 just so I could go out and… in high school, my best friend Clayton Featherstone and I split the cost of Final Fantasy VII. But yeah, Always Nintendo. Straight from Goldeneye 64, Grant Kirkhope, and there was another gentleman…
KL: Graeme Norgate
JM: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly! And Grant’s a really great guy, give him a shout out on Twitter!
KL: Am I allowed to ask a question? Jeron, what are your feelings on Wind Waker?
JM: Wind Waker is an amazing, revolutionary Zelda title. It deserves a place on the shelf with the best of them. It ties in with the mythology of the franchise remarkably well. I love all of the references to Ocarina of Time. There’s nothing like going into Hyrule Castle down where you get the Master Sword, and seeing all those stained glass windows and all the sages, and just kind of soaking in the history and seeing that it actually goes a little deeper than what you probably thought. And of course, that is just the ultimate tease, and what gave birth to a lot of the conjecture and theories and infighting within the community on this timeline or that timeline. No one really guessed that there were three.
Anyway, the music in the game was phenomenal. I remember seeing the trailers and hearing the Great Ocean theme, which the trailer version, the demo track at the end of the 2-disc soundtrack—is the Ocean theme with the main Legend of Zelda theme worked into it. *imitates it*
CM: I loved it when they did that, and they don’t do it as much anymore.
KL: Jeron, how do you feel about the Super Smash Bros. series?
JM: I think it’s awesome! I think it’s hilarious that the Temple theme from Zelda II—So many people think that from Smash Bros. and not from Zelda II. Everyone always applauds in the show when that comes on, because we have that in the show. And sometimes, I’ll come on and be like, “Guys. That was from Zelda II, not Smash Bros.”
CM: What’s it like to work so closely with Nintendo?
JM: They’re a very gracious group of people, very professional, have the highest standards one could expect. It’s really just a great privilege. They’re very fun to collaborate with. It’s kinda where I get tripped up because it’s just so unreal. You know, as a fan, and as someone who really respects the work that the company has done and the creatives behind the company. Getting to work with guys like Koji Kondo and Eiji Aonuma directly to build this concert series, and having their involvement to ensure that this represents the franchise in the most authentic way possible was just great.
What was even more reaffirming and just a lot of fun was that Chad and I got to steer the boat on the creative for the show, having to run all our ideas by them. Amazingly, they never came back to us with any major challenges or revisions. It was mostly informative, small corrections here and there, but nothing major. Stuff that we actually were able to learn from and gain greater insight into the music just by learning where to tweak this or tweak that.
You know, I think that’s where a lot of the trust with our team with our team was earned. They saw that we knew the material, grew up with it, were passionate about it, and understood the spirit behind it.
CM: What’s the whole experience been like? You really get to live out a dream. How does that feel?
JM: I feel like a unicorn galloping on a rainbow in outer space!
CM: So are there any funny stories from the tour so far?
JM: Well, one of the funniest stories—It’s one of my brightest memories was when we were about to have our show for the 25th Anniversary in Los Angeles, October 2011. I had created all the video for the 25th Anniversary, I was on-site, and Mr. Aonuma and Mr. Kondo had just flown in from Tokyo. Around that same time, my partners, Chad Seiter, the music director, and Jason Paul, our executive producer, had flown in, because they had gone out to Tokyo to help and be a part of the Tokyo show.
I unfortunately wasn’t able to go, as I stayed behind to lead the charge on Los Angeles and make sure London was well on its way as well. We were literally doing Los Angeles and then flying directly to London the next day for that show. There was a lot to be done. I had a lot of work to do; the show in Tokyo didn’t have video. Los Angeles and London, however, did, and that was one of my responsibilities. I’d done all the video and worked very closely with Nintendo of America to get it all approved, and everyone was happy with it.
We had been sending it over to Japan, but when we were rehearsing for the show in Los Angeles, the day of the show, Bill Trinen walked up to me and said that Mr. Aonuma had not seen the video yet, and that we needed to go review it. So, Mr. Kondo’s sitting out in the auditorium, watching the rehearsal, and we go out there to join him. So get this: it’s Mr. Kondo, and then Bill files in and sits next to him, and then I file in and sit next to Bill, and then Mr. Aonuma files in and sits to my right, so I’m like sandwiched in between all these guys, you know? I might as well been in front of the panel on X Factor, about to perform.
I felt good about what I did, but at the same time I’m like, “This is the first time Mr. Aonuma has seen my work, is he going to like it?… I know Zelda… but did I do this right?” We watch through all the video, and it was very touching, because as we were going through it, we were reviewing these visual summations of many of the games that he had produced. He would laugh, and all of us would get emotional in all of the same spots, captured by nostalgia. I could see him reminiscing through the experience. It ended up being a really good time.
And then, once finished, he extended his hand to mine and said, “Excellent work.” It was like a rite of passage, I felt like, “Wow… Now we can do the show! Now we can do this!” That will always live in my memory. Remember, this was in October, a whole month before Skyward Sword was released. After the show, they gave me the cover for the game, and Mr. Kondo, Mr. Aonuma, and Mr. Trinen had signed it. It was a very cool gift.
CM: That’s incredible…
JM: Yeah. There are lots of other funny stories, but that one, where I was kinda shaking in my boots during the video review is the one that shines.
CM: To the listener, what is the Symphony of the Goddesses experience?
JM: Symphony of the Goddesses is the story of the series seen through the goddesses’ eyes. When we were putting this thing together, I was thinking, “How does this fit together? What’s the through line? Rather than just slam a bunch of random hits together, how do we frame this up? What’s the context?”
My thought was that the goddesses are always around. They exist outside of the games’ individual stories, and they just kinda tippy-toe their way into those worlds when they feel like it and tinker. Then the characters have to deal with the consequences. The goddesses provide the platform for these stories to unfold, and so, quite naturally, the title of the show became Symphony of the Goddesses.
From a purely fictional standpoint, The Legend of Zelda—all of it—is their symphony. It’s this big massive body of work that tells a grand story. There are four movements: we start with Ocarina of Time, then progress into The Wind Waker, then Twilight Princess, and finally A Link to the Past. For reasons of practicality, we’re not able to demonstrate the multiple timelines, so laying them down in this way is sort of an efficient linear way to do it. And I think when you watch it this way, you see how they’re all interconnected. You get the sense that the goddesses are always present, and really shaped the experience over the generations for those characters in the games.
Of course, outside of the fictional realm, it’s all about nostalgia, and reliving your favorite moments and getting to experience these games in the way our memories have preserved them. Maybe not in the way that they actually were, but tapping into those magical moments that you remember. You know, sometimes you go back to something and it’s not quite the way you remembered it, and that isn’t what we wanted to do with this. We wanted you to sit down, hear the music that you grew up loving, and it be exactly the way you remembered it, if not bigger and better. That’s what we hope to have achieved, and I think that in some capacity, we have.