Wednesday, June 28, 2017

One Sky, One Destiny: A Kingdom Hearts Concert Experience

If you know me at all, you understand that I have a burning passion for a video game called Kingdom Hearts. While it has an engaging (and if I'm being at all honest, convoluted) storyline and extremely fun gameplay, it's also filled level to level and cutscene to cutscene with an abundance of phenomenal music. Sure, sure. You probably think, this is a video game, so all music in the game acts as rhythmic background noise, but that's simply untrue, as confirmed when I went to the Final Fantasy: A New World concert.

Kingdom Hearts is no different. Yoko Shimomura, the composer for the KH soundtrack, puts her entire being into her work, which she’s admitted countless times. What she’s done for the music of this much beloved series has continued to enchant and impress.

So, when Joey, a long-time friend of mine, and I heard that there would be a Kingdom Hearts concert called World Tour in the States (New York City, to be exact), we jumped at the opportunity. Now, in case you are unaware, this concert wasn’t originally supposed to happen. In fact, Joey and I were intending to purchase tickets for the Saturday Kingdom Hearts concert, but we still needed to talk logistics and understand exactly what we would need to save up. Thus, we waited. And waited. And waited some more. By the time we were prepared to purchase our tickets, we found that they were all sold out (cue waves of desolation). As the months passed and I continued to get notifications about the upcoming World Tour KH concert, I kept saying to myself that there would be another, I just had to be patient.

It didn't take long. I was on Reddit one day and saw that World Tour had added another showing the day before its original time and date! At that moment, I called Joey and begged him to consider going with me. He immediately demanded we snatch those tickets up.

Obviously, everything worked out, and though we had to make it through the scores of New Yorkers, the dreaded Friday night traffic, and the frustratingly extensive bag check in front of the United Palace Theatre, we finally sat down to enjoy one of the most surreal moments of my life, a Kingdom Hearts concert complete with a piano, full orchestra, and a choir.

One of the first songs they played was "Dearly Beloved," which was an obvious choice, since it's actually the first song you hear when you play the game. Not to mention that it's absolutely gorgeous. In fact, it has a way of evoking two contradictory, yet complementary emotions. The song starts with a powerful rise of notes, backed by the gentle tangs of the piano. What’s most interesting about this song is that holds the essence of nostalgia. While one chord plunges into melancholy and gives the listener a feeling of overwhelming loss, the other ascends to a much lighter, hopeful tone. "Dearly Beloved" has and will forever be one of my favorite tracks simply because it captures the feeling of childhood, that undeniable yearning for the younger years, something that you can never gain back, yet is something that makes you feel undeniably unafraid for the future and still puts a smile on your face.

They also included songs like "Treasured Memories," "Daybreak Town," and "Twilight Town," which are all beautiful compositions, but they also played some of the most heavily evocative songs, like "Vector to the Heavens," a song that focuses on Xion and her sacrifice. Not going to lie, I started to tear up a bit. I especially had major feels when "Hikari" and "Passion" came up! AHH! They truly were heavenly. Of course, all of the songs drew some kind of emotion from me.

There were also songs that were downright heart-pumping, "Destati" being one of them. It's a song that calls for greatness from the player by starting with a sudden, violent rise from the choir and an intense trill! It's a song that expresses both the intrigue of adventure and the fearful expectations of destiny. Something that makes you go, “I have no choice but to fight.” Interestingly enough, it makes you feel small yet strong at the same time.

Another exciting song was "Fate of the Unknown." I may have squealed a bit too much at its inclusion. The fast-paced tempo coupled with the subtle rise of all the instruments was beyond amazing! My eardrums bled with euphoria. All the brass added to the score was an excellent touch, especially when there were moments of absolute epic Birth by Sleep cutscenes playing on the screen behind the orchestra.

Then, they did something I hadn't anticipated. They played the newest Kingdom Hearts III trailer and a little later, "Wave of Darkness." Holy mother of hearts, that song has become one of my favorites. "Wave of Darkness" is a battle song that is used during Aqua’s boss fight in Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep. It’s something that encapsulates the epic nature of KH as well as Aqua’s constant struggle in the realm of darkness. The tumbling, downward spiral of the piano in the background paired with the jazzy labyrinthine way in which the orchestra plays alongside the sound of a violin. Oh, it was gorgeous.

But it wasn't all tears and heart-stopping battle themes, there was also tons of laughter. One of the most hilarious moments happened when during the battle music compilation, in between two of the themes, there was a split second where the orchestra played "Atlantica" but then quickly transitioned to something else. If you're NOT a KH fan, know that "Atlantica" is usually the least favorite world to visit. To say the least, it caused the entire auditorium to ripple into a state of applause and laughter.

Then, there was a moment in which the auditorium's lighting was having technical difficulties and there was an announcement that politely apologized for the inconvenience and said that the audience would have have to wait momentarily for the fix. Almost immediately after, someone shouted, “It’s okay. We’re used to waiting!”, to which the entire group erupted into hysterical laughter. We're still unsure when the Kingdom Hearts III release date will be.

However, the BEST part of the concert came near the end. The conductor took up a keyblade baton and had Yoko Shimomura come out and play the piano for the concert's encore. Her dexterous fingers played brilliantly (no surprise) and brought most of us to tears. But, it got better still. She quickly left, without so much as a bow, and came back with Tetsuya Nomura, the game's director!! I couldn't believe it. I was breathing the same air as the man who helped bring Kingdom Hearts into existence.

Later, as Joey and I struck up conversation with a few people from the concert, one of them commented that she wasn't expecting to feel as many feels as she did. Agreed! Every single song had a different meaning for me. A different way of feeling. Kingdom Hearts is, at its core, about friendship and about emotion. It's no wonder that a concert filled with its music brings such amazing responses. It was made even more magical by the fact that everyone in that auditorium felt that same pang of nostalgia, that same childhood excitement, and that same hope for something more. Our hearts are connected, indeed.

Kingdom Hearts is not only a video game, it's a reminder to make mistakes, to listen to your heart, to build strong relationships, and to remember the past, but not so much that it hinders your future.

Have you been to or thought about going to any fandom concerts?


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