During the Fall 2012 pledge drive, I had a moment to talk with Tory about classical composers from the East (China, Taiwan, Korea, etc.) and how they can get overlooked. While doing so, I mentioned one of these unsung heroes, a composer who has changed the landscape of music for the past 25 years: Koji Kondo. A Japanese native, Kondo’s work has sold over 60 million copies worldwide. Perhaps he is not well known in the music world because his medium is not exclusive to CDs or LPs. His greatest compositions are featured in video games.
Kondo was born in Nagoya, Japan in August of
1960. His passion for music began at age
five, when he started taking lessons on the electronic organ. Growing up, Kondo had 2 unique musical
influences that are both sonically and cosmically different. He equally loves progressive rock bands, like
Deep Purple as well as the works of Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (more
on that later). Kondo studied at the Art Planning Department of Osaka University of Arts,
and was never classical trained in music composition.
His career began in 1984 working for the Nintendo Co., the world’s largest video game company. Kondo was the first person hired by Nintendo for the purpose of creating compositions, and was to play an integral role in making the company's games and music recognizable worldwide. Despite creating very little music, he was able to overcome the challenges of sound design and became the lead composer for games on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985.
He composed the music for the hit releases Super Mario Bros. (1985) and The Legend of Zelda (1986), which established some of the most well-known melodies in the video game industry. Super Mario Bros., for many years the best-selling video game of all time, was Kondo's first major score. The game's melodies were created with the intention that short segments of music could be endlessly repeated during the same gameplay without causing boredom. Kondo's soundtrack to Super Mario Bros. gained worldwide recognition, and is to this day the most well-known video game score. The main theme is iconic in popular culture and has been featured in over 50 concerts. Kondo's compositions have been features in over 25 games and counting throughout his career.
While most would not see video games as a gateway to classical music, Kondo has embraced the two worlds. He has often listed Rachmaninoff’s four piano concertos as his main classical influence. Kondo attended the world-premiere of Play! A Video Game Symphony at the Rosemont Theater in Rosemont, Illinois in May 2006, where his music was performed by a full symphony orchestra. This event drew thousands of attendees.
In 2007, Kondo composed orchestral pieces for the title Super Mario
Galaxy, which saw Nintendo’s mascot adventuring among the stars. The game's soundtrack was composed for a
50-player symphony orchestra, referred to as the
Mario Galaxy Orchestra. The composer asked the orchestra to play at different tempos
in order to perfectly synchronize with the Mario's movement. They also stated
that even the sound effects fit into the musical score if the player listens
carefully. This game (and its sequel, Super Mario Galaxy 2) was revolutionary
for being the first in the medium to use a full orchestral score. The soundtracks were embraced by both the
gaming and music communities, earning numerous critics’ awards, including “Best
Design in Audio” from the U.K.’s Edge Magazine.
As the holidays approach and families gather together, you may notice the kids (or grandkids) heading to the living room to play some video games Instead of telling them to turn it off, ask them to turn it up, specifically if they have a Nintendo. You may be in for an auditory delight to cap off your holiday meal, all thanks to Mr. Koji Kondo.