SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) —Depending on your age, when you think of video game soundtracks you might initially think about beeps, boops and other shrill computer sounds.
However, for Springfield native and at one point Westfield resident Tommy Tallarico, the soundtracks are so much more. It’s symphonic, it’s rock-and-roll—it is true music. And Tallarico brings that passion back to his home city of Springfield, performing his show “Video Games Live” at Springfield Symphony Hall on May 13.
The show, first started in 2002, has had international success, with Tallarico performing in over 25 countries and five continents, including the Middle East, South America, Australia and across the US. The show boasts several Guinness Book records, including being the most performed symphony tour ever at over 420 performances, and being the most live-viewed performance symphony, when over 752,000 watched the show both online and in person in China last year.
But how did it all start?
“Music was always in my life,” Tallarico said.
He said that although he didn’t have much in the way of formal training, he learned the accordion due to his family’s Italian heritage. Still, he was exposed to music early, including trips to the Springfield Symphony. In addition, Tallarico growing up would watch one of his cousins, Steven Tallarico, play at shows in cities like Worcester with his band that people would come to know as Aerosmith.
Steven Tallarico by the way, is the original name for Aerosmith’s lead singer, Steven Tyler.
Then, at around age 10, a life-changing experience occurred.
“When I was 10 Star Wars came out, then the next year Rocky came out,” he said. “I was a kid listening to these orchestral scores and I was blown away.”
This inspired Tallarico to go to his local library and read about the composers of the two scores—John Williams for Star Wars; Bill Conti for Rocky.
“I would read interviews with these guys and they would mention Beethoven as a major influence,” he said.
This inspired him to seek out the compositions of Beethoven. He would listen to the music and eventually, went to see a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by the Springfield Symphony Orchestra.
“I saw them play Beethoven’s Ninth and I watched while having tears in my eyes,” Tallarico said.
Tallarico graduated from high school, and for a period of time moved to Westfield to be closer to his girlfriend at the time. However, when he reached his early 20s, he decided that he wanted to pursue his dream of music.
“When I turned 21, I literally left my parents crying on the door step and drove off to California in 1990,” Tallarico said. “No money, no place to stay, no job, just a two-seater and three t-shirts and jeans.
“That’s where you’re supposed to make it,” he said.
Tallarico settled in Huntington Beach, and at first had no home and no job. Instead, the underside of a pier in the area was his temporary residence, spending his first three weeks there.
Within a few days of arriving on the west coast though, Tallarico found an ad for keyboard sales at a Guitar Center in the area. He was hired, just two days after arriving in California.
According to Tallarico, the first person he helped at his new job recognized a shirt he was wearing. Tallarico, who had a lifelong passion of video games to go along with his love for music, was wearing a t-shirt of the Japanese video game console TurboGrafx-16.
“The very first person I serviced worked for Richard Benson of Virgin, saw my t-shirt and asked if I knew about video games,” he said.
Virgin owned the video game company Virgin Interactive.
“I said ‘yes’ and he offered me a job to play video games and give input,” Tallarico said.
“I was in California three days and was literally in the video game industry,” he said.
From there, Tallarico would give input as a video game tester, all the while “bugging” the vice president of the company about creating music for the video games. He would keep offering over and over, including doing work free-of-charge.
“About six months later they came to me and said ‘this game needs music, we will give you an opportunity, we’ll give you this shot’.”
Tallarico took the chance and helped to innovate video game music in the process.
“The way I would approach music back then was very different, it was a lot of bleeps and bloops and not a lot of musicians working on the music,” he said. “It was computer programmers working on them.”
Tallarico took a MIDI keyboard, plugged it into a computer and played music through the keyboard. The computer would record the music as a piece of code, and in the process would give additional life and depth to the previously-numerically coded soundtracks that occupied the video games of the 1980s.
“I had a completely unfair advantage over everybody else,” he said.
Eventually, this turned into the original Prince of Persia soundtrack, which won awards for music of the year in the video game industry. The series even spawned additional video games across different consoles, and eventually a movie.
Tallarico continued to create music from then on, with additional technologies like the CD-ROM allowing for even more depth and instrumentation. Along the way, Tallarico said he also became the first video game music composer to play a live guitar on a game’s soundtrack, and he was recording orchestras for other games.
He continued his career, getting big contracts from video game giants like Capcom and Electronic Arts, also known as EA, and working on video games like Earthworm Jim, Metroid Prime, as well as games within the video game series’ Sonic the Hedgehog, Madden and Tony Hawk Pro Skater.
Also around this time in 1995, Tallarico became co-producer and host of an internationally-syndicated video game show, Electric Playground. This helped bring video games to an even-wider audience, including those watching MTV and fans in Canada.
During his time with the show, which ended in 2007, Tallarico then began, in 2002, to create what is bringing him back to Springfield—Video Games Live.
“For Video Games Live, my whole idea, my goal, was twofold,” he said. “First, I wanted to prove to the world how artistic and influential video games have become… I also wanted to help usher in a whole new generation of people to appreciate the arts and appreciate symphonic music.”
According to Tallarico, during the 1990s, video games flourished with creativity, created lusher environments, storylines and characters. This carried over into today’s video game world, where video games are immense and at times, seemingly never-ending.
“That blossomed, so why shouldn’t the music,” Tallarico asked.
And now, Tallarico can tell the story to those in his hometown.
“My whole life I’ve been thinking about this moment,” he said. “As I was a kid, nine years old watching the stage, saying ‘I will one day be there,’ and 40 years later I’m making that dream come true.”For tickets to Video Games Live, visit the Springfield Symphony webpage at springfieldsymphony.org, or follow this link for more information, or visit the Symphony box office at 1441 Main Street, or call (413) 733-2291.Copyright 2017 The Westfield News