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Local radio host combines arcade music and classical


Video game music and classical music might seem worlds apart, but a new 24/7 radio stream on a classical music network in California is blending them together and trying to show how this pairing can work for fans of both genres. From member station KQED in San Francisco, Alexander Gonzalez reports.


ALEXANDER GONZALEZ, BYLINE: It's called Arcade, and guiding listeners through this medley is Jennifer Miller Hammel.

JENNIFER MILLER HAMMEL: In a world full of uncontrolled magic and political intrigue, you could be the only thing standing between peace and oblivion. The main theme from Dragon Age: Inquisition by Trevor Morris.

GONZALEZ: Hammel is an avid gamer, like, since the Atari 2600 came out in the late '70s, and she also has a formal background in piano and opera. She hosts Arcade on Classical California, a pair of classical radio stations in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

MILLER HAMMEL: There's been some classical music used in video games.

GONZALEZ: Hammel says that's because this genre in particular helps create atmosphere, like in the game What Remains Of Edith Finch. One of the characters in that game is a young child, and to evoke the innocence of childhood, you hear Tchaikovsky's "Waltz Of The Flowers."


MILLER HAMMEL: What I want to do with Arcade is to show my traditional classical music listeners how these pieces have been creatively used in video games and how these incredibly important cornerstones of classical music have then served to heighten the experience for a gamer.

GONZALEZ: She also wants to highlight the range of great original scores that have been made for video games, which she says gamers and classical music fans can get a lot out of, even without knowing anything about the game.

MILLER HAMMEL: You don't need to know the specifics of the story in order to have that emotional experience.

GONZALEZ: Video game scores have gotten so good, it makes sense there'd be a large enough catalog to build this kind of stream, says Steve Horowitz. He teaches a game music class at San Francisco State University, and says that many video game scores have gotten the same orchestral treatment as film music.

STEVE HOROWITZ: What's happening with game music is just an extension of what happened with film music coming into the concert hall.

GONZALEZ: Arcade's listeners say that part of what's exciting about the new stream is the way that it both showcases their favorites and broadens their horizons. Anthony Hansen is both a gamer and a classical music fan.

ANTHONY HANSEN: I can hear the stuff that I know and have listened to growing up, and I get to hear all of the new stuff for the games that I haven't played.

GONZALEZ: Hanson, who's voiced characters for several video games like God Of War and Star Wars: Battlefront, has been tuning into Arcade to discover new pieces, like a variation on the theme to Tetris.

HANSEN: It got me all giddy because I'm like here's a game I grew up with, and it's just another version of that theme.

GONZALEZ: For classical music fans like Christine Grant (ph), Arcade has exposed her to the vast variety of video game music she never would have otherwise heard.

CHRISTINE GRANT: I'm not a gamer at all, but all of the music that I heard was just so much fun.

GONZALEZ: Grant recalls listening to Arcade for the first time about a month ago. She was stuck in LA traffic. There had been an accident.

GRANT: Everything was just kind of chaotic, and a piece was playing, I think, from The Legend Of Zelda.


GRANT: And I just kind of lost myself in the music. I didn't want to have to get out of the car and go to work.

GONZALEZ: Arcade's host, Jennifer Miller Hammel, says she's gotten requests from listeners to add more music to the stream. She says she's planning to put out a fresh playlist each quarter. For NPR News, I'm Alexander Gonzalez in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Alexander Gonzalez