How the ‘Kingdom Hearts’ Games Got Their Reorchestrated Soundtracks with Help From Sibelius

By in Music Creation, Notation, Timeline Tuesday

The art of music in games has come a long way: iconic chiptune melodies from the early days have paved the way for the current successes of multiple touring game concerts and Grammy-nominated scores from emerging composers. I occasionally worry that calling myself a “gamer” is a misnomer. While passionate about video games, my forte lies in studying game music scores, more than playing the games themselves: my own musical style is influenced by the sounds of landscapes and characters I never knew.

My minimal arranging studio

For all the countless hours spent hand-writing sheet music when first transcribing melodies, I was lucky to come across Sibelius, ultimately saving me from much more laborious adventures. I remember click-entering notes and dragging slur endpoints to their optimal position in Sibelius 4—long before luxuries of Magnetic Layout made the art of engraving more bearable. In a way, I have grown as an engraver and orchestrator as Sibelius has matured. I don’t think I could do what I do now without Sibelius.

Todd Maki conducting the Youngstown Scoring Stage

Project Destati

Regarding my most recent musical undertaking, Project Destati is a celebration and musical homage of the rich and powerful score of the Kingdom Hearts games: a reimagining of music from one of the best-selling video game series of all time. David Russell, Kristin Naigus, and I have spent the last few years reorchestrating new interpretations of Yoko Shimomura’s compositions.

Given the momentous fanbase behind Kingdom Hearts and the brilliance of the original scores, our project poses its own set of challenges. Anyone who has played these games will recognize iconic melodies and motifs woven throughout our interpretations. Our job is to provide a freshness to the arrangements we make through genre subversion, interlinking and combining of character themes, and hinting at story arcs. Unhindered by technical and usability friction, Sibelius has been instrumental in offering the flexibility and freedom to easily take down ideas and melodies, iterate, and engrave sheet music ready for distribution to performers.

For our most recent scoring session, we had the pleasure of working with Todd Maki and the Youngstown Scoring Stage to record for our upcoming second volume:

Engraving feedback from the performers was minimal, and suggested changes for player-readability were quick and effortless—a few clicks in Sibelius instantly moved the boxed measure numbers, and adding bowings and missed articulations was as simple as a few memorized keystrokes. There is thought and effort behind even minimal interactions with Sibelius; it is designed for quickly notating the music in my head rather than learning an overtly complex program.

'Darkness Overture' string section review

The session was a complete success, and due to the preparedness of our scores, we finished early. No harm in double-tracking.

Sibelius has enabled me to create beautiful scores that are easy to manipulate, whether it be for my reorchestration projects or session work. I can’t imagine myself using any other software as fluidly as I’ve used Sibelius. With so many new music projects cropping up all the time, my work for Project Destati can only benefit from software that’s as versatile as the music I make.

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I'm a composer, orchestrator, and classically-trained pianist with a passion for soundtracks. For the past decade, I have reimagined, recreated, and rearranged music from films and other interactive media, mostly with solo-instrumental or fully orchestral interpretations.