Despite the enduring popularity of video games and the increasing amount of recognition that they receive as art, sheet music for their iconic scores remains very rare. Some of the most popular themes have recently become available, but publishers have been slow to tap this market.
Super Mario Bros. and its instantly recognizable theme songs composed by Koji Kondo may be almost 30 years old, but a piano songbook collection featuring tunes from the original game all the way up the New Super Mario Bros. on Wii was only recently released from Alfred Publishing within the last year.
A similar Legend of Zelda collection soon followed, and both have been top-selling titles.
Alfred has been instrumental in bringing what little video game music is available to consumers, and has steadily increased their selections. Music from World of Warcraft comes not only in piano folios but also arrangements for band instruments like flute and trumpet. Tracks from the Halo series, as well as "Baba Yetu" from Civilization IV, are also part of their catalog. For all intents and purposes, this represents the entirety of officially licensed sheet music from video games available in the United States.
Currently, there do not appear to be any plans from Alfred for a significant expansion of their game publications, and their main competitor, Hal Leonard, doesn't seem to publish game music at all. Both companies are missing out on what could be a significant market.
Music from games continues to build recognition as a legitimate medium. Last year the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences altered four different categories to allow game scores to be nominated for Grammys. Symphonic performances, such as the one featuring music from Zelda at the Houston Symphony this summer, are becoming more and more common, further cementing respectability for game composers.
But aspiring musicians who want to perform those songs will be reduced to doing what they've been doing for the past 30 years: Picking out the pieces by ear. Everything from the classic Tetris theme to the breakout Jonathan Coulton hit "Still Alive" from Portal are available only from fan transcriptions.
Most puzzling, absolutely none of the songs of acclaimed composer Nobuo Uematsu are for sale in America, nor do there appear to be any plans to make them available. The legendary composer is largely credited for the push towards game music as an established art form.
His work for Square Enix, particularly the soundtracks for the Final Fantasy series, is regularly performed by symphonies all over the world as part of Arnie Roth's Distant Worlds concerts.
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Despite that popularity, you can't just pop down to the music store and pick up a copy of "One-Winged Angel" or even the famous main theme. Uematsu's official Web site does helpfully offer a huge selection of fan transcriptions of his music online, but there is no official folio.
Still, what little music has been printed has sold well, leading to hope that further titles will become available for purchase. In the meantime, at least we have the Mario theme.