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My Interview with Nobuo Uematsu and Arnie Roth

On March 1st, I had the privilege of sitting down for an interview with Nobuo Uematsu and Arnie Roth at the Final Fantasy Distant Worlds concert in Chicago.

This was my first opportunity to have a conversation with Mr. Uematsu, the genius composer behind the Final Fantasy series, who inspired my musical career and shaped the direction of my entire life. Mr. Roth, the conductor of the Chicagoland Pops, has taken charge of a new revolution in videogame music by bringing it to the orchestra, where it can now be enjoyed by both hardcore fans and mainstream audiences everywhere. Both Mr. Uematsu and Mr. Roth are heroes in the videogame music industry, and receiving the privilege of sitting down with both of them for a 45 minute discussion was the greatest honor.

In preparation for the interview, I collaborated with my dear friend Tim Maxwell, who owns and operates the Square Enix music fansite “SquareSound” (www.Squaresound.com). Together, Tim and I prepared a series of questions to ask Mr. Uematsu and Mr. Roth in English. We were told that Mr. Uematsu would have a translator present, so we did not prepare any of our questions in Japanese.

Tim and I flew into Chicago the day before the interview and met up in the airport. We were also joined my childhood friend Laura Stephens (http://lauraneato.deviantart.com), who lives in the area and devoted her weekend to helping us get around the city.

As we headed outside to catch a chocobo to the nearest inn, we were approached by a large man wearing a black suit and a wry smile, offering us a “discount” ride to our destination. At that moment, I heard a familiar tune play over the airport’s PA system. Tim and I immediately moved to the front row, Laura took the back row, and we broke out into turn-based combat. Fortunately, Tim took the heavy damage while I held down L1 R1 and escaped unscathed.

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I’m really sorry about that last paragraph, I couldn’t help myself. Now back to the story! ^_^

Okay, so we had dinner and went back to the hotel to run through the interview. We had all of our questions written and printed out in advance so that we would be well prepared for the next day. We got up early Saturday morning and met up at the hotel where the interview was scheduled to take place. The camera crew was on time and ready to go. Everything was looking fantastic.

At approximately 1:00pm, Mr. Uematsu and Mr. Roth arrived for the interview. Tim and I made our greetings, and we were super-excited to get started. But something was missing…

“I’m so sorry, but will Mr. Uematsu’s translator be arriving shortly?”

Mr. Uematsu and Mr. Roth replied “Oh, we were told that you would be providing the translator.”

I exchanged a nervous glance with Tim. There had been a miscommunication, and there would be no translator at this interview. I felt my heart skip a few beats. At that moment, I felt very fortunate that I had spent the last eight years of my life studying Japanese, but with no time to prepare the proper translations, I was forced to speak on the fly.

Despite numerous grammatical errors and an overall lack of polish in presentation, I was able to deliver all of the questions in a way that Mr. Uematsu could understand, and I was able to successfully translate for my friend Tim so that he could also speak with Mr. Uematsu directly. I explained to Mr. Uematsu that I had not prepared to conduct the interview in Japanese, but he was so encouraging and really took an active role in providing great, detailed answers to all of our questions. He is such a kind, humble, respectful, wonderful human being. It’s an honor just to have been in his presence.

That night, Tim, Laura, and I attended the Distant Worlds concert. The highlight of the concert for me was the live performance of the FFVI Opera (yes, I cried, please don’t laugh at me >.<). While sitting in the audience and hearing that performance, I started to get ideas about how to arrange the opera for piano. If enough people would be interested in hearing that, I will create the arrangement and perform in it concert next year…

After the concert, we all waited together until the crowd had cleared out, and we were the only ones left in the theatre. We said our final goodbyes to Mr. Uematsu and Mr. Roth, took some great pictures together, and parted ways.

The videotaped interview with Mr. Uematsu and Mr. Roth will be available for free on PianoSquall.com and SquareSound.com in just a few weeks, along with a new album of pictures from the concert. I’ll follow up with another post as soon as everything is up and ready to enjoy!

Video Game/Anime Piano Concerts

It all started fifteen years ago in my living room with an old crappy television set and a Super Nintendo. I was just 9 years old, and I heard the music of Final Fantasy for the first time. I so clearly remember sitting there on my ass, starin...

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