A high school kid in the late 80s fell in love with the music from Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy.
In the early 90s he learned about Dragon Quest concerts and thought how exciting it would be to perform game music himself. But all the orchestras he had played in only performed classical music. What could he do?
He decided to create Japan’s – and most probably the world’s – very first game music orchestra.
That man is Hiroki Hashimoto, and in this short interview he shares the story of the Littlejack Orchestra.
(Over and over again, I have heard from other game music orchestras in Japan how the Littlejack Orchestra was a big inspiration for them. Read more about other VGM orchestras here.)
Hashimoto is a wonderful guy and very humble, I’ve met him several times. His answers here are short and to the point. He asked me not to post a photo of him, and the Littlejack Orchestra doesn’t have a logo, so all you get is a photo I took from their 2012 concert.
Despite being an amateur orchestra, they have amazing skills and are my favorite orchestra in the world. So keep an eye out for their concerts, when you head to Japan!
(I interviewed Hiroki Hashimoto, the founder of the Littlejack Orchestra, on Oct 26, 2014 via email. Interview originally in Japanese by me, English translation by me as well.)
Nikolas: First of all, could you shortly introduce yourself?
Hashimoto: I am Hashimoto, the founder of Littlejack Orchestra. Thank you for interviewing me.
Nikolas: When did you first hear that professional orchestras perform video game music?
Hashimoto: In the early 1990s I learned that there are Dragon Quest concerts.
Nikolas: When did you first think about wanting to perform game music with an orchestra yourself? Had you gone to any game music concerts before that?
Hashimoto: When I played Dragon Quest (1986) and Final Fantasy (1987), I was fascinated by their interesting and wonderful music. I play the violin myself and joined my university’s orchestra. But they only played classical music. After that I joined a civic orchestra, but as I thought, they also performed only classical music. At that time, there didn’t exist any game music orchestras.
It was during my time at the university orchestra, that I started to think, ”How exciting would it be to perform game music with an orchestra?” I hadn’t been to any game music concerts before that.
Nikolas: The idea to create an orchestra for game music — was it originally yours?
Nikolas: Could you tell us how the Littlejack Orchestra was formed?
Hashimoto: I founded it in May 2000. I put up a website and started to recruit members online. I wanted to find people who felt the same as me [in wanting to perform game music], so I made efforts to rank the website highly on search engine keywords related to ”game music” and ”performance”. I also registered it on Yahoo! Directory, which was recognized as a ”top site” at the time.
In the beginning we were unable to practice seriously. We were an ensemble that relied on piano sheets. Because we were the first amateur orchestra to perform game music there were a lot of difficulties. We only had wind instrument players and couldn’t really get any string players. The reason is that few Japanese start to learn string instruments as a child. The only sheet music for sale were for piano, so we had to make our own orchestral scores. You need someone talented to transcribe the original songs by ear and arrange the scores to be playable by humans.
Our activities remained small scale for some time after founding the ensemble. When the conductor [Kenichi] Shimura joined us in 2003, we were able to get more serious.
Nikolas: Your first regular concert was held in 2004. How did it go?
Hashimoto: Looking back at it now, it was by no means a skilled performance. We performed some pieces as a full orchestra, which felt like overdoing it. We did that, because we invited Emiko Shiratori [vocalist on Melodies of Life from Final Fantasy IX] to the concert.
However, the orchestra members tackled it with enormous zeal and their eyes literally changed colors. I think it showed that amateurs can perform game music.
Nikolas: Before and after the first regular concert, there were many non-regular concerts as well. Could you tell us the reason for this?
[Most VGM orchestras in Japan hold about one concert per year, with simple numbered titles that translate to something like “The Fifth Regular Concert” or “The Fifth Subscription Concert”. The Littlejack Orchestra had an unusual amount of “non-regular” concerts in their early days, which I found peculiar.]
Hashimoto: In the early days we didn’t confine ourselves to just regular concerts, but rather planned on performing with a variety of set-ups. We also wanted to try things with a small ensemble that weren’t possible with a full orchestra.
Nikolas: Your sixth regular concert in 2009 featured music only from Final Fantasy VI (1996). It was loved by many and even made the news abroad. Did the members of Littlejack Orchestra also think of it as a ground-breaking achievement?
Hashimoto: I am happy how well it was received by the concert goers. Focusing on one series only resulted in a thorough pursuit of that world view. To say the least, the presence of the pipe organ was overwhelming.
Nikolas: Could you describe the process of deciding which tracks will be performed at a concert?
Hashimoto: We hold meetings to decide the program and choose tracks based on what our players wish to perform. There are too many tracks we want to do and we always end up in a fierce battle. As an inside joke we call them ”meetings for battling over songs” instead of ”meetings for choosing songs” [which works out as a clever wordplay in Japanese, since those words – 戦曲会議 and 選曲会議 – have the same pronunciation: senkyokukaigi].
Nikolas: Do you still have pieces left that you would like to perform?
Hashimoto: Well, I can say there are still some left, but on the other hand we’ve performed most of what I wanted to perform and feel satisfied. As for the other members, I think it varies from person to person.
Nikolas: Do you have any message for people abroad?
Hashimoto: I hope this interview conveys how fun it is to perform game music.
Well damn, I hope you know that the Littlejack Orchestra changed my life.
Your Final Fantasy VI concert in 2009 was the first time I went to a VGM concert. I got hungry for more and never stopped. It led me to my current path as a concert producer myself.
So thank you, my dear friend Hiroki Hashimoto.
To wrap this all up, let me give you a list of what music they have performed at their main regular concerts (updated June 2016):
- 2004 – Dragon Quest III, Final Fantasy series
- 2005 – Dragon Quest V, Final Fantasy series
- 2006 – Dragon Quest II, Romancing SaGa 3, Final Fantasy X
- 2007 – Dragon Quest IV, Konami games for the Famicom
- 2008 – Dragon Quest VI, Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu 3
- 2009 – Final Fantasy VI
- 2010 – Dragon Quest I, Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross
- 2011 – music from previous concerts, music by Yoko Shimomura
- 2012 – Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy series
- 2013 – Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy IX
- 2014 – Dragon Quest IX, main themes from various RPGs
- 2015 – SaGa series
- 2016 – Final Fantasy IV
And a final promotion: The Littlejack Orchestra’s next concert is dedicated to Final Fantasy IV, and it takes place on Aug 21, 2016 in Yokohama, Japan. If you need help with tickets, let me know.
Lastly, I also wrote an essay on VGM orchestras in Japan, so if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend doing so.