My Most Vivid Dream: Performing Final Fantasy at Video Games Live
After a long streak of not being able remembering my dreams, I just woke up from the most vivid, exhilarating, and satisfying dream. Normally, when I have a dream I have to struggle to type it into my Notes app before all the details fade away, but in this instance, the memory is so clear it’s like I’m just recalling an actual event that happened to me. But… there’s a strange twist, something I’ll get to later.
The earliest thing I remember is pacing back and forth backstage. I hear the muted sounds of a a symphony performing some unrecognizable piece. I’m really nervous because this is my first large performance, and it just so happens it’s in front of a sold out Video Games Live concert. To make things worse, I’m decked out in a full cosplay of Auron from Final Fantasy X and I’m worried that the outfit is going to hinder my arm mobility. But it’s too late because a man with an earpiece and a clipboard approaches me,
“You guys are up next.”
I nod stoically. Swallowing my fear, I force myself to place one foot in front of the other, and march myself up to the wings of the stage. As I take my cue, I manage to peek around the corner and see a sliver of the number of people in attendance, and I’m freaking out all over again. I glance across the stage and can barely make out my partner, shrouded in the shadows. She forces a smile in my direction; I can tell she’s just as nervous as I am. Apparently I had been blocking out the sounds around me as Tommy Tallarico has already introduced us: The Dueling Fantasies. [Really silly name, so I’m going to blame my dream-partner for it, even though regardless of who thought it up, it was still thought up by subconscious-me.] The stagehand nudges me forward and I stumble a little before regaining my stride. The applause is deafening, and I haven’t even done anything yet! I have to pause at the mic and wait for the applause to die down, which is quite alright because I have to gather my nerves and remember the script.
“Hello everyone, thank you for having us. Unfortunately my partner isn’t able to join me tonight, she had some sort of… accident in her dressing room or something.” There was a sympathetic ‘awww’ that spread throughout the concert hall. “So I’ll be performing a different melody for you all.” I take an awkward little bow and seat myself at the piano on stage right. I close my eyes for a brief moment and take a deep breath before diving right into Chocobo-Chocobo from the Final Fantasy IV Piano Collections.
It’s a fun, upbeat song and using the mic mounted on the piano, I encourage the crowd to clap along. Above me, the giant screen is going through a montage of characters riding Chocobos. About a minute in my partner bursts out from her side of the stage carrying a plushie Cactuar, dressed as Tifa from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children.
“What are you doing?!”
“Oh… oh! You’re doing alright! They said there was an… incident.” I stammer out while continuing to play.
“Yeah! I spent the last hour picking needles out of my outfit because -someone- put a Cactuar in my dressing room!” The crowd chuckles as she waives the plushie about. She narrows her eyes at me, “Stop playing! You just wanted the stage all to yourself!”
I simply reply with a smirk and a shrug, which only angers her more. She drops the Cactuar and pulls her arms back and to one side. The stage grows darker and red lights surround her and dance around. On the screen, a clip of Tifa casting a fire spell plays, in all of its jaggy Playstation glory. The two are synchronized and with a loud roar, she casts an actual fireball in my direction and I stop playing, feigning taking damage. The crowd gasps, not actually expecting that to happen. Even though the fire wasn’t even close to to hitting me, the heat is intense and I have to wipe the sweat from my brow.
“So you wanna play like that, eh?” With my left hand, I begin playing the infamous bass line to the Final Fantasy battle music. You know the one. With my right hand, I begin charging up my spell. Yellow lights flash around me as Auron on screen begins casting Thunder. I thrust out my arm and in bright flash and a bang, it appears as though lightning strikes the stage a few feet from my partner. She shrieks and jumps back a little bit. Her next spell is Slow, and this time she throws a stuffed alarm clock at me, hitting me right on the head. I have to force my left hand to play slower while making big dramatic gestures, in slow motion of course, trying to stop her, much to the amusement of the crowd.
“Summon…. piano!” Tifa on screen summons Knights Of The Round while three stagehands push out the second piano from back stage. I can’t help but grin widely as everyone laughs. The pianos are pointed at each other, and when my partner sits down, we’re able to lock eyes. I shake off the effects of her Slow spell and cease playing. Once again, I’m nervous because in our practices the pianos have always been side by side so we could watch each others’ hands to stay in sync. But I push those worries aside and put my faith in my muscle memory from playing it so many times. I nod my head to the beat and count off a measure. Together, we launch into Those Who Fight.
It’s a special arrangement, made to be a piano duel, hence the name of our duo. We trade off as lead about every other phrase, with the newly created backing accompaniment making it sound more frantic and impressive. We mock trading physical blows when one of us pulls off a particularly impressive section. At times we come together and play in unison to give the piece that extra oomph, especially the staccato part in the middle (5:51 in the video). It all culminates in the calmest, but most forceful part of the song (6:07) where we trade simple chords at each other, both of us standing up to deliver those decisive blows. It isn’t long before it starts to ramp back up, getting more and more chaotic. We’re still trading phrases seamlessly, flowing as though this song was originally meant to be played by a duo. We join up one last time for a unison at the extremely difficult prestissimo part at the end. We lock eyes once again and blast through it in perfect synchronization, playing forcefully, taking “forte fortissimo” quite literally. I’m the one the ends up with the 2nd to last phrase, a high chord. Once hitting it, one of the Knights Of The Round appears behind me and drags me off stage, leaving my partner to finish the song with the low rumbles. Before the crowd can cheer, the symphony chimes in, playing the oh-so-familiar victory theme.
The crowd erupts in applause and cheers. The Knight allows me to return to stage. My partner and I join hands and take two big bows. The two of us return back stage. She says something along the lines of “I can’t believe we pulled that off, it was amazing.” At which point stuff starts getting hazy for me as I start to wake up.
One of the things that I can’t figure out from that dream is who my partner was. I remember she was a brunette, stood maybe 5’6″, and was cosplaying as Advent Children Tifa. She wasn’t my mind’s manifestation of Tifa, because I’m sure I would have recognized her. I’m fairly sure that she wasn’t someone I actually know either. We definitely had a connection together though, seeing how we could play so in sync. And it certainly felt like I had known her for a long time. I just find it intriguing that with the vast amounts of detail I remembered, she’s the thing that I remember so little about, but yet felt so connected to.
Now, as I said before, this dream felt so vivid, so real. The roar of the crowd, the heat of that fireball, the gut-wrenching nervousness. I felt all of that. The twist, was that I really felt like I was playing the piano. I’ve played the piano for many years, but never a piece of that difficulty and caliber. I actually have the sheet music for it and am able to follow along by sight when watching/listening to a performance of it. But sitting down and playing that? It’s a humongous struggle to even play one hand of it. Dream-me is able to play it without a hitch though. Now, I can usually spot when people are miming playing the piano; I’ll see where they’re playing or how fast they’re moving their hand, and recognize that it doesn’t match up to the sounds. So I am very confident in saying that dream-me was actually playing the right notes to the song, at the right tempo, with the right timing. The physical feedback was there too, moving my hands up and down the piano, the feel of pressing down the keys, it was all there. For all intents and purposes, my mind was playing that song. More so, it was playing an original arrangement of the song that doesn’t exist. The thing is, I -hate- music theory. I avoided as much of it as I can, so I wouldn’t even know where to begin in creating an arrangement like that. It baffles me that dream-me is so competent at the piano and music in general, while real-me is not even close to being that skilled. Is that even possible? My mind was able to trick me into feeling like I could play a piece that I’m physically unable to play. I just can’t wrap my mind around it. With good reason I suppose, that’d be like going Inception on my self while I’m awake. What I need, is to find a way to tap into my subconscious musical prowess. Get on that scientists, I’ll gladly be your test subject.