Where Stem Met My Passion for Music

By Alexander Brown

Nine nerds. That’s what I thought the first time I stepped on the bus.

I’m going to do something impossible with eight other nerds.

My mission would be to design a game from scratch. I still wasn’t sure what I would be getting out of this. My mom wanted me to do an engineering program instead, but in a video-game-heavy, sleep-deprived stupor I put “Entertainment Technology” above “Creating a Pinball Machine” for my project choices at the SAMS 2017 STEM Summer Program at Carnegie Mellon.

But at least I knew what engineering was; I had never done anything before with game design. Sure, I’ve played video games since third grade, but I had never made one myself.

There’ll be nothing compelling about the process at all, I thought as I turned up my music. Why couldn’t I just be back in my dorm, listening to the Skullgirls soundtrack for the fifteenth–

It took awhile for me to put two and two together.

Couldn’t I do the same thing?

My love for music began in fourth grade, when everyone in the grade was forced to either play an instrument or sing. While my classmates complained, I personally saw the trumpet and fell in love. In seventh grade, I learned that trumpet pieces consist of more than obscure Greek anthems and Christmas tunes; I began to actually play and learn about jazz styles and applied what I had discovered about the trumpet over two years. With new knowledge about music theory, backgrounds, and improvisation, I’ve been able to call myself a jazz musician for the past five years. So, walking into creating the game’s score, my confidence was pretty high.

It shattered almost instantly after opening MuseScore.

There was so much to do. There was too much to do. Everything seemed so tempting–I could make a fast paced song with guitar and violins, or a song with a scarier feel, fit with organs and rapid maracas, or even–

Alex, you’re making a game where you run on roads set in space. Would any of these songs fit that theme?

This was when my knowledge of video games and video game soundtracks came into play. As the passion for creating this game developed, something else happened. I discovered that I am most at home when I am combining the talents and forces of my intellect in conjunction with each other–when they are not in isolation. In creating the game with a team, I was primarily responsible for the musical selections. However, I also had to consider my creations in tandem with the overall product. In that regard, I had to think like a sketch artist, computer scientist, video game lover, literature lover and storyteller with a fondness for imaginative character development–all while making music that would bring a game to life.

I let my creativity go wild in the themes’ rhythms and tempos. But most importantly, I kept the space motif constant throughout both tracks. I was able to create songs for both the menu and the main level. I used piano in the background for both, and a loud yet standard drum fill as the basis for the level music. The menu theme had quieter violins and a light chorus, for a more leisurely and less action-packed feel, and even a short, random synthesizer lick.

I used both the music theory I learned in school and the video game knowledge I discovered myself to create two compelling and charming tracks, which made the player feel like they were actually in space, running along narrow, colorful paths. I, too, journeyed to new paths in the process. Creating the best musical scores possible was my primary mission. However, the outcome was more than the music or the game. I expanded my intellectual boundaries in ways that remain with me long after meeting those eight nerds.

Alexander Brown, a graduate of The Dalton School, is a freshman at Brown.

Congratulations to Write for the Future’s Class of 2019 as they weigh their many choices. Here’s the latest tally: Brown-5, Duke -5, Cornell-4,  Harvard-4, University of Michigan-4, Yale-4, Columbia-3, University of Pennsylvania-3, University of Virginia-3, Amherst-2, Colgate-2, Case Western Reserve University-2, Dartmouth-2, Emory-2, Fordham-2, Lehigh-2, Morehouse-2, University of Maryland-2, New York University-2, Northwestern-2, Pomona-2, Rutgers-2, Stanford-2, USC-2, University of Richmond-2, University of Rochester-2, University of Saint Andrews-2,  Wake Forest University-2, Williams-2, American University,  Barnard, Bennington, Boston University, Bryn Mawr College,    Colorado College, DePaul University, Drexel University,  Eckerd, Georgetown, Hamilton, High Point University, Howard, Maccalaster, Marquette, University of Massachusetts,  New School, Northeastern, Pitzer, Princeton, Reed, Scripps, Smith,  Spelman, Syracuse, Tufts, UCLA, University of California-San Diego, University of Pittsburgh, University of Rhode Island,  University of Scranton, University of Wisconsin, Villanova, Wellesley, and West Virginia University.