Music is a very important part of any video game. It can add to the environment, make you feel a certain emotion, or add to the overall experience. The soundtrack of Wizard101 does a great job of matching each world and making the game really come to life. From Wizard City’s magical setting to Mooshu’s exotic scenery, Nelson Everhart, the major composer for Wizard101 and Pirate101, evokes the heart of every world in his music. The main quest takes you through Wizard City, then Krokotopia, Marleybone, and Mooshu. The stakes don’t begin very high, but the story gradually gets darker. The final world of Arc 1, Dragonspyre, called for a more serious and dark tone, and Everhart didn’t step away from the challenge. The music you hear while trudging through the streets of Dragonspyre perfectly captures the rising circumstances and the feeling that time is running out to stop Malistaire. But how exactly does Nelson Everhart capture that feeling in his music?
In case you missed it, Everhart recently uploaded the sheet music to Dragonspyre: Opus 1 on his website here, which basically acts as an introduction, or overture, to the final world of the first arc (If you haven’t listened to the piece before or don’t know which song it is from the soundtrack, here’s a link). After looking over the sheet music, and listening to the piece multiple times, I believe I can explain how Everhart was able to evoke the high stakes and the story into this piece.
There are three main aspects of music: melody (what you can usually hum or sing out loud), harmony (the chords underneath the melody that help determine where the music wants to go and how bright or dark it sounds), and rhythm (how long or short notes and what kind of pattern they’re in).
Warning: the following portion of the article will contain some musical terms. Those with some musical experience will be able to understand it more easily, but don’t let that scare you away if you don’t! If you have any questions, feel free to comment below or tweet either @MusicNeek or @OfficialAotS!
In Dragonspyre Opus 1, the melody is very heroic throughout most of the piece. This might represent our wizard trying to stop Malistaire, or maybe to reflect how mighty the people of Dragonspyre once were. Everhart gives most of the melody to trumpet and French horn, both brass instruments which are often used in heroic segments of film scores or other pieces of music. There are also darker parts of the melody played by violin and low brass to contrast the heroic parts.
The melody itself features many jumps of a fourth or fifth, which are called perfect intervals, and sound very strong. However, Nelson Everhart also uses tritones frequently, which is often called the “devil’s interval” and can sound very harsh. While it can sound very dark and dissonant, it can also sound super bright or magical depending how it’s used. By using tritones in the melody, Everhart adds a nice “edge” to the music, making it more memorable.
The harmony is very dark throughout the piece, and it constantly shifts around to keep listeners from feeling comfortable. The piece opens with an A minor/major 7 chord, which is rarely used because of how dissonant, or ugly sounding the chord is. The chord resolves in the next measure to a slightly less jarring chord.
Measures 5-12 feature a chord progression over a pedal bass (meaning the bass note doesn’t change). This keeps the music in the key of A minor, but the chords get progressively brighter and darker. The horns play an Eb chord again over the static A in the bass at the end of the phrase (a tritone away), and the music modulates into G minor. Modulating to different keys can sound natural or they can sound dramatic, and this one is definitely dramatic. The music modulates multiple times before it lands on a C minor/major 7 and A minor/major 7 chord progression. These are the same type of chords at the beginning of the piece, and sound really dissonant and dark here as well. As the melody builds up, so does the harmony, and the music modulates once again. There’s a small percussion break, and when the melody comes back in it’s backed up by another pedal bass.
The harmony gets extremely dissonant and ugly at measures 37-39, marking the climax of the piece. The melody disappears for a measure, and the music modulates back to the original key of A minor. A simple two chord progression between A minor and F major lays underneath the quieter melody, which sounds very natural and relaxed, unlike the rest of the piece. This is where the piece ends/loops, and while it isn’t a strong ending, it may be a way of the soundtrack asking, “Will you be able to stop Malistaire?”
While your Wizard marches to the center of Dragonspyre, it makes sense to have music with a steady pulse that you can easily tap out. Most of the melody falls on the downbeats (the beats you can feel and tap your feet to). There are also some dotted rhythms in the melody (which consist of a long, then a quick note), which is common to see in marches and heroic music. The accompaniment is usually reinforcing the beat, but there are some cases where it plays off the beat like in measures 5-12, which makes it feel somewhat floaty.
However, there are some sections where the time signature changes to 7/8, which is an asymmetrical time signature. These sections will sound very “off” for most listeners, as it’s much harder to feel the beat since it isn’t even. This greatly increases the tension for a bit because of the unsteadiness. At the same time, these sections are also whenever the heroic figures in the brass occur, which helps the listener stay focused even with the unnatural feeling of 7/8. While these sections of 7/8 are short-lived, they’re definitely enough to add to the overall tension of the piece and make it more exciting.!
Despite the tension and dark aspects of the melody, harmony, and rhythm, there’s a lot of hope that can be found in Dragonspyre: Opus 1. Nelson Everhart did a great job of creating music that matched the ruined world of Dragonspyre, but also captured the feeling of marching forwards despite the dangers that await. I really enjoyed looking into the sheet music that Nelson Everhart released, and I hope to see more in the future! If you haven’t yet, be sure to check his website and download the sheet music for Dragonspyre Opus 1 (It’s free!) and let him know if you’d like to see more!