Indiana State University Newsroom

Music student's senior recital blends composing with her interest in gaming

April 16, 2014

Heather Sampson's senior recital on April 19 will be as unique as her interest in music.

Sampson, a senior music composition and language studies major from Martinsville, will narrate a musical tale she composed while 24 students and three faculty members of Indiana State University's School of Music bring her music to life.

Her work, "The Wyrm Queen's Curse," details a violent clash between King Alexei and the Wyrm Queen over the make-believe Vash Kingdom. For three brutal months the two forces clashed with one another, and Alexei's army sustained heavy casualties. Still Alexei's knights marched forward and fought against the sea of wights, until they encountered the Wyrm Queen in the final battle. With the Wyrm's death, Vash saw another era of peace. The Wyrm's warning faded from people's minds and became a myth. Three hundred years pass before another era of darkness falls on the kingdom.

"The Wyrm Queen's Curse" is written in poetic verse and features a wide array of musical instrumentation - from piano and percussion to woodwinds, strings and voice.

"My ultimate goal is to actually get this set to animation and create a video game eventually," Sampson, who will earn a minor in creative writing, said. "For my recital, it will only be the musicians performing my music while I recite the story, either on stage or right in front of the stage."

Her interest in video games has been with her since childhood.

"Gaming is a core part of who I am and has been since I was a kid," she said. "I have two older sisters and I remember watching them play through some RPGs (role-playing games). When I started to play them, too, I found myself attracted to the music, so much so that I started learning how to pluck some of the melodies out on piano by ear."

The first music CD she owned was influenced by video games.

"It had music from Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy IX - two of my favorite games at the time," Sampson said. "I would listen to it for hours on end."

While some would consider video games child's play, Sampson began to see them as part of her future in high school, when she began considering a career as a video game composer.

"I took a piano class in high school, and I also took the basics of music theory," she said. "The final for the theory class was taking a theme and composing a theme and variations piece, so I chose to use the main Zelda theme, and the teacher also occasionally asked the class to compose some music."

She has also traveled to Los Angeles to attend Game Sound Con, a conference for aspiring video game music composers. There, she met esteemed composers Austin Wintory, Brian Schmidt, Jack Wall, and others.

"I was able to gather some great advice, such as what software programs are typically used for sampling and what instruments are generally included in a video game orchestra," Sampson said. "I have much, much more to learn, especially on the technical side of audio."

"It was an exhilarating experience, and if I get the chance, I'd love to go again and see how much I've grown as a composer between now and then."Composing music isn't her only passion. Sampson is also interested in writing.

"Writing, to me, is just as important as composing music, especially for video games," she said. "I want to understand the characters and to write music that effectively reflects their struggles."

Sampson, whose language studies concentration is in Japanese, will graduate May 3 from Indiana State with a Bachelor of Music degree. She studied abroad at Nanzan Univiversity in Nagoya, Japan in 2011. She tutors her peers in upper-level music history courses and is active in Pi Kappa Lambda National Music Honor Society and Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, where she named the recipient of the Outstanding Senior Award.

Her recital, set for 7:30 p.m. April 19 in the Recital Hall of the Landini Center for Performing and Fine Arts, is free and open to the public.

Writer: Paula Meyer, ISU Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3783 or