Shea’s Violin finds plenty of possibility and tears in video game music

Gamer or no, this Madison multi-instrumentalist wants her soundtrack covers to make you feel.
A screenshot shows five images of Shea Henry performing instrumental parts on erhu, guitar, bass, and violin, all edited together in sync on screen.
Shea Henry in her video cover of “Gormotti Forest” from “Xenoblade Chronicles 2.” Image description: A screenshot shows five images of Shea Henry performing instrumental parts on erhu, guitar, bass, and violin, all edited together in sync on screen.

Gamer or no, this Madison multi-instrumentalist wants her soundtrack covers to make you feel.

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Shea Henry likes to make people cry. 

I mean that in a good way, of course—in early March, the Madison-based musician told me over Zoom, “It’s bad to make people cry with software, it’s actually pretty good to make people cry with music.”

To me, there’s no better musical avenue to make people cry than with game soundtracks. From the tear-jerking chiptune leitmotifs of Undertale to the melancholy 2000s indie-rock in Life Is Strange, I’ve had my own fair share of video game soundtrack-induced cries. There’s a lot to be said about a minute-long song’s ability to bring back the emotions from a pivotal decision, departure, or death in a video game. 


It makes sense, then, that Henry’s chosen niche of musical expression is covering songs from video game soundtracks.

Since she picked up the violin as a five-year-old, Henry has been on a quest to make people cry through her music. And after years working as a software engineer, Henry stepped back a couple years ago to become a stay-at-home parent, which gave her the time to focus on music. Now, she’s growing as a musician through a solo project centered on heartfelt violin covers of video game soundtracks: Shea’s Violin.

Henry got her start in music at a young age. After falling in love with the sound of the violin, she asked her parents to enroll her in lessons. These lessons, and later musical endeavors at UW-Madison and after graduation, led her to play classical and jazz, though she had felt drawn to the storytelling power of video game soundtracks since she first fell in love with the recurring character themes of Final Fantasy IV and VI. 

“Some of these Japanese RPGs, like the Final Fantasy games, the early ones, have a lot of feelings in them,” Henry says. “You can bring the feelings back of that 40-hour experience with one or two songs, and I think that they’re really powerful that way.”

It wasn’t until Covid that her love of video game soundtracks translated into covers. Inspired by other cover artists like Smooth McGroove and Adrian Holovaty during lockdown, she bought a new violin, taught herself how to use video editing programs, and began using her new time as a stay-at-home parent to record covers in December 2020, starting with a few non-game soundtrack covers.

In her first video game soundtrack cover, she sits down to play “Corridors Of Time” from Chrono Trigger. In the game, the song is energetic and mysterious, but Henry’s violin-focused arrangement renders it as melancholy and earnest. 

Since then, she’s come a long way. Last April, to further motivate herself to stick to a schedule, she began entering her music in two competitions for video game cover artists: Pixel Mixers and Dwelling of Duels. Both offer critical anonymous comments, giving Henry a greater push to improve her covers.

She’s also branched out quite a bit. She entered a vocal cover of the quirky Portal track “Still Alive”—written from the perspective of the game’s dryly malevolent AI antagonist, GLaDOS—into a villain–themed Pixel Mixers contest. She’s arranged songs into entirely new genres—one video mashes up two Final Fantasy character themes into what she calls “a beach-side cabana bossa nova” track. She’s even learned new instruments like the accordion and the erhu (a Chinese two-stringed violin), the latter of which makes an appearance in quite a few of her covers. 

She teared up when she told me about her progress, which she referred to as breaking down barriers.

“As long as you don’t have barriers getting in your way to get the art done, then you have art,” Henry says. “And that’s kind of what I’ve been trying to do for the past 20 years, and I feel like I’m kind of there.”

In an effort to monetize some of her music, Henry has begun uploading the covers she’s most confident about to Spotify. As for the rest? They’re all diary entries in what she calls a record of her “musical journey.”

“Sometimes the older stuff is a little bit hard for me to listen to, but that’s where I was,” Henry says. “That’s a snapshot of what I made then.”


Through both Spotify and YouTube, Henry has earned a small following of gamers and musicians over the past year or so. But she’s found that there’s a bit of dissonance between her YouTube channel’s audience and her live performances. While her videos are filled with comments of praise and people reminiscing on the games she pulls music from, she’s discovered that many of the classical and jazz fans who attend her live shows in Madison tend to look down on video game music. 

However, Henry has discovered that this is largely because of these listeners’ preconceived notions about video games, not the music itself. She’s now playing in a trio called Les Cordes en Blue, and they’ve woven a few arrangements of game soundtracks into their sets. (The band’s next show is March 28 at the Mason Lounge.) By packaging video game music as something else, they’ve been able to surprise audiences with the power of striking moments from the soundtracks of classic games. 

“After we played Streets Of Rage, an older gentleman came up to us and said, ‘Wow, that was really cool,'” Henry says. “He had never played Streets Of Rage, and we were like, ‘Yeah, that was a video game.’ He was like, ‘Whoa!'”

While Shea doesn’t feel that her current following holds the power to entirely change people’s perceptions like this, she ultimately hopes to celebrate the storytelling power of game soundtracks through both live shows and her videos.

“I think that as we continue on, good music is good music, and I just want to make it more accessible, maybe shine a little bit of a light on it, and pick the things that resonate with me and do some interpretations that I’m proud of,” she says. 

For now, on a smaller scale, she wants to focus on improving her covers, both through video editing and musical arrangements. Pixel Mixers releases several compilation albums per year, and she wants to join these compilations as well as distribute more covers through her own Spotify page.

And, of course, she just wants to continue doing what she’s most proud of: making people cry. 

“One of the best things at a gig is after, when somebody comes up and says, ‘Wow, that really made me cry,'” Henry says. “I’m just trying to make the world a little bit more beautiful through music.”

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