The low driving bass notes that told you Jaws was on his way, the nerve-jangling screeching of strings from Hitchcock’s Psycho that changed showering forever, the brazen trumpets of the Star Wars theme that gave you hope for the rebel alliance, these are all quintessential examples of the importance of music in spinning a tale. Without music, these iconic films lack the same emotive quality they have when backed by a well-executed score. Music helps set the tone, foreshadow events – in essence, tell the story.
One such epic saga that made the jump from paper to silver screen was the Lord of the Rings (LoTR) trilogy, the original books having been written by the incomparable god-father of fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien. Anyone familiar with these books (I’m not ashamed to say I’ve read them eighteen times now…don’t judge) may remember how important music is to the world of Middle-earth. There are numerous instances in Tolkien’s writings where a character would hum a little walking song, take up a rousing tune or keen a sorrowful lament.
Music is an integral part of Middle-earth and it was only fitting that these stories, when brought to the screen, were accompanied by a score that did justice to this fantastical world of magic and legend. Howard Shore was the individual who took on the monumental task of composing a score for all three LoTR films released between 2001 and 2003. For me, Shore not only met, but exceeded my expectations. When I first watched the three films in theatre, I thought the music fit wonderfully within the world of Middle-earth, with all its varying creatures, characters and races. With a rich multitude of leitmotifs, Shore is instantly able to set the appropriate mood for scene and character. Of course, when the opportunity arose to not only watch the first film again, but experience the music live, I was ecstatic!
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in Concert was a wonderful and singularly unique experience that took place this past weekend at the National Arts Centre. The NAC presented the first instalment of the LoTR movie trilogy, projecting the movie on a 60-foot screen, while over 200 musicians played Shore’s multi-award winning score. The effect for me was much like peeking behind the curtain at a magic show. To see this beautiful score unfold before my eyes, to observe how each individual scene was enhanced and brought to life with music, how certain tones and sounds were crafted, was truly magical. The NAC Orchestra and LoTR Chorus were astounding, giving me chills and goose bumps at several points during the evening. Highlights for me included the battle between Gandalf and Saruman and the solo performed by Matthew Kronberg during Gandalf’s imprisonment atop Orthanc.
There were times when the sheer power of the orchestra and chorus made it difficult to hear the dialogue of the film, but I wasn’t personally bothered by this. The concert was intended to showcase the music of The Fellowship of the Ring, which it did beautifully. I was able hear more distinct details in each theme that I had never noticed before when watching the films, and if the music had been quieter, I would have missed them again. Also, because there are different individuals singing, there were slight differences in tone and expression with the soloists that I thought was brilliant and gave a truly distinct quality to their performance and the overall experience.
On the whole, this was a fantastic event, and a superb way to revisit this film over 10 years after its release. I will most definitely be checking out the other two films should they come to the NAC for a live concert performance. For now, I can’t wait to hear what Shore has planned for The Hobbit! You can catch a sneak peak (listen?) of what’s in store in the official trailer.
The full program from the The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in Concert, including a complete list of all NAC Orchestra and LoTR Chorus members, is available here.