When director Peter Jackson asked Howard Shore to compose the score for “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy, Shore studied J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy world before beginning four years of writing music.
At a Master’s Tea Tuesday afternoon, Shore shared insights about composing, orchestrating, conducting and producing more than ten hours of music to accompany “The Lord of the Rings” films in front of more than 100 students in the Branford College common room. The Academy Award-winning composer, who also wrote the scores for “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Doubt,” among others, also told stories about working on other genres of music before his venture into cinema.
Shore began the talk by describing his first encounters with music. From the beginning, his clarinet teacher felt it was important that he learn music composition techniques such as harmony and counterpoint, he said. By the time Shore was 11 years old, he was already writing small pieces.
“Really, the writing part of composition is something I do every day,” Shore said. “It’s like a yoga exercise. When you look back, there’s physically so much music written because I just kept my pencil going.”
Shore said he was an avid music listener as a child. He recalled trips to the Toronto record library, where he was exposed to music from all over the world.
“A kid in a room with a tape recorder and a record collection is dangerous,” Shore quipped. He told the audience how he would make his own recordings of vinyl record players, cut them apart and stick them together.
Despite Shore’s later success in the film world, he said he was not originally interested in scoring for movies. After several decades of experimenting with various genres of music — he was in a rock band and composed ballet music — Shore ended up in the film business. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Shore composed music for the Hollywood hits “Big” and “Silence of the Lambs,” respectively.
“I would do films just to experiment — comedies, romances, horror,” Shore said. “But I would always return to darker films because they offered a much deeper compositional outlet.”
Shore explained that his work centered on dramatic ideas, adding that he even envisions a dramatic backdrop for the chamber music that he writes.
For “The Lord of the Rings,” Shore said it was not necessary to look for inspiration from other composers. Instead, he read the books and immersed himself in the visual world that Jackson had already begun to conjure. Shore then developed more than 80 separate themes for the three sound tracks, which were inspired by each character’s development throughout the novels.
“The story was interesting, but I love the smaller relationships within it, and I like the things the book said about friendship, honor, courage and sacrifice,” Shore said. “There were so many wonderful human characteristics in the book, and those really spoke to me.”
Shore explained that the intricate link between the action of the story and the music called for stringent attention to detail. If segments of the score were deleted in the editing process, Shore would re-score the piece and re-record that section with the full orchestra.
“Peter didn’t think people would understand it if they had never read the books without an appropriate score,” Shore said.
Seven students interviewed, all of whom are fans of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, said they came to hear about Shore’s work on the popular films.
“I had gone into the tea expecting an hour of “Lord of the Rings” — not that that’s a bad thing — but instead I got to hear about other parts of Mr. Shore’s career as well,” Allison Hadley ’12 said.
Another student at the tea, William Shikani ’10, said it was interesting to hear about the process of illustrating character identities through sound.
“His music is powerful in its ability to capture and intensify the essences of the themes and characters it relates to,” Shikani said.
Shore is currently working on a score his next film, “The Spider,” which is in pre-production.