Thanks to Robin for the transcript!

Howard Shore Interview, May 30, 2005
CBC Metro Morning with Andy Barrie

Some of you are no doubt electrified by that music, if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan. This Sunday, Roy Thomson Hall will be taken over by an exotic instrument section and accompanying singing in (Cinderin) and Black Speech, just two of the languages created by J.R. Tolkien. They’ll be part of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, a full symphonic orchestra and chorus of more than 200 voices, transporting the audiences into Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The two-hour concert based on the hours and hours of music created for the three Rings films, music that won the composer Howard Shore three Academy Awards. While the symphonies are being performed around the world the Toronto one is something really special because this is where Mr. Shore calls home. In fact he began his musical career here as a member of the rock group, you might remember Lighthouse, joins us this morning. He’s put his baton down and picked up the telephone in New York. Howard Hello.

Howard: Hi Andy good morning how are you?

Andy: Just great thank you.

Howard: Good, good.

Andy: You were the man behind so many hundreds of tunes we walk out of the movie theater humming or if not necessarily humming then emotionally responding to, sometimes almost subliminally. Having had our emotions torqued by that soundtrack while we were watching the screen unfold the story. Can you trace the path from Lighthouse in the seventies to you work scoring films today?

Howard: I worked with Lorne Michaels for years, actually before Lighthouse. We did shows at summer camp in Northern Ontario and then CBC Radio and CBC television and that led to actually the Saturday Night Live. That took me to New York in 1975 and I was the original music director of Saturday Night Live which I did for five years till 1980, and started writing film scores with David Cronenberg, my friend David Cronenberg who lives in Toronto and we’ve had a fantastic collaboration that’s lasted 27 years, working on these films.

Andy: How does it work? You’re scoring something like Silence of the Lambs, there’s Jodie Foster up on the screen. Does the director complete the film and then you know as she walks through a darkened house what sort of music has to accompany it? How does it work?

Howard: I write to the ideas of the film. I like words, I like to read and a lot of what I’m doing is based on what I’m gathering from the words, what I’m really feeling emotionally when I’m reading and then also visually what I’m looking at and how I feel as a viewer. I want to, I want, you know as a composer I want to feel that I’m sitting in the theater now for the first time.

Andy: But as the music quickens or deepens as the hero of the film turns a corner into what’s about to become a peril, the film hasn’t been edited yet as you’re sitting down to score it. How do you tie the music so intimately to the action?

Howard: Well it’s an intuitive feeling as a composer, as I’m reading the text from which it’s written or seeing the film for, or even parts of the film for the first time I’m feeling something as a writer and what I’m doing is translating it into music.

Andy: And frequently you’re the last person to have at it aren’t you? I’ve heard about the openings of films being delayed because the last scoring was being done in a sound stage.

Howard: Well what you’re referring to has more to do with the technique of it which actually is something that comes a little later. Most of the music for the films that I work on was created as the film – I mean a lot of music I’m writing you know it’s to the words it’s written well before the film is edited and while it’s being shot even I’m writing. So there’s a certain technique at the end of applying what I’ve written, the music that I’ve written to the film.

Andy: We interviewed once Tim Blake Nelson, you might know he’s an actor and also a director, he directed the Gray Zone, which was unusual among other reasons, a holocaust film, for it’s complete absence of the score. And he said as a director frequently he feels that when music appears in the soundtrack it’s because the director doesn’t trust the actors to create the emotion that the music is trying to goose. Do you see any, do you ever feel music is inappropriate when you go to the movies?

Howard: Well again this part of the process you’re talking about, this part of the scoring process, this is a collaboration between a director and a composer. You know but you know really I’ve worked with some fantastic directors and my work only excels because of a great collaboration. Collaborations with David Cronenberg as I mentioned, or Peter Jackson, Martin Scorsese. I mean it’s only through a really great collaboration between these two artists, these writers, you create something like Lord of the Rings.

Andy: Let’s talk Tolkien if we could for a moment.

Howard: Okay great.

Andy: Many Tolkien scholars have found parallels with Wagner’s work, although Tolkien himself refused to admit his Rings had anything to do with Wagner. Was Wagner hanging over you as you composed the Rings music? Tell me the truth.

Howard: No, no, um and I did a lot of research before I started working on the piece and obviously taught us about leit motifs and taught us also that you could feel something when you heard music in the mid nineteenth century. I mean those are important things and I’m sure they’re part of every composer’s work as he’s writing music today. I mean that has to do with emotions and feelings and the use of leit motifs is that wonderful technique of story telling. Now Tolkien’s book is about destroying the Ring and Wagner is about gathering the Ring, gaining the power of the Ring so they’re actually quite at opposites to each other. But however, Ring mythology has been around for a long time, since Plato talked about ring mythology. So the fact that they’re both steeped in this mythology of the rings is the similarity.

Andy: Kissing off your music as you shorten 12 hours of score to a 2 hour concert could not have been easy. Was it a hard editing job?

Howard: It was, it was very difficult to try to bring it down to this size. But what I did was I had a good editor who helped me, John (Mowcheery) is very good and understood the story very well. The music is steeped in the story so by using the six books of Tolkien, I framed the symphony around the six books so that became the six movements of the symphony. There’s two for Fellowship of the Rings, two for Two Towers and two for the Return of the King. And that really helped to really create the structure and the form of the rather large work, much larger than you would really imagine a symphonic piece would be but it was the only way that I could really bring the 12 hours down to a two-hour concert experience.

Andy: What about the return of the composer? Are you going to come home for the concert on this weekend?

Howard: You know unfortunately my composing schedule is so incredible right now. I’m working on an opera commission and I have a King Kong which I’m preparing, so I’ve just completely limited my travel at this point. I did a lot of conducting last year, this is very much a composing year and I’m very focused on my work right now.

Andy: I’m going to just think of you bent over a piece of empty sheet music trying to express King Kong on that staff.

Howard: Well hopefully it’s not empty, notes are going down everyday (chuckle).

Andy: Howard, good talking to you.

Howard: Great thanks.

Andy: Bye, bye. Howard Shore the composer of the Lord of the Rings Symphony as well as the film scores for 60 other films, the symphony performance at Roy Thomson Hall will take place this Sunday at 2:00 and 7:00. What a great gift for someone who’s a Lord of the Rings fan at your place. Tickets are available at the box office, or at 416-872-4255 as well as online. I’m off the line right now. We are Metro Morning we’ll be back for you after the news…