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Lord of the Rings - Web Log Reports
Howard Shore Q&A at The Royal College of Music, 22nd May 2004
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DISCLAIMER: This transcript is provided on an "as is" best efforts basis and is based on a MiniDisc recording made where speech was not always legible because of noise in the room. Any errors made in transcribing what was actually said are mine, and not those of the speakers quoted, and may include spelling mistakes, incorrect names and other minor typo's. Readers should also bear in mind that statements read in cold print can often convey a completely different meaning from that intended by the speaker and perceived by the original audience.

Thanks to Sharon Cooper (a.k.a. 'WelshArwen') for providing the mini-disc recording on which this transcript is taped (as I had to leave early) and to Music from the Movies magazine for hosting the Q & A session and giving permission for this transcript and photo's to be published. This session was given at the Royal College of Music in London to an audience of about 200 fans and readers of the magazine.

Moderator Rudy Koppl is mid-way through apologising for the delayed start (things are running approximately 10 minutes behind the advertised start time of 6pm) when Howard Shore enters the room from the back of the auditorium. Howard explains he's been at rehearsals with The London Philharmonic who are giving a performance of his symphony for 'The Lord of the Rings' the next day (Review and pictures here). This transcript kicks off as he sits down on the stage.

Details of the 'Music from the Movies' special LOTR issue
Howard Shore (right) in conversation with Rudy Koppl (left)
Howard Shore
Howard Shore (right) in conversation with Rudy Koppl (left)
Howard Shore
Howard Shore (right) in conversation with Rudy Koppl (left)
Howard Shore
Howard Shore (right) in conversation with Rudy Koppl (left)
Howard Shore
Howard Shore (right) in conversation with Rudy Koppl (left)
Howard Shore
Howard Shore
Howard Shore
Howard Shore
Details of the 'Music from the Movies' special LOTR issue


Moderator: What are you working on right now?

Howard Shore: I'm busy writing. Nothing is taking up a lot of composing time but er...

Moderator: What are you writing?

Howard: Well this week is important because 'Aviator'...

Moderator: Martin Scorsese's new film, right?

Howard: Yeah.

Moderator: Do you know when you'll get to the scoring stage with that?

Howard: Oh. August.. September. Something like that.

Moderator: OK. So thank you very much.... I want to welcome everybody here. Thank you for coming out to a very special evening. with Howard Shore, presented by Music from the Movies magazine. Appreciate you coming out - very much so - and we're here at the Royal College of Music. The first thing I'd like to do is I'd like to thank Howard very much for coming here to be a part of this with us and have him give you his precious time to be with you, answer a few questions and sign some CDs and be part of your life. So...

FX: Applause.

Moderator: My name is Rudy Koppl. I'm the editor, one of the editors, of 'Music from the Movies' magazine. I'd like to break down what we're going to do in the next hour and thirty minutes so you have an idea of where we're going with tonight. For the first 15 minutes or so I'm going to ask a few questions, and we'll do a small interview here on stage. After about 15 minutes we'll open the floor for questions. Feel free to ask a question and I'll try to moderate. We don't have a mic. that goes out there so I'll try to moderate the questions to Howard here so that he understands the question and he'll answer your questions. Then for the final hour, to the back of the room where the table is, you'll line up and if you'd like Howard to sign your CDs or whatever you have to sign - he'll do that for you. That's going to take place in this aisle here...

Moderator: This is special for me because I've just finished an issue that's going to press of our magazine that's .. I looked at Paul Place [another editor] today and I said 'Do you know how many pages it really is?' and he looked at me and went 'About 80' and I went (surprised)'okay!'. Because sometimes when you interview Howard and you get involved with projects like this I think you lose perspective of time with the amount of material that you're dealing with, as for over three years...

Howard: Almost four!

Moderator: ... almost four years Howard's been working on the trilogy every year pretty much non-stop. So.. as you just mentioned you just came from a rehearsal, you said, for The London Philharmonic, right?

Howard: The London Philharmonic, the London Voices, the London Boys Choir - 'the original cast'! Except for 'The Mines of Moria' which was recorded with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

Moderator: That's very interesting because it seems to me you've done the symphony here, before a round-the-world tour, a number of times, right?

Howard: No, I...

Moderator: No, not in London. But you've recorded in Canada...

Howard: We did record, yes...

Moderator: And you also did the symphony in Belgium?

Howard: In Antwerp, in Belgium, yes. And then New Zealand - in Wellington. And Opaka.

Moderator: OK. But this is the actual first performance that you're doing with the original orchestra and performers that worked on your score, right?

Howard: Yes. A couple of years ago we did two movements from 'Fellowship of the Ring' at Festival Hall, but tomorrow is the six movements - it's the complete piece. And also there's a performance in September at The Royal Albert Hall, which is great.

Moderator: So, getting back to the musicians you actually worked on the score with, are you looking forward to tomorrow?

Howard: I mean it's fantastic. You know, when you hear them play... I mean it's just... it is the original cast and sound in a way. Especially the voices of the choir. Especially! It's amazing because they know the music and there's a couple of very good singers in The London Boys which are unbelievable. As you travel around it's hard to find a choir of that calibre is quite good.

Moderator: Now since, again, these are the people who performed on the original scores... in rehearsing with them do you sense a different depth in what's going to happen tomorrow at the concert, than your other performances?

Howard: There's something... they know the piece. They've been recording for years so they know the piece. They know the sound of it. Especially during the brass. Like the horns, they spent so much time with the brass sound that I'm sure ... and developing that sound.. and they know that really well. And they know the feeling of it and ... I don't know there's just something in the air when they start to play it just sounds like 'Lord of the Rings' hearing this original group. And the percussionist... When I conduct this concert in different countries there's always a bit of time, you know, bringing everybody up to speed on it. Especially in the percussion. Because there's Irish frame drums that people don't know ,or they have them but they don't quite know the sound of it. There's certain things that we spent so much time developing - certain sounds, and the way to make them, and this group knows that because we spent years doing them.

Moderator: So how was the rehearsal? How did it go? Was it much smoother than the other ones, or...?

Howard: Well, you know, I mean we play through the entire piece - it's a two hour piece.. a little over two hours - and we played through the whole piece. We just rehearsed... we just went over really transitions, because they don't know that - how I've created pieces that link, you know, pieces together that create the movements. So that was really good.

Moderator: Do you really think now that they're rehearsing this that they're really beginning to sense or realise how three scores that you composed can be thought of as one idea?

Howard: Yes. They've seen that!

Moderator: Because it's interesting. Out of the 80 pages that we did for our magazine I kept trying to think, how do you talk about something this big? How do you end it? How do you talk about the end of it? The final chapter in our magazine is called 'When three became one' which to me seemed to be, you know what I mean, the ultimate title for what you set out to do four years ago?

Howard: Yeah. Well I did split the book. I mean Tolkien wrote the book as... it was really just published as three books because of the way things were published in the early 50's in England. It was too big a volume to actually publish. It was an 1100-page book - quite a lot for a novel. So it became these three parts but of course it's written as one. Tolkien had six books - there's six books in 'Lord of the Rings' so there's six movements really for the six books. I used that form to help edit things, and the complete piece is... I don't think I've ever really added it all up but I think it's about eleven hours, maybe twelve, as a total. John Mauceri helped me edit it. He's a good editor - I needed an editor! If you have an eleven hour piece it's hard to edit it to two hours without somebody helping in a more objective way. Because you're not objective, you're trying to keep everything and you don't know. So it's good to have an editor who can say 'You don't need that!' and 'Really? I want to play that', 'No, no, no. You can't. You don't have time. You could end here'... you know he helped to create the pacing of it which was really important. And he did a good job, so that became the two hour piece.

Moderator: To go back to your concert in Canada... You recorded that live, correct?

Howard: We recorded it and filmed it .. or taped it. It was done in high definition.

Moderator: So is that going to be released on CD or video? What are you going to do with that?

Howard: I'm making a documentary actually... of it. Using part of it, which is 'The Making of..' piece. And it's for the DVD - the extended DVD of 'Return of the King' and it's also for broadcast. So we're taking the two hour piece and I've edited certain motifs around certain thematic updates that I thought would work, and then it's intercut.. there are thirteen pieces to it. It should run 52 minutes and it's cut with documentary footage, some of it from... I'm not actually sure if we're using the stuff from New Zealand, but there was quite a lot of documentary stuff recorded in New Zealand. There's more documentary footage shot in Montreal. So it's essentially being made into a documentary, which is 'The making of the symphony'. And then I just wanted to do an original cast recording, which is difficult to get everybody together.. just people's time schedules. It would be nice to record The Royal Albert Hall concert in September because that will probably be as close to the original cast. Dermot Crehan is playing tomorrow - he's played all of the fiddle solos - the Hardinger, and Mike is playing the whistle.. so a lot of the soloists are the same.

Moderator: One thing I noticed... I was at your recording sessions for 'The Two Towers' and 'Return of the King'... one of the things I noticed when you're working with the orchestra is when I was at 'The Two Towers' you were using a baton, you were conducting with a baton. All of a sudden it changed for 'Return of the King' and it was nowhere to be found. It had totally disappeared. I was kind of curious because I think this was one thing that we discussed in the past... What happened? Why do you not use the baton anymore? What has it done for you visually, physically and emotionally that you changed?

Howard: It had to do with energy. I'm actually right-handed but I do some things with the left. I'd never really thought about it, I just thought I was right (handed). And then if you use a stick, there's a certain technique to using a stick. I could actually use the stick right or left, but I chose to use right. So what happened was I found was an energy balance thing, and I've got this (indecipherable) method of therapy for balancing your body and it's difficult to balance right and left. I found that once I put the baton down I had better balance on the podium in terms of using both parts of my body. So I can work with my left, just as easily as I can with my right once the baton... because the baton separates. Here you can use both sides of your body or you can pass the baton back and forth. Also the body's good, I find, for conducting. There's lots of things about conducting without a stick. The body's expressive. If you focus on the stick it's good because all the energy goes to the stick you see - all the eyes - you're all focussed on the end of this stick. But if you take the stick away then they focus more on your face and you make better eye contact. I feel I have more contact with the orchestra because you're more open. They're looking at your whole body, they're looking at both sides of it and not this beating thing. It was kind of a revelation to me. It gave me the power to... I couldn't do the two hours with a stick - I didn't have the energy for it. That opened up the energy.

Moderator: It's interesting your talking about energy. One thing I noticed both at your scoring sessions and actual standard communication events...After the first film, scoring 'The Two Towers' and 'Return of the King' actually became a lot more demanding on you because your team changed, there were many more people involved in editing the score the way you wanted it, the way you wanted it to come to fruition at the end, the team grew by many, many people...

Howard: I think it was about the same. I think we came from 'Fellowship' - it was smaller because we didn't know what... how to actually do a movie. Nobody had ever done that. It wasn't just me - it was Peter. It was everybody. Once you realised the scope of it you were well into it so we had to just get through it. And then the change for 'Two Towers' - we learnt a lot in 'Two Towers' and I think 'Two Towers' and 'Return of the King' were very balanced in terms of how many editors there were, and the way Peter and I worked. You know we would record so much specifically in the studio and we just had a pace and a way of working and we kind of became better film makers. We learned how to make the movie 'Return of the King' because we had made 'Fellowship of the Ring' and 'The Two Towers' and we had learnt a lot from making those films. So by the time we got to 'Return of the King' we were actually pretty good film makers and then the bar just kept getting up, so 'Return of the King' was the hardest movie to make of the three.

Moderator: Considering what you were going through.. and I mean by the way, by 'Return of the King' you had so many sessions going on one week and so many different places. Wasn't this physically exhausting?

Howard: Yeah. Sure. But you learn on experience. I've been doing this for a long time. So you learn how to conserve your energy. You learn how to use your energy. You learn how to .. use your determination actually, and when it counts.. how to use it. Basically the recording, when we were here, went on for easily three months. Every day, seven days a week.

Moderator: That's pretty intense!

Howard: You just figured that when you woke up ... I would sleep eight hours every day, no matter what, so you had sixteen to deal with. And then there were two that were maybe travel or food related or waking up, showering and all that, so you basically dealt with fourteen. So you worked fourteen, and you learnt to structure your day based on fourteen hours. There's a discipline involved. You have to do this for a long time. I've been doing this process for 25 years, and totally for 40 years so, you know, you learn!

Moderator: One last question before I open the floor to questions here. Considering what you've learned on 'The Lord of the Rings' and how you've developed your scoring team and the way you handle things, is this something,.. this process that you've created for 'Lord of the Rings' something that you're going to be using for 'King Kong' in the future?

Howard: Well with Peter, I think 'Yes'. I would think.

Moderator: Not on every film though?

Howard: No. All directors are different. They work in different ways. You can't expect... I think this is something that Peter has.. it's a certain way of making movies that he's developed and it wasn't just something that I did with Peter. He worked with everybody in post-[production] in that way. And probably in 'Kong' in pre-production. He has a certain way of working on a rather kind of large production in an efficient way. He's a great leader. He's a really fantastic general, he's able to go... and amazingly focussed. Whatever I was doing in terms of my work.. I just said I did 14 hours... Peter was doing that as well as three or four other parts of making the film. So you can imagine what he was doing. He was editing the movie. He was doing the CG. He was doing dialogue, ADR. And also doing all the sound design and the Sound FX as well as working with Howard you know. He went to every single recording session, and was meticulous and focussed and .. I mean he's a really remarkable film maker. We were doing a certain type of recording. We were dealing with the movie in a very precise, precisioned way: telling the story and using the light motifs, trying to capture live performances - it was a very unique kind of way to make movies. Most movies are made - you know, film scores are done in a week or two. Not three months. So we had a certain special kind of way to doing that, and we were trying to achieve something truthful. We were trying to take the book and put it on the screen in as best a way that we possibly could. And I guess the results speak for themselves. We tried to do something... not that somebody else had not done ... but that we tried to do it as well as we could humanly, possibly could have done, given the.. it was more a time limit than it was linear energy. It was like you had this much time and this is what... as Peter says, films are made just when they tell you to stop. They never finish. Most directors will tell you that. There's just a point where it ends. They're taken away. You can't do it anymore because of the obsessive thing. Of course working for three months like that and many months before that - that was just the recording - writing started in January, February. Months of writing before that, meeting, reviewing - that was just a certain process of film-making. There's just a point where there's a deadline and it ends because you have to deliver all that material and there's a release date. That's the thing that guides you. In the time that you have, you just focus on that and do the best that's humanly possible. But it wasn't just me. Every single person... you know thousands of people working on 'Lord of the Rings' had the same kind of mantra about it because they were huge fans of the book and they wanted to make... we didn't think anybody could ever make 'Lord of the Rings' again. It was a 'once in a lifetime' thing. You couldn't imagine someone ever remaking this book.

Moderator: Peter wants to see the remake. He wants to see a better movie

Howard: I don't think somehow anyone would ever attempt it! Because it's so iconic in a way. I mean Gandalf, Sir Ian McKellen you know, Elijah as Frodo. How are you going to ...? So we felt this incredible responsibility to make this movie as great as we possibly could, given the human energy - we were all just human and we can only do our work. That was how we did it. We all supported each other. In these large groups like this because there were so many people working on it, they either fractured, they fractionalised where the group kind of splintered, or they can all come together under a great leader like Peter Jackson and create something great. So what happened with us is that everybody came together. The story of 'Lord of the Rings' IS the story of making the movie. It was a fellowship based on all the great qualities of this fellowship, and that's the only way the movie was made. It was people supporting other people. You felt people rooting for you to do the best you possibly could do, and wanting you to do, and giving you every opportunity to do it to the best ability you could do it given time. You had to do these things day after day. We worked on 'Lord of the Rings' every day and Peter does the same in New Zealand. Every day I've got a job done, and every day I've got a job done well. And Peter works very much like that. It was just this kind of step-by-step chipping away at this monumental thing, and every day we would just try to do some good work, even if it was just a few seconds or something. All of that just added up and Peter structured it and put it together and made a film. And everybody did it. It was a very New Zealand way to do it - it was a very Kiwi kind of mind set. The great success of 'Lord of the Rings' is the Kiwi sensibility and a great book. Tolkien's great book - this great book and this great Kiwi sensibility of being able to create something that's more than the sum of its parts.

Forward to page 2 of this transcript (Audience Q&A)

Concert review and photo's


Don't forget you can check out reports of lots of other Lord of the Rings -themed events in the Web Logs section
Email: ian@iansmith.co.uk