The Lord of the Rings: Appendices Part 4

SCORING “THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RINGS OF POWER”
THE APPENDICES: PART 4
THERE AND BACK AGAIN

This is the fourth of four blog entries chronicling my personal experience scoring the first season of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. The first, “Journey to Middle-earth,” can be found here. The second, “Themes of Middle-earth,” can be found here. The third, “Forming a Fellowship,” can be found here.

(Photo Credit: Monica D Photography)

CONDUCTING THE FINALE

Composing the score for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power was my primary focus in my early months on the project, but I soon realized there were other ways in which I could contribute to the show.

I was excited to create soundtrack albums, compose material for trailers, do press events, travel to premieres, and – best of all – perform the music live!

The first of these tasks came up last fall when I was asked by Amazon to compose music for the series’ title reveal trailer that debuted in January. In this incredible promo, we witness what appears to be misty mountains and rivers of flame, images that reveal to be close-up footage of metal and wood forged into a work of art that depicts the show’s title.

I chose to feature The Stranger’s Theme in this trailer. The Stranger’s Theme is unlike any other because it does not share any musical traits specific to any of Tolkien’s cultures or places. We don’t know where The Stranger comes from, so he comes from everywhere and nowhere. I also just really adore this interesting harmonic progression and melody. I loved the idea that The Stranger’s Theme would be the first theme fans would hear from The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

I spent the first quarter of 2022 completing the score, finishing the last cue in the middle of April. It was time to step out of my studio, get on a plane, and fly to London to conduct the last orchestral recording sessions for the finale of the first season. At last, with no more cues to be written, and for the first time in nearly a year, I could give the recording process my full attention. 

At Sir George Martin’s iconic AIR Studios in London, one of my favorite stages in the world, I stood in front of the string orchestra and raised my hands to conduct. As the music rose up, I was overwhelmed by emotion as I felt the physical reverberations of sound that can only happen when standing up on that podium, surrounded by musicians. This was the first time I had conducted an ensemble for nearly two and a half years. In 2019 I had conducted the Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finale, my last large session before the coronavirus pandemic shut everything down. Since I began conducting as a teenager, I had never gone so long without standing in front of an orchestra.

As I stood before these brilliant musicians in person, and felt the sound waves tingle in the air around us, I nearly wept in front of the whole ensemble. Throughout orchestral sessions that week, I experienced a cathartic delight working with the world-class London musicians with whom I had been distance-collaborating for nearly a year. And yet, secrecy still prevailed: none of the musicians could yet know the name of the project we were recording.

On my last day in London, I stopped at a small restaurant on my way to the airport for a celebratory breakfast meeting with the showrunners. Over the last year, I had forged close bonds with all of them, though from afar. I had only ever spent time in person with Lindsey Weber, in the years before she began work on this series. As I shook hands with J.D. Payne, Patrick McKay, and Justin Doble, I was surprised to hear the words “Pleasure to meet you” coming from my lips. I never thought my first in-person meeting on The Lord of the Rings would be after the season’s score was completely recorded. (Oh, and I never realized how tall J.D. and Patrick are. I felt like a Harfoot standing next to them!)

After I returned home from London, I battled with a rough bout of COVID for two weeks. My symptoms likely augmented by extreme exhaustion built up from working the previous nine months. When I recovered, I spent the next six weeks on edits for soundtrack albums, completing that work by the end of June. I carved out two weeks to travel with my family to my hometown of Bellingham, Washington. Though technically attempting a vacation, my involvement in the show was far from over. I was about to embark on an entirely new leg of the journey.

SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON

I was thrilled when Amazon Studios asked me to perform live with an orchestra as part of their big press rollout at the iconic San Diego Comic-Con! I composed an overture to introduce fans to the score, blending “Nolwa Mahtar,” “Galadriel,” “Sauron,” and “The Stranger” into a brisk, exciting, adrenaline-inducing fanfare. I tailored the piece for choir, orchestra, percussion, and my friend and sensational violin virtuoso Sandy Cameron.

(Photo credit: TBD? Let me know on social media and I’ll update with credit)

As I rode down to San Diego, I reflected back on my Comic-Cons of the past. I had first attended Comic-Con in 2006 with my then-girlfriend Raya, as guests of Battlestar Galactica star Richard Hatch. Known for his starring role in the original 1970s show, Richard was then a notable guest star on the reboot series that had just launched my career. Walking around Comic-Con with Richard felt like being a guest of The Comic Con King, as he enthusiastically introduced me to every fan who approached him.

(Photo credit: TBD? Let me know on social media and I’ll update with credit)

Raya and I have attended Comic-Con nearly every year since. My involvement in The Walking Dead was announced to a standing ovation at Comic-Con. My theme for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was debuted at Comic-Con. I performed the scores to Outlander and Black Sails at Comic-Con premieres. At the 2009 Comic-Con my Battlestar Galactica Orchestra rocked the San Diego House of Blues for three nights to packed audiences. Still, I had a feeling that Comic-Con 2022 would be a whole new experience, and in this, I was correct. 

On July 22nd, I waited, in darkness, backstage with my orchestra and Sandy, for my entrance into Hall H where sixty-five-hundred fans were packed in to see us. Our orchestral performance of the fanfare was the panel’s opening event. We had performed this same suite the night before, at the Thursday night private press event and it was well received, but the energy here was already more intense. This was the first time any orchestra had performed live on this stage in the history of Comic-Con. More significantly for me, this was the first time the dedicated and passionate Lord of the Rings fanbase would hear my new musical themes for the Second Age of Middle-earth.

(Photo credit: TBD? Let me know on social media and I’ll update with credit)

I took to the stage, raised my arms to cue the fanfare, and music reverberated throughout the vast hall. The choir burst into the opening vocals of “Nolwa Mahtar,” and the walls shook as taiko drums and low brass stabbed percussively between vocal phrases. I savored every second I was on up on that stage. After a year of toiling in secrecy, I cannot put into words the glorious feeling I had conducting my music on that stage.

After the performance, I was formally introduced to the world as the composer for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, by none other than Stephen Colbert. We were all honored that Colbert was our host for the big Comic-Con panel; he is well known to be one of the world’s biggest Tolkien fans and lore experts. I chatted with him backstage and enjoyed nerding out with him about the books, the lore, the movies, and the music. He seemed particularly interested in how I crafted the music for Númenor, picking up instantly on the musical clues I had planted into the theme.

RED CARPET PREMIERES

After these two major Comic-Con performances, my wife and I attended the Rings of Power world premiere in Los Angeles in early August. I finally got to see the first two episodes on a large screen format. Doing press on the red carpet, I had a surreal experience talking openly about my work after a year of speaking about it only in whispered coded language. At the after-party, a new suite of my score soared while a jaw-dropping drone show soared and burst with color in the night sky above our heads.

Amazon Studios also invited me to take part in their final premiere event, in London at the end of August. For this after-party, to be held at the venerable British Museum, they asked me to come up with a musical event to close out the night. For this thunderous finale, an arsenal of percussionists filled the stage: all manner of drums, including a massive sixty-inch taiko drum, large nagado taikos, frame drums, chang changs, and seashell conches. TO the incredible percussion I added a choir of London Voices, and added some celli for harmonic support. Violinist Sandy Cameron joined us once again on stage. I stood in front of the ensemble, arms raised, and this new percussion-driven finale reverberated among the marble columns of the British Museum. The experience was beyond exhilerating.

With the performance behind me, I was free to have a blast at the London after-party. I had the chance to connect with even more people among the cast and crew. I met legendary actor John Rhys-Davies, and our conversation surprisingly veered into early Gregorian polyphony in liturgical music, before he suddenly broke out into song, singing with Owain Arthur and Trystan Gravelle. (I never thought I’d witness a “Three Tenors” style performance with Gimli, Durin and Pharazon, but there I was!)

(In London with John Howe, and Maxim Baldry)

I met John Howe, one of the artists who shaped our collective visual language associated with Tolkien’s writings. I told him how much musical inspiration I’ve drawn from his images over the years. I also met Leith McPherson, our dialect coach who ensured the choirs and singers in the score pronounced the Tolkienian languages correctly. The after-party was the perfect finale to an exciting month of press and premieres.

(Hanging at the Los Angeles premiere, with Owain Arthur, Ismael Cruz Córdova, and Megan Richards)

I flew back to Los Angeles the day before the series was to premiere on Prime Video. At that point, I knew I had done everything possible to ensure that the score fulfilled my musical vision. I had faith that fans of The Lord of the Rings would feel the same.

SOUNDTRACK ALBUMS

Aside from hearing a snippet of The Stranger’s Theme in the title reveal in January, fans had not heard any of my score for The Rings of Power until I was announced as composer for the series, in July, 2022 at Comic-Con.  To coincide with that announcement, Amazon Music released two music singles, “Galadriel” and “Sauron,” offering a first glimpse of the soundtrack experience ahead. I felt these two tracks presented poetic polarity: light versus dark, good versus evil, a beautiful melody with soaring intervallic leaps versus a twisted melody that feels like a tightened fist closing around a ring.

The Rings of Power soundtrack albums are the result of the combined work of Amazon Music, Sparks & Shadows, and Mondo Music. I pitched to the team an ambitious plan to release multiple editions of the score: one tailored for casual listeners, and eight additional albums, one for each episode, tailored for a more dedicated fan base.

THE SEASON ONE ALBUM

I had been planning for the main “Season One Soundtrack Album” from day one. As I scored the episodes, I also composed separate symphonic tracks for each of my primary themes, crafting tracks that stand on their own. These pieces drew components from my original theme sketches, as well as significant theme quotations from various moments in the dramatic score. On occasion, I even combined these elements with new musical material I intend to use in later seasons.

I created fifteen of these symphonic theme tracks, totaling approximately fifty minutes. Each is designed to give the listener a complete emotional image of the subject the theme represents. Tracks named after a character, location, or concept are a good indicator that they were composed this way (for example, “Galadriel,” “Nori Brandyfoot,” “Khazad-dûm,” “Sauron,” and “Nampat.”) For the Season One Soundtrack Album, I combined these symphonic theme tracks with an hour and forty minutes of score from across the season. I edited the cues together in roughly chronological order, keeping an emphasis on musical flow.

THE EPISODIC ALBUMS

For the eight individual episodic albums, I crafted playlists much closer to the narrative arc of each episode. Virtually every second of score is here. I still made subtle edits to preserve continuous musical ideas.

I would recommend casual fans stick to the main Season One soundtrack album. At a whopping two and a half hours, even this “shorter album” is still massive, if not overwhelming. I made that album specifically for fans looking for an efficient, beautiful overview of the musical journey of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

Anyone out there like me – a hardcore fan of film scores, of Tolkien, or just someone curious about how music shapes to drama – might be more interested in the episodic albums. To anyone willing to embark with us, a detailed eight-hour musical saga awaits.

The Season One Soundtrack Album for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power was released digitally across all platforms on August 19th. The individual episodic albums are being released exclusively on Amazon Music, as each episode streams on Prime Video. Once all episodes stream, these albums will be available on all digital platforms. Collectors of physical media, stay tuned for news in the near future!

I did not fully understand the scale of this show, and Amazon’s commitment to it, until I saw my name in lights flickering across New York City’s fabled Times Square, announcing the release of my soundtrack album. Seeing this image ranks among the most surreal and exciting moments of my entire career!

ONE YEAR LATER

After about a year of work, suddenly, in one day, twenty-five million viewers around the globe experienced the show, and with it, my music. Audiences heard my sweeping Galadriel Theme as they witnessed her brother Finrod walk towards The Two Trees of Valinor. They heard my Khazad-dûm Theme as Elrond enters the mighty city. They heard Nori’s Theme as she and her Harfoot friends find a valley of blackberries, and so many more. Suddenly, and at long last, my top secret endeavors are playing around the globe.

I have been moved by the warm embrace my soundtrack albums have received from new and old fans alike. My social media feed has been flooded with overwhelmingly positive comments, and delightful fan musical performances, ever since the Season One Soundtrack Album dropped in August. The vast majority of fans have proven themselves to have kind hearts and open minds. I look forward to spending the next few years of my life with you all, as we journey together on The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

These last four blog entries have covered my personal experience scoring this show, and given a broad overview of some of the ideas I put into the score. In the near future, I will write blogs about each individual episode, because shockingly, there is still a lot I wanted to talk about in each one that did not fit in these entries! So, keep up with me on social media to find out when those go up. And hit me up with any questions.

Scoring the first season of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has been one of the most profound personal and creative experiences of my life.  As I have written earlier in these blog entries, I saw the Peter Jackson trilogy at the nexus of childhood and adulthood. As a boy, I had vivid dreams of running across the plains of Rohan with Aragon, Legolas, and Gimli. But then, I consumed the behind-the-scenes documentaries about how Jackson and his dedicated team poured their passion into filmmaking, and gradually my dream changed. I dreamt of becoming a professional storyteller and working with a team of equally passionate artists to bring stories to the screen. Over this past year, I have managed to fulfill both dreams.

-Bear McCreary
October, 2022

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