Hello everyone. I'm composer Howard Shore.

My latest project is the score for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies which is the final chapter in the Tolkien story, and there's many other films of which we can discuss as well.

Victoria's helping me phone. Ask me anything!


Edit: Thank you everyone for this AMA, and I really enjoyed it. Hope we get to chat again very soon. Your questions were interesting and inspiring, and much more music to come. Please have a listen to the new Hobbit score, Battle of the Five Armies, and the film should be out next week!

Thanks for listening.


Comments: 726 • Responses: 48  • Date: 

vicroll91709 karma

Hi Howard. Let me first say that your Lord of The Rings compositions have sustained me through hours of writing lesson plans at my computer. I can’t think of a piece that carries me away quite like “Concerning Hobbits” or “the Bridge of Khazad-Dum.” I sincerely thank you for composing a score that stirs some of the same thoughts and feelings as the stories of Tolkien. How do you go about a project as massive as the Lord of the Rings? Can you tell us a little about the inspirations and processes behind the score?

Thank you!

Howard_Shore582 karma

It's a step by step process, and you begin with the words, of Tolkien's great stories, his books to work with, and you have Peter Jackson's great imagery, but I always start with the words and ideas inherent in the story. And I start writing themes and motifs trying to create a mirror image of what Tolkien wrote.

ManaMoogle632 karma

What are your dreams like? Are they full of epic orchestrations? Thanks!

Howard_Shore710 karma


Howard_Shore876 karma

When you write music, you actually dream about it. You can see the pages going by in your sleep.

Howard_Shore440 karma

Someone asked about a symphony or collection of pieces based on other Tolkien works: There are concert version of a LOT of the music I've written for the Trilogy. There are concerts coming up at Lincoln Center in New York in April for the complete trilogy, all of the works from LOTR.

And I don't know. I'm happy to complete the six films that we've worked on in Middle Earth, and going forward I couldn't really say, although I don't really tire of working within Tolkien's world. I find it a really interesting, fascinating and inspiring place to live and work.

IncidentOn57thStreet293 karma

What's your proudest piece of work for all of the Lord of the Rings soundtrack?

Howard_Shore445 karma

Maybe The Destruction of Mordor.

cyformcdvl224 karma

Howard Shore! Hi! Each different culture from LOTR has a different feel musically, what was your process like for determining the style for each? Thank you so much for blessing us all with your beautiful music. Your compositions have been the soundtrack to my life. Literally, as I play them basically everywhere I go.

Howard_Shore405 karma

Thank you very much.

And the process that I went through for writing the score was very much a journey, a step-by-step journey. We didn't go in with a complete plan for th work, it was just something that we worked on LOTR - I worked on LOTR for almost four years - and the story GREW in the telling, the piece evolved as you were working on it.

I started in the Mines of Moria, and then I wrote my way out of the mines to Lothlorien, and then I would back up and go back into Rivendell, and so it was this step-by-step accumulative process.

And Doug Adams wrote a book called The Music of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and in the book he describes all the themes and motifs and how they were used in the film, and you might enjoy reading it.

Doug Adams spent almost 9 years creating the book. He had COMPLETE access to my archive. It's much too complicated to go into! There are over 100 themes and leitmotifs in the story that are used musically.

So this is a very complex question , if you will.

captainrothigans206 karma

Howard, I loved your score for the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. Some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard in a movie.

My question to you is why was the Ringwraith theme played during the Thorin vs. Azog fight in An Unexpected Journey?

Howard_Shore298 karma

It was showing the connection to evil.

And the relationship of these characters to Sauron.

JabbaThePizzaHutt130 karma

Hello Howard Shore!!! Just to put a little bit of info up front: you are my favorite composer of all time. Your score for The Lord of the Rings is on the top of my list of movie scores (I listen to a LOT of movie scores), and I listen to all of the albums CONSTANTLY. I have different playlists for different moods I am in, it’s a bit excessive. I do love your other soundtracks as well, but LOTR has a special place in my heart. Basically, I think you are an amazing composer and the world is extremely lucky to experience what you create.

Moving on from that. Here is my question: With the soundtrack for LOTR getting two Academy Awards (stupid rule preventing three), Into the West getting its own Oscar as well, and all of the other awards the score has received, what was the moment where you realized that you truly had an amazing score? Was it halfway through development? When you first thought of the Hobbiton theme? When you watched the movie?

Also, what has been your most cherished memory from being a part of such a monumental production?

P.S. can you come to the Phoenix Symphony and conduct something? Plz say yes…

Edit If anyone wants my playlists, or wants me to create one for you of LOTR/Hobbit music, send me a PM.

Howard_Shore157 karma

I think at the very beginning, when I first met Peter and Fran Walsh, and saw some of the film in New Zealand, I felt it was something really special that was being created. And then after winning the Oscar for Fellowship, and I knew we had 2 more films to make, and we were really onto creating something that could have a real, lasting part of filmmaking.

So it was at the very beginning.

I guess - I worked with SO many great musicians on the piece, and I have such great memories of working with the London Phil, the NZ Symphony orchestra on Mines of Moria, so many great soloists played on the score, Renee Flemming, James Gallway, Annie Lennox all performed on Return of the King - I have such great memories of working with them on the last of the Lord of the Rings scores.

And thank you! I'll try.

scathatheworm110 karma

Hi Howard I am currently studying for an exam tomorow and your lotr score is a real help.

I remember when I first watched dogma, I thought I heard one of the elven themes from lotr near the end, I looked on the DVD case and saw that you scores that movie. Dogma was released in 1999, FotR in 2001. Was I hearing things?


Edit for manners

Howard_Shore151 karma

I don't know. I mean, Dogma was written before Fellowship of the Rings, of course. Could there be something in the end of that movie? I really don't know. There wasn't a conscious decision, I can tell you, to connect those two. But I'm glad you're enjoying the scores, and good luck on the exam tomorrow! I'm glad the music is helping you study. It's tuning up your brain.

YaketyMax108 karma

What's been playing on Howard Shore's iPod/iPhone lately?

Howard_Shore172 karma

I've been listening to a classical guitarist named Milos.

He's from Montenegro, and he records for Deutsche Grammophon, and I find his recordings very inspiring.

I also enjoy the music of Nico Muhly and Christopher Rouse.

lamagica95 karma

Yo Howard ,

in a month im going to Lord of the rings in concert! So stoked!

also , whats your favorite kind of pizza ?

Howard_Shore192 karma


What's my favorite kind of pizza?


Black olives and green peppers.

OceanBoo93 karma

I’m such a fan of all of your work, but the Lord of the Rings score is my favorite movie score of all time (take that, John Williams!). I used to listen to the “The Grey Havens” and cry after Return of the King came out, but I also love the Hobbit theme and the Lighting of the Beacons (the music perfectly fit the beauty of what was on screen).

What was your favorite piece of the Lord of the Rings score to compose, and which piece did you feel best fit the actions on screen (if they’re different)?

Howard_Shore122 karma

Earlier, I just had mentioned The Destruction of Mordor, also the Destruction of the Ring, the Gray Havens and Lighting of the Beacon were wonderful moments - beautiful imagery, really inspired visuals to work with, to create music for.

existential_spider77 karma

Can you give any possible titles that might appear in the future on your howe label and when can we finally hear your King Kong score?

Howard_Shore102 karma

Howe records JUST released 3 archival Dave Cronenberg scores - the remastered and bonus tracks version of "Dead Ringers," "Crash," and "Naked Lunch." http://howerecords.com

Two other releases I am working on are a record of two new concertos - a piano concerto that I wrote for Lang Lang, and a cello concerto for Sophie Shao. Also working on a release of chamber music next year on the label that will include a new work that was premiered this year for mezzo-soprano and chamber orchestra called "A Palace Upon the Runes."

The King Kong score is part of the archive, and we're going back into the archive, and looking at past works, and seeing if we can have them out to the public. So possibly.

Which of my scores would you like to see?

catpr0m70 karma

What are some of your favorite pieces from the traditional orchestral repertoire? Who are some of your favorite composers out there writing new music for instrumental ensemble? Also pick one: Mahler or Strauss. :)

Howard_Shore105 karma

I love Mahler AND Strauss, so it's hard to pick one.

I mentioned a few contemporary composers which I think are great - Niko Muhle, Christopher Rouse, John Corigliano...

I'm enjoying Shostakovich's 8th Symphony right now. And I'm always interested and enjoy Wagner.

Moonburner62 karma

Mr. Howard Shore,

You’re scores are simply amazing and inspiring. What is your process for bringing it all together? Do you hear it in your mind first or play until something sounds good? I’ve always wondered about this creative process. Thanks for sharing your gift.

Howard_Shore134 karma

I like to read.

And to read and dream.

So I use that process, what I'm trying to do is get into my subconscious when writing music about certain subjects. So I use that type of technique, where I'm reading, and dreaming, and thinking about music in a very internal way, and then I go about the process of composition, of harmony and counterpoint, I write with pencil and paper and have been doing that since I was 10 years old.

So that's the beginning of the composition process.

Once i have compositions I like, I start applying them to different scenes of the film. And then I'll orchestrate - what will realize the composition - and then there's a process of recording, which is performance, conducting, mixing, mastering.

catpr0m56 karma

I bet you have an audiophile level sound system at home. What is it? What headphones do you use?

Howard_Shore174 karma

Sennheiser headphones.

TheRobertissimo45 karma

Did you ever consider using Christopher Lee in your scores for The Lord of the Rings?

Howard_Shore55 karma

I didn't use Christopher as a vocalist - I love his work, and he's a magnificent actor, but I wasn't able to have him play a musical role in the score.

godsrod44 karma

Hi Howard, thanks for the AMA.

Let’s start off by saying that the soundtrack for The Fly is one of my top favorites. The horror, the drama, the tragedy all encapsulated in that soundtrack. I just cannot stop listening to it.

How did you go about coming up with the theme and the feel for it and how did the writing process go for it?

Howard_Shore53 karma

The Fly's one of my favorites as well.

And it's a story that I really connected with, I mean, i love the original fly with the Vincent Price story. So when we had the chance to do it, I always looked at it as a tragic opera, and Cronenberg also felt that there was a more larger story than the science fiction story of the 1950's. And there was a tragic story of life & death. And I just reacted to that, and I wrote a piece that came from my heart, about what Brundle was going through, and the drama that ensued in that tragic ending of the piece.

Shorefan41 karma

I LOVE the complete recordings for The Lord of the Rings trilogy; to me they are all true treasures and my favorite releases of music I own and probably will ever own. I really hope The Hobbit scores will get the same kind of treatment, can you please tell us if this is happening? I miss the stunning “Flight to Carrock” music the most I think. I really hope there will be complete recordings for The Hobbit scores; it would be great to have "The Complete Recordings of the Middle-Earth Saga". The released special editions of the scores by WaterTower Music are not close of being complete sadly; they miss a bunch of extraordinary highlights like the “Flight to Carrock” for instance, and a lot of other great material. I feel that the current releases of the Hobbit scores does not do your music justice and that the scores deserve better treatment.

Howard_Shore53 karma

I guess we'll see in time. It took quite a few years to prepare the complete recordings of LOTR - Fellowship took a year, Two Towers took a year, and Return a year, so it was a total of 3 years of preparation for those releases - so I have to now go into the archives and see what we haven't released at this point in the two-disc editions for each of the films. Remembering that in LOTR, there was only one CD disc released initially on each of the 3 films!

shivan2140 karma

How does your cooperation with David Cronenberg looks like?

Howard_Shore52 karma

Well, I've known David for many years, and we've now worked together on 15 films over 35 years.

And the process of working together has evolved over time.

But it's still a very close, really good relationship, and we look at films differently from year to year, and we try to use music and tell stories in filmmaking in different ways, always looking forward to something that's a new way of telling that story.

theonetoothree30 karma

I read somewhere that you write in themes. Is that true? And if it is how do you start off creating a theme?

Howard_Shore57 karma

I do write in themes and motifs, yes. And I create them by immersing myself in the story, really. And dreaming about what's possible, and what I could create for that, and what's a true expression for me about that culture, or that person, or that object in the story.

mcremnant23 karma

Hey, Mr. Shore!! Huge fan. You said The Fly was one of your favorite scores. Which score is your favorite? And do you ever just listen to your old scores during leisure times?

Howard_Shore58 karma

I guess the all-time favorites would be Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

I loved working in Tolkien's world, and I've spent so many years now - almost 7 years now - working in his fantasy world, and I guess those would have to be my favorites. It was really everything I knew about composition, orchestration, conducting, producing, recording - everything I knew went into those scores.

But I have so many favorites of Scorcese's scores - The Aviator, The Departed, HUGO - just so many scores that i've worked with, so many great directors that i am happy with. The Cronenberg films like Naked Lunch, Dead Ringers...

I don't really listen to my scores in my leisure time, no. Once I've finished a piece, mastered the recordings, I don't go back and listen to them, I'm always going forward.

Howard_Shore34 karma

But when I remaster the scores, I do spend a lot of time with them at that point. Like the re-mastering of Naked Lunch, Crash, and Dead Ringers - there was a lot of listening to older recordings.

Alan Frey works with me, and James Sizemore, and the 3 of us have been spending a lot of time in the archives, if you fill.

YaketyMax23 karma

Any good Lorne Michaels stories when you guys were kids?

Howard_Shore41 karma

I've known Lorne for many years.

And we grew up together.

And we worked in CBC in Canada, and Toronto radio & television, and it's been a very close relationship. A lot of funny things have happened over the years - too many to go into here!

esteejay22 karma

What is your favorite memory of working with John Belushi or any of the original SNL cast?

And is it true you gave the Blues Brothers their name?

Howard_Shore38 karma

Apparently I did?

And it came out of what we call "The warmup to the show" and we always played music as the audience was coming in and assembling, getting ready for the show. And during that process, of the warmup, we started inviting Danny Ackroyd up to play a little blues harp, and John wanted to get in on that, so my fond memories are those warmups with the two of them onstage, with the band on the show.

Even before it took off into what we know of it as the Blues Brothers, that was the early part of that - that was the fun part.

Well, this year, we're celebrating the 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Live. And it went from The Blues Brothers idea - went from the Warmup and playing blues before the show began, to doing a few sketches and things on the show - we did performances actually on the show, a couple of them as I recall, I remember doing one called "King Bee," and then it kind of progressed from there, and John and Danny wanted to do live concerts, and it became a film, and many things happened.

pimprenellechocolat17 karma

Hello Howard, I'm French so I'm sorry for the mistakes. I just wanted to tell you that I'm a huge fan of your work in LOTR and The Hobbit, I have chills when I hear the music, this is pure beauty and I'm glad that someone like you exist because your talent can't be fully expressed by word. I don't really have a question, I wanted to say thank you for making the beautiful words of Tolkien living. Oh yes, I have a question : my boyfriend is a fan of your work too and he's studstudying in a music school to be a film score composer so I'd like to know if you take trainees?

Howard_Shore36 karma

Thank you for your interest, and thank you for your wonderful words about my work. I don't actually work with trainees, I work with a very small group of a few people that I've worked with for many years, so it's a very small studio. You could come for a visit and we could show you around. Try looking on my website.

Canada-Starts-Here15 karma

Hi Howard. I had the chance to watch the final Hobbit film and enjoyed your music immensely. I was wondering if you could "tease" some of your work in the extended cut. I was really looking forward to hearing the development of your Beorn material.

I also wonder about An Unexpected Journey. Some really beautiful pieces were not used (and replaced by equally beautiful pieces), can you provide insight into that creative journey?

Howard_Shore19 karma

I believe there's a Beorn piece in the extended version of the Desolation of Smaug.

The CD release of An Unexpected Journey is very complete, I think.

theArnoldFans115 karma

Hi Howard, were you a fan of Basil Poledouris? He too did such a fantastic job in fantasy: Conan the Barbarian. Arnold starts filming a new Conan in early 2015 so how would you feel about scoring the new King Conan fantasy film?

Howard_Shore24 karma

I'm a big fan of the Conan Poledouris score. And I guess with the new film, I'd have to see it?

godsrod14 karma

What movie that you scored has give you the most writer's block and how did you get passed it?

Howard_Shore35 karma

I haven't. I have a good relationship with music, I've been writing it since I was really young, so I always have a good, friendly collaboration with music (if you will) when I sit down to write. I write every day.

composeradrian14 karma

How has filmmaking evolved in facilitating the scoring process? Better or worse? Easier, faster?

(Loved your work on Ed Wood and Mrs. Doubtfire)

Howard_Shore22 karma

Well, digital editing has certainly speeded the process up, and post-production has changed, of course - from ED WOOD or MRS. DOUBTFIRE, films from the 90's. The process evolves. It is different. But we develop ways to keep up with it. The process of composition is still the same. It's just how quickly you can work with the changes that are taking place in the editing of it.

utab199013 karma

Hi Howard,

i would like to hear your views on the must-have skill set of a beginner in film music. What would be your suggestions? Maybe info on how you started. Great job and thanks for taking time answering questions

Howard_Shore23 karma

Good working knowledge of the grammar of music: harmony and counterpoint, a basic understanding of those two parts of music. And really a good grasp, a good knowledge of music composition.

And I always was writing music, when I was young. But I started playing professionally when I was 14, and I was playing in jazz groups at 14, 15. We were making a small amount, playing locally, and I guess that was really the beginning of a profession. The professional part of it - I played alpha saxophone - and that was really the beginning of the professional career. And the composing was always there in the background.

bccapes11 karma

Hi Howard! The first few notes of the Fellowship theme (as Gandalf rides into Hobbiton) sounds strikingly similar to the hymn "This is My Father's World". Did you draw upon this as inspiration? What else?

Howard_Shore29 karma


CatapaulonitDude10 karma

I got hit by a bus today, could you say something to make me feel better? Huge fan!

Howard_Shore30 karma

Oh, I'm so sorry! I hope you're okay.

calsey168 karma

I just want to say that the music for the entire Middle Earth world is perfection. I so admire how beautifully the music really creates the world of Middle Earth and I don't believe that it would be the same without your brilliance.

That having been said, how much influence did you take from your work on LOTR and how much did you "start from scratch" creating the sound of "The Hobbit"?

Howard_Shore7 karma

I like to work from the books.

So starting on The Hobbit, it was really a re-reading, a constant re-reading, the book was always open on my desk when I was writing, and I drew a lot of inspiration from the actual novel itself. And I write a lot based on the reading of the novel, and then I'm into Peter's filmmaking, and how i use the films and motifs.

rdkra8 karma

If you could choose any movie or franchise to compose for, what would it be?

Howard_Shore15 karma

Hmm. I've written over 80 scores, and in that process, I've worked in a lot of different genres. So there isn't something I could say I wish I could do that - I think in that list, I've really touched on a lot of the things you could do in film.

Lindele7 karma

Thank you for giving us this incredible 6 film opera...it has been such an inspiration in my life.

-Can you explain the absence of the Misty Mountain theme in the second two Hobbit films?

I for one, would spend any amount to get the Complete Recordings for The Hobbit! Even if there is just a little bit more than what the Special Editions had to offer...can't get enough!

Howard_Shore12 karma

I think that theme had to do with the quest of the Dwarf Group, and was very much related to the story of An Unexpected Journey. And I think I answered that earlier.

shlik6 karma

Would you ever consider composing with full make up on and costume with your entire orchestra?

IE: Army of Orcs or Elves.

Howard_Shore13 karma

Um... I don't think so?

downwarddawg5 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA! I am a huge fan of the work you did for the "Big" soundtrack. Can you share any insight into how that score came together? Do you know why it wasn't officially released? I had to buy a rare promo copy off Ebay, best 50 bucks I've ever spent. Thanks for the amazing work!!

Howard_Shore14 karma

I believe the soundtrack is available, I think, through Saraband? The complete score. It's a terrific picture, directed by Penny Marshall, one of Tom Hank's fantastic performances, and it was really enjoyable, a lot of fun to work on.

poweroftheorthanc5 karma

Hello Mr. Shore, I am a huge fan and like many other people, I'm so happy you're doing an AMA today. I have a couple of questions for you:

  • I loved your CBC Inside the Music episode "Unsettling Scores", so I must ask, what scares you personally in terms of sound and music?

  • Will the Lord of the Rings in Concert be coming to more cities across the world? Please say it's going to come to Toronto

Greetings from Toronto and thank you so much for doing this AMA and for all of the years of amazing work!

Howard_Shore8 karma

1) Hahaha! Ah. I don't really get scared too easily? So I don't know if I have a favorite of those scores. But I would have to say the Hitchcock films might be the most unsettling, and a dark experience for the cinema. I don't think it's anything really specific, I think it's an overall type of feeling kind of overwhelms you in a way, and takes you into the story.

2) I certainly do hope so.

Thank YOU for listening!

amyyy094 karma

Hi Howard,

Huge fan of your work and just have two quick questions..

What piece of music are you most proud of? and how many times will I cry listening to the new score? I know it's going to get very emotional and I'm not sure if I'm ready..

Howard_Shore19 karma

Well, I'm happy with the piece as a whole. And your connection to it is wonderful, and thank you for listening, and if I was able to accurately describe Middle Earth in a way that affected you emotionally and tell the story, then I think that's okay.

shivan214 karma

Do you have an absolute music hearing? Do you think that it can be learned?

Howard_Shore21 karma

No. I don't have perfect pitch. I have relative pitch.

Frajer3 karma

do you ever see a film before you score it ?

Howard_Shore9 karma

Of course!

Howard_Shore10 karma

You see the film, and you can also read the novel, if it's adapted from a novel, you can read the screenplay and dream about the screenplay, and then you get to see the film that's in a version that's ready for music, so yes, you do and must work with the film in the scoring process.

leeallen013 karma

Is there any Beorn material in your Score for Battle of the Five Armies?

Howard_Shore6 karma

There is a bit of Beorn (without giving it away too much).

Adervae3 karma

I really liked the themes for Bilbo that appeared in the entirety of the cue "Dreaming of Bag End" from An Unexpected Journey. Is there any reason why you decided to not carry on this theme (and other themes) to the other two Hobbit scores?

Also, what was the reason that you did not orchestrate the final two scores and had them preformed by New Zealand Symphony Orchestra instead of the London Philharmonic Orchestra?

Howard_Shore3 karma

I think fragments of it did play a part in Battle of the Five Armies?

I'm not sure if you heard any of it in Desolation of Smaug.

But there may have been motifs of it in the last film.

That had a lot to do with just how the post production had changed from The Lord of the Rings where the scores were produced in London with Peter in London at that time, and these films and these scores were being produced in a different post-production world where Peter had to be in New Zealand, so it was really a question of changing the post production schedules and geography, the connection to London, London to Wellington, and New York to Wellington.

IncidentOn57thStreet2 karma

In what ways do you approach grand epic films and smaller character-orientated dramas differently?

Howard_Shore7 karma

I don't really.

I mean, I really look at the story, and I consider what's necessary to TELL that story. Not all films are on the scale of something like Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, but you just scale the work to tell that particular story. I don't think compositionally it changes that much, it might change more in terms of orchestration.

shivan212 karma

Are there adjectives that would you use to describe your music and type of films that would fit it?

Howard_Shore6 karma

No! hahaha - I don't have a clear picture, really, of what I've created in music. I've worked as a composer for many years, doing many different types of scores for film and for concert. I wouldn't say there's an adjective really that describes ALL of the work. It's a little more complex than trying to define it so carefully.