Sunday, September 26, 2010

"The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films" by Doug Adams

As I write this, my good friend Doug Adams is in London to promote the publication of his new book, The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films: A Comprehensive Account of Howard Shore's Scores, alongside a live-to-picture performance of The Return of the King at Royal Albert Hall. The American release will take place in under two weeks, to roughly coincide with a similar performance of The Two Towers at New York City's Radio City Music Hall on October 8 & 9.

I've been lucky over the years to count Doug as a friend and cohort (we both got started in this field writing for Film Score Monthly). And as a fellow Mid-westerner, I've been especially privileged to spend time in Doug's studio, bearing witness to how he's labored over this book, the accompanying "Rarities Archive" CD, and associated projects like the Lord of the Rings: The Complete Recordings box sets. It's been a fascinating, intense, time-consuming, insanely detailed labor of love, and the final product -- even now reaching the hands of fans -- is incredible. If you are reading this blog, there's a better-than-average chance you are a fan of great film music, and of Howard Shore and The Lord of the Rings in particular. But even if you aren't, if you have even a passing interest in the music of the movies (or music writing in general), I urge you to check out this book. Nothing like it has ever been published before. Take a hefty dose of insight and analysis, deep enough to satisfy the academic mind, but accessible enough for the average reader and listener. Combine that with the subject matter: one of the greatest and most intricate works of film music of all time, written for one of the greatest tales of all time (I'm a Tolkien nut, as my bookcase devoted to him will attest). Combine THAT with a compelling narrative style that embraces the entirety of the creative journey. Add an accompanying CD of extraordinarily beautiful music that mirrors and illuminates said journey. Take in the brilliant production design by Gary Day-Ellison that incorporates a wealth of black-and-white artwork from fantasy masters John Howe and Alan Lee, as well as gorgeous film stills, copious printed music examples, original manuscript pages, and the complete choral texts. Then marvel at the amazingly reasonable price (around $40 at some online stores). Call me biased, if you will ... but I really don't see how you can go wrong here!

And if you happen to be in New York City during October 7-9, and plan on attending one of the concerts or related events, maybe I'll see you there! You can pop in on Doug's blog for all the details.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Retrospective: The Blue and the Gray

The Blue and the Gray (Bruce Broughton) was the first CD I had the privilege of writing liner notes for. It came about as the result of a phone call from Joe Sikoryak in late 2007. I'd known Joe professionally for years, as the layout guy and art director for Film Score Monthly magazine, as well as the FSM and Intrada labels. Intrada was about to ramp up their CD production slate, and was looking for new writers to help cover the workload. Naturally, I was excited about the opportunity. I was even more excited to discover that my "trial" assignment would be a Bruce Broughton score. Broughton had long been one of my favorite film composers (as a tubist, I also loved his tuba concerto), so I felt doubly lucky. I would also be given the opportunity to consult with the composer, which I have since learned is far from a given!

While I waited for the music to arrive, I familiarized myself with the film. The Blue and the Gray is an epic Civil War miniseries from 1982, directed by Andrew V. McLaglen. It's an impressively lengthy tale, spending much time dwelling on the fringes of the war, and the pace is measured but (in my opinion) rewarding. (If you have any interest in seeing it, I urge you to secure the original, uncut version, rather than the shorter "recut." I've seen it selling for less than $10 in major retail chains lately, so it's a good impulse buy.)

As might be expected, Broughton's music is spectacular, featuring an abundance of terrific melodies that grab you from the start and don't let go. There's lots of variety -- a good balance of drama, romance, action, and even a little horror; and in addition to full orchestra, Broughton makes terrific use of small instrumental groupings. There's plenty of great period color, both in the choice of instruments and in the melodies, which carry something of a Stephen Foster vibe. The score runs over two hours, but things don't get dull for an instant! It's vintage Americana, and vintage Broughton, and at only 2,000 copies I'm somewhat stunned it hasn't sold out yet! You can click here to help remedy that!

I want to close this entry with some special thanks to the folks at Intrada -- to Joe for thinking of me for the job; to Douglass Fake for hiring me, and bearing with me as I learned the ropes; and to the indispensable Roger Feigelson for his guidance and support. Finally, thanks to Bruce Broughton, who was generous with his time and insights. As an entrée into the world of liner notes-writing, I couldn't have wished for a better experience.