For many years I have believed that music can be one of the most sublime forms of storytelling. Unlike most media, it easily goes straight to the core, displaying and evoking the raw emotion that is the bedrock of any good tale.
The same is true for musicals and opera. When done right, they transcend the bonds of story to evoke the spiritual and emotional Truths which underpin all events. Music at its best is pure distilled emotion, and though the literal content of the song(s) may not conform to their source, the spirit and beauty of the music will.
After many years neglect, I recently returned to a well-loved musical: “The Lord of the Rings” with music by AR Rahman and Christopher Nightingale and lyrics by Shaun McKenna and Matthew Warchus. I have never actually seen the production, just clips they posted on the musical’s website. From what little I’ve seen it must have been an awe-inspiring spectacle, but sadly it never really took off.
Thankfully, we have the recording from the London cast/production to listen to.
The music is wonderful, powerfully creating the sense of Middle Earth, as well as creating moments of sublime beauty. I’ll be the first to admit, however, music is a highly personal taste, but for myself, the music is perfect.
One of the odd things about listening to such an adaptation is the fact that the liberties taken are extremely easy to overlook. Granted this is helped by never seeing the production, but the direction of the story is still evident from the lyrics and songs themselves. This made me stop to think. It can be very hard at times to accept the choices Peter Jackson and Co. has made with their films; what makes this any different?
The answer lies in the evocation of emotion, personality and culture. This is what music is able to do so well, and why Howard Shore’s score for the films continues to define the soul of Middle Earth. Rahman’s score and arrangement does the same.
Rather than continue, I’ll share a few thoughts on my favorite tracks:
“The Road Goes On” takes its cues from Bilbo’s walking song, while also establishing the character and nature of hobbits in just a few short minutes. The same is also true of “The Cat and the Moon,” which is great fun to listen to and great fun to watch as well. It creates the perfect festive atmosphere, befitting a jaunty tavern song.
My two favorite songs musically are “Star of Eärendil” and “Wonder.” Both have transcendent moments of song which never fail to give me chills. With the addition of “Lothlorien,” these songs also weave in elements of Tolkien’s larger mythology as well as the major themes of despair and hope found in LotR.
Probably the best song, and one I love to sing along to, is “Now and For Always,” which recreates Frodo and Sam’s discussion of the Great Tales in the pass of Cirith Ungol. It is a poignant tune, and very simple, but does heavy lifting. This song uses this simple moment from the book to elaborate on the great friendship between the two hobbits, their mutual admiration and their codependency in the quest. It is also reprised briefly by Gollum, lending his conflict greater loneliness and sorrow.
I don’t usually review music, as the experience of it is often so personal and difficult to describe in words, but in this case I think it is well worth it. For any Tolkienite, we are always looking for ways to experience his works anew, to recapture the wonder and magic that burst into flame at our first reading.
Musical Website: lotr.com
Some clips of the production:
“Now and for Always” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2r_HgqohtM0
Clips from the whole musical, Includes “Wonder”, “The Cat and the Moon”, “Star of Eärendil”, “Lothlorien” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaHRFlPCtsU
PS. For Grey Haveners, there are a quite a few songs that might work for a future Sing a Long.