Next: Lord of the Rings at Ravinia, August 18-19

Thursday and Friday, August 18-19, Chicago Chorale will join forces with the Lakeside Singers, the Chicago Children’s Choir, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Ludwig Wicki, to perform the soundtrack in a showing of The Lord of the Rings:  The Fellowship of the Rings at Ravinia Park. I fully expect that the park, and the pavilion, will fill to capacity both nights.

Electronics being what they are, these days, it appears to be a matter of pressing a few keys, to eliminate the musical soundtrack, while leaving dialogue and all other elements of the soundscape intact, and replace it with live performance.  Coordinating the live performance with the film, however, matching everything up frame by frame, is a daunting challenge.  The conductor has presented this very program several times, with numerous orchestras and choruses; none of the rest of us have ever done it, however, and we will need to be on our toes at all times.  The entire movie has only forty minutes of vocal music, but that vocal music occurs, here and there, in major scenes as well as in limited, eight-bar phrases, throughout the performance.  The full score, which I am studying and which I will use in leading rehearsals, has all of the music for the entire film, and weighs about five pounds; the choral scores have only the voice parts, with no accompaniment and only minimal orchestral cueing. The singers must count bars for pages at a time, before suddenly entering , often at a forte, at the extremes of their vocal ranges, frequently at breakneck tempos.  Meters constantly change, as do tempo markings; and the singers must perform in such languages as Orc and Elvish, which are written in the score in something similar to what a middle school student might use if he were asked to spell out street slang, rather than in IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), which singers are trained to read.  Adding insult to injury—the font seems intended to look like Elvish runes—very decorative, but not much good for speed reading!

Vocal demands are tremendous.  In such scenes as the Mines of Moriah, the choir is divided into as many as twelve parts, with basses singing page after page of low D’s while the first sopranos hang out on high A’s and B’s, all at fortissimo levels.

I have been watching the film, and listening to a recording of the sound track, in preparation for our first rehearsal (we begin Monday evening, August 1, and meet nearly every day up to the performances).  In the past, when I have watched the film, I have not paid much attention to the music; I have known it is there, and have appreciated the skill with which it augments the viewing experience, but I have left it in the background—which after all is where it belongs.  Now that I am studying it, I realize, more with each exposure, how brilliantly it has been composed, and how masterfully it has been woven into the total fabric of the experience.  I have heard that the composer, Howard Shore, spent three full years composing and preparing the music for the three films in the trilogy, and I am not in the least surprised-- in its way, his task has been fully as complicated and all-encompassing as Bach’s task in composing the St. Matthew Passion.  This is magnificent stuff.

I don’t think I need to promote the performance-- people are very excited about it, and I just hope they are not turned away at the gates, after driving from all points in the Chicagoland area to attend the performances.  Nonetheless, I urge you to look at your calendars for August 18-19; if you can come and hear it, I’m sure you will agree with me that this is a stunning accomplishment, for the orchestra, the choruses, and the conductor.  And the movie isn’t bad, either.