Monday, March 4, 2013

Tolkien's Lord of the Rings: Fine Arts and Fun Stuff

This past weekend, I was at Valparaiso University at a conference celebrating the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit.  It was wonderful--the scholarship was fantastic, there was a fun hobbit-themed dinner (complete with a Smaug cake!), and I got to see a lot of friends I hadn't seen in a while.

For me, though, the highlight of the conference was on Saturday evening.  The Valparaiso Chamber Concert Band and the Windiana Concert Band performed Johan de Meij's Symphony #1: The Lord of the Rings--and de Meij himself was there to conduct the performance!  

 The symphony has five moments--"Gandalf (The Wizard)," "Lothlorien (The Elvenwood)," "Gollum (Smeagol)," "Journey in the Dark (which contains "The Mines of Moria" and "The Birdge of Kahzad-Dum"), and finally, "Hobbits."  I was very interested, going in, to see if I would be able to forget Howard Shore's soundtrack to the Peter Jackson films, as that music is now so strongly associated with Tolkien's work.  And while I noticed some haunting minor melodies that reminded me of Shore's score, overall, de Meij's work stood on its own.  In fact, these minor similarities were quite interesting--de Meij's work was published in 1987, and so any similarities were either because Shore incorporated de Meij's ideas, or because there is something about Tolkien's work that brings out similar melodies, even in different composers.  I like this last theory.  Overall, I found there to be a great variety of melodies and sounds in de Meij's symphony as compared to Shore's score, and while this might be attributable to the fact that I saw a live performance, I heard greater depth in de Meij's work.

One of the things I was most impressed with was the structure of the symphony.  Rather than building up to the "Aragorn" movement or the "White Tree of Gondor" movement, de Meij ends his symphony with "Hobbits."  In this movement, there are lilting melodies, much as in Shore's score, but it is also majestic and triumphant--a very appropriate choice, considering how central Frodo and Sam were to the defeat of Sauron.  The movement, though, doesn't end on a triumphant note, but rather returns to simplicity and quiet--just like the hobbits themselves.  It was a wonderful encapsulation of the complexity of the characterization of the hobbits--you can listen for yourself in this recording, featuring the Amersterdam Winds:

The hobbit-themed dinner on Saturday night was also a lot of fun--one of the best parts was getting tips on fun Tolkien-related websites from other conference attendees.  Two of my favorites included "DM of the Rings," which imagines The Lord of the Rings as a D&D campaign where the players won't cooperate with the narrative the DM has written, and "Lord of the Peeps," which acts out the story of The Fellowship of the Ring with Peeps in costume.  Both are fantastic, and a great way to start off your week on a lighter note!

By Jen Miller