FredO's Journal of Howard Shore in Pittsburgh
For those interested I am posting my
experiences this week with the LOTR Symphony coming to my hometown of
Pittsburgh, PA. I will keep updating this thread over the next few days
as events unfold.
MY STORY SO FAR.
Last September I saw a post on TORN stating that Columbus, OH was
getting the LOTR Symphony for the U.S. premier. I did two things.
First, I bought seats for the event in March in Columbus (it was a
blast!) and then I wrote a letter to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
(the PSO) asking if they had plans to bring the symphony here. To my
surprise I got a letter in response a mere two days later. I was
informed that they hadn’t known about the symphony until they received
my letter and that they were going to try and book it. Fast forward to
this past February when my wife calls me from work to say that there is
a full-page ad in our local paper announcing that the PSO was going to
be performing this work for two dates in July. I was completely bowled
over by this news but not as much as when I called the woman who had
written me to ask when tickets would be available. She not only
remembered me she also proceeded to thank me for my initial letter. She
explained that my letter had been the catalyst for the event and that
they wanted to give me tickets to one of the performances. I was
flabbergasted. She then had me speak with the manager of Heinz Hall
(the theater where the PSO performs), Carl, who also thanked me and
made arrangements for my tickets. He was also kind enough to let me
place an early order for seats for the other evening. What a way to
The next thing I did was to post this news in as many places as
possible. I put it up on Bag End and submitted it to TORN who promptly
put it on their site. I heard from Ringers all over the country and am
proud to say that there will quite a few making the journey here this
week. Carl wound up adding another performance a few months back (yes I
have tickets to that show as well) and recently told me that all 3
nights are virtually sold out.
Over the past few months I have been busy working with Carl on trying
to make the event here in Pittsburgh something a little extra special.
It took some time but just 2 weeks ago we were able to finalize details
on a special dinner to be held this Saturday before the concert. We
don’t yet know if Howard Shore will be able to attend but the meal
itself will be quite memorable. Owing to my affiliation with the local
Line Party I was familiar with a woman who had written the “Cookbook
For Middle Earth.” Her name is Stephanie and her recipes will be
featured at this dinner. So this will be quite a different dinner than
you might expect. Unfortunately there is more Dwarf in me than Hobbit.
I’m not overly fond of vegetables, I like meat and I can’t stand
mushrooms but Stephanie has assured me that there are going to be lots
of different dishes so there will be plenty of different kinds of food
SOME CURRENT NEWS
Last week I was told I would be allowed to attend 2 rehearsals on
Tuesday (tomorrow – 7/27). I will be seeing the symphony in their first
run through with Howard Shore in the morning and then I’ll go back to
see the first full run through of the symphony and the choirs. What a
great opportunity this is. I am a musician, I play drums, so getting to
see these people work through the score and to watch them smooth things
out will be very interesting for me.
Also last week I was contacted by Carl who told me that he’d passed
along my name and phone number to a reporter for one of the local
newspapers. I got a call yesterday from a reporter named Mark who
interviewed me about my involvement with helping to bring this concert
to town. Of course we also wound up discussing the films and the books
– he’s seen the films but not read the books and is a musician in his
own right. Mark informs me that the article will run on Thursday (7/29)
and I’ll be sure to post a link here once it appears online at their
And as if all of that isn’t enough I was just able to settle on details
of a Moot on Saturday night which should put the finishing touches to
the entire week. Most of the out-of-towners will be here on Saturday
and I wanted to make sure we all had some time to spend together after
the performance. Looks to be a great, great evening.
Oh, and lest I forget, I am hosting Agape4Rivendell at my house on
Saturday. She wanted to come to the event but hotel costs were too much
to bear. We really only have room enough for one more person so we
offered her our spare room. Her friend Tari, who will be coming with
her, will be staying with our friend Mary. For those of you I met in
Toronto in December you will likely recall that Mary came with my wife
Sue and I to the Moot at Alice Fazooli’s.
Okay, that’s it for now. I’m sure I’ll have lots to say about the
rehearsals tomorrow although I may not get to put it up until
Wednesday. Things are getting quite busy and I’m really starting to get
First a bit of housekeeping: I want to thank BraveHobbit, Peredhil,
Bregalad, SarahStitcher and Indis & Elentari (who sent me an email)
for supporting my writing this journal. Thanks to all of you for your
encouragement! It’s most appreciated.
“THERE NEVER WAS MUCH HOPE….”
I woke up early this morning with a lot of anticipation in my heart.
Besides being able to go to this morning’s rehearsal I had another
reason for excitement which I withheld in my post yesterday. What I
didn’t share here was that I had been mentioned as a possible emcee to
open the concerts. Yep, I actually had a shot at that and I even
composed an intro and emailed it to Carl my contact at the PSO. He
liked what I’d written but alas it was not to be. I got an email from
Carl this morning telling me that the their community director had been
slated for the spot and though there had been some concern in a
possible conflict within his schedule he was going to be able to
perform the duties as required. Oh well. But at least I had a shot at
it. Had it happened I think there would have been no living with me for
a few days. The really nice part of this was that Carl really liked
what I’d written. I had given him permission to use any of it if they
thought it worthy and he did pass it along so who knows – I may yet get
to hear some of what I wrote.
THEY MOVE AS ONE BEING
I arrived at the theater with a good friend, Tom, and we were promptly
offered seating in any place we wished. We chose to sit on the floor in
the back where we’d be unobtrusive. Our guide mentioned that musician’s
can sometimes feel a little concerned with people hanging around at
rehearsal so this seemed like the way to go.
About 15 minutes after getting seated I saw Howard Shore cross the
stage. Serendipitously Tom turned to me and said “let me know when he
gets here.” I just chuckled and pointed him out.
From the very beginning I was happy that I’d come. One person stood up
and clapped their hands for quiet and the entire orchestra stopped
their tuning and fell silent in seconds. One of the great treasures to
me is watching a group of people act as one being and I find this most
fascinating to watch in orchestras. The discipline and unity always
With little fanfare, and little discussion, Howard explained that the
symphony was about 2 hours long and that they would be going over most
of it but not all. The next thing I knew they were picking up their
instruments and we were into the prologue music. I immediately felt the
hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The soft trilling of the violins
at the beginning always causes me to feel an expectant air and this was
no different. They moved straight through the whole first movement with
only a stop or two for some direction by Howard of the percussionists.
He wanted a slightly different cadence in the Moria sequences and they
had to go through it a couple of times before he got what he wanted.
I was sitting there feeling all kinds of emotions when I realized that
the choir was not there. Now I knew they weren’t going to be for this
rehearsal but until that break I hadn’t actually missed the voices. I
was hearing some things, some subtleties, that I usually miss. Hearing
just the instruments was very interesting and quite enthralling.
I found myself crying at points, much as I do when I listen to the
sound track, and being overwhelmed with the majesty of the music. I’m
not sure how my tear ducts are going to hold up this week. By Sunday
morning I will have seen this performance 5 times. Phew! I’m going to
be a puddle of tears.
HOW AMAZING IS THAT
The orchestra made it through the entire score almost exactly on time.
They were finishing the last strains of the closing credit theme. As
soon as they were done, Tom’s watch chimed noon. We couldn’t believe
how well-managed the rehearsal had been.
Here’s the real kicker. I had seen the Columbus Symphony perform this
in March. I was a bit disappointed in some of what I heard. I compared
notes with others and while they did a good job overall, they struggled
some with Moria and Isengard (especially Isengard). Their tempo seemed
forced and plodding but they did very well in other areas. I had half
expected that this might happen today given that it was the first
rehearsal with Howard and the PSO. Not so. They were nailing most of
this stuff from the start. During a break Carl dropped by. I had not
met him before since all of our communications had been either via
phone or email. We had a quick conversation and agreed to meet for
lunch. He asked me what I thought and when I told him how good they
sounded right off the bat he floored me with this – “this is the first
time they’ve played it together.” What?! I asked him to repeat that and
sure enough they had only had a piano run through last night. Wow – how
amazing is that?
Over lunch Carl explained how much they expect from the performers. He,
of course, was not surprised to hear how impressed I was with their
proficiency at this first run through. The PSO has been highly praised
all over the world and I knew this but they still just blew me away.
I RESTRAINED MYSELF VERY WELL
One last tidbit. I was waiting for Carl near the stage door when I saw
Howard coming towards me. Steady, steady – don’t do anything stupid
like running over and telling him how great it is that he’s here and
how excited you are…I did none of that. I actually turned to the side
so as to avoid temptation. I got to meet him in Columbus at an
autograph signing and I was nearly a blithering idiot. I was more
reserved today. I’m sure I’ll have a chance to meet him again at one of
the after-concert events.
Time for me to get going. I have to pick up my friend Tom’s son,
Michael, and then meet my wife at the theater. As great as today was
tonight will be even better with the choirs. I just hope my tear ducts
I arrived for last night’s rehearsal at the appointed time and got a
really pleasant shock. The security guard, who was different from the
one in the morning, asked my name and when I gave it to him he said “go
right in.” No escort needed? Wow, was that nice. He just said “you were
here this morning and you know the way don’t you?” I said “yes” and off
When we got to the hall I let our young friend Michael choose where to
sit. He decided on sitting down front so we started to head that way
when I noticed some other people milling about that part of the seating
area. I casually commented out loud that “we are going to have some
company tonight.” One lady looked at me a little strangely and I said
“we’re just here to watch the rehearsal.” She gave me another curious
look and that’s when it hit me – this was the choir! So I asked if
that’s who they were and she said yes. I then explained that I knew 2
choir members – one I’d met and one I hadn’t. She asked who they were
and I mentioned Sally, our Line Party president, and she beamed that
she knew Sally too. Then I said that I knew but had never met Bonnie
owing to a few emails we’d shared. She then said “I’m Bonnie!” How
lucky was that to run into her just as we came into the hall? I don’t
know the exact number of people in the Mendollsohn Choir but it’s not a
So Bonnie and I chatted about where she was going to be on stage and
how the rehearsal had gone in the morning. I’d been trying to keep that
quiet since I wanted to see Sue’s reaction when she heard them but I
had to tell Bonnie how great they sounded. She then admitted that she’d
never had the opportunity to sing with an orchestra before so this was
her first time.
CHOIR WARM-UPS ARE HUMOROUS
We took our seats and settled in about 5 rows from the front of the
stage. Mike was really enjoying just watching the prep work. The choir
assembled on stage except the youth choir. The orchestra was nowhere to
be seen either. It turned out that the choir was going to do about 30
minutes of warm-ups and a bit of rehearsing. Have you ever seen a choir
warm up? It’s pretty funny actually. First they do a few group
stretches. Then they take turns massaging each other’s shoulders. All
of this stuff went on in unison. Next they started doing breathing
exercises and preparing their mouths with some lip and jaw exercises.
The funny stuff, to me, was when they folded their arms like Swamis
doing a snake charming and did their breathing exercises.
They started going over some of the choral parts with just a piano. The
choir director was very direct, very forceful and quite stern. It’s
been a while, in my life, since I’ve seen someone who was so much like
a drill instructor that it made me squirm. Someone showed up late and
tried to get into line when he screamed “out, you’re late, get out.”
She moved to the end of the row but that wasn’t good enough and he
yelled at her again. She came down and sat in a small group of about 8
people who were also late but hadn’t tried to get into the practice.
When they ended choir practice, he gave them some final words and then
turned to that group and said “I want to see all the latecomers back
stage now.” I wouldn’t have wanted to be in that group!
THE SOUND OF ANGELS
Bonnie has been posting some of her experiences on TORN about what it’s
like to rehearse for the LOTR Symphony. One of the things she pointed
it out is how hard it is to get the male portion of the choir loud
enough for the very lowest of passages. It’s easy to forget that Shore
had a full Maori Choir sing those parts AND that they can adjust the
mix in a studio to fix any problems with the volume. I’ve read about
the amplification problems that other cities have had over this issue
and I’d even passed along some of that information to Carl who
appreciated it so that he could try and get ahead of these things. Well
they were still having problems here. This is such a tricky thing to
fix and they are doing everything they can to get it right but it’s not
easy. I suspect that it will all be working fine by the night of the
performance but it’s taking a lot of effort.
On the positive side, the choir sounds terrific. They had few missteps
but that had to be expected. Bonnie confided to me that they were
struggling with Lothlorien but they’re getting the kinks worked out.
The beautiful thing is hearing just how great they sound especially on
the softer passages. The resonance between the orchestra and the choir
is just wonderful to hear. There is something magical that happens when
the voices and instruments reach similar tonal qualities at the same
time. While I really enjoyed hearing the orchestra by itself in the
morning, the evening rehearsal was that much more magical for the
addition of the choir. It was downright heavenly.
I should mention that Sue turned to me, after The Prophecy and said
“this sure isn’t like it was in Columbus.” She was overwhelmed, as was
I in the morning, at how proficient, how excellent they were already. I
know I mentioned before that the PSO is considered a world class
orchestra. Let me give you one example. Last year they travelled to
Rome to put on a concert for the Pope. Not many orchestras are
afforded, or requested, to perform such an audience. It was a plumb
opportunity and they left quite an impression. They have had concert
tours throughout Europe and the reviews are always the same – “one of
the finest orchestras in the world.” A good friend of mine, Steve who
is the older brother of Tom the guy I took in the morning, was
chastising me for expecting less. He said “these are professional
musicians and they have to be this good.” Be that as it may, this
symphonic piece is not easy and I think it’s a testament to the talent
of the PSO that they are handling it so well from the start. I really
believe that live performers have good and bad nights and sometimes
they have transcendent performances. One of the reasons I chose to go
to all 3 performances was in the hope that one of these will be such a
night. With this orchestra it may just happen – maybe even more than
once. I can tell you that there were tears in Sue’s eyes and a genuine
joy in her for having come to see this rehearsal. She was as stunned as
I’d been at the morning practice.
“YOU’RE THE ONLY COOL ONE…”
After the rehearsal I got to talk to both Sally and Bonnie. As you can
imagine they are both really charged up for this. They are both Ringers
of the first order and for this to happen for them is just a wonderful
opportunity. Sally told me about her sister, Maria, coming in from
Boston and how her sister refers to me as “that ‘kid’ Fred” and how
she’s been trying, nicely, to communicate that I’m a good bit older
than either of them. I’ve had some email interchanges with Maria. She’s
heading up the Labor Day Moot in Boston in conjunction with the LOTR
exhibit. I like the fact that Maria perceives me as a younger guy
especially since I just turned 50 two weeks ago!
Sally then turned to me and said “You’re the only one cool enough to be
here for rehearsal.” I misunderstood her. I thought she meant that I
was the only person who wanted to be there for rehearsal. She corrected
me. She told me that they were told when this concert was announced to
not “even think about asking to bring anyone to rehearsals. They are
closed rehearsals!” She was noting how cool I must be that I got in!
Yeah, it is cool and I’m only sorry now that I didn’t take up Carl’s
offer and go again today. Alas, I do have work and there are RW
necessities that need attending. Now all I have to do is bide my time
till tomorrow night and the first of the concerts. I know it’s going to
be terrific and I can’t wait to see it all put together.
JUST SO THEY SPELL YOUR NAME RIGHT
I checked the Tribune Review site first thing this morning and saw the
article I was interviewed for on Sunday right off the bat. Boy, you’d
think it was all about me! I can’t believe how many quotes the
reporter, Mark, used. He was quite nice and I do so appreciate being
given this bit of the spotlight. I feel extremely honored. I don’t know
how I’m going to get my head through the door of Heinz Hall tonight!
If you would like to check out the article, you can find it online here:
THE DEEP BREATH BEFORE…
So the first show is tonight and I have phenomenal seats. We’re sitting
right above the stage in a box. The tickets say, simply enough, Box 1
and Box 2. This is the Grand Box and I have actually sat in its
companion on the left some years ago. The view of the Orchestra is
incredible and you feel as though you’re onstage. This is going to be a
very busy day for me and I’m trying to keep my mind on other things but
with the release of the article and all the other prep work I’m really
feeling a bit harried. That will pass but right now my adrenaline is
I got some emails from people who can’t make our Saturday night Moot
and wondered if we could do one on Friday as well. After talking to my
friend Mary, who did the leg work and reconnaissance for the Saturday
night Moot, we decided to go ahead and put one together for tomorrow
night as well. Why not just party all weekend?! I just hope we can get
notice out in time for those who want to make it.
I best keep this update short. I’ve got a bunch of things to do like
buying a thousand copies of today’s Tribune Review. I’m sure I’ll have
lots to report after tonight’s concert and post-concert event. I wonder
if Howard would be kind enough to sign a copy of the Trib article? I
hope I get a chance to ask him.
NOTE: I submitted a review to TORN this morning and I’m using that as a
basis for today’s update. I’m adding some other tidbits here to round
out the social moments.
I had the great fortune of sitting with some Ringers from the area.
They were sisters. Barb, who lives near Pittsburgh, and Suzie who came
in from Erie, PA. They will be coming again tomorrow night. Between the
3 of us we were sobbing so much that I started to get concerned about
how loud we might be! My wife commented to me later that she wasn’t too
distracted by the 3 of us. But what a joy it is to meet other Ringer
fans! Suzie recognized me as having been the first to ask a question
during the Q&A (more on that later). She was wearing a nice
ensemble of Elvish pins as was Barb. I had on my One Ring watch and a
bookmark One Ring replica that Silivren Ithilidin sent me (many thanks
again). It was hung on a gold chain I picked up at Sears. Hey, I want
to be spotted as a Ringer! By the way, if Suzie reads this, and she
probably will, I hope she comes out of lurk mode at least once to let
her presence be known. Both she and Barb were great box mates and we
supported each other through the intense emotional drama of the night.
I also met David Koran of Soundtrack.net. He was in our box with a
press pass, though he had to pay his way in like everyone else. We
talked about the coverage Howard is getting and how this is opening a
lot people up to the enjoyment of film music. He asked me to email him
my notes of this week and all other such material relating to my
journey to getting the event here. He’s a nice guy who looks a bit like
Ben Afflack. He was allowed to take pictures during the performance (no
flashes allowed) and promised to share some of the better shots with me.
The crowd last night was a good mix of people of all ages. It was great
to see so many young people. I hope they become symphonic music fans
through the appeal of Howard Shore’s wonderful symphony. It’s sometimes
funny how ideas come to you. I was looking at them and thinking “I hope
they’ve read the books” when it occurred to me that I want to get a
tee-shirt made to address this. I envision it as having a One Ring in
one corner and an Elvish script saying “Real Ringers Read The Books.”
You can parse that as read, the verb, or read, as the past tense. Not
as a slam to film-only fans but as a challenge for both literacy’s sake
and as a reminder of the main source.
QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS THAT NEED ANSWERING
There was a Q&A beforehand and they ran out of time long before
they ran out of questions. Howard was casual and relaxed as he sat on
stage. I got to ask him how the PSO compared with other symphonies and
he was gracious in his reply while not actually offering a direct
comparison. I also got to invite him to the Middle Earth dinner. The
nice thing to note is that there were questions from fans of all ages
as well as from a gentleman who looked to be in his mid-seventies.
Howard was patient and gracious with everyone.
THE MUSIC OF THE AINUR
As to last night’s first performance it seemed to me that the orchestra
had really internalized the score. They were dead-on from beginning to
end. The subtleties of the ending themes were matched by the strength
of the majestic moments such as Isengard Unleashed. The most
breathtaking moments were not only evocative but heart-wrenching. I was
in tears a good bit of the time but I nearly doubled over when I heard
the orchestra play The Great River culminating with Boromir’s death.
One other expectant tear-jerker for me is Andruil. I was absolutely
sobbing when I heard it. The sweep of that piece just cannot be
adequately described. All in all the PSO was incredible and they
handled this score with command and power. What a ride!
From my box, my wife and I sat in the first two seats of the Grand Box
Right (right above the stage), I could see Howard’s _expression and his
subtle hand movements. What I enjoyed watching was how he drew out each
of the orchestra’s sections. His style is more demonstrative than I had
been able to see when I saw him conduct the Columbus Symphony Orchestra
or even the rehearsals I attended. He has a way of pulling his left
hand close to his left clavicle, and sometimes his throat, as he
expresses trills. I saw him smile a couple of times at particular
soloists. It was a knowing smile and, in one case, I knew why he was
smiling. At Tuesday’s rehearsal he had spent some extra time with the
acoustic guitar player in explaining the dynamics of Into The West. I
saw them spend a little extra time after the main rehearsal ended as
well. I could certainly hear the difference in last night’s
performance. The quietness and subtly were all there and it was clear
that Howard got what he wanted and communicated that back to the guitar
player with that knowing smile.
I can also say that, from my vantage point, I could see several members
of the orchestra sneaking a peak at the video screen. Watching the
musicians is a treat but to see them act a bit like fans during the
performance made me smile.
The Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh and the Children’s Festival Chorus
of Pittsburgh were both wonderful. Whatever Sally and Bonnie had said
about the troubles they were experiencing with Lothlorien were gone.
They nailed it! The choir soloists were terrific. An interesting note
of change from the sound track was the use of a bass voice for
Aragorn’s coronation song. There was a moment or two where it was
difficult to hear some of the bass voice parts, such as the Moria
sequence, but overall the amplification of the choir was done very
well. They worked on it a lot and it paid off.
As for Sissel, the soloist traveling with Howard, what can I say. She
was fantastic! Her phrasing, her emotive dynamics are all rich and
moving. I fully admit to not liking Gollum’s Song on the sound track.
Of all the music for the sound track it’s the only one that I never
much cared for. When I heard Sissel perform it in Columbus I had a
complete reversal of attitude. I had been dreading it but instead wound
up loving it and falling to tears. The same thing happened last night.
She has a fantastic stage presence, owing some of it to her Elf-like
appearance (that’s a Tolkien Elf not your Keebler elf) and her
statuesque physique. She handles Into The West with a grace that turns
it into a lullaby. Frankly I can’t get enough of her.
AND THEY ALL HAD A REAL GOOD TIME
The post-concert event was a great time. I had met Howard at an
autograph signing in Columbus and I was looking forward to thanking him
for coming to Pittsburgh. When Howard appeared he was again showered
with applause and expressions of gratitude. He stood at the top of the
stairs at the entrance and took more questions before finally
consenting to enter the reception area where, of course, he was mobbed
for autographs. I even saw a local TV personality get in line with her
entourage (for those of you in Pittsburgh it was Sally Wiggin of
Channel 4). I guess celebrities can be fans as well. ;-)
I was afforded the opportunity of bringing my video camera and I
recorded Howard’s entrance, as well as some of the earlier Q&A and
one other special moment. Sissel was busy signing autographs at the
rear end of the bar. When I saw a lull in the line I went over and
asked if I could videotape a moment speaking with her. She was kind and
agreed and immediately introduced me to the video technician who is
handling the video screens. Once I handed him the camera I started to
tell Sissel how much I enjoy her singing. I then explained my feelings
about Gollum’s Song and how her rendition had changed my opinion so
dramatically. She was very nice in accepting my praise so I went
another step and mentioned that I was going to be at all 3 performances
and that I was looking forward to hearing her again and again. She said
to me “then I guess I have the pressure of having to perform this as
well each night.” So it was then that I revealed that I would be
sitting front row and center, right at her feet, for Friday night’s
show. I actually saw her blush with embarrassment. What a fun and
exciting little interchange this was for me and it was all captured on
I also met Lucas Richman last night at the reception. He is the
resident conductor for the PSO. We had a nice chat about the
differences with the PSO and Columbus Symphony performances. Lucas was
very interested to hear my impressions between the two and I spent a
good 10 minutes with him. He reminded me of how great the PSO is and
how lucky we are to have this amazing collection of talent performing
I also finally got to speak with Shelly Fuerte last night. She is the
Assistant Artistic Administrator for the PSO. She is also the person
who wrote me back when I sent my initial letter requesting the PSO
consider getting Howard here. I have to own up to something here. I
never kept a copy of the letter I sent them. I didn’t think they’d
respond let alone actually book the event so I didn’t see a reason to
keep it. I asked Shelly if she still had it and she said it was in her
files. She promised to photocopy it for me.
Shelly and I also shared a little laugh. Mark, the reporter who
interviewed me from the Trib, had spelled my name correctly in the
article. Admittedly my last name is not easy however, he messed up
Shelly’s name and he knows her! It wound up as Fuentes instead of
Fuerte. She giggled a little when we talked about it and told me she’d
have “words with him.” I have a feeling someone else messed it up in
the editing process and that it’s likely not really his fault.
THE MAN HIMSELF.
I waited for the autograph line to die down before approaching Howard.
I thanked him for coming and I asked if he’d sign my program. I asked
him to autograph my program on the first page. There is a clever ad
there that reads “You’ll understand how that Hobbit felt” with a big
diamond ring next to it. I thought the mood of the ad and the reference
to the possibility of The Hobbit becoming a movie were appropriate. I
explained that I was going to be there all 3 nights and wanted to
collect one from each night with his autograph. This will go nicely
with the copies of each of the sound tracks that he graciously signed
for me in Columbus. I got a chance to explain about Saturday night’s
dinner and he said he might actually make an appearance. I also started
to tell him that I had been interviewed for the local newspaper article
that day when his eyes brightened. He’d read the article! He mentioned
how nice he thought the article was and then Carl Mancuso, the manager
of Heinz Hall, leaned in and said “Fred is the person who wrote us the
letter that caused us to book the event.” Howard was in the middle of
signing my program and he looked up at me and kindly thanked me and
then turned back to my program and added “Thank You” above his
signature! Now that’s an extra special Ringer moment.
I will be taking a copy of the article that was in yesterday’s paper
with me tonight. Howard offered to sign a copy. It’s been an incredible
week for me and I’m having the most “excellentest” of times.
My seats for the concert last night were in the front row center. This
is not an ideal place to view the entire orchestra but it affords an
intimacy you cannot possibly get anywhere else in the concert hall. I
found that the sound of the orchestra is skewed a bit there owing to
the proximity to the strings. Not that you can’t hear everything else
it’s just that the strings become a focus of attention.
The PSO was once again magnificent. The power they have to move from
the soft passages to the strong ones is amazing. Being able to watch
the string section handle all these dynamics from such a close vantage
point was simply a grand treat. Once again the percussion section was
prominent and masterful. Though I could not see them from where I sat I
certainly could hear, and feel, them at work. I know that this piece
requires a great amount of percussion work and I think the PSO
percussionists have been more than adequate to the challenge. Consider
that they have to watch their volume because the choir needs to be
heard in conjunction with the entire orchestra through passages such as
The Destruction Of The Ring and you’ll get a sense for how hard a
balancing act it can be to maintain the force of a piece like that
without overwhelming the vocalists.
As for the choirs, they were again wonderful and strong. Dr. Robert
Page, who conducts the choir, is legendary for his work and has had a
stellar career. I think he prepared them very well for this challenge.
Because I was watching the string section last night so much I want to
say something about getting to see how they handle themselves on stage.
First of all I was surprised to see that some of them do look at the
audience. I thought this was unusual but I did manage to catch the eye
of a couple of violin players from time to time. As I said before, the
seats I had afforded a wonderful intimacy. I was also able to watch
their faces and see the different looks and expressions they make. None
of them seemed to be working hard, if you know what I mean. Some of
them had stern countenances which belied the subtlety of what they were
doing. Some were very relaxed and simply playing effortlessly. I love
being able to sit so close that the right string section and the left
string section occasionally caused a stereo effect due to the
differences in when they were playing. It was all just a feast for ears
Howard Shore was again something to behold. From where I sat I had no
view of his face or the front of him but I did have a view of how hard
he works. On Thursday night I was able to watch his face, his arms and
his hands. Last night I was able to watch his body and there was a
story to be seen. Howard throws himself into his work. He was on the
balls of his feet many times to get his points across. This is quite a
workout and I was really impressed, again, at how well he got the
musicians to follow him. He is a quiet, reserved man when you meet him
in person. All his passion, all his artistry flow from him when he
conducts the symphony. I felt a great honor to be so close as to see
this great composer take the PSO through this epic work. It was
stunning to watch.
A STUNNING VOICE & PRESENCE
When Sissel entered the stage after the intermission I was conscious of
our little chat from Thursday night. I didn’t expect she’d acknowledge
me sitting there but much to my chagrin she had a good bit to say about
this at the post concert event (more on this later). As much as I have
enjoyed her singing I was not prepared for how enchanting she is to
watch when you sit so close. I could see all the expressions on her
face, and watch her dramatic hand gestures, very clearly. She has a
very patient, very paced style and seeing her handle the aria solos as
well as the songs was very moving. I was sobbing, again, during
Gollum’s Song and I was knocked over when she sang the aria, forgive me
I’m unsure of the name of the piece, when Gandalf rides out to save
Faramir and his retreating men as they ride to Minas Tirith. It was
I was also able to observe how Sissel stays involved during the moments
when she is not singing. I could see her gently tapping her heel along
with the orchestra during some of the really powerful moments like
Isengard Unleashed. It was, again, one of those little things you
really can’t see anywhere else in the auditorium. In a chat with her at
the post-concert event she revealed to me that she had only 2
rehearsals before performing the Columbus show. She had a copy of the
Wellington concert and spent a great deal of time listening to it and
working on it to prepare. Given how well she did in Columbus I was very
The night was again triumphant. There were 3 curtain calls, again, and
the crowd roared its approval. I know that Howard was sweating from the
activity but I think I actually saw tears of gratitude on his face as
he took his bows. It brought tears to my eyes to see him so moved.
Again, I don’t think you could see this from anywhere else in the hall
and it was a very, very special moment. My wife and I brought flowers
and I laid them on the stage for him and Sissel. They both smiled and I
heard the crowd roar again as they picked them up and thank us. What a
magical end to the evening’s performance!
A BIT OF SURPRISE
I do have something to report from the Q&A last night. First of all
I got to see a whole bunch of Ringers down front before the Q&A
started. It was great to stand there and talk about the night before
and how much we were all anticipating a wonderful evening.
Howard took a lot of the same kinds of questions but one question stuck out:
“When do you start working on the extended, extended editions?” This,
of course, drew a lot of laughs from all of us and from Howard. But his
answer was most surprising. He proceeded to make light of the fact that
P.J. had told him to start thinking about the 25th anniversary version
(again more laughs). He did speak to the upcoming CD release of all the
LOTR movie music. It was then that he said something most interesting.
He said that he and the scriptwriters all felt that the extended
editions are “THE” film. It’s the fuller _expression of Tolkien’s work.
Wow! I’ve heard P.J. defend the theatrical releases as the “THE” film
owing to his work in editing them for pacing and such but I know I, and
a lot of Ringers, really believe the extended editions are much better
– much fuller. It was great to hear Howard comment about his talks with
P.J. and company about this and express what I know a lot of us feel.
MANY MEETINGS – AGAIN!
The post concert event was again great. This night was special for me
personally as I was there with close friends and family. They were all
having a terrific time which really added to my enjoyment of the night.
Howard was again phenomenally gracious as he sat down and signed
autographs for every last one of us. He posed for pictures and answered
questions and was just kind beyond words.
I spent time talking with Sissel and the staff of Heinz Hall. When I
approached her Sissel looked at me and said “I saw you in the front row
but I wasn’t going to look at you. I even arranged my music stand so
that I couldn’t see you.” I laughed and asked her what she had been
afraid of. She told me that she knew if she saw me crying it would have
upset her concentration. Again, I was able to film this little
interchange as I had the night before. She thanked me for the flowers
and signed a copy of her CD.
Later on I was speaking with Robbie, Howard’s assistant, and he told me
that he and Shelly, the Assistant Artistic Administrator for Heinz
Hall, had taken Sissel out to a Karaoke bar. She wound up singing
“Dancing Queen.” Boy am I sorry I missed that.
Speaking of Shelly, she is the person who wrote me back last September
thanking me for bringing the LOTR Concert to their attention. I had not
kept a copy of the letter I sent her because, honestly, I never, ever
expected to hear back from them. To my wonderful surprise Shelly had
kept it and photocopied it for me and gave it to me last night. That
was a very nice gesture on her part. I cannot say enough good things
about the staff of Heinz Hall and how well they have treated me and how
hard they have worked in making this such a successful event.
HE KNOWS ME BY NAME!
I finally got sit with Howard towards the end of the evening. What
stunned me is that when he saw me coming he said “Thank you for the
flowers Fred.” It’s awfully nice to be recognized by someone you revere
so much. Howard graciously autographed my program and a copy of the
article I was interviewed for in the paper from Thursday. I had printed
a copy of the review I had written up that appeared on TORN yesterday
to show him and he said he’d already seen it. It turns out that Howard
checks TORN regularly. Something tells me this is not news to the staff
of TORN but I thought it was a plumb bit of information to pass along
to all of you.
I was also able to show him the copy of the letter I’d written to the
PSO that Shelly had just given me. He took a moment to read it over and
thanked me once again for my involvement. Again, a gracious moment from
a truly kind person. It was very special indeed.
After we left my wife and I went to the Moot. It was already 11:30 and
I was afraid a lot of people had left. We did miss quite a few but we
did get to see Bonnie, who is singing with the choir, Tom (another
local Ringer) and two guys, Jeff and Josh, from the choir that Bonnie
Bonnie had brought her copy of the score and generously allowed me to
look through to see some of the phonetic spellings they are using for
the text. It was really interesting. We had a great time talking about
the concert and getting their insights and observations from being on
stage. They are all dying to meet Howard but have, as yet, not had the
One more concert tonight. We are having a special dinner from 4-6
before the show and Robbie said that Howard would be able to drop by
for a few minutes towards the end. I’m sure tonight will be another
GIFTS AND A QUICK MOOT
The final night of the performance started early for me. Actually it
started in the afternoon with several Fan Club members coming to town.
I heard from Gaeranna, Kathy, and her husband, Gary, and they decided
to take in some sight-seeing. By the way, they celebrated an
anniversary here on Friday night so it was quite special to have them
in town for this concert.
At the last minute we decided to have a Moot at my house. Read that as
lunch since it was about 1:30 before we all settled in here.
Agape4Rivendell showed up with Tari. Agape was staying with us and Tari
with our friend Mary. Mary was in downtown Pittsburgh so she offered to
pick up Mathom, Bonnie, and her husband, David. Due to a
miscommunication she didn’t pick up Gavanna, Joanne, but went back to
get her. When we all finally gathered at my house it was one wonderful
moment after the next. Gavanna had bought me a copy of Tom Shippey’s
“J.R.R. Tolkien – Author Of The Century.” How nice and what a surprise!
It seems this birthday never ends. I also was treated to a copy of The
Tolkien Ensemble’s “24 Songs From The Lord Of The Rings” by Agape.
Can’t wait to give it a listen. And as if that was not enough, Mathom
had brought me 2 gifts. One is the Frodo With Light-Up Sting figure
from TT and the other is LOTR Armies Of Middle Earth Fellowship
Collection. How kind and generous and so appreciated. Ringers are the
best people. Hands down no question about it. Let me extend a personal,
but public, thanks, again, to Gavanna, Agape and Mathom for the
wonderful gifts. I will treasure them.
We settled down for a bit of lunch. Simple sandwiches and the like.
Then I started showing them some of the items I’d been collecting at
the symphony the last couple of days. They got to see the 2-page spread
with the article containing the review with me from Thursdays’ paper.
I’m sorry now that I didn’t think to get everyone a copy but I really
didn’t consider that they would all want one. They got to see where
Howard signed it for me too. They also got to see the copy of the
letter I’d sent the PSO that started this ball rolling as well as the
video I have of me talking to Sissel and of Howard’s Q&A sessions.
It was a fun time but it passed quickly and we all had to get moving to
get dressed up. We were all due at the Middle Earth Dinner at Heinz
Hall at 4:00 PM.
One other thing happened that was sweet. Mathom still had one of the
$80 seats that her brother was going to use but he couldn’t make it.
Agape’s seat was in the upper tier and they talked and wound up
switching Agape to the better seat which also then gave her access to
the post-concert event. What a nice little extra!
DENETHOR SHOULD EAT SO WELL
We all met again at Heinz Hall at 4:00 PM. I knew we would not be a
large crowd. We’d only had a couple of weeks to get the word out so I
wasn’t expecting a lot of people. I think we had about 30 total. There
were 3 large tables set up to hold 10 each and I believe we filled them
all. Joining us for dinner, to my surprise, was Suzie from Erie who I’d
met on Thursday night. She was beaming and telling me that she was
leaving from the dinner to get back home but she just had to come to
the dinner. She’d made last minute arrangements with Stephanie to pay
at the door. Stephanie Simmons is the author of Regional Cooking For
Middle Earth and the recipes for our dinner were based on her cookbook.
It was wonderful having Suzie along and making a new friend. It was a
special moment when she looked at me and said “I’m so glad I met you.”
Also joining us were some Ringers who had seen the notice on TORN about
the dinner (thank you TORN!). All in all a very fine group of people.
Dinner was fit for a king. Admittedly I do not like mushrooms, for
which I received more kidding than I can possibly detail here. Every
time I took a bite of my lasagna someone would yell “hey Fred, the
mushrooms are great.” No, I’m not a Hobbit. I’m more of a Dwarf but
there was no “red meat off the bone” so I had to content myself with
the lasagna which was fantastic! Everything was very nicely arranged
and the room was gorgeous. We had a great repast and after a wonderful
dessert of Crème Brulee, Stephanie offered a toast to J.R.R.
Tolkien for the fiftieth anniversary of the publishing of The
Fellowship Of The Ring and to Howard Shore for his wonderful symphony.
THEODEN SHOULD HAVE SUCH PROTECTION
Time had flown by and before we knew it we were facing 6:00 PM. I knew
Howard was coming because Robbie told me to expect them at the end of
the meal and sure enough the man walked in just moments later. He
looked relaxed and was complementing us on the wonderful gathering. He
said a few words and we offered him dinner but he had already eaten.
Then someone asked for an autograph and, being ever so gracious
(again), he signed it and stood talking to everyone who came up to him.
He gave us more than 20 minutes of his precious time and was cordial
and friendly. I stayed back and let everyone else have some time with
Howard. I’d had some special moments already and I knew I’d see him
again at the post concert event so I felt it only fair to let everyone
else have a moment. However, I did have one great honor. Stephanie had
made a plate of food for Robbie who hadn’t had a chance to eat. Since
they were running a little behind, and Heinz Hall was starting to fill
up, Robbie asked me to help walk Howard to the doors to get to the
stage to make sure he wasn’t mobbed. Of course I agreed. An unexpected,
albeit small, honor. I got to act as honorary security for Howard
A WONDERFUL COMPLEMENT
While talking to Robbie at the dinner we were conferring about the
choir and how well they were doing and how good they sounded. I
mentioned that Dr. Page, who directs the choir, had done a superb job.
Robbie beamed and said that they thought he had done magnificent work
and that they wished he could come and do this at every city. High
I missed some of the Q&A but I did arrive in time to hear a really
cool question and an interesting story. A woman went to the microphone
and asked if Howard had “…ever partied with John Belushi.” Howard got a
big grin on his face and said “yes” and said no more. Ken, the
moderator, quickly jumped in and said “I think that’s all that needed
to be said about that.” Those of us who knew, and I think there may
have been a lot of young people there who didn’t, remembered that
Howard had been the original band director for Saturday Night Live.
In the same vein, someone asked Howard if he had spent time with the
cast of LOTR and if he had a memorable moment. He relayed a really
interesting story. They were filming on some mountain and he was along
with the cast and crew. P.J. broke for lunch and asked him to sit down.
When they did, Elijah Wood and Sean Astin came over and sat down in
their Frodo and Sam costumes (feet and all). As if that wasn’t enough
they were soon joined by an unlikely, but very interesting, guest. Sir
Edmund Hillary, who is now living in New Zealand. He joined them on
this mountaintop for lunch. Howard was laughing as he relayed what an
interesting moment this was. It does paint quite a mental picture.
THIRD TIME PAYS FOR ALL
My wife Sue and I had front row balcony seats for this third and final
performance. We were now sitting with a fabulous view of the entire
orchestra and choir. I could see all the instruments clearly and
distinctly for the first time in 3 nights. Each night had been a
different experience and this night proved no different.
The PSO was once again spectacular. I could really see the
percussionists at work and I was glad of it. They are something to
watch. I was very impressed at the deftness they have in handling the
softer passages and the way they work to make the crescendos smooth and
sweeping. It’s breathtaking to hear but it’s a visual feast as well.
Being a drummer I know how hard it is to have your limbs doing
different things at the same time. It takes a lot of practice. One of
the things I saw that was very interesting was one of the
percussionists holding two mallets in his right hand and performing a
cymbal crescendo while holding a mallet in his left hand and doing a
different kind of crescendo on the gong. That takes skill and talent to
pull off well.
The orchestra and choir were doing amazing work once again. I can’t
help but gush about the effortless way they move through the soft
passages to the grandeur of the louder moments. You could really hear
how well they did this when they worked their way through The Great
River, with the powerful Uruk Hai attack and Boromir’s death on into
the melancholy of The Breaking Of The Fellowship. I can’t get enough of
the dynamics of pieces like that and Howard Shore really put them
together well throughout the whole symphony and the ensemble really did
a terrific job of making it all come alive.
I’ve run out of superlatives to describe how good the music was for all
3 nights. Suffice it to say that the last night was another triumph.
The orchestra and the two choirs were excellent. Sissel was terrific,
again. I really love the way she handles the arias during The
Destruction Of The Ring. I also noticed, and a few people pointed out
to me later, that she was bobbing her head in time with the orchestra
in several places. There are a lot of moments in this symphony that
transport you and that make you want to keep time with the music. It
was nice to see one of the performers on stage, a soloist no less,
enjoying the pulsing beats of the orchestra as it soared through The
Lighting Of The Beacons. It’s a thrilling moment and seeing her
enjoying it as much as the rest of the fans made it all the more
special to hear it performed live.
WHAT’S THAT AROUND YOUR NECK
The man sitting next to me noticed the replica One Ring I was wearing
and commented about how nice it looked during intermission. I explained
that I really only wear it to Ringer events to “find my tribe” and that
it was quite inexpensive (a One Ring from the bookmarks and a $7.00
chain from Sears). Sure enough he was a Ringer and it got us talking.
His name is William and his sister was in the choir and he was here to
hear her. He was really enjoying the performance.
Sissel finished Gollum’s Song and William leaned towards me and
whispered “that was better than the sound track.” I stifled a laugh and
instead whispered “I’ll tell you a story about this later.” After the
end of the concert, and during the second curtain call, curiosity got
the best of William and he asked me about “that story.” I started to
talk but was drowned out by the third curtain call which was very loud.
I noticed Howard taking a very deep bow and holding his hands together
against his heart. He looked very, very happy and I can only surmise
that he felt a great sense of satisfaction that his symphony was so
well received and that the PSO and the choirs had done a grand job.
I finally got to relay my own feelings about Gollum’s Song to William.
I told him of the conversation I’d had with Sissel at the post concert
events concerning her rendition. I mentioned how I’d gotten a chance to
relay some of this in a review on TORN as well as the interview that
had been done in the paper. He grinned and had a good giggle and said
“You mean this article in the newspaper I just finished reading before
the concert.” We both had a laugh and then he handed me his business
card so that we could stay in touch.
ONE LAST POST-CONCERT EVENT
Once again we waited for Howard but this time the crowd had grown
considerably. When he showed up he was warmly welcomed and moved into
the center of the room for a quick handshake or two and then off to a
couch to relax. People lined up to meet him and got to sit next to him.
Howard appeared the most relaxed of all 3 nights this evening. My wife
commented to me that he seemed more at ease and even more animated than
the previous evenings. I’m so impressed with his patience and the
generosity of spirit he shows everyone who comes to meet him. Howard
graciously signed autographs and sat for photographs and took his time
to speak with everyone he met. What a wonderfully kind and human person.
I decided to wait till near the end as there were just so many people.
A long time friend, Chuck, was there and asked me to videotape him and
his wife, Toby, as they got to meet Howard. I asked Chuck to take over
the camera for me once he was done. As they were ending their time with
him, Chuck gestured to take the camera and Howard looked up at me and
said “Hi Fred.” I was humbled that he should recognize me so readily
and I blurted out “you’re starting to scare me Howard. Next thing I
know I’m going to be on a stalker’s list.” He laughed and said “no, no”
and as I sat down he was explaining to Chuck and Toby, and anyone
within ear shot, that I had written the letter that got the symphony to
book the show. It was so kind of Howard to mention me in this way and I
will never forget him for doing so.
I got to sit and talk with Howard about the percussion section and how
they had performed and what instructions he had been giving them about
their approach. Not only did I get a wonderful explanation of how he
was tweaking the sounds they were giving him by asking them to use some
different mallets, he further explained some of the intricacies of the
various drums they were using that were unusual for orchestras. I got a
short, personal lecture on symphonic percussion from a master composer
and conductor. Oh was that a great moment and I have it all on tape to
Finally he signed my program (I now have 3 to go with each of the
signed sound tracks) and I thanked him again and said I hoped he’d come
back and that we would get to hear this beautiful work once more. He
smiled and said “Well, that may happen. We might just have to work on
it.” If there’s a second go round for this sign me up!
WHERE DID EVERYBODY GO?
As we made our way to the Moot it was late and I was concerned that a
number of people I had hoped to see would have left. Unfortunately the
place we’d chosen had closed early! How in the world did that happen?
We had specifically called ahead to make sure they’d be open late. Oh
well. Fortunately Gavanna was keeping an eye out for us and directed us
to another bar where our core group had moved. When I came in they
actually gave me welcoming applause. It was great to see so many people
still there. Agape kept calling for toasts – first to “FredO” then to
“Ringers” then to…you get the idea. We all had a wonderful time and
then headed off to bed.
NOT ALL TEARS
Our core group met for breakfast the next day down the street from
their hotel where most were staying and not far from Heinz Hall. We
took over the back of a little restaurant and stayed for over and hour.
There were lots of conversations about future plans and the Boston
Exhibit. Then it was time for hugs, kisses and well-wishes. A few tears
here and there and then goodbye. Mary, Sue and I then took Agape and
Tari on a little one hour tour of the city. It was pretty day and
fitting end to a spectacular week.
WELL I’M BACK
As I finish writing this tonight I realize that it’s over and I’m going
to miss it but I feel full and satisfied by the whole experience. I
have a ton of memories and memorabilia to cherish and treasure. I had
initially thought I would feel a little like Frodo – back at Bag End
and suffering from the loss of The One Ring. Instead I’m happy and
grateful and appreciative of what an immense gift I’ve been given. So
much love and good will was shared with people I know, people I barely
know and people I didn’t know at all till this week that it gives me
peace of mind. I’m more like Sam right now. Back at Bag End with Rosie
(Sue), my home, my work and my life and all of my friends here and
Thanks so much to all of you who have shared this incredible ride with
me. I have enjoyed giving you a peak at what I’ve been seeing, hearing
and feeling. I got a chance to look behind the curtain and meet some of
the bigger players and see how things get done. I want to publicly
thank Carl Manucuso, Shelly Fuerte (I know how to spell your name), the
staff of Heinz Hall, Robbie, Sissel and Howard Shore for giving me a
week like none other in my life.