FredO's Journal of Howard Shore in Pittsburgh

by FredO
FROM 7/26/04

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.


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 start!

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 to eat.


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 web site.

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 excited!

FROM 7/27

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.


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.


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 impress me.

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.


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.


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 hold up!


FROM 7/28


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 we went.

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 small choir.

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.


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!


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.


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.



FROM 7/29


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:


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 really pumping.


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.


FROM 7/30

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 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.


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.


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.



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 video.

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 here.

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.


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.


FROM 7/31


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 and eyes.


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.


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 just beautiful.

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 impressed.


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!


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.


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.


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 brought.

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 opportunity.


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 magical evening.

FROM 8/1


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!


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.


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 Shore!


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 praise indeed!


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.


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.


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.


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 boot!

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!


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.


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.


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 away.

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.