“What Grace is Given Me”: Performance and Process for Toronto’s The Lord of the Rings

Brian Chang, The Wholenote

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring premiered in Canada on December 19, 2001. That year I started high school and it was the first time I took a music class in a real music program. That Christmas, one of my friends gave me the soundtrack for the movie. I fell in love with it and have loved it ever since. For me, my entire musical history has been inspired and shaped by this soundtrack. With “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring In Concert” at Roy Thomson Hall, December 1 to 3 with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, I’ve been able to perform the film’s music onstage as a chorister. It has been one of the greatest privileges of my life as a musician.

The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir’s scores arrived early in the season and we rehearsed the choral portions from early October. As prepared as we can try to be with entries at this stage, once we join the maestro and the orchestra during the week of the show, the whole game changes. This is when the real work begins.

This Monday through Wednesday were our rehearsals at Roy Thomson Hall. The instrumentalists and choir rehearsed separately until we combined on Wednesday evening. Our dress rehearsal, Thursday afternoon, was the first time the entire production was put together. The Thursday performance was only the second time we’ve ever completed the full production. At time of writing, two more performances are ahead.

This is not easy music. Entries are sudden and challenging. Often, the choir comes in after a long pause or break with no reference for the starting note or chord, and the texture gets thick in the writing, with cluster chords of three or four notes per section. And as choristers, we are working diligently, even if we’re sitting and waiting – paying attention to cues for standing up to sing. The Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus is also part of this production, and they spend a good chunk of the movie just waiting. Those talented kids are patient.

For productions like this one, the chorister sheet music doesn’t have a full score of what is going on among the instruments or on the film. Our scores contain the vocal parts and an orchestral reduction, and we rely mostly on aural cues – this trombone part, or that sound, or this entry from the violins – to know when specific things are meant to happen, like when to stand. Making a road map of sounds and cues is an important part of being a good chorister. (One of my cues is Frodo gasping!)

Read Brian’s full article on The Wholenote.