Music Magic: Concerning Hobbits

fantasy__038816_Life without music is like a book with no adjectives. Sure, all the basics are still there, but what of the beauty? The passion? The meaning? In my Music Magic serial, I’ll be talking about all the little bits of music in operas, films and other works and how they make a big difference. There will be lots of leitmotif here. The first piece I’ll be talking about is from The Lord of the Rings trilogy: Concerning Hobbits. Please, listen as you read!

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Howard Shore

Even from the most unbiased standpoint I can muster, Howard Shore’s music for the Lord of the Rings is a truly epic masterpiece. One of the greatest film scores in history and even a work of art in orchestral music as a whole. What is it, though, that makes this score so great? Well, one thing surely was Mr. Shore’s attention to the details of the story. I don’t know how carefully he read the books, but he clearly did. For many of the themes in the books which were not prominently featured in the films themselves are heard within the music. You see this particularly in the pieces he chose to represent the main protagonists of the films, the Hobbits.

The piece in question today is Concerning Hobbits, which contains the Shire Theme: one of the most important leitmotifs in the film (you can read what a leitmotif is in this previous article of mine). It’s the bit you hear from 0:05 to 0:27. This tune and its variations are heard throughout the films, and so skilfully did Howard Shore weave it into our minds from its first sounding that it’s impossible to hear it and not think of the Hobbits and their homeland.

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Tolkien’s very own illustration of Bag End

One of the literary themes which features heavily in most of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work is that of Wholesome Rusticity or, Connection to Nature. This theme is seen particularly in the peoples of the Shire and Rohan, where the cultures are unsophisticated and yet not uncivilized. They use no machines or other industrial tools. The Rohirrim do not even have an alphabet. The Hobbits are nearly catastrophically unaware of world events. And yet, there is something noble and idyllic in their provincial cultures. Having grown up at the tail end of the Industrial Revolution, a time where the black smokes and fumes of factories were choking the once beautiful English countrysides, the themes of Rusticity and Return to Nature were very important to Tolkien. Howard Shore paid close attention to what tunes and sounds were associated with what people in the trilogy, and I believe he understood Tolkien’s vision of the Shire very well and kept it before his mind’s eye when he composed Concerning Hobbits.

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Surely, a Hobbit dance if ever I saw one.

There is something about this music which cannot help but bring to mind the countryside and ‘good old times’, if you will. Even if you had no idea what the piece was from or about, you would probably imagine something like a country market, a farm or a picnic. But why? Listen carefully to the instruments, for they all have something in common. A tin whistle. A fiddle and violins. A drum. A guitar… They are all folk instruments. In the prologue of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien says “[Hobbits] do not and did not understand or like machines more complicated than a forge-bellows, a water-mill, or a hand-loom, though they were skillful with tools.” When he wrote this music, surely Howard Shore had this line in mind. No trumpets, no fancy oboes and clarinets. Not for the Shire. Here are sounds you might find playing in a country pub (The Green Dragon, perhaps?). They are simple instruments for simple living. Country life and people are so well painted with this piece that, even if we didn’t hear the description given by Bilbo and didn’t see the hobbits on the screen, somehow, we would know who they were and what they were like.

Not content with it merely being skillfully composed, however, Howard Shore made sure it was skillfully placed as well. While in the Shire, the music is charming and quaint. It is cozy and makes you think of only the best and simplest things the world. Warm fires, green hills, fresh baked bread, flowers, and good friends. All the things that we might take for granted.

But when we are no longer in the Shire, the music fills the heart with melancholy, almost nostalgia. With only a twenty second tune on a tiny flute, we the audience become homesick for a place where we have never been. Memory of life’s simple joys flood the mind, and the heart glows with the the strength and courage to continue. And as Frodo and Sam trek onward in the final frames of The Fellowship of the Ring, it’s easy to forget that it is the Hobbits who are making the journey, not you!

 

Music, folks. It’s magic. I’m telling you.

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Sam, I’m glad you’re with me. *sound of sobbing to tin whistle*

 

Incarnate Art: Garden of the Gods

In my first Incarnate Art piece, I showed you a beautiful fairy tale castle on an island in France. In this installment I’m going to take you to a place carved by the hand of Nature instead of Man: The Garden of the Gods.

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Almost in the very middle of the United States, nestled on the edge of the Colorado Rocky Mountains is a place which looks as though it were frozen in time from Prehistory. With its massive scarlet rock formations, sharply carved out against a cerulean sky, the Garden of the Gods well deserves its ostentatious name.

gardenotgodsThe story of its name is quite amusing and, in my opinion, very American. In 1859, Messieurs M.S. Beach and Rufus Cable set out from the nearby city of Denver to explore the area. While about, they came upon a majestic and awe-inspiring landscape, with mountainous russet rocks and lush, verdant trees. Mr. Beach, in a most hilariously American train of thought, immediately put in what “A capital place for a beer garden!” the place would be. But Mr. Cable indignantly and heartily disagreed. With equally American enthusiasm and extravagance, he replied “Beer Garden! Why it is a fit place for the Gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods.” And so it was.

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Indian petroglyphs at the park, believed to represent (left to right) the Sun, a deer, a buffalo head, and a tool, or perhaps even the thunderbird

This is one of the few locations you will see on this segment which I have actually had the honor of visiting. I was not joking when I said that it feels prehistoric. I recall my seven year old self walking through the park with my family and easily envisioning a Tyrannosaur or Velociraptor popping out to chase us at any moment (I was rather a fan of Jurassic Park). Indeed, geological study of the area revealed that the formations must have come about in the Pleistocene Ice Age. The area has also been admired for far longer than the times European American settlers discovered it. Many Native American tribes, including the Apache, Cheyenne, Comanche, Pawnee and more have stories passed through generations of the beautiful place and the Ute Tribe was still camping there until the 1870’s. Archaeologists still discover petroglyphs and the remains of Indian pottery and tools, evidence of the Native Americans’ ancient connection with the park.

The Garden of the Gods is not an often remembered site when people talk of American tourism, lost in the sea of more famous places like the Grand Canyon or the Redwood Forest. However this place, with its ancient and rustic beauty, is truly worth a visit. It is perfect for walks, hikes, and climbs for just you or the entire family. Perhaps it’s my memories talking, but I can think of almost no place in my homeland where I would rather go to appreciate the majesty of Nature.

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