A version of this story about the director of music for “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” was first published in TheWrap awards magazine’s Drama Series issue.
Led Zeppelin invoked JRR Tolkien’s famous “Lord of the Rings” series on several hit songs (“Ramble On” and “Misty Mountain Hop” among them), and if you’re looking for the right composer to reimagine Middle-earth for several years Adaptation of the Amazon Prime series, you go straight to the greatest songwriter in rock and roll: Bear McCreary.
But don’t be fooled by the long dark hair and drummer vibe, as McCreary can craft a haunting, dramatic score for just about any genre out there. “Sci-fi, fantasy, horror, period pieces, these are all things that inspire me and get me out of bed,” McCreary says with a noticeable jolt of energy. “And ‘Lord of the Rings’ is the godfather of a lot of that.”
A longtime fan of Tolkien and previous adaptations, McCreary prepared for this enormous undertaking by speaking with another person who greatly admired this landscape, Oscar-winning “Rings” composer Howard Shore (who scored the trio of films by Peter Jackson and whose work can also be heard in the series), who proved incredibly supportive and knew that the biggest challenge was bringing this story to a whole new generation that could be separated musically from Jackson’s work.
“It’s a mistake to assume that most of the people who watch ‘Rings of Power’ have seen the Peter Jackson movies,” says McCreary. “So part of my job is to make sure he understands this on a gut level and understands what’s going on, and if he understands the lore, I’ve got it, I’m rooting for it.”
Like the series, the score is ambitious and far-reaching, ranging from the choral to the romantic to the poignant, often guiding the viewer into the fervent emotional core of the show. McCreary even goes so far as to call him “potentially schizophrenic.” He explains this theory: “There are four or five complete musical languages that are like their own show unto themselves, for example Harfoots sound completely different from Orcs, Elves etc. It is not an exaggeration to say that it could be a complete disaster. But it is my voice that unifies all that: my instincts, my tastes, my melodies. At the end of the day, it all comes down to melodies you can play with one finger on the piano, and they’re all different.”
And McCreary was given carte blanche by the show’s creators to use as many influences as he saw fit to create this aural space, but not without some conviction on his part. “I was inspired by the production design that had a kind of ancient Greek Mesopotamian look to it,” says McCreary, admitting that the mix of melodious styles could have been potentially confusing. “And I said, ‘Let’s bring the colors of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, the Armenian duduk, the Turkish tambur… this is outside the realm of what we hear in Peter Jackson movies. There were some doubts, because it is not openly a Mediterranean society, it is a Middle Earth. But Tolkien relied as much on the myths of Atlantis and Camelot as anything else. I assured them it would work.”
And it worked, as McCreary’s contributions are among the most lauded elements of the Amazon series, and the soundtrack album, running at two hours and 40 minutes, gives fans a great opportunity to enjoy it. (“And that’s the short one,” McCreary quips.) So what’s next for the wildly busy composer, besides another season of “Rings of Power,” of course (Amazon is hoping for five seasons in total)? A musical, perhaps? “Look man, you’re reading the tea leaves correctly,” McCreary says with a smile. “Musicals, non-narrative music, these are all things you will be hearing about in the near future, they just haven’t been announced yet. I love doing different things, I’m just connected that way.”