The fantastical world of J.R.R. Tolkien is back on the screen with The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. The Prime Video series takes place during Middle-earth’s Second Age and follows a large ensemble of characters as they find themselves questioning the relative peace and impending return of evil forces, namely the Dark Lord Sauron.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power includes a large cast, some of whom include Morfydd Clark, Robert Aramayo, Maxim Baldry, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Benjamin Walker, and Ismael Cruz Córdova.
As the show continues to score strong reviews, Screen Rant spoke exclusively with orchestrators Edward Trybek, Jonathan Beard, and Henri Wilkinson to discuss The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, their long-standing relationship with composer Bear McCreary, the series’ massive musical scope and more.
Screen Rant: I have been smitten with The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power since I caught the early screeners of it, to say the least. You have all been part of some of the, without hyperbole, most epic scores in Hollywood over the years. How did it come about for you to be a part of this music team?
Edward Trybek: Well, that’s 100 percent through Bear McCreary, who we’ve had the pleasure of working with since 2009. Bear obviously landed Rings of Power, and we’ve been on, as far as we know, everything he’s done, since we started working with him. We actually met because of Bear back in 2009, he actually pulled us all in together. His career was really starting to take off with a lot of TV stuff, and he knew he needed a bigger team on the music preparation, orchestration side of things. So, that’s where we all got roped in and met each other, actually got along for the most part. [Laughs] It became a formalized partnership, and now we work on everything together. So yeah, it’s 100 percent through Bear, and his fabulous music that he’s writing for Rings of Power.
Jonathan Beard: And in terms of how this one actually started out was quite remarkable, because it had to be fairly secretive for a while. As Ed said, we’ve worked with Bear for ages, and he had this very cryptic request, he was like, “Hey, can I do a video meeting with you guys? And there needs to be nobody else on it.” It was literally four people on this video chat.
Edward Trybek: We had to sign NDAs ahead of time.
Jonathan Beard: Yeah, right. We read it, we signed, it was like, “Don’t talk to your family about it.”
Henri Wilkinson: No spouses.
Jonathan Beard: And that’s how it was for a while. Eventually, obviously, it had to get opened up a little bit more, but the secrecy surrounding the production of this show has been exceptional, and they pulled it off.
I believe I read that you all orchestrated the music without seeing anything. Is that correct?
Edward Trybek: Yeah, we were orchestrating, and we ended up doing some session productions, which we can’t discuss. But, because of the nature of this project, normally, when you record music, you’ll have video projected, you know, I don’t want a big screen or multiple televisions around, so you can make sure everything is as you want it to be, as the composer wants it to be. In this case, there was absolutely none of that. It was even to the point of there was no cue titles on the paper, normally it’ll say, “Main Title” this, or “So-and-so kills so-and-so.” So, the orchestra certainly had no idea what they were recording. Some of the choir may have figured it out, because there are super fans everywhere, and given the nature of certain languages, and how they sound in this world, a few were like, “Is it this” and I was like, “Ah, don’t, just, ahh.” [Laughs]
Henri Wilkinson: Yeah, we definitely had a question from the conductor and the singers a few times, like, “Yeah, what language is this?” “It’s an old language.” [Laughs]
Edward Trybek: “This is a different language than the last one, just sing it.” [Chuckles]
Did you find that to present an extra challenge for you all in helping put the music together by not necessarily seeing what you were playing towards?
Henri Wilkinson: So, not necessarily, because the indication was there inherently with Bear’s music. We had actually sat down before this whole process, before we came in and started the orchestration process on this, we sat down with Bear on a few occasions and went over some of the ideas that he had been conceiving thematic ideas and also sources of inspiration for him that he alluded to that we then explored, as well. Just to get a sense of where he was coming from, what the aesthetics that he was looking to conceive with his music was, so that we would have an idea of the musical language that we would be then orchestrating with.
So, as you’ve noticed, it’s been a huge treat for us, in that every single episode is a full-on orchestra, full-on choir. The orchestral palette that is used is really quite inspirational in that, unlike a lot of other TV shows, and generally other media these days, for example, woodwinds are quite featured in this, which, of course, allows us to do much more, orchestration wise and is exciting.
Jonathan Beard: But also, it was interesting with the secrecy around picture, one thing that served us well, was our long-going camaraderie and comfort that Bear has with us, as well. He could provide lots of notes to us, basically of like, “Hey, this is where this is going, and we need it to reach its peak right here, or in this measure, this is the big arrival or climax,” things like that. So, then we can incorporate that in to our orchestrations, and make sure that the music is doing what it needs to and having that shorthand with Bear was incredibly helpful to making that happen.
Edward Trybek: Well, along those [lines], it’s also bear was very clear compositionally with what he wanted. He wrote every note, there’s no additional music writers on this show whatsoever, which is astounding, considering the scope and sheer quantity of music in the timeframe, it had to be written. He’s very detailed, he’s a great musical storyteller, and so it was always very clear, as Jonathan said, “Oh, this is the peak.” If something was in question, he’s literally giving us a text instruction of, “This is where it needs to be the biggest, all hell is breaking loose, or whatever is happening here,” and you’re just like, “Okay, great. We got it, we know what to do with what he has given us.” It makes sure those lines and dots are in the right place for the orchestra.
I’ve never noticed a moment in the episodes so far that wasn’t underscored by some kind of music. How much were you putting together for every episode?
Jonathan Beard: Bear would have the final word on this.
Henri Wilkinson: I think it was about an hour.
Jonathan Beard: Yeah, it was like 64 minutes and 56 seconds for the orchestra.
Edward Trybek: Maybe extra if we start counting the extra concert stuff. It was a minimum of 60 minutes, I think, per episode. We had what felt very luxurious, in terms of most TV stuff. Also, every episode had four days of recording, of orchestral recording, I should say, which is a lot for any TV show, and we had that on every episode.
Henri Wilkinson: Every episode was its own mini movie, well not mini, but yeah.
Edward Trybek: Every second of recording time got used, because we needed it, because it was just a lot. As you can hear, it’s epic in scope, some music is very difficult and virtuosic, and it does not lack of scope whatsoever. But, what was great is Bear was not afraid to, in a sense, go old school where he was just like, “I’m going to really pare it down, and you’re gonna get this tiny little beautiful thing, and then it’s going to bloom out into this full orchestral thing,” which is probably not as common in modern day film scoring. It harkens back to a prior age, if you will, and for us, that was a real treat.
I take it one of his inspirations was probably the original Peter Jackson movies?
Jonathan Beard: Sure, I mean, he’s talked about that in some interviews and how grateful the members of production have been to have this new Howard Shore theme to go with it, as well, which we were not involved with. Howard has his own operation, but it’s a big footprint, of course.
Edward Trybek: It’s impossible to avoid, no matter where you are. I can say, for the three of us, it was like when those movies came out, I was at the midnight screenings of those, back when I could stay up that late. [Chuckles] Musically, it was so inspiring as a younger composer, musician, and orchestrator is just like, “Oh my God.” So, I think that it’d be impossible to avoid in any way, and then given the nature of it, it is still related to the same world. I think Bear said that, “Yeah, there’s been some inspiration,” but at the same time, he’s not trying to replicate what Howard Shore did. He’s still trying to say, “Here’s my take on it.” Which also makes sense, the timeframe of the entire show’s thousands of years separated from the movies.
Bear’s even alluded to the idea of like, “Oh, here’s this theme, and it’s gonna sound this way, and it’s specifically using instruments that were not used in the original Lord of the Rings, because this civilization is gonna be gone by that point,” or, “Oh, here, I’m actually using this type of fiddle because it harkens to what this group of people later become thousands of years later.” So, there are some tidbits that he has conceived of, it’s a very complicated score in every way. I think there’s 16 distinct themes for all these different pieces.
Jonathan Beard: Just as fans, both of the property and of film music, just to see the level of care and scope that Bear has fused together in his work on this show has been inspiring. We have been immensely excited to work on this because of that.
Edward Trybek: It’s been hard not to tell our spouses. [Laughs]
Since you mention the sheer amount of distinct themes for the show, do you all have a specific favorite to help to put together?
Jonathan Beard: We can’t choose!
Henri Wilkinson: We love all them.
Edward Trybek: How can you pick your favorite?
Henri Wilkinson: I was gonna say that, honestly, it’s like, to me that moment of the first episode, it’s just so cinematic from the very beginning, the opening with that kind of magical choir, that then evolves into when you get the shot of the Two Trees of Valinor. You get the whole orchestra building on that shot, that whole moment is magical. It’s very thematic from the get-go, so I think that it’s really hard to pick a favorite theme, because it’s all very thematic and melodic and has a purpose.
Edward Trybek: It’s also there are things that get hinted at or alluded to in the early episodes that then get developed in things that haven’t been released yet. So, it’s like we can only say so much.
Jonathan Beard: But, yeah, on the other side of that, I love our small ensemble side where Bear really narrows something down. I love the moment when you first see Galadriel go underwater, it crystallizes down to just a single solo soprano singer. You compare that to the sort of epic, romantic suite that’s present in other parts of the score. That’s the gamut that Bear’s running, he’s just absolutely playing across the entire playing field of size and musical color.
It certainly fits very well within the language of the show. Now that you’ve been able to see the episodes, how does it feel to actually see and hear your final product on screen with the rest of the show?
Edward Trybek: Immensely satisfying, I think. We’re all super fans, as I think just our dropping names indicates. The thing is that when you’re recording, it’s the most gratifying, for me at least, when you hear the orchestra recording the music, that’s always the best part of the process. You’re still hearing things in pieces, you’re working, you’re doing a job, when you finally sit down and watch the show, it’s like, “Okay, all the effects are finished, the sound is there, music has been mixed really well in itself, and then it’s been mixed with everything else.” That, to me, is the ultimate presentation, and I know Bear was immensely involved, not just in the mixing of the music, but in the mixing of the music in the movie series.
Because of that, I think the music is actually very prominent in a large amount of this maybe more so than it would in a normal TV show of any sort. Like, at the end of episode 4, with the white leaves, and it’s just this epic, sweeping thing. It’s going along with the queen’s speech, then there’s all this room for the music to just bloom and be amazing. When we were recording this, I thought, “This is really cool,” but when you hear it all combined together with these amazing visuals.
Henri Wilkinson: When it all comes together, it’s magic. Like Ed was saying, the first magical moment is really hearing all the players at the session come together and record this music. After we sit up at our computers for countless hours, and then being able to actually be in other sessions and helping produce the sessions. I think all of us love that part of the process.
I know audiences have been a little divided, but how does it feel seeing the largely positive critical reaction to it?
Jonathan Beard: Satisfaction extended, it’s been gratifying. [Chuckles] With the overall response, we only have to see where that goes. But there has been an appreciation, certainly for the care and craft throughout every facet of the show, and you’ve seen that in the critical response, which has meant a lot. It’s been gratifying to be involved on a project that clearly cares about its music so much, holistically, Bear cared immensely, everyone on his team cared immensely. But the producers clearly care very deeply about the music in this show, and it plays an important role in the show, and it’s very present. That’s been noted in some of the responses, but in general, it’s been gratifying to see that the amount of care across the board has been appreciated and noticed.
It certainly packs the same cinematic scale as Jackson’s movies right out the gate. We’ve heard reports that The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power season 2 is supposed to begin filming soon. Have you all been working with Bear to begin work on the music for the next season as well?
Jonathan Beard: We are unable to comment. [Laughs]
Edward Trybek: There’s no secrets to not tell, what can we say?
Prime Video’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power brings to screens for the very first time the heroic legends of the fabled Second Age of Middle-earth’s history. This epic drama is set thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness.
Beginning in a time of relative peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth. From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains, to the majestic forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone.
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Check out our interviews with The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power cast at SDCC 2022, as well as with:
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New episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power stream on Prime Video Fridays.