Howard Shore Shares Wisdom With Berklee Students

by Ayanna Jacobs-El

Howard Shore is one of the world’s most well known and sought after film composers. He has composed scores for over 80 films and has won three Academy Awards, three Golden Globes, and four Grammy awards. Shore is most well known for composing the music for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies. The Berklee Contemporary Symphony Orchestra performed Shore’s six movement The Lord of the Rings Symphony at Symphony Hall this past Wednesday. The following morning, Shore presented a clinic to Berklee students at the Berklee Performance Center to discuss his career and music.

A Berklee Alum, Howard Shore (class of 1969), based his clinic around a series of movie clips that featured his music. The first clip was from the horror-thriller film The Silence of the Lambs. The clip was very suspenseful and chilling in nature. It showed serial killer Jame Gumb stalking frightened FBI Academy student Clarice Starling through his dark basement. Gumb was wearing night-vision goggles and attempting to shoot and kill Starling, but he gave away his position when he cocked his revolver. Starling sensed where Gumb was right before he could shoot her, and she fired all of her bullets at Gumb, successfully killing him. Shore spoke about how the use of silence in the beginning of the scene added to the tension and anticipation. As the scene continued, the music entered with lush strings, horns, and ominous percussion that crescendoed up to the point of Starling’s gunshot. Shore spoke about how during the spotting for The Silence of the Lambs he took a different approach than that of most horror movies, by writing music from the protagonist’s point of view rather than the murderer. He stressed that a composer should always discuss the point of view that the music will be coming from with the filmmakers in the spotting session.

The next clip Shore presented was the opening credits of the Tim Burton film Ed Wood. The score for this sequence was vastly different from The Silence of the Lambs. Instead of a traditional orchestral sound, Ed Wood’s score was Afro-Cuban influenced and featured the Theremin. According to Shore, the score was purposefully recorded in Air Studios in London in order to get a “square sound.” Shore said that he wanted this sound because the musicians in Los Angeles would have been more comfortable with playing in the non-orchestral Afro-Cuban style as opposed to the London musicians who were less experienced in that area. He said that in the 1950s, the time period where Ed Wood was set, Afro-Cuban was a new genre and many non-Cubans who played the style were not comfortable performing the genre. He also said he wanted the square sound because of the quirky and strange nature of the film. Since the film dealt with the story of a low budget filmmaker, Shore said he only used a few violins to give the score a cheap sound. Shore ended his discussion of Ed Wood by stating that it is important to always match the sound of the score recording to the film’s story.

An interesting insight that Shore mentioned was the importance of doing self-research on a film’s subject before starting the music. He does this research in order to produce authentic and appropriate music. Shore also mentioned that composing music for film is a linear process and recommended to the aspiring film composers in the room that they shouldn’t try to do everything at once. He also suggested that composers shouldn’t analyze their music too much in the early stages because it is better to just start writing and let your creativity flow. He mentioned that he usually begins his writing process with a couple staves of a sketch and then, unlike many A-List film composers; he orchestrates many of his own scores rather than enlisting an orchestrator.

Shore went on to show a few more clips from the films Seven, Crash, and The Lord of the Rings and he took some questions from the audience. He concluded his clinic by encouraging young composers to move away from the computer screen in the initial composition process to instead write with pencil and paper. He encourages this because it causes a more intimate connection between the composer and the music they write, without the interference of technology.


About the Author

Ayanna Jacobs-El
Ayanna Jacobs-El is a composer, producer, songwriter, singer, alto and baritone saxophonist, and DJ dual majoring in Contemporary Writing and Production and Professional Music with a minor in Writing for TV and New Media. You can learn more about Ayanna and hear her music by visiting