Alumni Profile: Howard Shore's Journey

Lesley Mahoney
May 10, 2008
Howard Shore
Photo By Benjamin Ealovega

Around the time Howard Shore began composing for the big screen in the late 1970s, Berklee was launching the world's first undergraduate degree program in film scoring. Shore studied composition at Berklee in the late 1960s, and saw creating music for films as a way to broaden his scope. "I thought that would be a way for me to compositionally experiment, try different types of orchestration." Meanwhile, he was fascinated with physics, acoustics, recording techniques, and electronic music. "I saw film as a way to combine all these things," says Shore, who recorded and toured with the group Lighthouse and served as the original music director for Saturday Night Live before launching his film scoring career.

What started out as a medium for experimentation has over the course of nearly 30 years provided a true calling for Shore, who has set the standard for evocative and expressive film scores. His compositions have been honored with Academy Awards, Grammys, and Golden Globes, and his work with Peter Jackson on The Lord of the Rings trilogy stands as his most award-winning achievement to date. (He recently earned another distinction when Berklee awarded him an honorary doctorate of music at this year's commencement.) Other prominent directors he has worked with include David Cronenberg, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, and Tim Burton, collaborating on such films as Crash, The Departed, Silence of the Lambs, and Ed Wood.

At Berklee, Shore studied with such influential faculty members as John Bavicchi, John LaPorta, William Maloof, and Charlie Mariano. "Berklee had the keys to everything I was interested in, so it was a very quiet kind of gathering up of information. It was this real desire to create music, a real curiosity, which I still have."

One of the fundamental Berklee practices-improvisation-is alive and well in Shore's work. "That was always a part of how I grew up, how I looked at music... What you're doing is reading [J.R.R.] Tolkien's book and watching Peter Jackson's film and then you're reacting to that as if you were playing in a small improvisational group. I let those ideas flow in a very subconscious way. Then I go through a lot more of the technical process, interpreting those ideas and reinterpreting them, and putting them down on paper, compositionally. I orchestrate to determine how to realize these compositional ideas, how to make them come to life."

Continuing to explore new mediums, Shore has expanded his Lord of the Rings scores into a symphony for orchestra and chorus; made his operatic debut, adapting Cronenberg's The Fly; and created a score for the video game Soul of the Ultimate Nation.

The way Shore sees it, there are two keys to success: passion and collaboration. "You need to be just overwhelmingly passionate about the projects you're working on and you must have good communication with your collaborators. Something like The Lord of the Rings only exists because of good collaboration. That's how you achieve something of that level in any field."

Shore conducts student performers in the "Naked Lunch Suite" at the 2008 Commencement concert.