Howard Shore | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Howard Shore

Howard Shore. Composer, conductor, orchestrator, saxophonist, b Toronto 18 Oct 1946; B MUS (Berklee College of Music) 1969, honorary D LITT (York) 2007, honorary D MUS (Berklee) 2008.

Howard Shore

Howard Shore. Composer, conductor, orchestrator, saxophonist, b Toronto 18 Oct 1946; B MUS (Berklee College of Music) 1969, honorary D LITT (York) 2007, honorary D MUS (Berklee) 2008. Howard Shore studied composition with John Bavicchi at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and later co-founded the rock band Lighthouse, consisting of himself, Skip Prokop, Paul Hoffert, Ralph Cole, Bob McBride, and Larry Smith. In the band Shore played alto saxophone and flute; he also wrote songs that the band adopted. Shore recorded with Lighthouse 1969-72. While a member of the band, Shore also worked for radio and composed music for CBC television programs.

Shore and a small group of friends, including Lorne Michaels, co-created the television show Saturday Night Live. Under Michaels, Shore served as music director for the show's first five seasons, 1975-80. He wrote the original theme music and played the saxophone. Weekly television assignments required him to compose very quickly for many different genres. This prepared Shore to successfully handle any film genre.

Film Scores

Shore composed his first film score for David Cronenberg's The Brood (1979). He went on to work closely with Cronenberg, composing, conducting and/or orchestrating the scores of almost all of Cronenberg's films, and mastering the art of underscoring for the horror film genre.

The early collaborative period with Cronenberg was important for Shore's musical development. On early low-budget films such as The Brood, Scanners, and Videodrome, Shore treated the musical scores in an "experimental fashion, trying different techniques and developing a feel for what works in various situations" ( He introduced period styles and world music within traditional scores, as well as incorporating electronic instruments and sample sounds. Shore alludes in interviews to an instinctive approach to composition, developed while collaborating with Cronenberg. Shore's association with horror led to more work in that genre with other directors, eg, on Silence of the Lambs and Seven.

Shore worked on many mainstream movies for which the musical requirements were more strictly specified. He demonstrated a versatile compositional technique on such family-oriented films as Big, Mrs Doubtfire, and The Truth About Cats and Dogs. Shore has also handled other film genres such as drama (Philadelphia), science fiction (The Cell), thriller (Crash), crime (The Score), and fantasy (The Lord of the Rings).

Shore's Approach to Film Scoring

According to Shore, certain key factors determine whether he will score a particular film. If there is an established relationship between him and the others involved in the production (director, screenwriter, cast), Shore is more inclined to work on that project. If he is unable to perceive an emotional response to a film, or does not feel the subject matter is appealing, he passes on the project.

Shore begins a film score by determining the idea behind the film; he then makes notes about how to instrumentalize it. For each film Shore selects the musical form and instruments that will suit it best. Each project brings creative musical challenges. In Philadelphia, Shore was asked to compose around existing songs by Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and Peter Gabriel as well as an operatic aria sung by Maria Callas. The challenge was to unify the film musically by creating a score that connected the aforementioned pieces of music. Shore's musical contribution to Philadelphia is filled with "sadness, comfort and a quiet dignity" (

Film Score for The Lord of the Rings

The film trilogy Lord of the Rings was an enormous endeavour, so much so that Shore said that he felt at times overwhelmed. He had to create music for nine hours in the theatre and 12 hours on DVD, within the span of a year. Additionally, the music in this trilogy had to play a much more prominent role than the underscores Shore had created for the early Cronenberg films. Shore used the Wagnerian "leitmotif" technique for the trilogy; characters and situations are depicted metaphorically by a musical phrase or motif. (Fittingly, the storyline of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is related to Wagner's Ring Cycle.) There are over 50 leitmotifs in the film version of The Lord of the Rings, employed and manipulated in magnificent ways throughout the trilogy, creating unity over long periods of time. Shore's profile was greatly elevated by the trilogy's enormous commercial success. In 2003 Shore premiered his Lord of the Rings Symphony: Six Movements for Orchestra and Chorus. The work has been widely performed in North America and Europe.

Concert Music

Shore's other compositions have been performed in concert throughout the world, including Spain and Australia, and in Canada at the National Arts Centre. In 2008 Shore's opera The Fly (David Henry Hwang, librettist), based on the film, had its world premiere in Paris and its North American premiere at the Los Angeles Opera, under Plácido Domingo. In 2010 his piano concerto Ruin and Memory was debuted by pianist Lang Lang at the Beijing Music Festival. Shore's chamber music was featured on Arabesque Records' Reel Life - The Private Music of Film Composers Vol. 1.

Awards and Recognition

In 2005 Shore received two Grammy awards for the album The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and for best movie song, "Into the West," from the same film. Shore had also won Grammys in the score categories in 2002 and 2003 for his two previous Lord of the Rings soundtracks. Shore won Oscars for the first and third instalments of the Lord of the Rings series, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Return of the King. As well, he received an Oscar for "Into the West." Also in 2005, he won the Golden Globe for best score for the film The Aviator. In 2011 Shore received the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for lifetime artistic achievement.


The Twilight Saga: Eclipse


Eastern Promises

The Departed

A History of Violence

The Aviator

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Gangs of New York

Panic Room


Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Score


Esther Kahn

High Fidelity

The Cell

The Yards

Analyze This





The Game

Before and After


Looking for Richard


That Thing You Do!

The Truth About Cats & Dogs

Moonlight & Valentino


White Man's Burden

Ed Wood

Nobody's Fool

The Client

"Late Night with Conan O'Brien"

Guilty as Sin

M. Butterfly

Mrs Doubtfire



Prelude to a Kiss

Single White Female

A Kiss Before Dying

Naked Lunch

The Silence of the Lambs

"Scales of Justice"

Made in Milan

Quick Change

She Devil

The Lemon Sisters

An Innocent Man

Signs of Life

The Local Stigmatic


Dead Ringers




Belizaire the Cajun

Fire with Fire

The Fly

After Hours

Nothing Lasts Forever

Places in the Heart



The Brood

I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses

"Saturday Night Live"

Further Reading