It is difficult to describe or indeed specify the feelings that emerge when listening to music. It is an uncontrollable part of ourselves that lets the music touch every little piece of us. Whether they are old wounds in need of healing or simply a sense of joy, the overall encompassment into the life of a composition is inevitable.
The music does not even need to touch upon some painful memory and unlock the feelings we have been suppressing. It can open our hearts to new dynamics, new perceptions, new thoughts about ourselves. It moves through us almost like wildfire, spreading rapidly without a clear purpose. There need not be a purpose, it can just pass in a moment in time, leaving us raw and vulnerable, at one with ourselves. With no one around, even if we’re sitting in an auditorium full of people, the music moves through us individually.
How is it that this arbitrary composition of notes coupled with a voice (or not) could have such an impact on our inner worlds? How can it be that even when our inner worlds are in peace and balance that music brings tears to our eyes? What does it invoke that brings such joy and sadness all at once?
My experience of the following evening brings all these questions to the foreground. On February 9th, 2020, I went to see the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit – Live in Concert: an orchestra, a choir, the Tolkien Ensemble, and Mr. Billy Boyd himself, it was a perfect combination of reality and surrealism. The cherry on top was the introduction to the concert and the closure at its ending from Christopher Lee, a wonderful actor who passed away in 2015. As soon as I saw him on the big screen, talking, tears welled up in my eyes. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It seemed unreal and almost impossible. There on the screen a man who made so many spectacular characters come to life in their own beautiful right, now presiding over a concert, addressing all of us in the auditorium. I was blown away.
The music started playing lightly, with the map of Middle-Earth projected on the big screen behind the orchestra. From out of the darkness came a voice, so real, so recognizable, it didn’t even need a face for us to know who it was. From the wings came Mr. Billy Boyd. As he stepped onto the stage, spontaneous applause rippled through the audience with shouts of admiration and joy. This, of course, made him take a bow and give the people time to appreciate his presence. With that, the concert officially began.
Mr. Boyd narrated the story of the Lord of the Rings while the orchestra played and the choir sang. As there are a multitude of solo performances within the soundtrack itself, some of those were performed as well. Just as I thought I was safe from the one solo that would make me weep, seeing as they moved from Moria and onto Lothlórien, the composition began. It is a simple solo female voice of Mabel Faletolu expressing grief and sorrow over Gandalf’s fall into the abyss of Khazad-dûm. However, there is nothing simple about it. The weight of the emotion penetrates the heart as if it were wide open. To feel sadness of such an event is inescapable. To have the scene replay in our minds while the soprano is singing is unavoidable, it simply recalls it without our consent.
The Edge of Night
Equally magnificent was Billy Boyd himself as he sang The Edge of Night. That number was performed without any instrumental background. It was just him and a microphone. As he started to sing, my heart began to melt. There was nothing that could piece me together at that moment, it ripped me apart as if I were made of string.
The purity of the emotion his voice carries naturally is a testament to individuals having almost god-like powers. Being able to interpret a song so well, is to allow the song to stir up emotions within the singer and thus present it to the world. But to do it quite this extraordinary is very rare. It means the singer has given himself over to the experience and emotions the song is causing him, rendering him vulnerable in front of his audience. Moreover, he is able to transfer the same emotions he is feeling onto the audience, making it a shared experience. The auditorium was quiet as he sang.
The emotions felt were not only on a one-way journey from the singer to his audience. As Billy set his emotions free, so did the audience receive and give back their own. They may not be precisely the same, because they differ from inner world to inner world, but their power, as well as their delicacy, were palpable. The exchange took place where nobody saw but everyone felt. When he finished his song, the room was quiet for another second or two. The feelings flowed freely and came to their own conclusion rather than being cut with an expected act of gratitude. Had no one applauded, it would not have diminished the experience in any way, and I believe Billy would have felt our gratitude nonetheless.
The choir and the orchestra did a beautiful job in delivering all the emotionally charged hate of Isengard as well as the happy-go-lucky atmosphere of the Shire.
The Tolkien Ensemble gave their own significant stamp on Tolkien’s lyrics that were never incorporated into music. They have done wonderful work bringing Prof. Tolkien’s words to life in a musical way. It rounded up the concert nicely.
The dancing sequences of the three female singers (and Billy at the end) gave a nice flare to the experience. It made the whole concert feel like a great big party rather than a stiff symphonic concert. It was as if this little family of performers invited us for this one evening into their homes and showed us their true selves, with sadness, laughter and immense joy.
And I for one will always be grateful for the experience.