Howard Shore: From epic ‘Lord of the Rings’ score to quietly haunting ‘Spotlight’ music

You may know Howard Shore for his “Lord of the Rings” score – epic, sweeping music created with a symphony orchestra and a huge choir.

His latest project is a very different composing endeavor: “Spotlight,” which features piano-driven chamber music. Just a small group of 10 or so musicians – compare that to the 200-plus musicians in “The Lord of the Rings” (a 96-piece symphony orchestra, 8 to 10 instrumental soloists, a 60-voice adult choir and a 50-voice children choir).

“Spotlight,” a frontrunner this awards season, puts onto film the story of the reporters at the Boston Globe who exposed a massive cover-up of sexually abusive Catholic priests.

The film is a riveting but understated telling of the true story. It doesn”t over-dramatize these events – the horror of what these priests did to children and the risk the reporters took by investigating this story speaks for itself in this controlled account of the Spotlight team at the Globe in 2001. That tone was largely set by Shore”s subtle, often quietly haunting score, one that never seeks to direct audiences” emotions with swells of brass and big string sections.

The composer chose to have the piano stand out in much of “Spotlight” because the instrument “has a very intimate quality to it,” Shore told HitFix. “It”s also a very elegant, graceful and an honest instrument in ways that its black and white nature relates to this type of investigative newspaper journalism.” He also used electric keyboard and a Hammond organ.

Instead of writing music inspired by the reporters or other characters, Shore identified themes and motifs in the script: Pressure of the Church, Deference and Complicity, Investigative Reporting, Legacy Journalism, City on the Hill, Pain and Anguish, and The Children. Some of those thematic ideas became track titles on the soundtrack release.

Photo credit: Open Road Films

Shore began working on the score very early in the making of “Spotlight,” before production even started, working with the script and conversations with director Tom McCarthy as his guide.