On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Oct. 15, 2020

Howard Shore (Oct. 18, 1946 – ) Composer, Orchestrator, Conductor/Bandleader, Music Producer, Film Score Writer


“Charismatic with a charming smile” is how neighbour Mark Mager described his Forest Hill Collegiate high school friend, Howard Shore.

My earliest memory of Shore was on Lorne Michaels’ Saturday Night Live (SNL), where, from 1975 to 1980, he was the iconic show’s first bandleader/musical director. 

Shore and Michaels grew up in the same Toronto neighbourhood as Mager. Shore said SNL “started with a show that Lorne and I did at Timberlane summer camp. We would do an improv with music, comedy and acting.”

Shore wore sunglasses, never spoke or took credit as the leader of the “Howard Shore and His All-Nurse Band,” appearing in numerous musical SNL sketches.

For the Toronto-born son of Jewish parents Mac and Bernice (Ash) Shore, his music passion ignited at age eight. At 13, he mastered the clarinet, flute, organ and saxophone, and by 17, was on a career trajectory to write classical and orchestral music and film scores.

Howard Shore (Photo: Sam Santos, courtesy Canadian Film Centre)

Fast forward: His scorecard includes three Academy Awards, four Grammys, three Golden Globes, six Canadian Screen/Genie Awards, one opera (The Fly), over 80 films, and he was a five-time nominee for a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Award.

In 2017, Shore became the third winner of the Lifetime Achievement Kilar Award of the FMF Krakow Film Music Festival, named after the late Polish composer Wojciech Kilar. The Order of Canada, an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de France, and a Canadian Governor General’s Performing Arts Award grace his trophy case.

Mager told me that while he and his friends took off for various universities, Shore enrolled at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, “which shocked us because no one realized how deeply entrenched he was in music.” At Berklee, Shore studied with choral composer John Bavicchi. In the late 1960s, Shore, on saxophone, was one of the original members of the Canadian rock group Lighthouse.

But he really excelled at writing film scores with heavy emphasis on violins and cellos. In 1978, he connected with David Cronenberg for The Brood, and continued as Cronenberg’s composer of choice for most of the director’s future productions.

In the ‘90s, Shore also scored films by Jonathan Demme, Chris Columbus, Tim Burton, David Fincher, Michael Lehmann, Tom Hanks, and Kevin Smith. Titles included M. Butterfly, Philadelphia, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Client, Ed Wood, Nobody’s Fool, Seven, The Game, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, That Thing You Do!, Dogma and The Cell. He worked with Martin Scorsese and Penny Marshall and was a BAFTA Award nominee in 1991 for Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs.

A major triumph came in 2001, when he was selected to score the first of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, netting him his first Oscar and Grammy, as well as nominations for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA.

It was “the beginning of my journey into the world of Tolkien, and I will always hold a special fondness for the music and the experience,” Shore noted at quotab.com.

Shore won his second Oscar for Best Original Score, and a third for Best Original Song, for Into the West, shared with Fran Walsh and Annie Lennox. He also garnered his first Golden Globe, his third and fourth Grammys (the fourth for Best Song), and was nominated for a third BAFTA.

The scores for The Lord of the Rings, performed primarily by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, became one of the most successful film scores ever written “and the biggest success in Shore’s career,” reported the BBC.

With a filmography listing 80-plus works, the in-demand Shore continued to collaborate with Scorsese in 2004 on The Aviator and Hugo in 2011. He scored Cronenberg’s A History of Violence in 2005 and Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit series in 2013.

Since 2004, Shore has conducted local orchestras across North America, Europe and China, playing new symphonic arrangements of his Lord of the Rings scores. He is a coveted speaker at film festivals and master classes.

Modest about his accomplishments, he said, “I never shied away from a challenge and love doing big epic films. They’re interesting to me just on a pure music level, in terms of the amount of music I could create for a symphony orchestra and chorus.”

David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com, and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.