A few weeks ago, musician Rich Tuttle approached us about his music inspired by The Hobbit. I made my way over to his Soundcloud straight away and saw some familiar looking song titles. In this interview, you’ll find out more about this talented musician, what he loves the most about the music in The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, his favorite poem from Tolkien’s legendarium and much more.
Middle-earth News: First off, could you tell us about your experience with music? Is it something you’ve always had an interest in?
Rich Tuttle: Music has always been a part of my life. My parents were in a band, and one of my first memories is crawling around the kick drum. Over the last 10 plus years, I’ve been playing music and leading folks singing in a church setting. Songwriting has been a passion born out of all of that.
M-e News: When and how did you become a fan of Tolkien?
RT: At some point in high school, I picked up The Lord of the Rings and was simply blown away. It baptized my imagination. After that, I devoured The Hobbit and studied The Silmarillion like it was a mystical, ancient tome. The movies only amped it up, of course, and I try to read everything he’s written and everything written about him. I think I crossed the line into hardcore geek when I named my third child Arwen.
To be honest, it’s more than just being a fan or a geek. I admire him not only for his works but also as a man. I can identify, to a degree, with his struggle between the drudgery of his vocational life and his creative life. In Tolkien, we see one who created a masterpiece in the midst of the ordinary and the mundane. Not only did he have an extremely demanding job, but he also had a large family to take care of. The most admirable thing I find is that he didn’t throw away his career and sacrifice his wife and children to pursue his amazing world of stories. It took extra effort and no doubt took him longer to finish, but that only added to the quality of his creation. I find great encouragement in his steady plodding with job, wife, and kids, than if he had been a financially stable single man with no responsibility and plenty of free time.
M-e News: Why did you start creating original songs for The Hobbit? Have you done the same for other works by the Professor? Do you one day plan to?
RT: The idea came in the middle of a songwriting dry spell. I was re-reading The Hobbit before the first movie came out, and it sort of hit me that it would be fun to write songs based on the book. So I decided to write one song per chapter. That gave me a goal of 19 songs. I’m nearly finished with five more chapters to go!
A while back, I wrote a poem based on a chapter in The Children of Húrin, but I haven’t written anything else based on his works…yet.
M-e News: What is your favorite poem/song from Tolkien’s legendarium? Any you really want to create music for?
RT: Tolkien created a rhyme scheme (that he later attributed to Bilbo) used both for the poem “Errantry” found in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and “Earendil the Mariner” which Bilbo recites in The Fellowship of the Ring. The meter is fun and playful and yet extremely complex. Of all of Tolkien’s poetic works, these two are my favorite. Read them out loud.
As far as creating music to his published poems, I do it all the time, usually on the fly, when I’m reading his works. Especially if I’m reading aloud to my children. But really, that’s just for personal enjoyment. When you encounter a song in Tolkien, I recommend you read through it first and sing through it a second time. There’s a hobbit-quality about making up songs on the fly!
M-e News: Out of all the songs we got to hear in the LOTR and Hobbit films, which is your favorite? (“Edge of Night,” “May It Be,” etc.) Have you ever thought of doing any covers? Or have you already?
RT: “May it Be” is heart-stoppingly beautiful, and I wouldn’t dream of covering it. It would be like Samwise trying to sing like an elf.
“Far Over the Misty Mountains” from the first Hobbit film was hauntingly fantastic.
M-e News: How do you feel about the music for the films?
RT: Without the music, there is no film. The music is just as important to create the feeling of Middle-earth as the visual element. I think the music is the soul of the film. The music in The Lord of the Rings captured the spirit of Tolkien’s work nearly perfectly. And although I am enjoying the music from the Hobbit films, I don’t think it has, thus far, lived up to The Lord of the Rings. I can hear the violin playing when I think of Rohan. I can’t hear anything when I think of, say, Mirkwood.
M-e News: How would you describe your musical style? Where do you get inspiration from?
RT: I’m in that folk/singer-songwriter realm. That is probably influenced by my church music background. Hymns are songs not to be heard but to be sung. That means melodies that everyone can sing. So there is an element of simplicity there, but the trick, or the art, is to create a simple tune that doesn’t sound flippant, childish, or annoying. Musically, I’m inspired all over the place, but the foundation is The Beatles.
M-e News: What is your process when you are writing a song? How long does it usually take?
RT: I’m writing one song per chapter, and so when I began I just started mining each chapter for inspiration. That led to some songs being an overview of a chapter, other songs from the perspective of one character or another, and some songs that just key in on one detail from the chapter.
It’s been fascinating to see how much depth there is to this little book. Obviously, compared to The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit is pretty simple, but if you take a closer look, you can see those deeper levels. Tolkien coined the word “eucatastrophe,” which he said was the “sudden, joyous turn” when it seems evil has triumphed, when all seems to be lost. In that moment, sadness turns to joy, evil is defeated, and good is victorious, an unexpected and unlooked for salvation comes from outside of yourself. I think it is easy to see the big eucatastrophic moments from the end of The Lord of the Rings and even towards the end of The Hobbit. But as I dig into this tale, I’m finding all sorts of ‘micro’ eucatastrophes. The other big theme that you can hear almost as an echo throughout the tale is Hope. Hope rising, hope falling, hope revived and strengthened, and ultimately hope realized. It’s not always explicitly there, but you can hear it ringing throughout.
The time it takes to write a song is almost impossible to pin down. Sometimes it goes fast. When I started, I had about five songs catch on fire and were completed fairly quickly. Since then, I’ve had songs that have taken months to complete. And then when a song is ‘done,’ I sit and rewrite where necessary. I’m pretty strict on myself to render an accurate re-telling. There are no lyrics without a purpose and all of them should reflect in some way the tale as Tolkien handed it down to us.
M-e News: Do you have a favorite Hobbit song that you’ve created? I think mine is either “Riddles in the Dark” or “The Legends are Coming Alive.”
RT: I’m glad you enjoy them! I have no idea what my favorite is. I like to write songs that I would want to listen to, and so if I don’t like the tune or theme or lyric, I’ll scrap it. So I’ll do what every parent does and say I love them all equally. For what it’s worth, my kids’ favorite is “Roast Mutton” where I sing like a troll.
In regards to the ones you mentioned, “Riddles” is a fun one to play. The play on words with the title of the chapter is something I enjoyed creating, not only in Riddles, but I’ve snuck it in with a few of the songs. I liked playing with the idea that Gollum, now without the ring, is left with riddles in the dark. It really wasn’t intentional in the beginning. I sort of slipped into it and ran with it.
“Legends” is from the point of view from one of the residents of Lake-town. There are these songs and tales that tell of a king who will come and right all the wrongs and gold will flow down the river, and while they may have been taken seriously in the old days, they’ve become a bit of fable and folklore that no one really expects to come true. But when the dwarves show up, the legends come alive! It’s a small detail in the story, but one that I think resonated greatly with Tolkien, given his Christian faith. The parallels of such run strong with the prophecies of the coming of Christ. Tolkien knew what he was doing.
M-e News: I noticed that the last Hobbit song you uploaded to your Soundcloud was two months ago, are you planning on creating more songs for that book?
RT: Yes! I have not uploaded all of my songs as of yet. The ones uploaded are there to whet the appetite, so to speak. There will be more, I promise. Stay tuned!
M-e News: Where can people find your music? Is it available to download/purchase?
RT: Currently all of the music that I have uploaded is available for free for anyone to download through Soundcloud!
And here are all of the places you can find my music and follow or contact me: