"I feel as if I was inside a song"The Presence of Music in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth and Songs and Poems set to Music

The Presence of Music in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth and Songs and Poems set to Music

Tolkien Ensemble, The Ent’s Marching Song, TE CD 3, Track 7, 2:19.

Entish music is described in relatively great detail in The Lord of the Rings – we learn a number of songs as well as are able to get an idea of the general sound of Entish music. As with most of the songs of races other than the Hobbits, all the songs present are translations into Westron. In the case of the Ents, the differences between a song in Westron and the Entish original are most likely profound, as both languages do not seem to have very much in common. Treebeard tells the Hobbits that a name in his language tells the complete life story of its bearer. It stands to reason to assume that songs in the Entish language would be similarly detailed and take a long while to perform – this really is to show that Ents are everything but “hasty”. They become quite hasty, though, after Merry and Pippin have managed to convince them to go to war against Saruman. The Ents sing a war song while marching to Isengard. The origin of this song cannot be fully determined: Merry and Pippin are able to understand it and there is nothing that suggests Treebeard is translating for them, so the Ents sing in Westron. They, however, clearly sing together. This raises a question: Who invented the song and taught it to them immediately before going to war? Either someone indeed did this, or they have some sort of telepathic link, possibly through their roots.

Regardless of how they learned the song, from the description of Ent music we have analysed already when investigating the general sound of music along with what Tolkien tells us, we can draw a number of conclusions about this particular song: A “marching music began like solemn drums, and above the rolling beats and booms there welled voices singing high and strong” (LotR, 484). We have already established that Ents used their bodies to make drum-like sounds, which is what “solemn drums” means. Their bodies are of wood, with good resonating and sound amplifying properties. Depending on where they hit their bodies with their hands, different tonal colours could be brought forth. The “rolling beats and booms” suggest that they used different sounding percussive sounds; with many different kinds of trees, as described my Merry and Pippin, the Ents were capable of a wide range of different sounds, making the overall music probably very similar in sound to a modern wooden percussion ensemble. Above those drum beats the Ents sang. Even though the text speaks of “high” voices, it is hard to imagine hearing sopranos; after all there are no female Ents present. The description most likely refers to the Ents being agitated and singing with raised, ringing voices.

We come, we come with roll of drum: ta-runda runda runda rom!
We come, we come with horn and drum: ta-runa runa runa rom!

To Isengard! Though Isengard be ringed and barred with doors of stone;
Though Isengard be strong and hard, as cold as stone and bare as bone,
We go, we go, we go to war, to hew the stone and break the door;

For bole and bough are burning now, the furnace roars - we go to war!
To land of gloom with tramp of doom, with roll of drum, we come, we come;
To Isengard with doom we come! With doom we come, with doom we come!

(LotR, 485).

The Tolkien Ensemble in its version of the Ent’s Marching Song closely follows the description from the book: The piece begins with drum rolls played on a large tom ensemble, gradually getting louder as the Ents approach. After those introductory rolls, the drums switch to a rhythmic marching pattern (0:09), while the choir of the Ents sings the first two lines of the song in unison and parallel fifths. A trombone signal in unison refers to the “horn” from the song (0:38), then Treebeard addresses the Hobbits with the same words as in the book: “Hoom, hom! Here we come with a boom, here we come at last! Come, join the Moot! We are off. We are off to Isengard!” (LotR, 485). Christopher Lee’s voice perfectly fits Treebeard and makes his rendition of Treebeard’s words extremely lifelike – of the whole cast of the Tolkien Ensemble, his portrayal of Treebeard is arguably the best.
The Ensemble has grouped the remaining six lines of the song into two groups of three lines each, reflected in the listing above. The last syllables of the first two lines of each group are repeated, otherwise there are no textual changes made. Brass signals separate the two groups with the Ents again singing in unison and parallel fifths. All the time the underlying drumbeat keeps going. The piece has the feel of a marching song and by following the book closely is a very accurate image of the Last March of the Ents.