I've begun work on an orchestral score to Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds." The plan right now is to write through the winter, present the music to the orchestra in the spring so they can work it up over the summer, and then rehearse in the fall for a late October live performance with the film at the newly renovated Fenton Community Center. John Strayer from the Fenton Film series is enthusiastic about making this all work, so I'm optimistic.
The inception of this project was sparked by an old concert poster that I happened upon while traveling through California in the summer of 2013. Natalie and I were driving up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco and spent a few days exploring the beautiful area of Big Sur. One of the many cool and unique spots was the Henry Miller Memorial Library, which lives in a tiny wood shack of a building, just off the winding, curving two lane road that clings to the cliffs. Inside this tiny, musty cabin were myriad old books, movie posters, concert flyers, vinyl records, books, bizarre pieces of art dangling from the ceiling, broken instruments, one-eyed cats, and hippies. It was like a bubble of space-time frozen in the 1960's.
On the ceiling in one corner of the library was a flyer for a concert, a live performance by Philip Glass and his ensemble performing his original 1988 score to the 1931 Dracula film starring Bela Lugosi.
I LOVED the idea of a modern composer writing and performing music in a live setting while the classic film was projected above. This seed grew in my mind as we continued our trip up the coast. As we were vacationing in San Francisco, I was enjoying seeing in person many of my favorite film locations around the peninsula. When we were in Union Square, I recognized the opening shot of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" and remembered that the film was entirely void of musical underscore in lieu of an experimental sound design. I mentioned the idea of writing and performing a live score to the film to Natalie, who was profoundly enthusiastic about the idea. A few days later we visited Alcatraz Island, and I was completely fascinated and inspired, so writing ALCATRAZ bumped THE BIRDS to the back burner.
While I completely respect and admire Hitchcock & Herrmann's experimental decision not to score the film, to a composer, it begs to have music set to it. While Philip Glass' score for Dracula was written his his own style, I've been writing this score strictly using the tonalities, conventions and idioms of Bernard Herrmann. I admire his music at the deepest level. It has been a profound influence on my musical development and a chance to step into his shoes (so to speak) and write in his style is both a fantastic challenge and simply plain fun. It reminds me of how I used to play make-believe as a kid, putting on costumes and pretending to be someone else for a while. Pretending to be Bernard Herrmann is the best kind of make-believe.
I'm sure there will be purists who disagree with the whole idea of this, maintaining that the film and it's soundtrack are sacrosanct. I'm not arguing otherwise. I'm doing this for the fun of it, to see what it maybe would have been like if Herrmann had insisted on scoring it. Hitchcock has been known to have himself wondered how a musical score from Herrmann would have played, so I don't think its quite blasphemy mess with it. More to come...