Unveiling the power of music in The Birds

Title card for the horror classic 'The Birds,' by Alfred Hitchcock. (Courtesy of Universal Picture)

Theatre-goers might have expected to hear something old-school when they came to watch the 1963 film The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock at the Playhouse.

What they got was something far more contemporary.

“A lot of people watch films and movies and they hear this amazing music, but they don’t really know exactly what is making all those sounds,” said Andrew Reed Miller, the score’s composer and principal bass for Symphony New Brunswick.

On Oct. 28, the Playhouse showcased The Birds, Alfred Hitchcock’s famous movie. Members of the Symphony New Brunswick played an accompanying score live on stage.

He said the first movies they did were silent, but when these movies were originally shown, they would have some kind of music live when they were playing it. That’s why it’s difficult to know what the music was for a lot of movies.

Reed Miller said in the case of The Birds, the acting style is more modern giving a sense of “fake acting” but fun reserves that way. Although the Alfred Hitchcock film is not silent, he came up with the idea of adding music to this piece, creating a “juxtaposition with the visuals of the movie.”

He said he played with a little keyboard to start having an idea of how the music would sound, but it is not until he gets to play it with the orchestra that he can make some arrangements.

“[The Birds] has no music in it, so I thought why don’t we try adding something. It’s not like under copyright, because the movie is just running exactly as it is, just music added on top of that.”

Reed Miller sees this event as an opportunity for theater-goers to watch the film from beginning to end without distraction and with a special element like its music.

“With The Birds I think it adds to the emotional response because music hits people on an emotional level,” said Reed Miller. “When you see something beautiful it hits you, but when you hear something beautiful, it’s a different thing. This is about instrumental music, no singer, right? So it’s just pure emotion.”

He said with music you can generate certain emotions in the audience, making them aware or anticipating what’s about to happen in the film.

“There’s always more people wanting to see these things, so that’s always exciting,” he said.

Reed Miller said the audience’s reaction was “surprising.” At the end of the performance, everyone was clapping and some people went towards him to express their appreciation. However, what grabbed his attention was the sense of humor some people in the audience had.

“It was not what I expected,” said Kayla Wright, a St. Thomas University student.

She described the soundtrack as satisfying with the composer’s accuracy in expressing the character’s feelings throughout the play.

“In art, everything is possible, even what we as humans perceive as impossible. We get connected to our senses more deeply and learn about different cultures,” said Wright.

Reed Miller said people would have an emotional reaction to the music and it depends on the scenes the movie is showing that the music can vary.

There is magic in live performances when everything works together, he said. To him, no matter how many times you listen to the music composition, you will hear something new.

“Especially with music that doesn’t have words, it allows you to have a sense of freedom, because you can think about anything you want the music to mean to you.”