What a season it's been for Alf Clausen! Just a few short weeks after The Simpsons scorer was honored with the prestigious Golden Note Award at the 2011 ASCAP Film & Television Awards, Clausen was nominated for his unprecedented 30th primetime Emmy - the most nominations earned by a single music creator in the history of the Emmys. To celebrate, we're happy to present an extended interview we did with Alf on the eve of the Film/TV Awards, all about the inspiring life and work of this peerless composer.
What’s your first music-related memory?
My mother was the Stutsman County home extension agent, based out of Jamestown, North Dakota, where I grew up. Among her other duties, she was in charge of organizing all of the Home Acres clubs from the surrounding towns, the small towns surrounding Jamestown. Home Acres clubs basically talked about the proper way to keep a house, cook, clean, all of the housewifey chores that the women were expected to do at that time. She was also an amateur pianist, and she would have me come to the Home Acres clubs when I was five years old, and sing Norwegian songs. She would accompany me on piano, and I was dressed up in shorts, singing my little heart out. So that was my first professional engagement.
Have you worked any of those Norwegian songs into any of your later scores?
Actually I have! We had an episode a couple years ago where the Simpsons family went to Scandinavia, and I had to do some Scandinavian-influenced music.
How important was music to your upbringing? My only impression of growing up as a musician in the Midwest comes from repeated viewings of The Music Man.
Well that’s not too far from the truth. Fortunately where I grew up, in Jamestown, North Dakota, the music programs in the high school were very strong. They had a very strong concert band program, a very strong choir program. I started playing the French horn when I was in seventh grade, became a member of the concert band, and played in the concert band program all the way until high school graduation. I was also in the choir for that entire time as well. And it was very motivating to me in many ways. Both the concert band conductor and the choir conductor had just absolutely great taste in music, and they exposed all of us students to an amazing array of the usual warhorses of concert band and choir literature, but they also exposed us to more adventurous type music, and contemporary music. So the upbringing was absolutely amazing. I didn’t realize it at the time, because we were just – we just did that in the Midwest, and every large town in the Midwest – if you can call the towns large – had the same kind of music programs going on. Music programs were very strong in the Midwest during that period.
You specialized in French horn as a kid, and later you took up the bass. Why choose those specific instruments?
I think the French horn choice had grown out of the usual way that young people are exposed to the instrument that they end up playing. And that was simply that the band director said, “I need a French horn player. I don’t have any French horns for next year. Do you want to play French horn?” And of course I’d say, “Yeah. What is it?” And he also was very astute in picking instruments that seemed to fit a person’s jaw structure and tooth structure. He wasn’t just arbitrarily saying “You play this, you play that.” He was pretty amazing in that he would assign instruments according to the facial makeup.
I picked the bass because when I was in college, all of my friends were going out on the weekends and playing gigs with the territory bands. And these territory bands were like big band configurations, and nobody hired a French horn player. So I thought “I’m getting tired of sitting at home by myself every weekend. What can I do to get together with these guys?” And I heard through the grapevine that this bandleader was looking for a bass player, because his bass player was leaving. And so I convinced my college band director to give me some lessons on string bass, and loan me a string bass out of the music department. So I did some really, really fast studying, and I played my little heart out in my basement apartment, listening to Ray Brown and the Oscar Peterson Trio, learning how to play time on the bass. And the band leader agreed to audition me, and he hired me for my first job. By the end of the job, my fingers were bleeding and all wrapped up in tape. It was absolutely miserable, but he seemed to recognize the fact that there was something there, and so he hired me and said “Just hang in there. It’s going to be okay.” Little by little I got my chops together, and ended up as the bass player for that band. That was the start of my bass playing career.
Was there ever a thought of becoming a musician, rather than a composer?
No, there never was. I enjoyed playing. I played all the way up to about 1974, when I finally had to hang up playing because my arranging career was taking off. And I didn’t have enough time to practice anymore. I realized that something had to go, so the French horn was the first thing to go, and then the basses were the next things to go, because I just didn’t have enough time to practice.
You mentioned that you moved on to electric bass eventually. Did you ever play in rock bands?
Not rock bands per se, but I played in a lot of casual bands that played a lot of rock music. That’s the way casual bands play – they play music from every era, and one of the fun parts of that kind of gigging was being able to know a lot of songs. And that was one of my specialties. I had a repertoire of thousands of songs.
Would I imagine that that has paid off big time in your work in The Simpsons?
Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s funny, because they will ask me to do a certain kind of music. They might have a scene where Homer and Marge are at this party at a country club, and they want some background music played by this country club casual band. And they say “Do you know how to do that?” And I say “Do I know how to do that?! I’ve lived it!” The matchup has turned out to be great. Because most of the time when they ask me to do a certain style, I’ve done it at some point in my career, and I can hearken back to that and pull it out real quickly, and do it again.
Your history with big band music stretches back before you were writing for TV, and of course there’s plenty of it in your TV work, too – and let’s not forget the Alf Clausen Jazz Orchestra! What do you love so much about the big band configuration?
I think it’s the colors that one can get, the spirit – the power of the big band. There’s nothing really like the power of a great big band. I remember when I was a student at Berklee in Boston, many years ago, I went to a small nightclub in the south part of Boston to hear Duke Ellington’s band for the first time. And I sat at a table that was maybe 10 feet from the bandstand. And from the moment that band hit its first ensemble chord, literally there was a freight train that hit my chest. The sheer power of all of those folks playing attacks together. And you know there’s a certain physical phenomenon that happens too, the physical phenomenon of all of those folks moving a column of air at the same time. It really is a physical thing that happens.
Let’s talk about those early pre-Simpsons, pre-Alf days, after you moved out to Los Angeles. What was L.A. like for a young, hungry composer like yourself?
I came out in the late 60’s, and it turned out to be a really good time to come, because many of the television shows were moving out to Los Angeles from New York. The Tonight Show moved out here; they had this big band that was doing all the music with Doc Severinsen and his orchestra. The Carol Burnett Show moved out here. There were a couple of others, too, and each one that moved out had a large orchestra furnishing the music. So that meant there was a lot of work being generated for not only musicians, but for arrangers and copyists, as well. So I got involved with doing freelance arranging work and copying work on a lot of television shows. I worked on Carol Burnett, and I worked on Tony Orlando and Dawn. I worked on the Smothers Brothers. I worked on almost every one of the shows that was out here.
At what point did you transition from arranging and orchestrating to composing cues?
Well it didn’t go quite that way. The way it went first was from being a freelance arranger. I got hired on a fluke one day to become a staff arranger on the Donny and Marie show. So I ended up working on that show every week, and at the end of that season, the music director decided he wasn’t going to come back to the show. When we had been recording the music for the show, Wayne Osmond, one of the Osmond brothers, was doing the booth work for our recording sessions. And he had watched me at work, and I had done a couple guest conducting shots when he had to be out doing something else. So Wayne proposed to the Osmond family that they give me a shot at being music director for Donny and Marie. They asked me if I would like to do it, and I said “Sure. Let me check my schedule.” It was really funny – they hired me on a two-show contract with a three-show option, with a five-show option, with [another] five-show option. The point being, they didn’t know whether they were going to be able to trust me, and they didn’t know whether I was going to produce or not. So they wanted the ability to remove me in case it didn’t work out.
But it did work out.
It did work out. So I became the musical director for Donny and Marie on their third season, which was my first big time network gig. And it was just a great opportunity. The show was a top-ten show on ABC. They were spending scads of money on getting guest artists and music and costumes, all that kind of stuff. We had a great little band. It was really fun.
I’m guessing you got to work in a lot of styles, depending on who the musical guest was?
Oh yeah. That was the start of my broad style approach. That’s what you have to do when you’re a music director for a variety show. And then when the Osmonds moved their entire production lock, stock and barrel up to Provo/Salt Lake City, where they built their own television studio, I decided not go up there with them. I stayed here, and it wasn’t too long ‘til I got a call to become the music director of the Mary Tyler Moore variety series on CBS.
I took that job, and that was really exciting for me from a couple perspectives. Number one was I was a huge fan of Mary. And so the possibility of working with her was just a thrill. And then the show involved a repertory company of actors that had never done television before. And the group was made up of Michael Keaton, Swoosie Kurtz, David Letterman, Dick Shawn and Mary. None of these folks had done television before, and we were just trying to find our way, do something different. It was just amazing. It was the wildest thing to watch. I still have all those shows on tape somewhere, in boxes. I have a lot of variety numbers where Michael Keaton, David Letterman and Swoosie Kurtz are dancing around in bunny costumes and all the crazy stuff that variety shows did during that era.
When the Mary Tyler Moore Show ended in a year, and did not get picked up, I was looking for something else to do, and I really wanted to get involved in the film music business. That was [when I started] getting the taste for doing some composing.
Had composing for film been an ambition of yours from the beginning?
It had. Ever since I was 17 years old, listening and inspecting Henry Mancini’s book Sounds and Scores. And I was just fascinated by the way that Henry Mancini wrote his movie music, the colors that he used, the orchestrational tricks, his compositional knowledge. I was just really touched and moved by him, and he was really a hero for me.
The town of Los Angeles is funny, in that you get pigeonholed very quickly. I got pigeonholed as a music director, and anybody who works in the film business thinks that music directors can’t compose. So I basically had to start all over again at the bottom of the film business and learn my craft, learn what it took to be a composer. So I ended up working as an orchestrator and a ghost composer for quite an amazing array of name talent.
I started working for Bill Goldstein. We did a couple movies together, and he ended up really liking what I did and hired me to work on the Fame series over at MGM. Bill was, and still is, a guy with a great heart. And if Bill liked you, and liked your talents, he wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call Lalo Schifrin and say “Lalo, have you heard of Alf Clausen?” and he’d say “No.” And Bill would say “Well you gotta hire this guy. He’s great.” So all of a sudden I’m meeting with Lalo Schifrin, talking about working on a movie. So I orchestrated for Lalo for several years.
Not only did [Bill Goldstein] call Lalo, but he called Jim Di Pasquale. He called Elmer Bernstein. He called Lee Holdridge. He called a number of other people and got me in with these guys, doing occasional orchestrations and original compositions and stuff like that. And Lee Holdridge and I became very, very good friends. I ended up working with Lee for several years on many of his projects as an orchestrator, and composing additional music every once in a while. We did Mr. Mom, Splash, The Beastmaster – funny how they go away quickly.
Alf with Lee Holdridge at the 2011 Film/TV Awards. Photo by PictureGroup.
Lee and I became very good friends. He was very popular at that point. His drill was to take a television show, write the main title theme for the television show, maybe do an episode or two, and turn the weekly episode scoring over to one of his orchestrator/composer friends. And then he would go on and he’d get the main title theme for another television show. We tried that with two or three different episodes of different series, they didn’t get picked up. And then he called me one day, and said “I’ve got this pilot coming up and ABC looks like they’re really high on it. I’d like to introduce you to the executive producer, and if he likes your work, I’d like to try to do the same thing we’ve tried to do before, and have you become the composer on the series.” So I orchestrated the pilot for Lee, and that was Moonlighting. And it got picked up, and ABC really liked the show. Glenn Gordon Caron, the executive producer, talked to Lee about scoring the episodes, and Lee pitched me, and Glenn went for it. He hired me and another composer as well. At first we were going to split episodes, because Glenn really didn’t know my work, and didn’t know what to expect - he wanted to cover himself. By the time we got to the fifth episode, Glenn didn’t hire the other guy anymore. I ended up composing 63 of the 65 episodes.
You’ve said in the past that you consider Moonlighting to be a creative peak for you. What was special about that show from a musical perspective?
It was a great experience, because Glenn was, and is to this day, a huge music fan. He really looks at being able to use music in a very unusual way for television. He would throw these challenges at me, and I would rise to the occasion and do the best I could with the challenges, and he was very pleased with what he got. And little by little, that put my face on the map as a composer to be listened to. The thrust of the entire series was such that everybody was watching it. It was another top ten show for ABC. And so I got a lot of fans that way, which is really cool.
What sorts of challenges would Glenn Caron throw at you on Moonlighting?
There were quite a few. We did the very famous black and white episode, which was called “The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice.” It involved a big band from the 40’s, with Cybil Shepherd being the chick singer, and Bruce Willis being the jazz trumpet player. I turned into a murder mystery in two parts. One was from Cybil’s perspective, one was from Bruce’s perspective. I recorded quite a bit of original big band music, which Glenn Caron used to shoot a lot of the show to. They hired out the Aquarius theater in Hollywood, and they did a seven-day shoot with this big band on camera, used a lot of playbacks of the music that I wrote, and I arranged a couple songs for Cybil, which she sang. It really got the attention of the television industry big time.
There was another one called “Atomic Shakespeare,” which was done in Shakespeare’s time, and I had to use a lot of period instruments to play the music for that one. There was another one where I came to music spotting one day, and Glenn had just watched a movie called Paris Blues, which was scored by Herbie Hancock. It was a solo tenor saxophone player, Dexter Gordon. And Glenn said, “You know I had this thought, we should score an episode of Moonlighting for tenor saxophone.” And I said “This sounds very interesting. Why don’t we try it?” So I hired a good friend of mine, jazz tenor saxophone player Don Menza, and had him come into the studio, and we recorded the whole score with one tenor.
So you mean that was the only instrument in the entire episode.
Yep. Those were the kinds of challenges that Glenn threw at me. And he was so creative, and everybody thought that “Boy, that Alf Clausen is really something. Look at all the stuff he’s coming up with!” But I follow directions really well. And it was really Glenn’s motivation more than anything else. Glenn would come up with these ideas and say “Can you do this?” And I would rise to the occasion and give him what he wanted. Which was absolutely a great opportunity.
Let’s move on to the beginning of your tenure on The Simpsons. I understand you were at first reluctant to sign on with The Simpsons. Why was that?
Well I had just finished four years of Moonlighting, and four years of Alf at the same time. I was used to being very busy, and all of a sudden I was out of work for seven months. And I was going nuts, looking for something to do. And I was talking to a percussionist friend of mine, and he and his wife have a lot of show business connections. I said “I’m going nuts here with nothing to do. If you hear of anything going on, let me know.”
A couple of weeks later, he called me on the phone and said, “I was having dinner with my nephew last night. My nephew is the producer on a television series and they’re looking to change composers. And I suggested you, and my nephew said ‘Oh yeah, Alf! Why didn’t I think of him? Do you have his phone number?’” So my friend gave him the phone number.
The phone rang, and it was the producer on the show, and he said “We’re looking to change composers. Would you be interested in coming in for an interview?” And I said “What’s the show?” and he said “The Simpsons. Have you ever seen it?” and I said “No.” And he says “Do you know what it is?” And I said “I know it’s an animated show.” And he says “Are you interested in doing animation?” and I said “no.” And he said “Why not?” and I said “First of all, animation is too hard, and I don’t want to work that hard at this point in my career. But more importantly, I consider myself to be a drama guy. And I really want to extend my drama career.”
[The producer] said, “I understand. Why don’t you come on in for an interview anyway, and meet Matt Groening, and we’ll talk about it.” So I come into the meeting, and Matt introduced himself and we started talking about the situation, and Matt asked me the same questions. And I gave him the same reasons, and his response to me was, “We don’t look upon our show as being a cartoon. We look upon it as being a drama where the characters are drawn, and I’d like it to be scored that way. Could you do that?” So at that point, the light bulb went on and I thought, “Well this is kind of interesting. It’s going to be a totally different approach to scoring animated shows. Maybe I should give it a shot, see what happens.” So I said “Okay, why don’t we do one episode and see what you think.” So they gave me “Treehouse of Horror #1” as my first episode. And they kept me ever since.
It’s interesting to me that you described yourself as a drama composer, because you have a long history of scoring comedies, from the variety shows on to Splash and Alf.
Right, and I was trying to shed that reputation! Romantic comedies were great. That’s what was nice about Moonlighting, because it was basically a romantic comedy, so there was a little drama. And it was an hour show, and I just didn’t want to do half-hour shows anymore. I was ready to move on, get deeper in my career.
How long did it take you to change your mind about moving on The Simpsons?
It was fairly immediate. We had 42 cues in “Treehouse of Horror #1,” and I told them I needed a double session because I couldn’t record that many cues in a single. I thought they were going to throw me out on my ear, but they didn’t. They said “Whatever you need, you just let us know.” They came to the session, liked what they heard, and gave me the next episode. And I continued to work, and they stopped showing up!
Did you find that you had to adjust the practical things about your scoring methods to fit the demands of a weekly animated show?
Yeah, I did. There are certain musical styles and musical instrumentations that the folks on The Simpsons don’t care for. So right away I had to put a lid on some of the things that I would ordinarily use. Which was fine, because I identified it more as a challenge than anything else. I didn’t always understand why they took that position, but I listened, and of course if you want to stay on the job, you pay attention to what they’re saying.
It was an interesting challenge, because up to that point, I had a pretty broad palette of compositional tricks, shall we say - instrumentation choices and all of that. And every once in a while, they would throw me a curve, and say “I know you used this on this particular episode, but we really don’t like that.” One example I can give you is the fact that they didn’t want any electronic instruments. They wanted this to be an all-acoustic show. That was from Matt Groening.
Did you do any research to prepare yourself for The Simpsons? Perhaps listening to any of the great cartoon composers, like Carl Stalling and Raymond Scott?
No, because Matt Groening gave me the directive that he didn’t want the music to sound like any of them. He really wanted me to score the emotion of the show. He said “When in doubt, if you’re stuck on something, always go for the emotion first, and the action second.”
Are there particular tricks you use to encode humor into a musical cue?
My approach has been somewhat different. I think it’s not as unusual anymore, because there are people that have picked up on this. But my approach has always been to play the scene seriously. Because when one does that in a comedy, then the payoff joke becomes that much more funny. You play something for real, and the listener gets pulled in very quickly to the scene, and is convinced that it’s a real life situation. So then all of a sudden when the music stops – and I never play the joke by the way, I always take the music out before the joke – everybody shakes their head and says, “Oh my god, I can’t believe they just did that. That was too funny.”
So you’re there to set off the joke, rather than create it yourself.
Oh absolutely. A trumpet player I used to work with in the casual band business once told me “You can’t vaudeville vaudeville.” Basically, that means that you can’t play a funny situation with funny music and expect it to work.
Has your approach to scoring for The Simpsons changed over the years?
Not at all. It’s just like the family doesn’t get older; I don’t change my approach to the score.
It’s been hundreds of episodes and 20 years. Do you find it difficult to keep the musical palette fresh?
I do. That’s a big challenge. And I try not to pull too much from past episodes. I have a joke on The Simpsons that if I pull a cue from an old episode, and I use it in the episode cue for this week, those shows will end up in back to back nights in syndication. Somebody’s out there listening to this and saying, “What a slacker man. He used the same cue two nights in a row!” I try not to do that. I try to make it as fresh as I can.
Are there times when you’re under a huge time crunch and you rely more on references, whether your own or references to something else?
That happens occasionally, and it happens from the producer’s standpoint, too. There are little musical quips, so to speak, that I’ve created for the show that we liked to bring back every so often. I have a little two-note motif for Chief Wigham, every time he bursts into the room. So we like to bring that back whenever we can. And we have the Krusty the Clown theme, which we come back to every once and a while, whenever Krusty’s show is on the air. So there’s stuff like that that are standard bits that we keep coming back to. But fortunately they don’t overuse them.
Alf after a good take. Photo by Sally Stevens.
You probably know these fictional characters on The Simpsons better than you know some of your acquaintances. Have the characters become any realer to you over the years?
No, I don’t think so. They’ve been real from the first time I was there. I was always amazed at how good the acting is. What scares me about being on the show for this long is I can read their lips. That’s frightening!
Even when it’s an episode you haven’t seen before?
Yeah! When it’s animated, that’s kind of scary. But the acting ensemble is absolutely first class. It’s what gives the show its heart, as far as I’m concerned. The writing is absolutely spectacular. I think it’s the best-written show on television. But the writing doesn’t mean anything unless they have the actors to bring it to life. So it’s a great collaborative effort all the way, you know?
I’ve told many of my interns that I’m leading a very blessed life, in that the writing is first class, the acting ensemble is amazing, and if they bring all of that to life and send it to the animators, the animators put another layer of creativity on it, based on the voice tracks. And then they finally send it to me, and if I tune in to the emotion that they expect out of a scene, I’ll put another layer of emotion on top of it - the frosting on the cake, so to speak. And if I do that correctly, and take it to the studio and record it with a first-class orchestra, I’ll get chills in my arms when the music is played and recorded. And that will stay there forever and ever.
I’ll go back and listen to a cue that I did ten years ago, and those chills will still appear in my arms, ten years later. And there’re not many places in the arts where one can claim that. Most of creativity in the arts is unfortunately a passing thing. It’s a momentary pleasure. But in the case of film music scoring, it’s on tape or on disc, as they say now, forever.
A lot of your music from The Simpsons is available on compilation albums. Is it fulfilling to listen to that divorced from the visuals?
It is. And it’s kind of a surprise sometimes when I go back and listen. I can honestly say that I still can’t believe how good it sounds. Which I’m thrilled about, because when one is on a weekly schedule, there’s not much time to soak up the joy of doing something well. And we just do everything we can to get the weekly chores taken care of, and get the show mixed and on the air, and move on to the next one. That’s what’s been fun with doing the CDs. I’ve produced three of them. I produced Songs in the Key of Springfield, I produced Go Simpsonic with the Simpsons, and also The Simpsons Testify. And fortunately we had enough music to fill three of those CDs. And I’m very proud of them.
Hopefully, The Simpsons goes on forever, and you’ll be immortal, scoring it the entire time. But have you thought about what you would do if The Simpsons ever ends?
I’d get a lot of sleep, I’ll tell ya. This series has become my entire life for 21 years. And I’m talking my ENTIRE life. I soak this stuff up on a weekly basis, and devote myself to doing that absolute best job I can for my producers, because the better job we do, the more it stays on the air, and the more people appreciate it. When it’s finally over, I’m going to need some space to figure out if there’s anything left to be done in my career. Actually there is, because I’ve written a musical, and I’ve written an oratorio, and I’d really like to record my oratorio for posterity. It’s two hours and 15 minutes long. And I just haven’t had the time to even think twice about it. I’ve got some other big band stuff I’d like to record. I’d like to do another big band CD or two.
You don’t see any time to work on those while the series is still underway?
No. The series is so intense, and takes so many hours. When I work, I work 80 or 90-hour weeks. And it really takes its toll, mentally and physically. And I’m not getting any younger, unfortunately.
You’ve received multiple Emmy Awards, Annie Awards, ASCAP Film/TV Awards…what’s the musical accomplishment you’re most proud of?
Oh boy. I don’t know if I can say that there is one in particular. I’ve been honored by a lot of folks for a lot of reasons, and I’m very humbled by that and thrilled by that. It’s been a gradual process. It hasn’t happened all at once. It might happen once every two or three years or something like that. Someone will jump out of the woodwork, say “We’d really like to do this for you.” And so I really don’t know if there’s one particular moment like that that I can attribute being at the top of the list.
I’ll put it a different way. How would you want to be remembered by the music community?
There’s not enough room on my headstone for all that! I would probably like to be remembered as someone who was able to work at the height of his creative ability to create music that is special for people, and in so doing, have a relationship with the people that I work with, both the producers/directors and the musicians themselves, where they will all look upon me as being a nice guy.
Alf shows his gratitude at the 2011 ASCAP Film/TV Awards. Photo by PictureGroup.
Clearly music education has been important to your development as a composer. The colleges you went to, Berklee, and also the teaching tenure you had as well. How important is music education to you now?
It’s of continuing importance, and that’s one of the reasons that I try to make room in my schedule to become a mentor in some of the internship programs. I’ve been a mentor in the Television Academy internship program for many years, and I’ve been a mentor in the Society of Composers & Lyricists internship program for a number of years as well. In that particular program, I end up with about eight to 12 interns every year. The Television Academy is a singular program, so there’s only one intern. But I’ve been doing that for some time because of the fact that the art of television scoring as I do it has kind of disappeared. And I like to show the students that there’s another way to do it besides what’s being done today - basically all electronics, because of budgets or choice or whatever it is.
Once the students go through the process of coming to the music spotting session, coming to the scoring session to see what I’ve done for the week, and have watched the score take life with 35 real players of the best caliber musicians in Los Angeles, I can really see a change come over these interns. And it’s been a life-altering change. Where they all of a sudden realize that there’s a whole new world that they haven’t been exposed to yet, and there’s a whole different way of doing this.
I’m scoring the television show as if I’m scoring a mini movie every week. And it’s all with live players, with a 35-piece orchestra, and it’s being composed, orchestrated, copied and played the way you do film business. I watch the interns get sparkles in their eyes, and all of a sudden they have a whole new world that’s open to them, and they realize that there’s a joy to live, acoustic music. Their lives have been changed forever. And I don’t even have to say anything. I just watch it happen. And that’s very rewarding to me.
Using a live orchestra seems like an easy sell to a budding composer, but a harder sell to whoever is funding a project. Have you noticed a change in the industry part of film/TV music, such that there are fewer producers or directors that care to get that craft, that level of organicness?
Oh, I’ve noticed that a lot. And I have a philosophy about it. I think it’s all a product of the music programs being cut out or severely reduced at the high school level. It used to be that the band programs and the choir programs were of such visibility in high schools that it was a joy for the students to participate in one or both of those programs, and learn a lot about music just by being in the ensemble itself. Not that they were necessarily going to go into the field of music, but the joy of making music together was something that was very meaningful for the students. And it would expose the students to music that they would never have a chance to know about unless they were a part of those ensembles.
Now, you have a whole generation of directors and producers who have never had the chance to do that, and never been exposed to quality music at the high school level. And they don’t know the difference. And it’s sad.
It’s all the more reason why it’s really sad that music education’s the first thing to go when state government has to make budget cuts.
Right. And they don’t realize what a toll it’s taking. Everyone thinks “Oh, it’s just the kids that are going to go into music, and they’re going to do it regardless.” But it’s not that. It’s exposing kids from all walks of life to what meaningful music really is about. Because eventually, one of those kids is going to be the next Steven Spielberg, and he’s going to remember those days when he was exposed to not only Brahms, Beethoven and Bach but he was exposed to Stravinsky and Bartok and Hindemith, you name it. All of a sudden, those things will start to come back to him as a director, and he will remember those days, and remember the music he was exposed to
You must be pretty proud, then, to have worked on so many projects where you get to be creative as you want.
Well I am. I look back over my career, since the beginning of Moonlighting, and I’ve had five television series, they have all been acoustic music shows, and I have been my own boss on all of them, from the standpoint that nobody from the production company ever shows up at the recording sessions. It’s quite a remarkable life
Tell me what it means to you to receive the Golden Note from ASCAP.
Oh my goodness. It’s very humbling. It’s certainly a huge honor. I’ve been a member of ASCAP since 1970, and to me, ASCAP is the only way. I’ve worked very hard, passing those sentiments on to my interns and even my son, who’s a composer and a staunch ASCAP member. I’m not old enough to receive that award yet, but I’ll take it!
Find out more about Alf Clausen at www.alfclausen.com