This Sunday is Alf Clausen’s birthday. He was born in 1941 and grew up in Jamestown. In school he played piano and French horn and sang in the choir. But after high school, he decided to be a mechanical engineer and enrolled at NDSU.
Luckily, a trip to New York brought him to his musical senses. He went to visit his cousin, a piano player in Manhattan, and decided music was where his heart was. He switched his major to music theory, and after NDSU, he entered the Berklee School of Music in Boston where, upon graduating, he was hired as an instructor.
After a year of teaching, Clausen went west where he did some ghost-composing for Las Vegas night club acts, then on to L.A. where he found work as a bass player, a copyist, a teacher, and an arranger. As an orchestrator, he’s been credited on movies like Wise Guys, Weird Science, Into the Night, Micki & Maude, Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, Naked Gun, Splash, and Mr. Mom.
Orchestrators are the people who take a composer’s ideas and write them out, choosing appropriate instruments for the different parts. It wasn’t a far leap to make the move to composing, and his break came with the Donny and Marie Show. Then it was on to Moonlighting, starring Bruce Willis and Cybil Sheppard; then Alf; and then… unemployment. Seven months later, just as things weren’t looking so great, a friend called to say, “I was having dinner with my nephew last night, and he’s a producer on a television show, and they’re looking to change composers, and I suggested you.”
That led to Clausen’s long tenure as composer for The Simpsons. By 1997, when he released a Simpson’s CD titled “Songs in the Key of Springfield,” he had credits in 28 films, 24 TV series, 24 movies of the week, and had been nominated for 14 Emmy Awards.
Simpsons creator, Matt Groening, called Clausen their “secret weapon,” able to keep up with the unpredictable directions the show, writing dramatic music, over-the-top comedy, down ‘n dirty jazz, show tunes, and even remakes of popular television themes. Clausen remained with the hit show for an astonishing 27 years.
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm