‘Simpsons’ composer Clausen coming homeEmmy-award winning composer Alf Clausen will be an honored native son as he returns this weekend for his 1959 Jamestown High School Class Reunion, with Sunday proclaimed by Mayor Clarice Liechty as Alf Clausen Day. It’s been many years since Clausen has been back to his hometown. With his parents, Alf and Magdalene, both deceased, he said, there hasn’t been a call to return until now — the reunion with his classmates of 50 years ago.
By: Toni Pirkl, The Jamestown Sun
Emmy-award winning composer Alf Clausen will be an honored native son as he returns this weekend for his 1959 Jamestown High School Class Reunion, with Sunday proclaimed by Mayor Clarice Liechty as Alf Clausen Day.
It’s been many years since Clausen has been back to his hometown. With his parents, Alf and Magdalene, both deceased, he said, there hasn’t been a call to return until now — the reunion with his classmates of 50 years ago.
“We’re looking forward to coming back to Jamestown,” Clausen said in a telephone interview from his Los Angeles home.
As the guest of honor riding in a convertible, Clausen will head the Class of ’59 float in the Tatanka Festival and White Cloud’s Birthday Parade Saturday. The parade is coordinated by the Jamestown Area Chamber of Commerce.
“The chamber is pleased that Alf will be able to join the community as an honored guest,” said JoDee Rasmusson, chamber executive director. “And we’re delighted to recognize him and his achievements in our Tatanka Festival Parade.”
He’ll also be honored at a community reception from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday hosted by the Sons of Norway at the Arts Center.
“His mother was a charter member of the Sons of Norway,” said Maralyn Salting, reception organizer. “She was always very supportive and active. We wanted to recognize Alf’s heritage and his successes.”
In his career as a composer, Clausen has received two Emmys for his music on cartoon, “The Simpsons,” television’s longest-running comedy. But in his 19 years as its music director and composer, Clausen has actually been nominated for Emmys 21 times for the show. In all, he’s been nominated for an Emmy 28 times during his television career. Other credits include three Annie Awards, three International Monitor Awards as well as Grammy and CLIO nominations.
Before his successful career with “The Simpsons,” however, he was the music director for the “Donny and Marie Show.”
“That was my first really big break,” Clausen said. “I was hired as an arranger for the show and then became the music director.”
It took nine years in Los Angeles to get that break. During those years he worked as a performing musician and spent his days composing. He also wrote his share of jingles for television ads.
“Then I started writing arrangements for Las Vegas acts,” he said.
Although he’s written music for several movies, he concentrated on television.
“I like the instant gratification of television,” he said. “The turnaround time is typically three weeks. I like motion pictures, but it’s so much slower.”
Writing for “The Simpsons” means completing 30 to 35 pieces of music in a week. Clausen composes as he watches the episode and the music has to be timed to fit within a hundredth of a second.
“It’s an interesting process. Most of the time I look at the scene and know what the music is,” he said. “Other times I’m stumped. Each piece has to underscore the emotion of the scene.”
Then he writes it for orchestration. It’s recorded, added to the episode and aired within the three-week period. Clausen does this for 22 episodes a year. During his off-weeks he writes original music for the show. Part of the challenge after 19 years, he said, is keeping the music fresh and original. If his Emmy nominations are any indication, he’s been successful in doing that.
Clausen began his musical career playing the French horn in the JHS band. He also sang in the choir. At age 17, he said, he became interested in composing through a book and the music of composer, conductor and arranger Henry Mancini.
“I was always fascinated by arranging and composing, but I wasn’t aware you could make a living at it,” he said.
At North Dakota State University, Clausen majored in music theory. He took a number of orchestration classes, but found he needed an avenue for expression.
“I organized a jazz band to hear my arrangements played,” he said.
From NDSU, Clausen attended Berklee University in Boston, where he honed his skill as a composer and arranger. Rather than a master’s degree, he received a professional diploma in arrangement and composition.
“It was more of a conservatory than a university and that turned out to be the best choice for me,” he said.
For local resident Mary Young, who knew the Clausens well, Alf’s accomplishments are no surprise.
“He was very bright,” Young said. “Whatever he did he did well. That quality came from his mother. He’s honored us and his parents by the way he’s lived his life.”
Sun reporter Toni Pirkl can be reached at (701) 952-8453 or by e-mail at email@example.com