Jamestown grad keeps 'The Simpsons' in music

JAMESTOWN -- One former Jamestown man has been providing the music that has kept Springfield running for decades. Springfield, of course, is home to one of TV's most beloved families -- "The Simpsons."...

JAMESTOWN -- One former Jamestown man has been providing the music that has kept Springfield running for decades. Springfield, of course, is home to one of TV's most beloved families -- "The Simpsons."

Alf Clausen composes the music for the most successful animated TV series of all-time. Recently the show surpassed the 500-episode mark.

"We had no idea that this was going to happen," Clausen said in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles.

When he started, he was an underscore composer for the first "Treehouse of Horror" episode of "The Simpsons" in 1990. Every year, a new "Treehouse of Horror" comes out around Halloween.

Clausen's provided the music ever since that episode in 1990, taking over as song composer in the third season a year later.


At that time, TV producers aimed for 100 episodes, which usually guaranteed syndication and more money. Hitting 500, he said, was "pretty remarkable."

For all his work, Clausen was recently honored with a Golden Note Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

"It's an incredible cross-section of working composers and the acknowledgement I got from them was such a tremendous honor because it carries so much weight in the industry," he said.

The Jamestown High School graduate played French horn and piano here as well as sung in the choir. He called his musical experience in Jamestown "invaluable."

"The directors had very high-class taste in music that we were expected to perform and play from memory," Clausen said.

He now writes the music, not the lyrics, for songs that almost add another character to the show.

Clausen has picked up two Emmys for writing "You're Checkin' In," for an episode featuring "Kickin' It: A Musical Journey through the Betty Ford Center," and "We Put the Spring in Springfield," which features the town's eventual rally for an ill-reputed burlesque house.

During his time as "The Simpsons" composer, Clausen estimates he has written about 15,000 music cues over the course of the 22 seasons he's been with the show.


The process is a long and repetitive one that features collaborative sessions watching an almost-finished episode, and discussing what is needed musically. Sometimes up to 57 cues a show have been required.

Then Clausen receives notes from the session documenting what is needed where with start and end times. He composes his music to the one-hundredth of a second.

Next, if he needs to use any instruments that are not in his 35-piece orchestra, he hires those instrumentalists.

Music editor Chris Ledesma then further breaks down what is needed where with exact detail. Like every line of dialogue and characters physical movements like falling or a knock on the head.

The music is then recorded by the 35-piece orchestra and after that, the group starts over again, reviewing next week's episode.

"We can make people smile and people cry," Clausen said. "We underscore the entire range of human emotion and that's why my job is so thrilling and satisfying."

Over the years Clausen has a few songs that he wrote that he considers favorites. One is "We Do" (The Stonecutters Song), which is a song sung by the members of a secret society that Homer joins.

Back in Jamestown, Clausen was in DeMolay, which is modeled after Free Masonry. He drew some inspiration from his past when he wrote it, he said.


"Homer is being accepted into this secret society in Springfield which he doesn't know if he wants to do, because he doesn't know if he respects an organization that will have him as a member," Clausen said, laughing.

He also enjoyed composing "Senor Burns" with the Tito Puente Orchestra. Puente was being investigated in the shooting of Mr. Burns, and "Senor Burns" was Puente's Latin, jazz, salsa response instead of harming Burns


Clausen even told one of the biggest rock stars in the world to do a takeover again.

In "Trash of the Titans," the band U2 guest stars, along with Steve Martin. It was the 200th episode of the show.

Clausen was in the studio with Bono and about 50 members from Bono's camp, Fox's legal camp and others.

"Bono and I got along absolutely great because he's used to recording the way I'm used to recording," he said. "I told Bono he could do another one (take). The non-music folks were just appalled that I would have the nerve to tell Bono he could do a better recording then he had done."

While some may regard "The Simpsons" as just another cartoon, it has become more than that, he said. The show's creator, Matt Groening, told Clausen from the start that it's not just a cartoon.


"We don't look at our show as being a cartoon, but a drama where the characters are drawn," Groening told Clausen.

Rodgers is a reporter for the Jamestown Sun, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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