Alf Clausen | Nice Alumni Series

Composer | Class of 1963

Hometown: Jamestown, ND

There weren’t any local career musicians for Alf to admire when he was growing up in Jamestown, North Dakota. In fact it didn’t become clear to him that his pursuit of music could be a viable profession until his college years.

Alf began his undergraduate work at North Dakota State University as a mechanical engineering student before his cousin, a pianist, inspired him to consider studying musical theory. That seemingly small decision opened him up to the entire music industry, a place where his prolific work has left an indelible mark on music in entertainment.

Worlds of possibilities are granted to those who are curious enough to look beyond what they know.

In 1967 Alf moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a composer for television. He landed gigs working on music for The Partridge Family and eventually became the music director for ABC’s variety show Donny & Marie. By 1981 he received a Primetime Emmy Award and would ultimately receive 30 Emmy nominations, more than any other musician. Much of this recognition resulted from his work on a now-famous series that he was initially hesitant to undertake—The Simpsons.

Alf had always wanted to be a drama composer, and he was not at all sure that writing music for an animated show was the direction he wanted to take. But after meeting with The Simpsons’ creator, Matt Groening, he realized that this wasn’t a typical cartoon. Despite his early doubts, Alf Clausen would go on to compose music for the show for 27 years, scoring more than 500 episodes.

Over the years his friends would remark at the fun he has playing music all day, implying it is hardly work. But Alf’s long list of TV and film credits didn’t come from casually playing around. On his composition work for The Simpsons alone he would put in nearly 90 hours a week to prepare a score for the show.

In addition to his television compositions, Alf has also composed for the bands of Buddy Rich and Ray Charles, and has received a Grammy nomination.

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Alf’s remarkable career resulted from his openness to shift focus and follow his interests. Given his work ethic he probably would have been a skilled engineer, but think of all the music the world would have lost. His story reveals that worlds of possibilities are granted to those who are curious enough to look beyond what they know.


The Nice Center at NDSU created this series to demonstrate that entrepreneurs come from all walks of life. As we pursue our mission of making entrepreneurship for all we invite your support through mentorship. Share more about yourself at thenicecenter.org/mentor

Credits: Story by Scott Meyer & Dane Johnson / Illustration by Izak Moleterno

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Posted on November 18th, 2020 by Dane Johnson in News and Stories