Alan Seidler

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Alan Seidler first attracted widespread attention in 1975 with his Blue Goose LP The Duke of Ook. On its cover, an unflattering caricature by R. Crumb gave the impression that Seidler was a frowsy nut-ball,…
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Alan Seidler first attracted widespread attention in 1975 with his Blue Goose LP The Duke of Ook. On its cover, an unflattering caricature by R. Crumb gave the impression that Seidler was a frowsy nut-ball, and his "Oozing Cyst Blues" seemed to bear out that assumption. Years later, the Albany Records release of The Mystic Trumpeter: Vocal and Choral Works 1990-2006 and the posting of Seidler's own online biographical musings revealed a profoundly poetic and philosophically inclined individual. A life-long non-conformist, Seidler grew up in the '50s, received piano tuition at home, and began composing at the age of seven. One primary influence was Frederic Chopin. By the time he was ten he had inadvertently emulated Darius Milhaud by penning 21 short symphonies and three very brief operas. Thanks largely to his grandmothers, young Seidler also fell under the sway of early 20th century popular music. At 17 he enrolled at Juilliard where he majored in composition, learned orchestration, wrote art songs, studied music theory with Vincent Persichetti, and devised an overture in the form of an homage to Charles Ives.

Encountering considerable opposition to his setting of Walt Whitman's The Last Invocation, Seidler responded with Tracks for Orchestra, a challenging work of gargantuan proportions. Tiring of the constraints inherent in musical academia, he began collaborating with renegade musicians and creative theatrical artists, coming up with dissonant vocal contortionist works like Why Cover Pigeonholes with Fortuna? Although Sonnet, the first of his collaborations with poet Timothy Aurthur, was well received at Alice Tully Hall, inside Juilliard, Seidler's deliberately iconoclastic works met with considerable resistance. His final Juilliard opus, Three Profundities for Screaming Unison Chorus, was angrily dismissed by Elliott Carter as "the worst piece of music ever written in the State of New York."

After more or less getting himself thrown out of one of the most prestigious music schools in the country, Seidler indulged in his favorite pastime which consisted of playing piano in bars while singing like an old-time vaudeville tenor. He also absorbed live jazz in the clubs, played a lot of intermission piano, and appeared regularly as guest musicologist on WBAI FM, discussing antiquated pop music with Ian Whitcomb. According to music historian Stephen Calt, Seidler was the original co-composer of Al Green's gospel hit "God Is Standing By," but lost out when his collaborator Jeff Dews sold the song to Johnnie Taylor for 50bucks. In 1972, after creating a new score for F.W. Murnau's classic vampire film Nosferatu, Seidler signed a six-year contract with Nick Perls and his Yazoo subsidiary Blue Goose Records, and teamed up with John Fahey to back British vocalist Jo Ann Kelly on two old-time blues tunes, Bo Carter's "Pigmeat Blues" and Lucille Bogan's "Tricks Ain't Walking No More." He also sat in with composer and ragtime piano legend Eubie Blake. In 1974, he presented a vaudeville revue at Carnegie Hall and recorded a solo piano album for Takoma Records, Morning Impromptus/Evening Bacchanals, but it was only released on eight-track tape.

Seidler's first nationally observed achievement was his neo-vaudeville and blues album The Duke of Ook, released on Blue Goose in January 1975. In addition to "Never oh Never Whatever You Do, Sing a Gorilla Song" (composed in 1963) and several delights co-written by Aurthur (including "Oozing Cyst Blues" and "Oozin' Just Oozin' for You"), this cult classic contained several examples of Seidler's personal language ("Puv Hooves," "Fash," "What Sort of a Vuv," and "The Universal Uk"), which cropped up in other works like Cast into the Flowing Pea Soup of Vonaglona and Three Mute Kaws. Years later, The Duke of Ook appeared on CD in a pricey Japanese bootleg edition, and the first authorized reissue was slated to appear in late 2009. After providing backup support on recordings by Rory Block (1976) and Roy Bookbinder (1977), Seidler composed music for Broadway and Off-Broadway theatrical productions including C.V. Peters ' murder mystery R (1977) and Julia Cameron's Public Lives (1983).

A resurgence of chamber composition brought about Five English Poems for High Voice and Piano, the dramatic cantata Sobhuza II (which marked the end of his collaboration with Timothy Aurthur); and in 1988-1989 (under the tutelage of Giampaolo Bracali) The Quartet for Piano and Strings, Quasi Una Fantasia for Violin, Viola, Cello and Piano, and Five Pieces for Woodwind Quartet. He set poems by James Wright (Complaint) and Carl Sandburg (Playthings); and in 1995 premiered his first String Quartet. Its slow movement would later be scored as Elegy for String Orchestra. In 1997, Seidler played piano on Haunted, an album by Tim Rose. He spent the winter of 2000-2001 setting Keith Douglas' poem Simplify Me When I'm Dead for baritone voice and chamber ensemble, and devising the score for He Oughtta Be Committed, a film by Douglas Zimmerman.

After years of effort, Seidler completed a total revision of The Last Invocation, enlarging his chamber cantata into a symphony in six movements retitled The Mystic Trumpeter. This work was premiered at New York's Merkin Hall by the Orchestra of Our Time and the Collegiate Chorale under the direction of Frank Zappa's orchestrator Joel Thome. The Albany recording of The Mystic Trumpeter also includes In the Arc of Your Mallet and Two Sacred Pieces: Our Father and Psalm XXIII. As he matured, Seidler's Zappa-like reverence for Edgar Varese and a growing fascination with drummers from other cultures enhanced and enriched his singularly imaginative oeuvre. In 2007, he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Music. The following year, his Sonata for Violin and Piano was included with works by Richard Strauss and Karol Szymanowsky on Rillito River Project, a global climate change-inspired album by violinist Patmore Lewis. Seidler's projected works include a second string quartet, a piano sonata, and an operatic setting of Stephen King's The Shining.