ForeverMissed

Jay Sydeman Memorial and Celebration
June 20th, 1:00 PM
Mendocino Presbyterian Church Preston Hall
44831 Main St, Mendocino CA

Doors open at 1pm for mingling
Service starts at 1:30 pm

Dear Friends and Family of Jay,

Jay passed away this week suddenly and peacefully in his bed at his home in Mendocino. He was 93. Jay was slowing but active until the end, living on his own with the support of his friend Jeanne, driving into Mendo, editing and playing his music.  A note on his wall reminded himself of the things he loved to do each day: music, meditate, yoga, walk at Big River.

We hope this site will be a tribute to Jay and a celebration of his life! Please post your memories, stories, photos, musical tributes, spoken word, videos to this site as a way for us all to stay connected to Jay.  He was such a witty and unique guy; I am sure there are some tales to tell! We would love to see pictures of him with you or in some context that offers a richer picture of his life. 

Listen to more of his music
Download sheet music 

With love and sadness, Jay's family
Posted by Alexandrea Jennings on June 15, 2021
Lucky are those of us privy to sincere beauty. I am grateful and will sorely miss the quirky slyness and gorgeous music Jay brought into my life for the last 8 years I’ve worked at The Woods where he lived. Every Thursday at 4pm was my favorite time of the week to hear him play with the Jazz group in the Clubhouse while I worked in the office. However, the rare times he would come in to practice and play his own music when nobody else was around were ABSOLUTELY AWESOME, and I will keep those fond memories forever. Thank you Jay.
Posted by Ann Sydeman on June 10, 2021
I knew Jay during his years in Nevada County, via the extended Waldorf community.

I remember Kasha! I had a sweet little (85 lbs., small for a rottie) Rottweiler named Drew and the four of us took many walks together in the nineties and early 2000’s.

I had a longtime friend, Shira Lee, who lived in Mendocino. I visited her in 2015 and Jay and I got together for breakfast and a walk on the cliffs. He was wearing his ear flaps, the clear ones. I always found his quirkiness delightful, perhaps partly because, despite a robust ego, he really didn’t care what others thought of him. There was a certain  freedom in that. I loved his bright mind and sense of humor.

I have this one photo of he and I around 1999, I think, on my porch in Grass Valley. For the record, we were buddies, not lovers, as much as he flirted with me—he was a man who loved women, after all. I am thankful to have counted him as a friend.

I loved Jay and deeply appreciate your letting me know he’s off on his next big adventure!

- Naima Shea
Posted by Wendy Surber on June 7, 2021
I didn't know Jay well, but had the occasion to spend time with him on several occasions. I always found him to be very engaging and interesting. I am truly enjoying his music as I review all of the amazing pictures on this site. He lived a long and full life and will be missed by family and friends. I am sorry for your loss.
Posted by Melissa Sydeman on June 3, 2021
Jay was unbelievably witty and smart, always curious with a wry and lightning-fast aside. I will never forget having a meal with him in the 80s- he knew I loved theater--and his asking whether I'd seen Cats--I sensed a joke was coming, but he got me anyway when he said deadpan: "No, Katz--the Jewish musical about the Upper East Side." He was prolifically talented and always himself, a totally free spirit and so refreshing, I am so proud he was my uncle. Love you, Jay. And love you, all my beautiful cousins.
Posted by Cynthia Gair on June 2, 2021
(this is also posted with a photo under "Stories")

I don’t think Jay knew the importance of the gifts he gave me over the last few years. I was a fledgling bass player and a newly-retired person who’d only started playing music in mid-life. I wasn’t classically trained. He was a lifelong musician, a musically sophisticated composer with far-reaching talents and knowledge. He was farther along than me in both music and in a life he’d shaped on his own terms. 

In ~2014 Mary Ellen and John Mynatt bravely suggested I try playing bass with their trio, dubbed by Jay “The Forgettables”. Once a week, in The Woods’ Clubhouse, the trio played American Standards (pop and jazz songs from the 1920s through 1950s) for whoever showed up to listen. I became a regular; the trio became a quartette. Later, Jay invited me to accompany him at another weekly session, a gracious lunch program hosted by the Mendocino Presbyterian Church. Our piano-bass combo worked. Our love of the old standards drew us together. From then on, that’s where you’d find us on Tuesdays – along with the open-hearted church hosts, their street-wise wallet-poor guests, as well as Jeanne Duncan, Jay’s close friend who often came with him. This sweet mix of very diverse people, good food, comraderie, and music was a highlight of the week.

Somehow Jay maintained high musical and interpersonal standards while keeping his wide-ranging curiosity and acceptance. He mentored me with – I suspect – little realization that he was a mentor. He welcomed me into his musical life, making suggestions now and then, chuckling at my (and his own) mistakes, opening up new musical opportunities for me without pressure or judgment. Jay’s whimsical piano improvisations could made me laugh out loud. He gently pushed me to explore new ground. Early on, in a Tuesday session, he asked me if I’d like to take a solo, responding to my “but I don’t know how!” with calm assurance “just play a few notes…try it, you’ll see…” Soon we had a process established: he’d look over at me, eyebrows arched, dropping his playing to allow room for a bass riff. I learned to watch his eyebrows. Playing music together was pure joy.

We started taking walks after Tuesday sessions: down the steep bluff steps behind the church, along Big River Beach. We talked or just walked and absorbed the ocean air and sounds. We puzzled out questions of life, death, and the meaning of it all. Occasionally we ranted to each other about the rightward slide of US politics.

Jay’s unassuming generosity and kindness, his intellectual honesty, his view of himself and others as equals, his quiet affection, his musical modeling and guidance – these are gifts from him that will live on with me. I’m still amazed at my good fortune to have traveled beside him down a small part of his path. I’m so glad that he could leave as he wanted to, in his own home. But oh, how I’ll miss him.

Thank you, dear Jay.
Posted by Charlene McAllister on June 1, 2021
So sorry for the loss of such a talented person. Grateful for his music which will be here forever. 
Posted by Richard Karch on June 1, 2021
I remember going to Jay's music studio and being awed by the incredible tools he had to express himself. In 2020 he came to the Com Center of Mendocino to present his JFK memorial piece. He kept the audience in rapt attention as he played excerpts, Later i heard him playing piano at the Presbyterian church hall for the lunch diners. Spirited creative man who also could swing out on the tin pan alley tunes. He will be missed. I hope the Mendocino Music Festival will consider presenting some of work.
Posted by Mark Vance on June 1, 2021
There are so many wonderful stories to share about Jay. Here’s my most recent…

I’d planned to interview Jay and play some of his music on my Classics Declassified radio show this coming Sunday. He was turning 93 on May 8 and it seemed timely to feature a retrospective. We’d talked about it on the phone a few months before. He was anxious to talk on FaceTime, which we did. I think he wanted to impress me that he was a 21 century, tech savvy guy. I glad we did, because it was the last time I got to see him. He passed away in his sleep last week.

He was excited that we were going to feature him, “William Jay Sydeman, the Man, the Myth and the Music”. He was more than happy to curate his music for the show. He has volumes of music. When he lived here in Nevada City, Jay always has some of the most intriguing stories to share about his compositions, of which there many. I was never sure if they were actually true or if he’d made them up but that was part of his allure. Jay was a prolific composer and honestly able to write anything at the drop of a hat.

Jay was concerned that the radio interview would be on the phone. He was concerned he’d have trouble hearing on the phone. Now those of us that have known Jay, know that he’s had trouble hearing conversation for the last 25+ years. If he wears his hearing aids, it all works seamlessly. But…he has some hard-wired adversity to wearing his hearing aids…nuisance or vanity, I’m unsure. But he’d rig-up all kinds of external cardboard ears to wear and enhance his hearing out in public. A real conversation starter for sure. We talked about him getting a phone with a heavy-duty volume control, but he wasn’t sure. He called back the next day and told me he’d figured out what to do. He’d wear his hearing aids…

Jay loved to go on walks. When he lived in Nevada City we’d walk and talk several times a week. When he moved to Mendocino, it was part of the daily routine when we visited. We’d always walk and talk along the beach. We play a game called “do you have a piece for (insert instrumentation)? Many times outlandish combinations, like a duo trombone and harpsichord? 95% of the time, he did. Our conversations would always include composing, music, performing, food, women, air quality and politics. Never in any order but talking about women was paramount with Jay. He was a handsome man, especially as he got older and he was well aware of that. Meeting women was like a bee to a flower for him.

I will do my Classics Declassified radio show, KVMR, 89.5, on Jay and his music this Sunday 5:00 to 7:00 and I’m sorry he can’t be on the phone sharing his insight. But we will enjoy his music and honestly… what more would a composer want? Jay was a good friend and mentor, he will be missed.
Posted by Marta MacKenzie on June 1, 2021
I had the sincere pleasure to know Jay through my dear friend, Jeanne Duncan. With this connection, I also came to know his family: Michelle, Ann, Bill, some granddaughters and former wife, Hope. Thank you all for extending hospitality to me. My sincere condolences to you all in the passing of this magnificent man.

Jay came to my home many times with Jeanne to celebrate various holidays over the past decade, most often bearing CD discs of his delightful music, some from the past and quite often new or modified pieces. Alas, the last visit was on Easter, 2021. His music, always intriguing to me in their visual impact. I especially enjoyed his and Jeanne's company to NY Met Opera broadcasts in Pt Arena and the various local Mendocino chamber and orchestra concerts.

I miss Jay dearly. Friendship with him has greatly influenced my appreciation of music and a beautiful perspective on life.
Posted by Wendy Ripp-Bounan on May 31, 2021
I am deeply saddened to learn that the gentle, gifted man that I knew as Bill Sydeman, has just passed away. I offer my deepest condolences to his beloved children, William, Anne and, Michelle; his former wife, Hope; and those who loved and knew him throughout his life. That he passed peacefully from his “earthly temple” while resting at home, is clearly a blessing that reflects his lifetime of cultivating Spirit through meditation, walking softly upon the earth, loving family and friends generously, and charming us all with his brilliant, playful, gentle, humorous wit, exemplified in rare conversation, unique musical compositions, performances, mentoring and teaching, and building precious communities of like-minded folks in the bosom of family, home, and artistic institutions around the world. He came to his languages of artful music in his own unique way, approaching music innocently, initially unschooled in the usual pedagogy, but launched into playing and writing music “by heart and by ear”, thus in touch with his Fount of Creativity, and open to many eclectic, cross-cultural and wide-ranging influences. He had a dislike of being molded by others, but was open to learning and flexing the old and the new, the tried, and the true, and so forged his own unique musical notation and languages.

Bill was a brilliant Renaissance man, and a fabulous and natural teacher and mentor to all who loved music/literature/art/discourse/culture, and who wished to explore the unique, whimsical and soulful “threads” he pulled from the Universe, and spun together like Clotho, the first of the ancient Moirae Goddesses of Fate, for our delectation and delight. While reminiscing about my own brief time with him, which was highly important and meaningful to me as a young musician, I also read all the online materials available on his website, his Facebook page, on Wikipedia, listened to many of his streaming, posted works, and marveled at the actual, myriad paths of his life, much of which was a revelation to me, due to his natural humility, and his unwillingness to stand either upon ceremony or his multiple, world-class kudos and laurels, of which he earned so many!

What strikes me today is how he was always driven by instinct and Spirit, much like Odysseus and his Odyssey- he had the courage to unfetter himself and seek his place in the world at large. Like the second Moirae Goddess, Lachesis, Bill measured his time at each Life juncture, and like the third Moirae Goddess, Atropos, Bill knew when to cut loose his threads of Fate in any given situation, and move on, setting himself free, leaving behind institutional workplaces, settings and personal/professional relationships in which he felt uncomfortable, stymied, or “imprisoned”. In a day and age when this was uncommon behavior, especially for married fathers and husbands bound to and representing esteemed artistic, educational and cultural institutions, he made himself a highly original and creative life of self-exploration. He ultimately became a mendicant Soul of the Universe at large, meditating regularly, whilst traveling and working at elevated cultural levels around the world, helping others to listen to their own truths, as a true friend, as a mentor, as a teacher, and helping all to listen to the gentle tugs of the Heart, while slyly and humbly offering up his charming, musical gifts for our delectation and delight.

I first met Bill around 1966 when I was in my mid-teens in Hastings on Hudson, and was invited to play on the viola “desk” with him, at the Seixas family Wednesday night Bach Brandenburg concerti gatherings. He would pick me up in his gray Dodge Dart, and drive from the hills of Mt. Hope, to those of Villard, where a group of perhaps 20 mostly adult and amateur musicians would all play our hearts out on each Brandenburg concerto, in turn, week after week, and then start all over again, for years. It always felt like a great rhythmical pulsation that took awhile to get going, and then we would all take a break and chat and snack, and then finish up the concerto for the evening. Every so often, Bill and I had our “moments in the sun” in the 6th Brandenburg, which features the violas as soloists, and what a joy it was as we drew out the contrapuntal rhythms! I looked forward to Wednesday nights like manna from Heaven, with lots of encouragement from Bill, who like me, was a recent convert to the viola from other instruments, and also “grokked” on Bach. 

I also frequently babysat for the Sydeman family, when son William was about 10 and little Annie was 3, and I adored taking care of both of them ( I am unsure when his daughter, Michelle, was born), as he and his elegant, beautiful wife, Hope, went out for the evening. Around this time, I also was invited to and frequently played chamber music on weekend afternoons with Bill and others in the Sydeman home on the third hill in Hastings. We played Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven trio sonatas and quartets. I also joined of a small group of local musicians, and music students in a studio orchestra at his home, whose purpose was to bring to life some of Bill's fabulous orchestral works-in-progress, which sometimes included his scores written with actual crayons of many colors - broad swaths of color bands dancing across the musical staves, in lieu of the usual black ink notes, and his easy-going, laissez-faire direction about how best to understand and interpret his musical notation and intentions. During this time, Bill was also using a Moog synthesizer in his compositions, and so we got to play around with him with that, too. This was all cutting-edge, seat-of-the-pants stuff, yet Bill always made it feel completely natural, and every one of us was thrilled to be there with him. He always expressed his gratitude for our being there, playing his music and bringing his brand new creations to life. We had so many laughs, so much joy, putting in our two cents for his grand, glorious and “far out” compositions that were nonetheless, very relatable, humorous, fun to perform, and wise!

It was during this time that I experienced for myself his humility in mentorship: in 1963, when I was 12, I entered a public music composition contest in Westchester. At the concert for the prize winner, held in the Tarrytown HS auditorium, I heard my name unexpectedly announced for an honorable mention. This was thrilling and one of the many things that encouraged me to excel in my musical scholarship on 4 instruments, but I didn't learn until 1966 or so that it was Bill who was one of the judges who had read my composition and awarded me an honorable mention! Little things like taking the time to encourage budding talent and young musicians actually are monumental, when you consider that this was something he did, each and every day, for each and every person that he met and came to regard as musical colleagues and friends. He was open to friendship with all, regardless of amateur or professional music status. Such inclusiveness was rare in those times. Another example of his spiritual generosity and musical leadership came when his “Duo for violin and Piano” had its NY premiere on 2/14/1967 at the Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. He was characteristically cool, calm and collected but humbly invited and shared the joy with a sizable group of folks he generously invited from Hastings - and we were all so excited for him, supporting and applauding him,​ giving us all a great thrill, in that fabulous moment, one of so many, in his lifetime.

After so many years of the joys of music making “in community”, along with his multivariate and prolific music composition, music commissions, teaching music and other professional endeavors, sometime in mid-1967 or 1968, (I am unsure of the actual date) Bill and family picked up their roots and moved to the Canary Islands. Many of us were very surprised and shocked at this move, and probably even a bit envious at another instance of Bill heeding the call of Atropos to cut things short, so we were extremely happy and greatly relieved when they all safely returned to us, months later. I last saw Bill sometime around 1970, out at SUNY Stony Brook, where Lukas Foss was conducting a visiting University orchestra, performing a concert including one of Bill's works. While I have not literally laid eyes upon Bill in person for probably close to 50 years, his influence remains a powerful and important force in my life. I felt so grateful to see the plethora of photos taken throughout his life that were posted on his memorial, enabling me to “catch up” a bit on the intervening 5 decades.

One of the posts I read today was a remark Bill made about how deeply moved he was by “The Foundation Stone” of Rudolph Steiner, which inspired him to compose his exquisite choral work, “The Foundation Stone Meditation”. I listened to this peace-giving musical gift, today, and thought this excerpt shared below from the 2nd verse of Steiner’s “The Foundation Stone” speaks to the essence of Bill's life work: his ability to translate for himself, and for us, the essential rhythms of life and time, into the precious, tender, and deeply meaningful golden nectar ...the Music of the Spheres! He retained a playful, incorruptible innocence of Spirit and intent, precisely because of his proximity to these essential truths, and became our Great and Beloved Shaman, tapping out his rhythms, composing and chanting his “songs”, telling us all the great archetypal tales in so many instrumental voices, in the circles of heart, hearth, home, concert hall, and conservatories, all around the world!
With the deftness of nearly a century of practice, Bill has once again tapped into Atropos. We are all bereft, numb, and astonished at his impeccable timing....in the blink of an eye, Bill is now “tripping the Light Fantastic” with Terpsichore, Muse of dancing and choral song!!

I salute you, Oh Sage....May you Rest In Peace, Perpetually, William Jay Sydeman!

“Human Soul!                                                              You live within the beat of heart and lung.                                      Which leads you through the rhythms of time                                      Into the feeling of your own soul-being:                                          Practice spirit-sensing.                                                        In balance of the soul,                                                       Where the surging deeds                                                      Of World-evolving                                                          Unite                                                                     Your own “I”                                                               With the “I” of the World;                                                      And you will truly feel in human soul's creating                                    For the Christ-will encircling us holds sway                                        In world rhythms, bestowing grace upon souls                                     Let from the east be enkindled                                                   What through the west takes on form, speaking:                                    “In Christus Morimur” -                                                         In Christ, Death becomes life. “
Posted by Noah Seixas on May 31, 2021
I knew Jay as Bill while growing up in Hastings on Hudson. He was my mother's friend and musical mainstay, helping her organize a biweekly chamber music group in our living room. Despite his professional musical interests and abilities he was quite willing to help this group of amateurs slog through Brandenburg Concertos, etc., and keep the music alive while the players devolved into confusion and ultimately, laughter. Bill helped make all of it possible. 
Posted by Martin Bresnick on May 30, 2021
William Sydeman (I knew him as William) was my first major composition teacher in 1963-64. I remember him very fondly. He was supportive, knowledgable, and not the least doctrinaire. He said - here are some pieces to listen to (Stravinsky, Bartok, Hindemith, Berg, Carter), you don't have to like them, but you should know them. Excellent advice for a 17 year old! May he rest in peace!
Posted by Chris Tay on May 30, 2021
I never had the pleasure of meeting Jay, but am certainly enjoying his music as I write this. Thank you Jay.
Posted by Howard Hersh on May 30, 2021
Jay and I shared so many enjoyable and brotherly collaborations. It was always a joy and adventure to work with him, and I've never met a composer to whom writing music came so naturally. Example (and I paraphrase Jay's words here): "I was in New York, waiting to see my publisher, and someone came out and casually mentioned that they needed more music for mallet instruments. So, while I sat there, I wrote them a piece..." That solo became part of the massive catalogue he has left us, one that will be mined for decades to come. He truly was a master, navigating his way through many different idioms with grace and a golden ear, and a love for music that remained undimmed throughout his long and fruitful career. Travel well, my brother in music, we were blessed to share this journey with you.
Posted by Ann Sydeman on May 30, 2021
From Judith Greenleaf

It is with mixed feelings that I read about Jay’s passing. The first was great sorrow and regret. Jay was a very dear and close friend. For years we swam together at 'The Woods’ pool, walked on the beach, and I loved making dinner for him; a change from his throwing whatever into his pressure cooker.
We could talk freely about everything and I could tell Jay things I did not tell to anyone else. The regret is that because of Jay’s hearing difficulties, we could no longer talk on the phone, because of the pandemic, we could no longer visit, and I didn’t have the technical skill to use facebook, so we fell out of communication. I missed his wisdom and humor.

The other element of feeling was happiness for him that he passed peacefully in his own bed. I want the same for myself. I also want to say that although I only met Jeanne a few times and very briefly, I feel very grateful to her for her support and devotion to Jay. I also feel grateful for the love and support he shared with his family. Yes, I will miss him forever and I am so grateful to have had him in my life for all the years we shared.

Judith Greenleaf

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Recent Tributes
Posted by Alexandrea Jennings on June 15, 2021
Lucky are those of us privy to sincere beauty. I am grateful and will sorely miss the quirky slyness and gorgeous music Jay brought into my life for the last 8 years I’ve worked at The Woods where he lived. Every Thursday at 4pm was my favorite time of the week to hear him play with the Jazz group in the Clubhouse while I worked in the office. However, the rare times he would come in to practice and play his own music when nobody else was around were ABSOLUTELY AWESOME, and I will keep those fond memories forever. Thank you Jay.
Posted by Ann Sydeman on June 10, 2021
I knew Jay during his years in Nevada County, via the extended Waldorf community.

I remember Kasha! I had a sweet little (85 lbs., small for a rottie) Rottweiler named Drew and the four of us took many walks together in the nineties and early 2000’s.

I had a longtime friend, Shira Lee, who lived in Mendocino. I visited her in 2015 and Jay and I got together for breakfast and a walk on the cliffs. He was wearing his ear flaps, the clear ones. I always found his quirkiness delightful, perhaps partly because, despite a robust ego, he really didn’t care what others thought of him. There was a certain  freedom in that. I loved his bright mind and sense of humor.

I have this one photo of he and I around 1999, I think, on my porch in Grass Valley. For the record, we were buddies, not lovers, as much as he flirted with me—he was a man who loved women, after all. I am thankful to have counted him as a friend.

I loved Jay and deeply appreciate your letting me know he’s off on his next big adventure!

- Naima Shea
Posted by Wendy Surber on June 7, 2021
I didn't know Jay well, but had the occasion to spend time with him on several occasions. I always found him to be very engaging and interesting. I am truly enjoying his music as I review all of the amazing pictures on this site. He lived a long and full life and will be missed by family and friends. I am sorry for your loss.
his Life

Obituary

William Jay Sydeman             5/8/1928 – 5/27/2021

William Jay Sydeman, American composer, 93, died in his sleep on May 27, 2021. Jay lived at The Woods, a private community near Mendocino, California. He taught composition at the Mannes School of Music conservatory in New York from 1960 to 1970. The New York Times once wrote, “The season has begun: there is a premier by William Sydeman…” and called him the most played composer of his generation. Sydeman was selected by Erich Leinsdorf to write “In Memoriam John F. Kennedy”, performed by the Boston Symphony in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. He was awarded the Boston Symphony’s Award of Merit and scholarships to Tanglewood.

Sydeman wrote contemporary music, pushing the envelope of the avant garde. He was not a devotee of any single school of music but used the tonal and harmonic resources opened up by Schoenberg, Bartok, Stravinsky, and one of his teachers, Roger Sessions, with freedom and individuality. As one of the composers selected for a commission for the dedication of Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center, his piece, Malediction, a “black comedy” spoof on the excommunication curse from “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman,” a satiric 18th century comic novel by Laurence Sterne, enjoying a revival at the time, nearly caused a riot. Sydeman said, “I know how Stravinsky felt at the premiere of “The Rite of Spring.”

In 1981 Sydeman taught at Steiner College in Fair Oaks, California, where he wrote much of his choral music. There he set to music Rudolf Steiner’s Calendars of the Soul. Sydeman lived in Nevada City, California, from 1988 to 2007, and there he helped organize a composers group, the Nevada County Composers Cooperative. They started a mentoring program for young composers, which is still active today.

In Mendocino Jay played piano for a weekly lunch program at the Mendocino Presbyterian Church and gave performances and talks at the Mendocino Art Center.  He played with a jazz group and played classical music with friends at the Woods. He had a radio program on local station KZYX called “The Mind of the Composer” until he retired in 2018.

Jay is published by Edition Peters, E. C. Schirmer, Associated Music, Subito Music and others. Many of his works are available on International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP). Jay always believed the best memorial to him would be to listen to his music.

Jay is survived by his daughters, Ann Sydeman (Henry Moreton), Michelle Sydeman, son William Sydeman (Catherine Madonia), granddaughters, Emily and Julia Moreton and Claire and Marie Sydeman, and close friend and caregiver, Jeanne Duncan.

(Courtesy of Jeanne Duncan)

Life Chronology

Early Life

1928 Jay William Sydeman born in New York City, USA, May 8 to Therese Nathan and Joseph Sydeman. Had two older siblings, Joan and Sumner.

1932 or 33 Got rheumatic (Scarlett) fever. Father legally changed his name to William Jay Sydeman to deceive the Angel of Death; an old Jewish superstition.

1935 Father died at age 43, heart attack after playing tennis ; family moved from suburbs to NYC to live with maternal grandparents in apartments above Beresford Hotel overlooking Central Park.

1940 Started piano lessons because hernia operation prevented going to summer camp with brother, Sumner. Learned “Donkey Serenade”; Taught to add chords to melody; no classical instruction

1942-44  Attended Blair Academy high school in Blairstown, New Jersey

1944  Mother arranged interview with social friend, Richard Rodgers [Ann: as in Richard Rodgers of Rodger and Hammerstein]; played improv piano for him; Rodgers discouraged him re difficulties of a music career, “Music is a hard business.”

1944-45  Duke University, wrote college musical “Calcutta” with cousin. Did little schoolwork and was encouraged to attend college elsewhere.

1945 Attended a music school Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music, Indianapolis, on advice of Duke U. to go to music school. Was attracted to it by their neon sign (knew nothing about conservatories), 

1946-1950  Auditioned by playing piano for Mannes (sr.), admitted provisionally to study music theory at Mannes School of Music in NY. Had no knowledge of the classical repertory; didn’t know how to read music. Stopped playing jazz piano and began to learn classical, bought and studied scores, attended concerts daily, favored new music.

1949 At Mannes, arranged to study composition with Roger Sessions at Princeton, rather than Bohuslav Martinu, Mannes teacher of composition at the time.

1950 Married Hope, piano student at Mannes; fell in love hearing her play Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz; got married because of Korean War draft. He didn't want someone else to snatch her up.

1950-53 Drafted to Korean War; sent to Germany, joined by Hope who studied piano there. Stationed in Garmisch Partenkirchen, Bavaria, a ski resort where they sent soldiers to recover. Jay was a clerk but wasn't much good at it so his secretary did all his work.  With army buddy Burt Bacharach, played piano at nightclub almost nightly, a place where soldiers met. Lived off-base in a room in a psychiatrist's house. The previous tenant was actor Peter Lorre.

1955 Graduated from Mannes College of Music with a BS in Music, major in Composition, in the first graduating class, with Hope and three others

1956-57  Scholarships to Tanglewood, met two young composers (Robert Lombardo  and Tom Putshe), liked their work, and learned both studied with Arnold Franchetti at Hartt School of Music, Hartford, Connecticut.

1958 Enrolled in graduate school at Hartt College to study with Arnold Franchetti, son of Baron Alberto Franchetti a well- known composer. Arnold Franchetti had studied with his father and also with composer Richard Strauss.

1957 First child, William Jay Sydeman, is born in Hartford, Connecticut

1958 Received Masters of Music degree  from Hartt College

1959 First daughter is born, Elizabeth Dorsey (aka Michelle), in Glastonbury, CT

1960s Professional Career

~1960 Bought a home, 234 Villard Ave, in Hastings-on-the-Hudson; wrote music in a room over the garage. Began to establish career as New York composer, primarily chamber music.
[Bill: there was a study room over the garage which was his “studio” , where he went to write music. We were NOT allowed in his studio.  We had the cat Pumpkin there, which was a huge family deal.]

1960-70 Taught composition at Mannes

1960s Played music weekly with friend Judy Seixas (flute) and a large group of amateur musicians, played Brandenberg Concerti. Judy and Frank Seixas were good friends

1960 Premier of Concerto di Camera No. 1 by Music in Our Time (Max Pollikoff), first great NY Times review.

1963 Second daughter is born, Ann Woodward, in NYC. 
[Bill: There was a small  area at the foot of the stairs that eventually was a nursery for Ann.]

1963  Boston Symphony premier of Study No. 2 for Orchestra (11/22/63)

1964 Boston Symphony Merit Award for “a significant contribution to the orchestral repertoire”

1966  Boston Symphony premier of In Memoriam John F. Kennedy, Erich Leinsdorf, conductor, E. G. Marshall, Narrator. (11/4/66)

1967 Study No. 3 for Orchestra for Boston Symphony Orchestra

1969 Malediction premiered for the opening of Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center (9/11/69). The audience hated it.
[Ann: Jay described the Malediction as a big F-you to the NY music scene. But he also thought the curse was very funny and has played it for me or read it to me many times. He was so embarrassed by the negative audience reaction, he felt like he had to leave NY. ]

1969 Older brother Sumner died, age 43 , same as their father, of a heart attack, same as their father. (September 1969)
[Bill: His father's and brother's deaths were highly significant events. They led to a lot of Jay's health-kick habits including yoga…he feared dying of a heart attack for long time.]

1969  Took family to live on the Canary Islands to mend relationship with Hope. Instead marriage fell apart; family returned after two months ; divorced.

[Bill: Excuse my French, but this was a compete f*&*ing disaster.  It was a horrible time and horrible trip, aside from eating burgers at an open air restaurant near our apartment. They did nothing but fight.]

[Ann: Now that I see his brother's death, divorce from his wife, and the malediction all coincided, I see why that was a turning point in his life.]

1970 Lived in an apartment in Yonkers, NY. Started producing his own music using a synthesizer. Visited with kids on Sundays. Terrible back pain caused him to start a yoga practice. 

1970s - 1980s Spiritual Awakening

Took a hiatus from composing for the next five years decade.

1971 Hope and family moved to Los Angeles for Hope to attend graduate school. Followed them 6-8 months later. Worked at CEDU, a youth drug rehab center in the San Bernardino Mountains because a friend in NY knew someone there.

1971-72 CEDU’s leader’s wife introduced teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (lecture in LA); Went to Emerson College in England to study Steiner.

1973-74  Returned to LA area, lived in beach apartment with Zade; met Chamba who became a life-long friend

1974-75  Moved to Dungeness Washington (near Sequim) and bought a house with friends from CEDU, Ira and Sue Stollak.  (Other tenants [owners?] Allen and Susan, Maharaji followers, installed an incredible garden in the back yard, which inspired Ann’s years later.  [Bill: House in Dungeness needed a lot of work.  Dad bought the house.  Ira and Michael (Allen?) did the remodel.  I went there in summer 1975 after graduating from high school and helped with banging nails…  It was a really neat house. We bought a Volvo station wagon together (I put in $200, he put in $300). ]

Chamba suggested living on land in Hawaii bought from Sumner; Decided to join Chamba in Hawaii and find the land on the big island.
[Bill] Land from Sumner was on Hilo side.  Maybe they lived there for a while but it was nothing but lava rock. 

1975-1980 Lived on big island of Hawaii, first in a car and on the beach with Chamba, then built a house on land in coffee region of Kona mountains.  It was completely overgrown with guava and other invasive trees.  Also lived on land Chamba bought near Kealekekua, in “shacks”.  Chamba wanted to farm --  Jay was financier. 
[Bill] I lived there in a tent for 6+ months from winter-spring 1976. Went there for Christmas '75 and didn’t go back for college.  That was a fun time.  We ate a lot of avocados, and cleared land.
[Bill: There were multiple land/house purchase. One very normal house/land was purchased in Milolii.  I think this is where he met Jeanie’s parents.  He also had a piece of land in the o’hia forest in southern Kona above Milolii where he built a “house”… if you could call it that.  It was cool though.]

Met violinist Jeannie Doe, whose parents were neighbors. Resumed composing -- 23 duos for violins for them to play together. "I stopped for five years, met a violinist in Hawaii and started writing again with a new lyrical impulse.” Jeannie left him after a hurtful comment and moved to the buddhist temple. Jay followed her there and helped with its restoration, clearing land with a scythe. The temple, Nechung Dorje Drayang Ling, is the only branch of Tibetan Nechung in the west and remains active today. 
 [Ann: Jeannie parent's had said that if Jay met her, he would fall in love with her, which he did.] 

1981-84  Invited to teach music at Steiner College in Fair Oaks. California. Wrote choral music for students, set Steiner’s 52 weekly Calendar of the Soul meditations to music. Wrote St. John’s Gospel, Four Psalms,  Foundation Stone. Wrote Study No. 4 for Orchestra for Carter Nice director of Sacramento Symphony.

Met Christina Chalmers, also a significant life-long friend. Godfather to her daughter Sierra.

1984  Moved to Derby St in Berkeley and also lived off Golf Links Rd in Oakland
[Bill: Loved Ethiopian food from the Blue Nile and particularly Yi Doro Tibs.  We visited him a lot there, as I recall.]

198? Lived in Oakland Hills with Karyn and her son. Had tennis court cantilevered over the edge of the hill and played with kids Ann and Bill.

Settling Down

1984-2006  Moved to Nevada City; purchased land and built an odd collection of houses and cabins, some with the help of Chamba, who lived nearby. Had visions of a cooperative living situation, which never came to fruition. Significant relationships with Valerie and Anya. Dog Kasha.

Organized composers group, conducted youth chorus, started young composers group with other composers, wrote music for annual Bach Festival in Sacramento, participated In “Wet Ink”, new compositions for annual Music in the Mountains festival. Wrote choral piece, Yuba River. PBS commission to write music for Halley’s Comet Retrospective planned for 1986 when the comet was to make its once in 86 years appearance. 

2006-   Moved to Mendocino at Jeannie Doe’s invitation, needing better air quality. Ozone inversion caused him breathing problems in Nevada City. Christina Chalmers was also living there or joined them soon after.  Lived briefly in a trailer on Jeannie's Mendocino property. Eventually bought a house in The Woods. Eventually, Jeannie Doe followed him to The Woods and resided nearby.

Hosted a radio program, The Mind of the Composer, on KZYX, a local station with PBS programming. Began writing, editing and recording music with computer orchestra for radio program. Met Rick Shinozaki, violinist with the Del Sol Quartet, who became publisher and editor of music not with other publishers. Played music for the free luncheons at the Presbyterian Church and accompanied the Sunday services on occasion. Performed weekly jazz session with  friends at The Woods. 

2010 Met writer, Jeanne Duncan, who began interviews for book, Taming the Muse, the Art, Craft, and Magic of a Master Composer and was his devoted friend and caregiver for the remainder of his life.

2018 Celebrated 90th birthday with a house concert at Ann's Woodside home. MC'ed by Jay; Music performed by Rick Shinozaki.

Rick started the process of uploading all Jay's unpublished sheet music to IMSLP (International Music Score Library Project) a public domain site for music.
[Ann: This delighted Jay and solved his heartache of not having his music available to the world.]

Composed over 2000 pieces; many of which are not yet in the public domain.

2021 Died peacefully in his bed at The Woods, Mendocino. (May 27)

(Adapted from a chronology written by Jeanne Duncan, with input from Bill Sydeman, Ann Sydeman, and Hope Millholland)

Musical Career Highlights

Major Awards
  • National Institute of Arts and Letters
  • Boston Symphony Merit Award 1964
  • Koussevitsky Foundation (Library of Congress)
  • Sigma Alpha Iota American Music Series
  • Winner - KPFK Competition

Major Commissions
  • Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
  • Boston Symphony Orchestra, In Memorium John F. Kennedy, premiered Nov 4, 1966
  • Tanglewood Music Center
  • Sacramento Symphony Orchestra
  • National Public Television, Music for Comet Halley
  • Contemporary Chamber Ensemble
  • Music in Our Time Series
  • Dartmouth Congregation of the Arts

Recent stories

Jay's Gifts

Shared by Cynthia Gair on June 1, 2021
I don’t think Jay knew the importance of the gifts he gave me over the last few years. I was a fledgling bass player and a newly-retired person who’d only started playing music in mid-life. I wasn’t classically trained. He was a lifelong musician, a musically sophisticated composer with far-reaching talents and knowledge. He was farther along than me in both music and in a life he’d shaped on his own terms.

In ~2014 Mary Ellen and John Mynatt bravely suggested I try playing bass with their trio, dubbed by Jay “The Forgettables”. Once a week, in The Woods’ Clubhouse, the trio played American Standards (pop and jazz songs from the 1020s through 1950s) for whoever showed up to listen. I became a regular; the trio became a quartette. Later, Jay invited me to accompany him at another weekly session, a gracious lunch program hosted by the Mendocino Presbyterian Church. Our piano-bass combo worked. Our love of the old standards drew us together. From then on, that’s where you’d find us on Tuesdays – along with the open-hearted church hosts, their street-wise wallet-poor guests, as well as Jeanne Duncan, Jay’s close friend who often came with him. This sweet mix of very diverse people, good food, comraderie, and music was a highlight of the week.

Somehow Jay maintained high musical and interpersonal standards while keeping his wide-ranging curiosity and acceptance. He mentored me with – I suspect – little realization that he was a mentor. He welcomed me into his musical life, making suggestions now and then, chuckling at my (and his own) mistakes, opening up new musical opportunities for me without pressure or judgment. Jay’s whimsical piano improvisations could made me laugh out loud. He gently pushed me to explore new ground. Early on, in a Tuesday session, he asked me if I’d like to take a solo, responding to my “but I don’t know how!” with calm assurance “just play a few notes…try it, you’ll see…” Soon we had a process established: he’d look over at me, eyebrows arched, dropping his playing to allow room for a bass riff. I learned to watch his eyebrows. Playing music together was pure joy.

We started taking walks after Tuesday sessions: down the steep bluff steps behind the church, along Big River Beach. We talked or just walked and absorbed the ocean air and sounds. We puzzled out questions of life, death, and the meaning of it all. Occasionally we ranted to each other about the rightward slide of US politics.

Jay’s unassuming generosity and kindness, his intellectual honesty, his view of himself and others as equals, his quiet affection, his musical modeling and guidance – these are gifts from him that will live on with me. I’m still amazed at my good fortune to have traveled beside him down a small part of his path. I’m so glad that he could leave as he wanted to, in his own home. But oh, how I’ll miss him.

Thank you, dear Jay.