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Back Stage – Sydeman suffers burns

What could have become a tragedy regarding Jay Sydeman fortunately had a happy ending ” he survived and should soon walk again without pain.

On Aug. 21, the renowned avant-garde composer was engulfed by an intense fire in his Nevada City kitchen. Although he put out the fire within minutes, Sydeman suffered second-degree burns to his right leg.

One of the most published American composers, Sydeman has at least 600 works in all media, including 10 orchestral pieces, 400 chamber music pieces in varied instrumental combos, 60 choral pieces, art songs and sonatas. Living in Nevada City since 1988, Sydeman formed Twin Cities Chamber Players and the Auburn Youth Symphony. With Howard Hersh and Terry Riley, Sydeman co-founded the Nevada County Composers Coalition (now called the cooperative).



When fellow Nevada County Composers Cooperative board member Mark Vance saw that Sydeman could not walk or drive for the next few weeks because of nerve damage and extreme pain, Vance insisted that Sydeman stay with him during the recuperation period.

Sydeman’s injuries haven’t yet slowed him down. Always on the go, whether playing tennis, hiking or composing, Sydeman, 75, is now preparing for his archival series discussions sponsored by the cooperative, to be held the first Tuesday of every month starting October at Studio 131. Sydeman has also used this downtime to discuss new ideas for the cooperative with Vance.




Throughout this ordeal, Sydeman has kept his immeasurable wit.

Within days of being injured, he joked that the nurses worried more about his sanity (Sydeman put out the fire by stomping on the growing flames with his bare feet) than his badly damaged leg and singed face.

“I’m looking forward to getting back into whatever saddle is appropriate,” he joked Sunday. With his energy, that will probably be within days.

In the meantime, Sydeman’s friends can reach him at 478-0776.


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