Langley, composer and art professor at Sonoma State University, dies at 70

Ukiah native, Cordes Jeff Langley – longtime pianist, composer, educator and arts administrator at Sonoma State University and one of the visionaries at SSU’s Green Music Center – died Nov. 10 in Asheville , in North Carolina, with cancer. He was 70 years old.

Langley, a soft, self-effacing voice, leaves behind a wide range of musical works for voice and theater and a populist view of education that endures in the music department at SSU.

“Aim high, reach wide and educate everyone… that was one of those things Jeff came up with, and the music department embraced it,” said Andy Collingsworth, SSU Music Department chair. “This tagline, to me, expresses who Jeff was as a person.”

By the time he retired from SSU in 2014, Langley had assumed several roles as a music teacher, artistic director of the Center for Performing Arts, and artistic director of the Green Music Center. He worked with consultant Robert Cole, who put UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall on the map, to plan the inaugural 2012 opening season of Weill Hall at the Green Music Center as well as the 2013-14 season.

Working with longtime lyricist Amanda McTigue of Petaluma, Langley composed all the music for the Sunrise Choral Concert during the venue’s opening weekend in September 2012. He dedicated a song to telecommunications entrepreneur Donald Green and his wife, Maureen, who started the fundraiser. effort for the hall in 1996-97 with a donation of $ 10 million to SSU. Maureen Green passed away in 2020 and Don Green passed away in 2021.

McTigue, who met Langley in New York in 1977 while studying music composition at Juilliard School, said she knew right away that they would become creative partners.

“There was immediate recognition of the connection,” she said. “He was a gifted composer for the theater, and he was particularly good at putting the words together. … He arrived with flair, and he was also beautifully trained in theater, jazz, opera and classical music.

Born in Ukiah in 1951, Langley was the second eldest in a family of four with deep roots in the Ukiah Valley. His father, Cordes Langley, ran a lumber wholesale business and his mother, Marie Barr Langley, supported the family business and was active in social causes.

At the age of 7, Langley was studying piano and composition with Siegfried Schultze, a concert pianist who fled Nazi Germany during World War II and emigrated to the United States. While living in Ukiah, Langley began a long-term artistic collaboration with Holly Near, a singer / activist who grew up in Potter Valley.

“He has these amazing teachers, supported by some really interesting relatives and friends like Holly Near,” McTigue said. “It gets him out of there.”

Langley studied music at UC Berkeley from 1969 to 1972 while protesting the Vietnam War. From 1972 to 1976, he toured the United States and Europe with Near while composing songs and recording three albums.

In 1973, Langley and Near performed at military bases around the Pacific Rim as well as in 60 US cities in partnership with Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden. In 1975, he joined the couple to visit North and South Vietnam as an American cultural delegate.

In 1976 he moved to New York to graduate from Juilliard, writing works for orchestra, piano, and choir as well as an opera, “The Autumn People,” with McTigue. He joined Juilliard’s teaching faculty in 1980.

A follower of American music, Langley has also written extensively for musical theater and cabaret stages, collaborating with folk singers such as Ronnie Gilbert and Pete Seeger as well as Broadway and classical singers.

From 1990 to 1994, he served as director of entertainment for Knott’s Berry Farm, bringing a taste of Broadway, off-Broadway and even avant-garde theater to 20,000 spectators a day at the park in theme. McTigue was his writing partner there. One of their first projects was “Peril on the Prairie,” an original musical about an underground prairie dog community that was a vehicle for highlighting environmental and social issues.

In 1997, he joined the faculty of Sonoma State University as professor of music and director of the Center for the Performing Arts. In 1999, he presented his original musical, “Peril on the Prairie,” at SSU’s Person Theater.

While he enjoyed being on stage and playing the piano, Langley was modest and unassuming, according to those who knew him. He has been a mentor for students and staff at SSU.

“He was the first to give credit to everyone and none to himself,” Collingsworth said. “He didn’t look for the limelight. It was all about service.

“He was a musician of musician, so he didn’t cover the standards,” McTigue said. “It was excellence, but excellence for everyone and in every form and genre of music and at every stage (of their development).”

Green Music Center, a world-class, 1400-seat concert hall, involved a 15-year fundraising process, through which Langley kept the project on track by hosting summer festivals on campus. and bringing major donors to Tanglewood in western Massachusetts to experience the architecture of the inspirational center, the Seiji Ozawa Hall.

After retiring, Langley moved to Asheville, North Carolina, and put the finishing touches on a song cycle, “So Much Heaven”. More recently he was working on another cycle of songs based on works by well-known black poets.

“He loved living in Asheville,” said his partner, 45, Robert Kertzner of Asheville, North Carolina. “The mountains here reminded him a bit of Ukiah, and he felt at home here. … He was so happy to have the opportunity to return to composing full time.

Besides Kertzner, Langley is survived by sisters Catherine Langley Elawadly of Ukiah and Edith Eleanor Hunt of Asheville, North Carolina; Brother Edgar James Langley of Los Angeles; three nephews and a niece. He will be buried in a family lot at Ukiah cemetery. A celebration of his life will take place in Northern California this summer.

Editor-in-Chief Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or [email protected] On Twitter @ dianepete56

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