Oregon Symphony Conductor Bio
Laureate Associate Conductor
Norman Leyden was given the lifetime title of laureate associate conductor by the Oregon Symphony following his retirement in 2004 after 34 seasons as music director of the orchestra’s Pops series and 29 years as its associate conductor.
In 1970, Norman Leyden initiated the Oregon Symphony’s Pop series, one of the most successful programs of its kind in the nation. He also founded the popular family- oriented Symphony Sunday programs, which featured Oregon Symphony players and Northwest artists as soloists. He also served as the music director of the Seattle Symphony Pops for 18 years.
Throughout his career, Leyden was in demand as a guest conductor throughout the country. He conducted nearly 40 leading American symphonies including the Boston Pops, Minnesota Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, San Diego Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Syracuse Symphony, National Symphony and the Utah Symphony. His European guest engagements included performances in Norway, Holland and Austria.
In over 60 years as a professional musician, Norman Leyden conducted, arranged, composed and played music of every kind in both the classical and popular fields. A graduate of Yale University in 1938, he later earned master’s and doctoral degrees at Columbia University where he also taught for several years.
His first professional work was as bass clarinetist with the New Haven Symphony during his college days. After graduation he spent five years in military service, during which time he conducted the Army Air Force show “Winged Victory” and served as arranger with Major Glenn Miller’s famous Air Force Band in England and France. When the Glenn Miller Orchestra was reorganized in 1946 under Tex Beneke, Leyden became chief arranger for the group until 1949, when he left to enter the freelance arranging field in New York. Subsequently, as a staff conductor for RCA Victor, he composed and arranged music for many children’s albums including Walt Disney’s Cin- derella, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Alice in Wonderland. In the popular music field, he conducted and arranged for many well-known artists including Mitch Miller, Gordon MacRae, Ezio Pinza, Frank Sinatra, Don Cornell, Tony Bennett and Sarah Vaughan. From 1956-1959 he was musical director for Arthur Godfrey.
In 1970, after completing work on his doctorate (his dissertation was a study of the famous conductor Arturo Toscanini), Leyden began his long-standing tenure with the Oregon Symphony. Throughout the years Leyden continued to work as an arranger. In fact, Leyden’s library currently holds over 1,100 symphonic arrangements, plus more than 250 big band arrangements and many choral arrangements of music from Broadway shows. Leyden’s work as an arranger was complemented by the assistance of his wife, Alice, who served as a copyist and librarian, and their daughter, Connie, who is also a copyist.
Regarded as one of the foremost authorities on big band music of the swing era, Leyden frequently presented authentically styled programs and advised other orchestras in the U.S. and abroad on the big band sound. In 1993
Leyden received Oregon’s Governor’s Arts Award, which recognizes leadership and excellence in the arts.