Deceased March 29, 2018
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Michael Sahl, prodigy, musician, composer, brilliantly talented member of our class, died March 29, peacefully at home after a long period of poor health. A lifelong resident of New York’s Lower East Side, Mike was the only child of a nonobservant Jewish family, whose religion was philosophy, the arts and progressive politics.
Mike was twice married, twice divorced, with a son, Benjamin, from the first marriage; a daughter, Isadora, from the second; and a stepdaughter, Jenni. He also leaves four grandchildren, two step-grandchildren and his companion of many years, Margaret Yard.
Composing was the center of Mike’s life. After Amherst he studied at Princeton, UCLA and, as a Fulbright Scholar, in Italy. He was a staunch anti-modernist, among the vanguard of neo-romanticist classical composers. His works include concert music and musical theater works with several collaborators. Forty-seven of Mike’s scores and 43 audio files are conserved at the University of Buffalo library. His film credits include Scent of a Woman, True Lies, Waiting for the Moon and Adam Clayton Powell (a documentary). A number of recordings of his music are available online. Early in his career, he was Judy Collins’ music director for several years.
Mike and I were members of the Lord Jeff Club, where we were junior year roommates along with Ralph Allen ’55 and Ned Phelps ’55. I remember Mike as a torrent of music and leftist political opinion. In addition to piano, he was an accomplished banjo player and guitarist. His repertoire included bluegrass, blues, Appalachian ballads and labor songs. Mike Robbins ’55 remembers his giving a harpsichord sound to our bar piano by inserting thumbtacks in the hammers. He coached us into winning the inter-fraternity sing one year, singing “Simple Gifts.” He added a lot to our lives. We will miss him greatly.
John Hammond ’55, with much help from Ben Sahl, Michael’s son