I just got back from a three-day stint of performing Christmas music in Sacramento, with the Choral Society Orchestra.

It’s the first time in eleven years that I’ve played this kind of music. It’s put me in the appropriate holiday spirit.

It was FUN, although challenging and demanding work. No small task, pulling together a long program in only two rehearsals.

Even if I hadn’t gone on the road with “Phantom” for a decade, I would have enjoyed playing this Christmas music. But I do appreciate it more now, after having played the same show over and over again.

This is the third gig that I’ve played with my former colleagues in Sacramento since October.

It is wonderful to be back here, playing horn in these little orchestras, but I continue to experience a strange feeling of displacement — as though I am Rip Van Winkle waking up from a ten-year nap. It’s as though my long time on the road was just a dream.

Almost everyone else from the “old days” is still here, many of them with grayer hair or less hair.

They’ve stayed in the area for all these years following the 1996 bankruptcy of the Sacramento Symphony. Meanwhile, I toured the US and Canada, met a wonderful partner who made it possible for us to live in an Airstream travel trailer on the road, had all sorts of new experiences, saw the country in all its variety as well as its sameness.

In short, I was the one to leave and broaden my horizons while everyone else has stayed here.

But yet

They seem genuinely happy to be here, even with greatly reduced work after the symphony disappeared. There are a number of part-time orchestras in the city presenting a handful of performances each. Some musicians also play the traveling shows (which I did for eight years, which led to the opportunity to tour with Phantom. Another story!)

This work is supplemented by freelancing in what everyone calls the “Freeway Philharmonic”, all the orchestras in California’s Central Valley and in the SF Bay area.

They also supplement their performance income with teaching music lessons, and some have non-music jobs.

Many of my contemporaries in their forties and fifties have children who are now grown up and have left the nest. That’s when I really feel old, listening to them talking about their kids who have become adults — I remember these colleagues before they had children.

Although I wouldn’t want to live in Sacramento — a lot of it is too frantic and suburban and crime-ridden and noisy and ugly-commercial — I DO appreciate the opportunity to play in these orchestras once in a while. It is gratifying to connect with colleagues with whom I played music for so many years.

It’s like coming home to a family. I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me recently, “Welcome Home!” That feels really good.

I am very fortunate that my family still lives in Sacramento, so I stay in the new addition that was built for my parents in their last years whenever I’ve got work down there. It’s always great to hang out with my brother and sister-in-law, and their very talented son (high school senior) who is already becoming a professional jazz bass player.

I also enjoy my musician connections in San Jose, where I was a member of the local orchestra for several years before going on the road. This is another “family” of musicians with whom who I enjoy playing and socializing.

I will be seeing them tomorrow night for the single rehearsal of the “Nutcracker”, followed by a performance on the 15th, and then four more from the 21st through the 23rd of December.

San Jose is a four-hour drive from my home In The Woods. Luckily I have a place to stay in the SF Bay area, so I won’t have to drive all the way home after tomorrow night’s rehearsal.

My dear violinist friend RA lives with her father in Lafayette, only an hour’s drive north from San Jose. So I will sleep there and then come back to The Woods on Wednesday.

Next Saturday will be more of a challenge. The Nutcracker performance is in the early afternoon, so I will drive down from The Woods in the early morning, play the show and then drive the four hours back up the hill. I should be home by about 7 p.m. after that VERY long day.

Then the following week, James and I will drive down together and stay in a hotel (hopefully in downtown San Jose, close to the Performing Arts Center) since I’ve got four Nutcracker performances in a three-day period. We need to find a place which accommodates cats, since we wouldn’t want to leave Rupert behind for that long in the cold house.

We hope to visit a well-known dealer of recorders, who has his shop in nearby Sunnyvale; we’ve always wanted to check that out. We would also like to tour the famous Winchester House.

Despite all the driving, I am thankful to have some gainful horn employment this month. I didn’t do a single gig in November.

Patience, my dear boy! I’ve been gone from the orchestral scene for ten years and it will take some time to build up more work.

Ideally, I would like to be able to do gigs about twice a month. This will give me time to enjoy my time In the Woods and pursue my other musical projects.