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I just got back on Wednesday from playing Youth concerts with Symphony Silicon Valley, an excellent orchestra based in San Jose, CA. It’s considered to be one of the best orchestras in the San Francisco Bay area, after the San Francisco Symphony, Ballet and Opera ensembles.

Here’s a link about the orchestra: SYMPHONY SILICON VALLEY

The first rehearsal was last Sunday night. I left early that morning for Lafayette, where I stay with my dear violinist friend R.A. whenever I play in the San Jose orchestra. It’s about an hour’s commute each way. She plays there on a regular basis, so we often ride together.

I first met R.A. when she joined the Sacramento Symphony in 1984, and we’ve been “best friends” ever since.

She was carpooling with a couple of other musicians to the concert that afternoon; it was the orchestra’s final performance of that “set” which had begun with rehearsals earlier in the week. I decided to ride down with her and catch the concert. Our one rehearsal for the Youth concert program would take place a few hours later.

The Operations Manager, who’s also a horn-playing colleague, reserved me an excellent seat in the top balcony. Here’s a link with the history and pictures of the wonderful California Theater in downtown San Jose, where the Symphony Silicon Valley performs:


This is an almost-perfect concert space for the orchestra; intimate, beautifully decorated and with decent acoustics. Its only minor drawback are some “dead spots” for a few musicians onstage, which is the case with many concert venues. But overall the players like this performance space very much.

It certainly sounded great from the top balcony, often the best place to hear an orchestra; the sound has a chance to blend together.

Violinist/conductor Joseph Silverstein performed Vaughan-Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” and Mozart’s Violin Concerto #5 while conducting the orchestra at the same time. The second half consisted of Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” with Silverstein on the podium, sans violin.

You can read about him at the following link. Silverstein has some interesting perspectives about the state of classical music these days:


Symphony Silicon Valley does not have a regular conductor; they hire different ones for each concert set. The musicians generally like this arrangement, because they are exposed to many different conducting styles which keeps them on their toes. It is a very stimulating musical environment.

The musicians responded well to Silverstein and the orchestra sounded particularly glorious on the “Enigma Variations”, one of his favorite pieces to conduct.

I’m usually performing on stage, so this was a rare opportunity to hear my favorite orchestra from the concert hall audience. Listening to this music expertly and emotionally played by my old friends and colleagues makes me proud to work with this ensemble whenever I can.

Unfortunately this doesn’t happen often, as I am a substitute musician with the orchestra. I played with them in late September for their first set of the season, then again in December for a few Nutcracker performances, and most recently last week for these Youth concerts.

Staying with R.A. makes it possible for me to play in San Jose, which is nearly four hours’ drive from my home In The Woods. Otherwise it would be too much of a hassle.

Many musicians who play in the San Jose orchestra also perform in other orchestras scattered around the San Francisco Bay Area and throughout the Central Valley.

This freelance scene is nicknamed “The Freeway Philharmonic” because Northern California musicians need to fill their calendars playing with a lot of different small symphonies to make ends meet; none of these orchestras provide a full-time wage. So these freelance musicians drive hundreds of miles each week to various gigs.

During my most recent time in this freelance world, I heard people talking about a special documentary about the Freeway Philharmonic which is now showing in selected Bay Area theaters, and will be broadcast on KQED Channel 9 on this coming Sunday and Tuesday.

You can read about it here and even see a short trailer:


I know most of the musicians featured in this documentary, and have heard of the rest. In fact, I will be working with horn player Meredith Brown in the Symphony Silicon Valley in mid-March for their next concert set.

It is quite a challenging life for classical musicians. I feel very fortunate that I don’t have to depend upon the Freeway Philharmonic as much as many others do (at the moment, at least), but it WOULD be nice to have a couple of gigs a month.

So far, I have not quite achieved this goal, but am approaching it as word is getting around that I am back in the area. Fortunately I am known as a solid, dependable horn player who is easy to get along with. So I hope to get more work this year.

I have just been hired to play with the Modesto Symphony in a couple of weeks. This will be my first time performing with that orchestra. I have relatives on my mother’s side there, so I may just “pop out of the woodwork” to say hello while I’m in town! It’s been many years since I’ve seen them.

While I’m working with the Modesto Symphony, James and I (and cat Rupert) will stay at my brother’s house in Sacramento, 80 miles away — which is much better than 160 miles from our place out In The Woods!

I wrote the following as part of a “thank you” email to R.A. for letting me stay at her house Sunday through Tuesday:

“As I wended my way down the tiny, switch-backed road amidst the beautiful snowy woods, I thought to myself how VERY LUCKY I am to have such a rich variety in my life these days — a combination of rustic serenity on one hand and musical stimulation amongst my excellent friends and associates on the other.

I am truly blessed.”

The day after my last handwritten entry was Thursday, Jan. 10th. We woke up to find that the power was still out.

We turned on the radio and heard the following news: that there were still little pockets of settlements in Nevada County without power, especially in the Sierras where it was difficult for PG&E crews to repair the lines. Yep, that’s us.

For the first time all week, our actual TOWN was mentioned by name as one of the last spots to get power restored — projected for Saturday.

SATURDAY??? A total of eight days without power, except for that brief respite on Day #2.

James and I had hoped that the electricity would be back on by Friday at the latest; we could have held out at our place In The Woods until then — but just barely.

The trailer batteries were nearly dead by Thursday morning, which we could tell by the very dim interior lights. This meant that we soon wouldn’t be able to pump water out of the tanks.

Wood and heating was not a problem, at least, after James had figured out how to split the logs “the old-fashioned way”. But the water situation was critical, and we couldn’t imagine being without it for two more days.

Besides, we hadn’t showered in nearly a week, and our food supply was running short.

On Wednesday, I chatted with my sister-in-law in Sacramento and mentioned the possibility of needing to come down and stay with the family if the power wasn’t on soon. So she wasn’t surprised when I called the next day to say we were about to pay them a visit.

We just didn’t think we could make it until Saturday afternoon. Rats!

James said he felt like we were “giving up” and I knew exactly what he meant. For five days we had hung in there and dealt successfully with the power outage, and expected to make it until it was back on. All week, the local news reports had led us to believe this, but the repairs were slower than anticipated. We weren’t surprised; that’s just the way it goes sometimes.

We were definitely in an altered state-of-mind as we threw a few things together (including a big bag of dirty laundry!) and loaded them into the snow-bound car parked in front of the barn.

James put the cable chains on the front wheels and I swept off at least a foot of snow off the car.

Oh boy, we were going to have us some FUN getting out of the driveway and up the snowy little road, around a serious curve, followed by a section with a huge rut which was difficult in the best of conditions, then onto a slightly larger dirt road leading down to town! But once we gained this road, we would be home-free.

With cat Rupert sitting rather calmly in my lap, we set out.

I’m proud of James’ driving. He first learned how to negotiate the backwoods trails of central Florida in a jeep when he was only eight years old! So he handled our bumpy, rutted, snowy and now muddy little roads (more like trails) with expert aplomb.

We were amazed at the amount of snow along the main road on the way to Nevada City. Then suddenly it vanished just above town, at about 3000 feet elevation.

This is interesting, because our place is at approximately 2700 feet. But since we’re in our own little “micro-climate” nestled in a canyon by the river, we got quite a bit of snow.

We made a brief stop at In&Out Burger in Auburn and then we arrived at my childhood home in Sacramento, now occupied by my brother and his family, by late Thursday afternoon.

Not only did it feel STRANGE to be in civilization again — after being totally immersed in our rustic woods lifestyle — it was a shock to see bright lights and hear the hum of electric appliances and the blaring of the television.

The two grizzled, smelly mountain men coming down the hill to the Big City!

When James toted the huge sack of dirty laundry into the service porch, my brother remarked, “Who’s the dead body?”

James and I usually stay in the bungalow (called “Yonder House”) which my parents had occupied during their last years behind the main house in which I grew up.

This place is so airtight that when the doors or windows are opened and closed, there’s a “vapor-lock” sucking sound. It’s like the USS Enterprise on Star Trek.

Talk about being diametrically opposed to our usual living space in the leaky, not-quite-completely insulated Music Room out In The Woods! There, we can see cracks of daylight through small gaps in the boards at one end of the room near the ceiling, with tendrils of insulation hanging down.

Our floor is concrete, while Yonder House has mostly wall-to-wall carpeting.

A large television is in an imposing console on one wall of the livingroom. We haven’t owned a TV since 2002, although we fall into its dubious charms whenever we have access to one.

There are two bathrooms with shower stalls. One of the first things we did after bringing in our stuff and greeting the family was to take warm showers. Ahhhh!

Then I felt a bit more normal; the shock of being back in civilization was starting to fade a bit.

This was helped along by a much-deserved cocktail. Or two.

James and I always seem to find ourselves regaling the family with our stories of living In The Woods. Hopefully they are not bored; they don’t appear to be whenever we sit down at the round kitchen table to describe our lives up here.

We sure had a lot to tell them this time.

We’ve finally gotten them to understand that winter is NOT the time to come visit us. They haven’t seen our little “slice of heaven” yet. James jokes that when they finally do experience it, they’ll say that we’re even more crazy than they already think we are!

James and I enjoyed several pleasant days with the family. We were very lucky to see my niece and her friend on college break, who just happened to be staying at the house for a few days before flying off to Boston.

We attended my nephew’s district honor band concert on Saturday afternoon (he plays string bass), which was quite enjoyable. The kids played impressively; the guest conductor got a lot out of them. It was an amazing performance.

On Friday and Saturday we ran errands and pumped money into the local Sacramento economy; new tires for the car; new (real!) chains which are much easier to deal with than cables; a stylish and functional Hoover vacuum which matches our decor (very important!) and a wonderfully quiet GENERATOR for those future power outage moments!

We would have been fine up In The Woods if we’d had a generator.

We came back up the hill on Sunday afternoon, after stopping at the grocery store in Nevada City to stock up.

The power was ON at home – thank god!

We learned a great deal over this challenging week, and will be much better-prepared the next time the electricity goes out.

OH! Here’s the video I promised you. I took it on Wednesday, Jan. 9th which was Day #5 of the power outage. It’s funny that I didn’t mention it even once; I just focused on enjoying the beautiful snowy scenes all around us.

It really was gorgeous.



The power came back on at 8:30 p.m. last night, ten hours after going out. We managed to get our car down the hill to the general store this morning and discovered that everyone’s power and phone service is still out, but the whole town is using a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. generator which is supplying enough electricity for our needs.

This is very fortunate, because otherwise, we’d be really cut off from the outside world.

There’s always more to tell, but I’ll save it for later. I want to make sure this gets posted now in case the power goes out again, which could happen at any time. Also, the snow has been falling heavily off and on since noon, and our satellite internet goes out when the snow is particularly dense.


We needed to replace our trusty and rusty Franklin stove in the Music Room where we’re living this winter, because the bottom metal plate burned out last week. James did a temporary fix — great handyman that he is! — by placing a piece of sheet metal on the bottom.

But it wouldn’t be long before the old thing would become a fire hazard.

So we ordered a new stove online and picked it up on the last day of 2006. It arrived a week earlier than we expected.

Getting the new stove was rather a flashback to the 1800s. With a few “modern twists”, of course!

Back then, many people lived in rural areas and bought stoves and other household goods through the Sears catalogue or something similar. The stove might be shipped by train and dropped off at the station, where the purchaser would bring their wagon to pick it up.

The distribution center for our stove was down in West Sacramento, about 80 miles away. They called us to say that they could meet us in Colfax, which has an exit at I-80. This is about a 45-minute drive from our place In the Woods.

When James asked the person on the phone why they couldn’t deliver the stove to Grass Valley — where they had JUST delivered a stove to our next door neighbor a few days before! — the person said, “We won’t go that high”.

In elevation, he meant.

Okay, whatever.

So we met the driver of the truck bearing our stove at the Colfax Starbucks. Ah, that ubiquitous purveyor of caffeine and sweets and mugs and CDs comes in handy yet again! We have a love-hate relationship with that chain.

The driver fork-lifted the stove, encased in cardboard and wooden slats and scrawled with the handwritten calligraphy “MADE IN CHINA” (isn’t everything?), onto the bed of our pickup truck.

On our way home, we stopped at the hardware store in Nevada City to pick up various configurations of stovepipe, “Where every visit is at least $200″quips James to the sometimes-amused cashiers.

It was too late on New Year’s Eve to install the stove, so we uncrated it in the truck-bed and then hoisted it down to the ground by the back door.

We attended a New Years Eve party at a friend’s cabin a few miles up the Sierras and arranged to stay overnight, so we didn’t get back to our place In the Woods until noon the following day.

We planned to put in the new stove then, but James suddenly realized that if something went wrong and we needed to go to town for more stovepipe or whatever, we’d be sh**-outta luck on New Years Day, and we’d be as cold as ice! So we decided to wait until today to install it.

Ha ha.

We got up this morning and took out the trusty rusty Franklin stove, which served us well. It didn’t put up too much of a fight.

We put the new stove on a dolly and wheeled it into the Music Room. No problem.

We hooked it up to the eight-inch stovepipe which was already in place, and fired ‘er up.

Smoke, smoke, smoke!


We determined that we needed to get six-inch stovepipe which would match this particular model better. This meant a trip down to “Big Town” (what the locals call Nevada City) to our favorite hardware store.

And we must be one of their favorite customers, as we spend money at that store so frequently. This place is requiring quite a bit of materials and tools to bring it up to speed. We don’t mind.

We returned home at 4:30 this afternoon with five 2-ft. sections of stovepipe, along with a rubber mallet to hammer down the sections, and two sexy Mag-Lite flashlights to illuminate our work on the outside stack. We’ve been wanting decent flashlights up here, in any case.

James wrestled with the recalcitrant stove pipes to put them together, with what seemed an interminable time. Then he hooked them up to the stove, and we fired ‘er up again.

Smoke, smoke, smoke.

We let the pieces of wood die down and then we added more height to the outside stack.

Lit the stove again. More smoke. But with slightly more draw now.

We’ve spent the last four hours trying to keep the fire going in this stove! It is so very different from the Franklin stove. We believe that it will ultimately be more efficient. We think that we overloaded it at first, which caused a lot of smoke. So James took everything out and started all over again.

The new stove seems to prefer very small pieces of wood at first, certainly a lot smaller than the Franklin stove required. It took several days for James to learn how to deal with the Franklin stove, so we should expect nothing less with the new one.

We measured the total amount of stovepipe that we installed and it turns out that we are a couple of feet short of the required minimum of fifteen feet, so we need to go BACK to Big Town tomorrow to buy two additional sections of stovepipe. We hope that this will solve the problem. It seems essential to have the proper amount of “draw”.

Hopefully this small crisis will have a simple solution. I keep reminding myself to keep the faith, as I am not by nature a handyman and don’t know how things work, really. James has been rather stymied by this, although tonight he is steadily accumulating information on the Internet about how to deal with woodstoves.

At this moment at near midnight it is 61 degrees inside and 28 degrees outside. The fire is trying to stay alive, with James’ constant nursing and encouragement. It’s gone out repeatedly and James brings it back to life each time with the bellows that my Dad made many years ago. I treasure this memento, and it comes in so handy in our present situation!

I am wearing my hoodie and a jacket and am warm enough, although my feet are always a bit cold this time of year.

This room smells of smoke and we’ve put our cat Rupert into the trailer for the moment. I just asked James if we should sleep in the trailer tonight, and he says not. We will be plenty warm in our bed with several layers of blankets and quilts. There is only a small cloud of smoke hovering about the ceiling right now, with the attendant odor.

Live and learn, we remind ourselves. This is just a learning experience. We love living in the Woods, even with these little challenges.

I’ll keep you informed.