Lately, I have been busy making music rather than making words.

Last week I spent in the San Francisco Bay area, playing a very challenging concert set with Symphony Silicon Valley. The program: Copland “Appalachian Spring”, Vaughan-Williams “Tuba Concerto”, Richard Strauss “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks” and “Rosenkavalier Suite”.

This ambitious program was demanding for all the instruments in the orchestra, but especially for the horns. I was also challenged by playing 2nd to a very talented young woman who holds the distinction of having contracts with nine different orchestras in the Bay area. She substitutes in many more ensembles, and has become famous amongst the freelance musicians for playing a high number of gigs in the area.

I wanted to make the best impression possible. The 2nd horn’s job is to make the Principal horn sound good. She didn’t need any extra help because she already has considerable playing ability, but it was important for me to match her well.

It could also lead to more freelance work in the future, since she is so well-connected in the local orchestra network. Hopefully word will continue to spread that I am a valuable asset to any horn section.

I like to think of myself as a musician who “brings a lot to the table”, so to speak. For risk of blowing my own horn (pun intended), I pride myself on a high level of professionalism and I am easy to get along with in the orchestra.

My horn teacher in college insisted that I develop these qualities in order to be a successful musician, and I thank him for emphasizing this into me early on.

I had the privilege of playing in an excellent horn section in the Sacramento Symphony from 1982 through 1996. Our playing was in sync and we got along well professionally. Over a decade after the organization’s demise, people still talk about how good our horn section was.

Spending time in the SF Bay area is so very different from being In The Woods. The pace is crazy-fast; there are so many people (seven million in the metro area) and the physical environment contrasts sharply with the higher, woodsy elevation of my home.

At sea level, many flowers and trees were already in bloom in the Bay area, although the air still had a cool neutrality about it last week; not quite Spring yet. But you could tell it was coming soon!

I am very fortunate to be able to stay with my violinist friend R.A. in the house she shares with her father, in Lafayette which is only an hour commute north of San Jose where the orchestra rehearses and performs.

I have my own room and access to the internet in the adjoining room which is being used as an office.

I adore both R.A. and her father, and always look forward to seeing them.

Still, my heart is home in The Woods with James, who stays behind to take care of the cat and the place.

He’d accompany me on these trips to the Bay area if we were able to bring Rupert, but R.A.’s father has made it clear that he doesn’t want cats in his house. He is a retired veterinarian and saw his fill of pets during his long, successful career.

When R.A. first moved in with her father a couple of years ago, she brought her old cat Jazzy. It was sometimes incontinent and was kept in R.A.’s quarters upstairs, which was the only real alternative but not an optimum one “for man or beast”.

When Jazzy passed on, Morrie said something along the lines of “Never again!” as far as cats were concerned.

So James stays home with our puss, while I work intensely with the orchestra and shuttle back and forth to San Jose from Wednesday through Sunday.

Sometimes Morrie cooks dinner for us, and other times R.A. and I grab a bite out, or I buy a few things at the grocery store to nibble on. I made R.A. peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on two occasions. Other sandwiches over the course of the week included sprouts and tofu, and tuna. This was often supplemented with carrots, apples, pretzels and a little cheese.

On Saturday evening before our first concert, Morrie made us shrimp louie salad, accompanied by a fresh, crusty baguette. I supplemented this with ready-made veggie minestroni soup from the store deli. This nice. light meal sent R.A. and me off to San Jose in good style.

I don’t like to eat heavy foods before performances. I’ll leave it to your imagination to think of why this might be so, for a horn player — or any wind player for that matter. 😉

This gives you an idea of the food I eat when I’m away from James’ excellent cooking. It’s fine, and particularly good when Morrie cooks, but I’m always glad to return home. Yes, I’m very spoiled!

I arrived back In The Woods late Sunday night, after a successful week with Symphony Silicon Valley. It was wonderful to see James (and Rupert) again, enveloped by peace and quiet and the smell of pine trees, and to sleep in my own bed.

I woke up the next day, exhausted from expending all that energy down in the “flatlands”. But it was a good kind of tired — a satisfaction which comes from a job well done.

However, I didn’t have much time to rest; James and I have been busily working on various recorder arrangements and compositions for the local recorder group in Nevada City.

I have been expanding some of my recorder duets for the larger ensemble. One piece requires eight players and two other pieces use seven. I had finished the largest one last week, and completed another at R.A.’s over the weekend. Then I worked most of Monday and Tuesday on the next piece, which I finished in time for last night’s rehearsal.

We recently bought a basic black&white laser printer, which is fine for music. I’m very pleased with its output; the music score and parts look professional.

I printed out the three pieces yesterday before we went down to “Big Town” for our weekly Wednesday grocery shopping/errands and recorder rehearsal in the evening.

We rehearsed at one of the member’s homes, which was a treat. Hostess Vanessa was gracious and accommodating. Eight of us set up in her living room (the furniture was pushed back) and rehearsed director Richard’s arrangement of “Carmina Burana”. Each movement calls for different combinations of recorders, and he wanted to add harp and hurdy-gurdy to some sections.

So I brought my small 26-string lap harp, which has a wonderful bell-like, “folky” tone perfect for recorders and Renaissance music.

But Vanessa’s hurdy-gurdy stole the show. What a fascinating instrument! Its concept began in the 13th Century. I had never seen or heard one before. This ancient instrument is difficult to explain, but I will say that it’s basically a rectangular wooden box, about two feet long, ten inches deep and ten inches high. It has a drone sort of like a bagpipe’s and has four strings, and is operated by a crank on the side.

In fact it sounds rather like a bagpipe, but is much more subdued — thank goodness! Some of the movements in Carmina Burana are perfect for the sound of the hurdy-gurdy, and Vanessa got very excited when she was able to play the melody, after we helped her tune a couple of the notes which needed to be changed to fit the key of the piece.

I enjoyed alternating between tenor recorder and the harp. It just so happened that the movements which didn’t call for tenor work out well on the harp.

The time flew by quickly during this creative process. Before the rehearsal ended, director Richard wanted to make sure we had a chance to play through one of my compositions, so I put on the CD of the computer-generated score in order for the players to get a rough idea what the three pieces sounded like.

I was pleased at the positive reception, but even more pleased when we played through one of the selections. I’ve composed various pieces over the years, duets mostly, so it was a real treat to hear these musicians play a composition with seven parts.

In fact, I was almost overwhelmed with emotion.

Obviously, they enjoyed playing the piece, “Hymn”, which had started out as a duet shortly after my mother died in 2005. It has sort of a churchly flavor, like a quiet organ in the lower register. I’m hoping that it will eventually become a best-seller, when James and I get our recorder music website going.

Richard wants us to perform it at our upcoming Spring concert in late May. I feel very honored.

I am excited about the prospect of having my compositions performed with this group, and possibly with an even larger recorder ensemble which Richard directs in the Bay Area. James and I plan to attend their Spring concert in Berkeley on April 19th, to hear what the group sounds like. We may join them when their new season starts in the Fall.

If time permits at next Wednesday’s rehearsal, we’ll play through my other two pieces. Richard expressed interest in including another of them on the Spring concert program. So there may be two compositions by Cameron on that performance, which is exciting.

I was gratified to see that he (along with the others) seem enthusiastic about having a “resident composer” in their midst.

Actually, TWO resident composers — James has some wonderful recorder compositions too. They are quite different from mine in that they start out as arrangements of various jazz and pop songs, but are adapted and modified so that they have become original pieces.

I can hardly wait for the group to play James’ version of “Corcovado” (Quiet Nights) when he finishes it. The piece takes its roots from a version performed by Engelbert Humperdinck — jazzy, upbeat and corny, and I think that the recorder players will love it!

Ah, the Vernal Equinox arrived early today. It’s wonderful to experience the upsurge of new Spring energy.

It’s going to be a busy season — full of rehearsals and concerts with symphony orchestras in Sacramento, Modesto and Nevada City, as well as our activities with the recorder group — not to mention all the MANY projects which need doing here In The Woods!

More about what’s going on In The Woods in my next post….