The North Bay's growing cadre of community orchestras make classical music accessible to almost everyone who wants to hear it, for an affordable price.
These amateur and semi-professional musicians often rehearse late into the night after a long day at work. In return, they get the chance to perform some of the most thrilling works on the planet. And that's why they do it.
"Having that experience of the full orchestra is really kind of mind-blowing," said Mary Cornett of Rohnert Park, a violinist with the all-volunteer American Philharmonic Sonoma County. "It's quite an adrenaline rush to be part of such a big, complex thing. And it's hard to get."
While groups like the Ukiah Symphony and the Santa Rosa Chamber Orchestra hold weekly rehearsals, the American Philharmonic starts rehearsing just three weeks before each concert set.
That way, orchestra musicians like Cornett, who teaches chemistry at Santa Rosa Junior College and has two children, can take a break between concerts and focus on her life as a chemist and mother. She calls it "musical efficiency."
Chris Krive of Petaluma, principal oboeist with the American Philharmonic, started playing with the ensemble after a long hiatus from music, when he was concentrating on his career as a computer consultant and his family of five kids.
"It was scary to think about going back," said Krive, who was a performance major at Michigan State University. "I thought, 'Can I actually play?'"
But about five years ago, Krive was lured back onstage when there was an oboe opening in the American Philharmonic, now based at Santa Rosa High School.
"It's what I was made for... to communicate the meaning of the music to the audience," Krive said. "You have to bring life to the music, and that takes the right kind of emotions and feelings."
One reason the American Philharmonic can attract high-caliber musicians is that it programs repertoires that would challenge a professional.