That Crazy Witch from “Brave” and Boonville Hospitality

written by Noah Luna
2017 GLFCAM Albert Ginastera Fellow, Cycle 2

The spirit of collaboration is rooted in community, so it makes perfect sense that the most rewarding collaboration I have experienced was in Boonville, California. For those of you that haven't had the pleasure, Boonville is a small town in the Anderson Valley - home to wineries, hop gardens, and other quintessential California crops, including a favorite of mine: the Anderson Valley Brewing Company. But more than the commercial crops this sleepy town sows, Boonville is the quintessential western commune.

One of the people I met in town said that she was arriving to an appointment a little late due to come car trouble. But, "it's all good because [the mechanic] loaned me his car while he fixed mine up. It'll cost me a few quarts of goat milk and some other things around the farm, but that's how things work around here…"

They barter. They give what they have, and take what they need. But, they offer all they can and ask for the same in return. I was happy to offer what I had while a fellow at GLFCAM, though I feel a little guilty in receiving more than my share of incredible experiences and tremendous hospitality.

We spent about ten days in Boonville over two trips, and I can barely articulate words to express what happened. So, I offer this list. Lists are easy to write:

- I met and gave a ride up from the San Jose airport to my fellow composer attending Gabi’s Academy, Guy Mintus, the singular most amazing, inspiring, quirky, and generous musician I have met to date. Since then, we have been in touch about a good many things, some of them not even remotely musical. My kids love him.

- I met my fellow composers in my cycle and they have become a second family. We send silly texts, we share pictures, updates, and accomplishments. I look out for opportunities that might suit them, they do the same for me. My kids love them.

- I made friends with the incredible performers who mentored us composers in my cycle, cellist Joshua Roman and violinist Johnny Gandelsman, and have plans to work with them in the future. My kids love them.

- I got to further my relationship with Gabi, whom I met years ago and she has been like a mother, grandmother, fairy godmother, and that crazy witch from "Brave" that just stirs the pot but also pushes the plot forward in the greatest adventure movie of recent memory. My kids love that movie…

I digress.

I don't know of a single opportunity available to composers, performers, etc. that brings people together and nurtures a camaraderie like this: Bound over food and drink, forged over hours of rehearsal and collaboration, followed by conversation and introspection, and set against the backdrop of breathtaking nature. I made the best of friends, collaborations, and honed my chops even more.

As a composer and orchestrator working and living in the Bay Area of California, I work with a lot of very talented performers, composers, songwriters, and many are my friends. But, very few have I gone through an intensive, overnight, day-in and day-out experience like this. And, at the end of the day, we want to make better music, and come out of this as better people. I feel that, more than anything, my new friends made me want to be better and share more of my best self.

The culmination of the whole process was at the concert at the Anderson Valley Grange in Philo, just north of Boonville. We rehearsed in the morning, set up chairs and lights, broke for lunch, and returned for the dress rehearsal immediately before the concert. Setting up our own chairs reminded me of my grad recital at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music: You know that you've "done it" - you have a degree (almost), you've got chops, you've written great music… but you're TERRIFIED about how many people will (or won't) show up and what that means for your presentation.

Boonville. Brought. It.

We had to get more chairs out. We had an engaged audience. And, when the Q&A began after the concert, we had about 90% of the attendees stay. AND THEY HAD GREAT QUESTIONS! That didn't happen at my grad recital and 90% of the attendees were my direct family!

After we broke down the chairs and the set (assisted by enthusiastic attendees of the concert, no less) we met at Gabi's home for a "post mortem" at which I happily rambled about how this experience rejuvenated my approach to new music, collaboration, expression, etc. The biggest facet people connected with was the idea of community, both in Boonville and among the music community that we created over soup and crusty bread at Gabi's.

Super huge thank you to Gabi for continuing to believe in me, pushing me to do my best, playing matchmaker with new friends and colleagues, and for making a real investment in the future of music and in her community. She made a hands-on, direct contribution to her community and in involving us musicians, she made ALL of our communities richer and more dynamic. That really is something special.


Noah, a freelance composer and arranger based in San Jose, CA, is versed in styles arranging from contemporary classical to pop, rock, and hip hop. He also moonlights as a publishing agent for a number of today’s top composers. Find out more on Noah's bio page.  

Torrey Douglass