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Thursday, May 19, 2022
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Nancy Warren spent many years coaching tennis players at the high school in Corvallis where her husband taught at Oregon State University. As her knees began giving way, she took up golf.

But after moving to Sun Valley full time eight years ago, the former coach and English teacher found a new passion that’s even easier on the joints—that of playing clarinet for the Wood River Orchestra.

“Sixty-plus years ago I played with the high school band in a small town in Southern Illinois, but I haven’t played since, even though my husband played clarinet in the Stanford University concert band. After our house burned and we lost both clarinets, we decided to spend a thousand dollars to get one good clarinet for Bill. I picked it up again three years ago at the age of 79. Now I’m 82 and I am finding it absolutely exhilarating,” she said.

Warren will join clarinetist Thelma Cameron as the Wood River Orchestra presents its Spring Concert at 4 p.m. Saturday, May 21, at the Wood River High School Performing Arts Theater at the Community Campus in Hailey. Note that the concert is Saturday, not Sunday as it has been in the past.

The clarinet features prominently in some of the pieces the orchestra will perform this weekend.

Normally, there would be four clarinetists in the orchestra, but children’s book author Leslie Patricelli Vontver is recovering from long-haul COVID. And hair stylist Terri Orr is away on vacation.

Cameron mentored Warren as she took up the clarinet more than 60 years after high school. Cameron, whose grandfather emigrated from England to herd sheep in Wyoming before homesteading west of Hailey, took up clarinet as a fifth-grader at the old Bellevue school. She played throughout high school and College of Southern Idaho studying under Dick Price, Bill Bixby and Larry Curtis.

After she received an associate degree in music education, she studied with Jim Hopper, a Julliard graduate at Boise State University. She taught clarinet and she traveled the state offering her talents to such musicals as “Li’l Abner” in Ontario, Ore., and “Sound of Music” at a Catholic school in Boise.

“So, I’ve been playing a long time,” said Cameron, who also skis and plays guitar

The dark woodwind clarinet was invented around the late 17th century. It has a wider range than any other woodwind instrument and plays a major part in many classical pieces. It is, in Cameron’s opinion, one of the most difficult instruments to play because of the intricate finger work it involves to access different octaves.

“It has a very full tone, a large range, and it’s difficult in that you have to have a lot of breath,” said Warren. “Breath control is key so you can sustain it a long time. I think it’s one of the most beautiful instruments in the orchestra.”

After homeschooling four children, Cameron joined the concert band at CSI. She joined the Wood River Orchestra in 2011.

“It’s different playing for an orchestra,” she said. “In a band I sit up front. In the orchestra we sit in back so we have to be right on top of the beat. I have to watch that I don’t lag behind.”

Warren said she was scared to death when she first took up the clarinet again, but she’s made so much progress she can handle the second parts by herself.

“I’m holding my own and it’s a wonderful feeling,” she said.

Cameron and Warren remember the exciting adventures they’ve had in the orchestra, such as the time they had to ferry orchestra members to their concert in a blizzard. Thankfully, the audience showed up, rewarding their effort.

Warren also remembers the holiday rehearsal where no one came except the four clarinet players.

“Trumpet player Dean Comley offered to give us hints on how to practice,” she said. “He told us to practice slowly and don’t move ahead until we’d gotten the music we were working on memorized. He said to use a metronome and sing the rhythm before you play it.”

Warren’s husband no longer plays clarinet; he plays piano instead for occasional gigs outside Maude’s at 5th and Washington in Ketchum. But Cameron said she looks forward to every rehearsal and concert.

“I’m older and to have this opportunity is rare and a huge benefit to me in my life,” she said. “Everyone in that orchestra feels very privileged and happy they have this opportunity.”

The Wood River Orchestra takes on all-comers regardless of experience. Go to https://www.wrcorchestra.org/ to learn more.

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