Home Away From Home : A Midwestern Canyon

For the most part, Amy Wooley likes California. "I came here 10 years ago from Ohio, and I'm a California girl," she says. "I love the ocean--walking on the beach near Malibu, picking up seashells, listening to the waves. They make a great background for writing songs."

But about this time of year she finds herself yearning for the crisp, wintry atmosphere of a Norman Rockwell Midwest Christmas. And she knows where to find a facsimile.

"I know this sounds crazy, but when you drive through Topanga Canyon Pass, there is one little green section with a stream and trees--pines and maples with leaves that change colors with the seasons. It's just the shortest stretch, and it's not Ohio, but it gives me a homey feeling. That's where I've been sneaking off to these last few weeks, when I'm in the holiday mood."

For Wooley, a songwriter-composer who completed her bachelor's degree in music composition at UCLA this year, the little Topanga stretch of pines and maples recaptures her favorite Christmas ritual memory--bringing home the tree.

"It reminds me of the Rocky River Valley in Ohio where we used to drive home in our station wagon after buying our tree on Christmas Eve. Daddy was a school teacher, and we had a big family--five children. So we would wait until Christmas Eve, when the trees were marked down, and then buy the biggest one we could find, usually a spruce.

"Then we would drive the long way home to Lakewood through the valley. It was fun because we were all in the car together with the tree, singing carols. My family is all musical and we sing in harmony. 'Silent Night' was a biggie with us because it has great harmony. 'Joy to the World' is my favorite. My mother's favorite was 'O Little Town of Bethlehem.' All the kids liked 'The First Noel' because you get those high notes at the end.

"Our happy times were being together in the station wagon. I don't have any better memories: It was Christmas, we were happy, we were kids. That was it, boy!"

Wooley recorded one solo album as a performer but is concentrating on composition. She is writing a pop opera based on Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath." And because she recently started teaching music at the Neighborhood Nursery School at Westwood Hills Congregational Church, she is interested in children's songs.

"We're real focused on Christmas right now, and I wrote one song--a descant for 'Silent Night' called 'Peace on Earth.' I play the guitar, and the kids love it. So once again, I'm singing harmony with kids--my Christmas favorite."

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