From Santa Rosa to Carnegie Hall: A high school choir's lesson and triumph

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- There is a twist at the end of this story. You will need to wait for it.

Imagine, for a moment, that Santa Rosa was today as it had always been. We would still make a big deal about the Santa Rosa High School concert choir setting their sites on a performance at New York City's Carnegie Hall.

"It's like, singing at Carnegie is something I never thought would happen," said senior Kaley Walker, who knows it's a stretch to go from a high school stage to the biggest in the world.

It seemed possible, last summer when the chorus received an invitation to perform in Carnegie Hall's Masterworks Festival Chorus, April 29th. The group, their parents, and supporters lined up pledges to raise the $100,000 they would need to send fifty students on the trip.

Then, the firestorm hit. Many of those financial pledges disappeared in the smoke and ruins.

Less than a month ago, buying the airline tickets, getting hotel rooms, and making the trip began to feel like a long shot.

Enter Sonoma County billionaire philanthropist Sandy Weill, who made an unusual offer by proposing a challenge grant, and making them earn it.

"The lesson is that when people see others out to support them, they begin to believe in themselves," said Weill as he watched practice, today.

He was right. The students held bake sales, auctions, and returned to fundraising with a new vigor. "I would have given them what they needed," said Weill, but it was never necessary. "Instead of getting $25,000 more, they made $85,000 more."

"It kind of brought us closer," said Kaley." The Santa Rosa High School Concert Choir hit a high note in unison. "I don't think it will sink in until I stand on stage and it is done."

It will be the sweetest of happy endings for a young woman who happens to be one of five in this group to lose a home in the firestorm.

Copyright © 2020 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.