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.
From losing some of their homes in the firestorm to playing Carnegie Hall. Things are looking up Santa Rosa High School's chorus . #santarosa #sonomastrong— Wayne Freedman (@WayneFreedman) April 17, 2018
What a year! #abc7news pic.twitter.com/w7qtOibCBA
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 fires hit just as they began fundraising. Philanthropist Sandy Weill came in at the last minute with an offer to match funds...the did. He paid. They're going. "And they earned it," said Mr. Weill. "Now they can say they played Carnegie Hall." #abc7now pic.twitter.com/2QCXjtsHed— Wayne Freedman (@WayneFreedman) April 17, 2018
"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.
She is not alone. Here entire Santa Rosa High School choir is going to Carnegie, despite the fires and thanks to donations by a number of people and groups that raised $150k. Singing in The Masterworks Festival Chorus? Big. #abc7no2 pic.twitter.com/NP9gqFFn13— Wayne Freedman (@WayneFreedman) April 17, 2018