Some of them drove through mist-bound Sonoma roads to get there, but the 1,200 people who arrived at Weill Hall early Sunday morning were not disappointed.
As part of the inaugural weekend of the Green Music Center and Weill Hall's opening, an inspirational sunrise choral concert reached for the heavens in the staging of an intimate consecration of the hall, symbolizing the many voices to come in the Hall's future. And, the heavens cooperated.
On stage for a 45-minute performance were 200 singers from various community choruses conducted by SSU Choral Director Jenny Bent. They included the SSU Symphonic Chorus, Maria Carrillo High School Chamber Singers, Santa Rosa Children's Chorus, and Cantiamo Sonoma.
Soloists were local legends and music department alumni Carol Menke and Christopher Fritzsche with Jenni Samuelson.
Director of Music Theater Lynne Morrow introduced the morning program, describing the hall as "this vessel that will transport us to new worlds, to have transcendent experiences."
"This hall will create community," she said, and it is about "making a joyful noise."
Morrow then invited the audience to participate in the final chorus called "Every little minute" with the rest of the singers. She ended with words by Jelaluddin Rumi, the 13th century mystic poet.
As countertenor Christopher Fritzsche sang the line "It's the angle of the light," the sun's rays broke through the mist - as if on cue - and the hall was basked in golden light. Many were brought to tears as the idea of a new dawn for the future of the arts in the community became more apparent with every note.
The audience was filled with friends and families of the choruses, longtime community supporters, and well-known donors. SSU President Ruben Armiñana, his wife Marne Olson, and philanthropists Sandy and Joan Weill were in attendance. Music Center founder Donald Green, his daughter and son-in-law Rebecca and Tom Birdsall and their family were acknowledged in a standing ovation at the concert's close.
Composer and Artistic Director Jeff Langley played the piano as Jenny Bent led the choruses in Langley's original work entitled "Dedicated to You" with text composed by librettist Amanda McTigue. Both were swarmed with well-wishers at the end of the concert.
As soprano soloist Carol Menke left the hall, she beamed, "You can sing anything in that hall and sound like a million bucks."
Langley has spoken passionately about the mission of using the Center as a focus for building community and remembering the reasons why the Center was built - to inspire and cherish artistic expression in its many forms.
He and McTigue had been sensitive to dedicating each segment of the performance to the many supporters who made the long journey to this day.
As she stood in the warm light of the morning in the eastern side of the hall, Marne Olson could hardly contain her enthusiasm for what is to come.
"We're looking toward the future and there is so much we can do now...more music, more art, spoken word, poetry. We can continue to get the students involved. This is going to be a place for all ages."
Written by Jean Wasp
ABOVE, Director of Music Theater Lynne Morrow opened the sunrise choral concert in Weill Hall on Sunday.