A peek inside the Green Music Center, courtesy of two Sonoma Valley employees

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Waldo Rohnert purchased 4,000 acres of rich loamy soil south of Santa Rosa in 1929 and founded the Rohnert Seed Farm. It was famous for its sweet peas, and people rode the Northwest Pacific Railroad from Sausalito just to catch a whiff of their sweetly scented blossoms.

The steady march of time now gives us Rohnert Park, “the Friendly City,” and Sonoma State University, home of the Green Music Center.

A tech pioneer from Sonoma County named Don Green had dreams of a music center and launched the planning process in 1997 with a $5 million gift. At a cost of $145 million, it ran way over the original projection. That amount was doubled later, yet the funding and actual construction was rife with trouble and controversy.

At a cost of $145 million, it ran way over the original projection. As with all good things, though, better angels won the battle.

Opening on Sept. 29, 2012, with a sold-out concert by famed pianist Lang Lang, the Green Music Center (GMC) is the pride of the North Bay’s music scene and a symbol of SSU’s commitment to the arts.

Sonoma residents Joan and Sanford Weill chipped in the final $15 million. “It will make Sonoma State a unique campus where people from all over the world will want to come. It is ambitious, but I think it’s doable,” Weill told the media at the time.

The finished Green Music Center consists of the main Weill Hall, the smaller 240-seat Schroeder Hall, meeting rooms, classrooms, Prelude Restaurant and Bar, and a stylish and light-drenched lobby that can be rented out for private events.

The classrooms were all paid for by the State of California, as they are used by SSU students. In fact, the entire center is used primarily as classroom space during the week. The events are generally held on the weekends.

While touring the facility and discussing the goals of the GMC, employee Gail Chadwin said, “Arts are for everybody.”

Chadwin is a 2004 graduate of Sonoma Valley High School. She works at the GMC in its development department.

“I’m not actually involved with the production of the musical events, but I do attend shows and host receptions in the donor lounges before shows and during intermissions,” said Chadwin.

Her early love of music can be traced back to her grandmother who was an accomplished singer. After high school, she attended the University of California at Santa Cruz, where she received a double major in community studies and sociology/Latin American Latino studies.

Chadwin now sings in the Valley of the Moon Chamber Ensemble and lives in Sonoma with her husband Jerardo, an information technology employee with the Sonoma Valley Unified School District, and their toddler, Diego.

Another Sonoma resident who is critical to the performance and success of the GMC is Kamen Nikolov, who has served as its director of production operations since 2011. He was hired before the project was even completed, he says.

Nikolov was born in Sofia, Bulgaria. He began playing the piano at the tender age of 4. His musical prowess took him to the National Music Conservatory to study audio recording and classical piano.

His role with the Green Music Center was designed to drum up business and support for the project. Nikolov’s warm friendly style, and supreme depth of knowledge about all aspects of classical music and its production, has been instrumental in the music center’s success.

Not content to just speak of the GMC, Nikolov mentions his love of Sonoma often.

“I love the people, the culture and everything Sonoma stands for,” he said. “Going home after work feels like going to a retreat!”

The events that Chadwin and Nikolov help to support and produce are well-attended and much-loved.

Weill Hall is a 1,400-seat marvel. Nikolov believes the space challenges the finest rooms in the country for clarity of sound and comfort for musicians and listeners. “It is up there with the Disney Concert Hall, Dallas, Seattle, and Boston as one of the finest concert halls in the U.S.”

Its 53-foot-high ceilings, a very slight inward slant of the walls, the custom maple seats and the European beechwood floors, and the play of light allowed by the clerestory windows all contribute to the look and feel of Weill Hall.

The stage is large enough to seat 115 musicians for those complicated compositions. There are more than 500 air ducts in the floor, allowing an influx of fresh air without creating any telltale whooshing sounds. The windows that allow the light to enter the room can be shaded, thus flattening the sound that the window’s hard surface can reflect.

Backstage one finds the requisite “green rooms.” They are fully equipped with all the comforts of a four-star hotel. On the day of our tour, the green rooms sported the names “Michael McDonald” and “Chaka Kahn” on the doors.

Further in the heart of the building is the piano room, a temperature-controlled space where the center’s grand pianos are stored when not in use. There are three Steinways from Hamburg, simply the best of the best. There is also a Fazioli piano with Renner actions, no slouch of a set of keys, either. The Fazioli had belonged to jazz virtuoso Herbie Hancock, and was used at the 2009 Grammy Awards.

Schroeder Hall boasts a rare Brombaugh Opus 9 tracker organ. The pipe organ has 1,248 pipes ranging from 16 feet long to smaller than a pencil. The story of its creation in 1972, and later move to the Rohnert Park campus, is convoluted and full of intrigue. It was built, sold, packed up, assembled again, packed up again, then finally assembled at SSU. Accomplished players from around the world have sought to perform at Schroeder because of this organ.

Only 7 years old, the Ensemble hall replaced Ives Hall, the campus’s previous concert space. Ives is now home to SSU’s Theater Arts program. Its stage has the same dimensions as the one at Person Theater and also is very close to Weill Hall, allowing the production teams to practice staging and blocking while Person Theater and the Weill stage are used for course instruction.

Weill Hall boasts an outdoor HDTV screen, which displays clear and stunning images that are sent via four HD cameras from within the hall.

For larger events held during the warmer summer months, the huge roll-up rear door is opened, and the crowd spills out onto the verdant stepped outdoor area.

“On July 4 we had 4,500, totally sold out,” Chadwin said.

The upcoming performance schedule for the GMC is full of world-class musical acts, from bluegrass to jazz, mariachi to classical. Up next is country music star Andy Grammer on Sept. 6.

The backstage hallway is adorned with the playbills from the many events of the past, all autographed and framed. A collector’s dream, those walls.

On Saturday, Sept. 14, the GMC will host a “Party for the Green,” featuring Catherine Russell. The annual fundraising event promises to be a great time, with cocktails, dancing and the chance to support a good cause.

Not to mention the gorgeous space you get to hang out in. World class, right here in Sonoma County.

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