With a home base in Rohnert Park, 61-year-old Pat Maloney spent much of his career mixing audio for artists like Herb Alpert, Andy Williams and Liza Minnelli in venues across the world.
The veteran sound engineer said he never imagined that one of the world's most acoustically exquisite performance halls would be built in his backyard. That is, until about a year ago when he decided to check out the mysterious construction project off Petaluma Hill Road.
"I walked in, and the hair on my arms stood up," Maloney said. "This is far more incredible than I imagined."
He's been there ever since, leading twice-monthly tours and sharing his love for the building. "I had to tell people about it. People don't know it's here," he said.
About 13 years in the making, Sonoma State University's Green Music Center is a Goliath on the hill in east Rohnert Park, where it awaits one last infusion of $20-plus million before it can open. It has sparked complaints from faculty, students and the community about high costs that have diverted precious attention and funds from academics.
Even so, Maloney was sold on the center's worth as soon as he walked in the door. "It's one of the most magical sounding places in the world," he said. And he should know.
Maloney has spent decades in the music business, first running sound systems at the University of San Francisco and then behind the board at venues around the world as he toured with San Francisco-based McCune Sound.
While touring the Green Center, he spotted the uneven spacing of balcony railings and knew they were designed to scatter sound in many directions and avoid sonic "hot spots." He heard the pizzicato notes of the piano and saw the wood panels and fabric swatches that help keep the sound clear.
Maloney noticed the stage floor, made of the same hard maple as the back of a violin.He asked so many technical questions of the tour guide that the staff asked him to lead the tours himself.
"He got everybody else realizing, &‘Wow, this is something special,'" said Jeff Langley, director of the School of Performing Arts. "Before we knew it, we were asking him to come back and lead the tours. He's been a godsend for us."
On a recent afternoon, Maloney stood in the back corner of the concert hall in a pressed shirt, listening as a pianist filled the near-empty room with Beethoven's Sonata Path?ique.
"What you notice is what you don't notice," he whispered. "There's not a bad seat in the house."
Last July, Maloney took a voluntary layoff from a job selling computer software. With extra time on his hands, he decided to join the cast of staff and volunteers who were set on raising the funds needed to complete the center, he said.
He requested blueprints of the main concert hall. He compiled a list of the world's top acoustic performance venues. He loaded a clipboard with facts and anecdotes about the project.
"My desire is to get people to push for getting this completed," no matter what that takes, he said. "Buy a lottery ticket and donate half of your winnings."