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Blackhawk Chorus donates $22,500 to local school music programs

'Singing is a lifelong gift that brings great joy,' founder says

The Blackhawk Chorus recently contributed $22,500 through its music education fund to choral programs in the San Ramon Valley school district, announcing the donation during the group's holiday performance in the Dougherty Valley earlier this month.

The donations help local schools achieve a variety of goals in the face of diminishing music funding, such as replacing sound systems, putting computers in music classrooms, and covering performance attire and travel expenses for lower-income students to participate in competitions, chorus officials said.

With this year's donations, the Blackhawk Chorus Music Education Fund has raised and distributed more than $80,000 since being created in 2012.

The program was launched in memory of longtime chorus member Debbie Frey, who lost her 15-year battle with ovarian cancer a year earlier. Throughout her battle, Frey said that singing made things just a little bit easier, according to Diane Gilfether, founder and director of the Blackhawk Chorus.

"Singing is a lifelong gift that brings great joy for both the singer and the audience. That was our mantra when the Blackhawk Chorus Music Education Support Fund was first conceived," Gilfether said.

"We want to share the gift of music with our local school children," she added. "It has the ability to lift us up as it did for Debbie and continues to do for all of us."

The fund's 2016 grants went to Dougherty Valley, Monte Vista and San Ramon Valley high schools, Charlotte Wood, Diablo Vista and Windemere Ranch middle schools, and Tassajara Hills Elementary School.

"One director of a local high school told us he gets $1 for every student involved in the music program. With the average price of a piece of sheet music at $1.85, they are in the hole before they even start," Blackhawk Chorus manager Jayne Hegenbart said.

"We have students in all our local schools who can't participate because they can't afford the required performance attire. It's hard to build a successful program under these kinds of conditions," Hegenbart added.

This year's grants were distributed to the recipient choral programs earlier this fall. The chorus announced the grant awards during its sold-out show Dec. 3 at the Dougherty Valley Performing Arts Center in San Ramon.

Comprised of more than 130 singers, the Blackhawk Chorus is a well-recognized community-based East Bay chorus that regularly fills local venues in San Ramon, Walnut Creek and Livermore and has represented the Tri-Valley at performances in New York City, Vatican City and elsewhere in Europe.

The chorus performs two concert series each year, a festive holiday program in December and a showcase with popular jazz and pop standards in the spring. For more information, visit the group's website.

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