Samohi senior Sophie Golay was nodding off and on during her Paris to LAX flight before she received a tap on the shoulder, shocking her. At 11 hours long, a surprise tap would startle anyone who was winding down on such a lengthy flight. However, it wasn’t the tap that shocked Sophie, it was the news that was tied to that tap: the Notre Dame Cathedral was on fire.

“It was crazy,” Golay said, recalling when she first heard the news. “We had just performed there.” Typically a time people stretch and laugh and check their messages with passengers happy to have landed, Golay says the plane was a somber place.

She was part of over 60 Samohi choir students that had the opportunity to perform at historic cathedrals throughout France, the Notre Dame Cathedral being one of their final stops. Little did the choir know, they’d be one of the final performers at the cathedral before flames engulfed the historic site early this week.

Golay says students performed for masses of people during that weekend, some who already planned to listen to the choral and passerbys who were attracted by the sounds of Psalms, prayers and “Ave Maria”.

Since then, the choir’s students and choir director have been battling jetlag, receiving an inundation of media requests, and allowing time for themselves to reflect.

Golay’s mother, Kecia, said the gravity of the situation is still hitting her.

“[Sophie] was walking through halls filled with history, a place where years and years of other performers walked,” she said. “One day she’ll be able to say to her kids, ‘I performed there before it burned down.’”

Samohi Director of Vocal Music and Performing Arts Chair Jeffe Huls was still mired in thought when describing the incident and its effect on him. It was his third time performing in the cathedral.

“It’s such a special place, for many people and for many reasons,” Huls said. “It’s a structure that wasn’t just about being a place of worship. Its a structure and historical building with art. It transcends the religiosity of all. It’s the reasons visitors of multiple faiths visit.”

Golay agreed with Huls, noting how special it was to perform in the space.

“It was breathtaking, one of the most beautiful places I had ever been,” Golay said. “It was so gorgeous and so surreal. I couldn’t describe to you how big that place was. The acoustics were crazy. It was an honor and privilege to sing there.”

“As far as performances go, it’s a Gothic cathedral,” Huls said. “Those date back to the beginnings of choral music as we know it. People singing together in the choral got its beginning in those cathedrals. That made it a space that was incredibly special to perform in.”

As pledges of donations to repair the cathedral pour in from across the world, Golay and Huls are hopeful they’ll be back someday.

“I would love to go back to France and perform there again,” Golay said. “That’d be a dream.” “I’m certain they will rebuild and that it will return,” Golay said. “It’ll probably never be what it once was, maybe different, maybe better. I have faith and confidence. Communities have already reached out to make it happen. That’s a bright light in a dark time.”

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