Editor's note: During the summer of 1965, the Bakersfield College choir toured through nine countries in six weeks, becoming the first American choir to triumph at the Llangollen Eisteddfod International Musical Festival. Reuniting in 2015 for the 50th anniversary, former members drew the attention of a documentarian. The finished product, “One Heart, One Voice," will debut Sunday. Former choir member Jean Clark Morgan recalls her experiences here.
Mom was turning 75. Being a retired teacher and still very active, bright and physically fit, she found it hard to believe that she had experienced so many years.
With a twinkle in her eye, she said, “You know, Jeanie, I still feel like I’m 17 inside.” I smiled at her but inwardly was thinking “No way!”
Fast-forward 30 years and now I’m the one in my seventh decade. Not surprisingly, my cynicism has faded; I totally understand what she meant. I still hold the spirit of my 17-year-old self.
What was I doing then? It was 1964, and I had just graduated from North High and was entering Bakersfield College. I planned to major in languages, but music had always been a major part of my life — piano lessons starting at age 4, church and school choirs throughout school. It was only natural that I fit college choir into my schedule.
And what a year to join the choir! They were planning a trip to Europe for the following summer. The main purpose was to participate in the Eisteddfod in Llangollen, Wales, the preeminent international choral festival of the time.
The year before, young choir director Joe Huszti received a simple postcard in the mail asking, “How would you like to take your choir to Europe?” Huszti, not known to avoid a challenge, responded, “Why not?” So the planning and fundraising began.
You name it, the choir members did it to raise the nearly $54,000 needed to send all 48 members on this life-changing, six-week trip. Families were expected to provide some of the funds but most was raised by members. Pancake breakfasts were a staple in the fundraising game. We also sold records, collected Green Stamps (remember those?), cleaned and buffed many a car and sang for our supper at civic club meetings. Penny by penny, the money came in.
Off to Europe we went visiting nine countries, singing at too many venues to count and expanding our personal horizons. Of course, participating in the Eisteddfod was one of the highlights but many more surprises were in store for this group of youngsters.
In July 2015, former choir members, including its director, met again for the 50th reunion of the trip. The weekend brought back so many memories: the fun, the effort, the dedication, the friendships. And the music! One doesn’t meet with Joe Huszti and not sing. And sing we did. While not pitch-perfect, the heart was still there. Once again we were one and the tears began to swell.
Just as the postcard Huszti received all those years ago was the catalyst for the trip to even happen, the reunion was the catalyst for yet another adventure. We had a story — a history — that needed to be preserved.
The 1965 Bakersfield College European Tour Choir Alumni Association, a nonprofit organization, was created. Its purpose: “To preserve and share the history, integrity and legacy of the 1965 Bakersfield College European Tour Choir and to promote excellence in the choral arts.”
Once again members got the fundraising bug, raising more than $35,000 for a professionally produced documentary of that summer of ‘65. No pancakes this time — only face-to-face conversations with friends and family.
The world premiere of “One Heart, One Voice” will be presented on Sunday at 4 p.m. at Bakersfield College’s Indoor Theater. Tickets are $10. Funds raised will support deserving choral arts students via the association’s scholarship program.
What were you doing when you were 17? For those of you old enough, what made your life memorable during the summer of ’65? And just what did the 1965 BC choir achieve that summer?
We hope you will join us, be amazed and inspired by our story, and personally meet our 17-year-old spirits.
— Jean Clark Morgan is a board member of the 1965 Bakersfield College European Tour Choir Alumni Association nonprofit.