SONG OF THE OPEN ROAD:
The Story of the Southern California Youth Chorale
Building Bridges Through Music
In the tumultuous 60s and 70s, there was a music teacher who had a dream. K. Gene Simmonds dreamt of finding students who were bright, talented and adventurous, molding them into a chorale of his exacting standards and taking them around the world to perform. He combed the greater Southern California area and found teenagers willing and eager to explore other countries, expand their knowledge of their own heritage, spread good will and build bridges of understanding through music. Those selected would be challenged and encouraged to do their best and so the group rehearsed, performed and toured together. Singers, dancers and instrumentalists would bond together to become a family. Looking back, so many still treasure how being a member of the fantastic Southern California Youth Chorale changed their lives forever!
In the 60s and 70s, the Vietnam War and the Cold War raged on and it seemed like the world could come to an end at any time. The teenagers of the day had decided to tune in, turn on and drop out with drugs and the counter culture. K. Gene Simmonds, a high school music teacher, had a hard time trying to make his students care about the rest of the world, preferring to stay snug in their own little corner of the state. But he was determined that he could make a difference in some lives if he could open their minds to the wonders of travel.
Gene started the Southern California Youth Chorale in 1965, at the height of the hippie zeitgeist. He had incredibly high standards and would only accept the best and the brightest, molding his Honor Choir into a group that could not only bring Americana music to other countries but, also, expose his students to learning about other languages and cultures as well.
Some of Gene’s colleagues thought traveling overseas with teenagers was madness, but he knew, if he picked the right ones with positive attitudes, ready to challenge themselves and open to exploring the unknown, they would work together toward the goal of professional musical excellence.
Over the years, the Southern California Youth Chorale traveled to 27 different countries on four continents over a twelve-year period. Some countries were visited multiple times and some, like the Republic of China, Taiwan, East Berlin and Russia, were the realization of an almost impossible dream.
Extensive plane flights, long bus rides, sampling new cuisines, performing and living together, buying souvenirs, visiting museums and attending cultural performances formed the group into its own type of unique family that keeps many of them reuniting to this day.
This film interviews several alumni to find out how they think their lives were impacted by being a member of this group. What was it like to have someone to encourage you beyond your expectations? What opportunities were opened up and what is life like in the present day looking back on that time? Lives were enriched, confidences built, friendships and relationships sealed and memories cherished that have lasted a lifetime.