SEATTLE - It's not just about the who's who on stage -- Sunday's reunion concert of the 1966 Franklin High School Bel Canto choir will bring together a group of students who became Seattle's ambassadors to the world.
"Forty-three years ago, a bunch of kids from Seattle dared to travel to Europe," said Kenny Alhadeff, class of '67, "[with] hope, excitement, vision, and opportunity stuck deep to their core."
Those "kids" went on to become some major players across the country, including a former Washington Governor; many said their time in Bel Canto impacted who they became as adults.
"We had a very serious choir director, we had very serious goals, we had to raise a lot of money," said alumnus Frank Raines. "Probably half the choir couldn't even read music, so a lot of it was simply routine practice over and over again."
"I've never seen dedication like that, never will again," said Dr. Richard Kohler, who directed the choir of about 70 students, "These kids had to learn 72 pieces of literature. They performed 137 times in that year."
The students sold candy, held car washes, tied kindling, packed envelopes, among other tasks, to raise more than $80,000 for a trip on a propellor plane across the Atlantic Ocean.? Their tour included concerts in England, Scotland, and in both West and East Berlin.? To this day, the alumni said, they can still remember crossing through "Checkpoint Charlie" while crossing the Berlin Wall into East Germany.
"We were told to keep our cameras away, we were searched," said Jolene Alexander, class of '67.
"Going through Belgium there were guards with rifles trooping through the train," said Steven Ticeson, class of '67.
"In the [The] Wizard of Oz when the movie goes from black-and-white to color," said Raines, "this was going from color to black-and-white when we crossed the wall.? It was dreary."
"I think when you're in it you don't realize how impactful it is," said Kenny Alhadeff, class of '66. "But it did have an impact and changed my life."
Alhadeff, who is now producing a musical opening on Broadway October 19, said it could not have happened without Bel Canto.
Frank Raines became budget director under President Clinton and served for a while as CEO of Fannie Mae.
And probably the group's most famous alumnus is former governor and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who will fly in from Washington, D.C., for the reunion concert Sunday afternoon. The concert also is a $5-ticket fund-raiser for the Franklin High music department.
Even Dr. Koehler said the trip changed his career due to the chemistry of the singers and their parents.
"They were the epitome of being able to share music with other people," said Dr. Kohler. "It's an international emotional experience that everybody can in fact, understand."
And to a person, the group members told KING-5 what made Bel Canto special was its diversity.
"Franklin was the most diverse high school in the city," said Raines.
"From every race, every religion, every socioeconomic situation," said Alhadeff. "You can create a recipe over and over again, but sometimes the ingredients when you put together in a certain way, makes something special."
"Music was a level playing field for all of us that participated," said Ticeson.
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has declared October 11, 2009, "Bel Canto Day" in honor of Koehler and those who participated in the trip.