In 1974, sounds of close harmony began to emanate from a sleepy seaside town in South Orange County. The group of men, known as the San Clemente Chapter, was officially chartered in December by S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A They named their singing group, "The Beach Cities Chorus," with Carl Amenda as their first director. As a new chapter, they encouraged both a chorus and quartets. Barbershop harmony was alive and well, and they held their first show at Dana Hills High School in 1975.
The new chapter was sponsored by the San Diego chapter who agreed to help with one of the early shows. The chosen show was held at Marco Forster Junior High and the program plan involved San Clemente chapter singing two or three songs and then San Diego would do a show. As luck would have it, the bus driver for the San Diego chapter got lost, so a quartet who had only rehearsed four times, and included Hugh Scallon, sang eleven songs to "fill in" until San Diego arrived and got dressed for their performance.
A year or two later at an after show afterglow, held at the San Clemente Elks club, the cash box was momentarily left unattended and all the proceeds were stolen. Since there had been no advance sales, everything collected at the door to cover the costs of the afterglow were gone.
Acquiring uniforms is always a challenge, and for the new chorus it proved to be even more so. A batch of flashy uniforms were obtained for ten dollars per uniform from the Riverside chapter. They were pale green in color, cut in the formal tuxedo style with tails and complimented by ruffled shirts and green bow ties. They became known affectionately to the new chorus as the "Jolly Green Giant" uniforms.
After being stored for several months in a small trailer behind the meeting
facilities which were then in Dana Point, John Barrett was startled to discover that the uniforms had been used as the personal sleeping accommodations for a clandestine vagrant as he burst from the trailer upon John's arrival. The resulting stench from that hapless soul's stay in the trailer was easy to sniff out, but not to snuff out. The uniforms that could be salvaged were given to the Saddleback College drama department. The trailer proved impossible to clean and was given away.
But the men of the San Clemente Chapter were not to be denied uniforms of some type because there proved to be the always able and ever loyal assistance of Donna Barrett to help make the men presentable at contests and shows. After several moves throughout San Clemente, Dana Point, and Mission Viejo, the chapter deemed it desirable to change their name to something more in keeping with their flexibility to change towns. Thus, in 1980 they officially became the Saddleback Valley chapter.
That proved to be a fortuitous name change because in 1983 they once again moved, this time to El Toro where they set up shop in the locker room of the Lake Forest Tennis Club. One member, Roger Melroe, donated the funds for the chapter's first sets of Wenger risers. It was also in 1983, during a low point in membership, that the group entered contest with only thirteen members. In 1984 they hired the very enthusiastic John Hulbert as their director and things began to take off.
From this humble reformation the membership began to explode. As their group became much too big for the locker room, they moved to the large assembly room at the tennis club. This record setting growth in membership from less than twenty to over one hundred earned them national honors. Unfortunately, because of the desire to grow rapidly, criteria to join became minimal. Some members have since reflected, with a chuckle, that the basis for membership seemed to be a pulse and the ability to stand somewhat erect, once in awhile.
As the chapter was growing in 1984, they acquired more uniforms. One batch of orange and white uniforms was offered by the Rancho Bernardo chapter at ten dollars each. Another lot of 22 yellow and brown uniforms was offered by the Arcadia chapter at no cost. Both offers were accepted.
By 1985, the expanded chorus, without much in the way of funds, and a deficient quantity of matching uniforms entered the SoCal East contest wearing uniforms that essentially consisted of black trousers, white shirts, black bow tie, and any color vest available. What they lacked in uniformity, they made up for it with enthusiasm. They were having fun, and it showed.
While in this growth mode, the chapter took on the task of presenting a show of what was then, impressive scope. The title was, "The Showboat Came To Town," and it was held at the Saddleback College McKinney Theatre. John Smeets with his able assistants, had constructed a huge showboat that stood majestically in front of a bayou scene backdrop. When the curtain opened, the audience was amazed and thrilled. This was also the show where the gigantic American flag was first used in the finale.
At the conclusion of this show, the director was approached by friends of his from the Downey Chapter who were seeking help with their show two weeks hence. Their membership was severely limited so they offered to split the proceeds if Saddleback would help them with their show. The members of Saddleback loaded props and scenery into the baggage compartments of busses, hopped aboard, and repeated the entire show for the Downey chapter. No funds were accepted because Downey needed help. That's what barbershoppers do!
As the group continued to grow, their singing began to interfere with other
functions at the Tennis Club, so in 1986, they were politely invited to leave
that facility and found refuge at the Methodist Church in Laguna Hills. While at this location they adopted the chorus name of "California Promise" which was also the slogan of the Mission Viejo Company, a local developer and predecessor to cityhood. It was not without intent. There were hopes that the Mission Viejo Company might provide some corporate funding to help support the chapter. The funding didn't come, but the name stuck. It was also during this period that the bulletin name, "Promissory Notes," was adopted.
In 1988, the chapter decided to go 'big time' and arranged to hold their show at the newly opened Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. They were the very first performing group to sell out the 3000 seat auditorium, much to the astonishment of the theatre management.
A new senior center opened in Mission Viejo in 1989, and the chapter moved to that facility. Chapter visits were common during those days, so when Saddleback received a request to host a monster chapter visit, they willingly agreed. The rival chapter choruses in the division at the time were San Diego and Foothill Cities and Saddleback was conveniently located about halfway between the two. On the designated evening, barbershoppers arrived by busses, vans and cars and the senior center was overflowing with over two hundred enthusiastic singers.
When the powers that be in Mission Viejo decided to raise the rent once again, the chapter found new digs at zero cost in Irvine. For a period of time, the chorus was known as the "Orange Coast Jubilaires," partly as a rebuke to Mission Viejo, but the name didn't really catch on.
In 1993, the chapter hosted the Southern California East Division contest at Servite High School in Anaheim, and in 1996 they reverted back to the name, "California Promise." That was also the year Brett Littlefield was hired as the chorus director. What he lacked in experience as a chorus director, he amply made up for it with his eagerness for achievement.
The year 1999 proved to be momentous. The chapter changed it's name again, this time to the "Irvine Chapter." They also scored their first win in chorus competition at the Southern California East contest. They repeated again in the year 2000 and achieved their best ranking ever at the Far Western District competition by placing fourth. Also, in 2000, the chapter chorus was asked to participate in the prestigious "Buckeye Invitational" in Columbus, Ohio. They did, and thus extended the sounds that first emanated from San Clemente in 1974, all the way to an internationally recognized event in Ohio.
2011 brought many changes to the chorus. Irvine's California Promise Chorus and San Clemente Chapter's Beach Cities Harmonizers merged. The group choose the name "South County Sound". This new chorus has a bright future and will enjoy it's growth. In its first contest as a combined chorus, South County Sound became the Plateau A Champions for the Southeast Division of the Far Western District on March 10th! The chorus of 33 men placed 6th overall out of 12 division contestants, securing a berth in the District competition being held in October 2012 in Mesa, Arizona.
Many thanks to the following members for the data which they provided and without which this history could not have been written: John Barrett, Dick Dickey, Hugh Scallon and Doug Setterholm.