They’ve recycled cans, baked cookies, hawked magazines, written letters and, in one case, even sold barbecue-flavored crickets.
“They tasted like Cheetos but with legs,” said Brenda Llamas, a 13-year-old trumpet player from Pacoima Middle School.
With proposed state budget cuts threatening to strip schools of much-needed cash, music students in the San Fernando Valley have shown they’re not willing to leave anything to chance. Saturday was no exception as five middle school bands squared off in the first Battle of the Bands Family Music Festival at Sutter Middle School in Winnetka.
Jazz bands, concert bands, rock bands and orchestras took the stage in button-up vests and bow ties for a chance to honk, strum and strike their way to victory. The prize was a big one, considering that some schools might receive as little as $200 in spending cash next year. First place would bring $2,500 (second place $750) to buy instruments, sheet music and supplies.
Competitors hailed from Sutter, Columbus, Pacoima, Gaspar de Portola and Patrick Henry middle schools.
Violinist Daniel Lee, 13, aimed for gold as he arrived an hour before any of his Portola orchestra colleagues. Alone in Room 401, he tuned out the sounds of the 21-piece jazz band next door and practiced a Mozart piece. Each time he spoke of his instrument, his cheeks glowed pink with excitement. “When I play, I feel free,” he said. “I’m in my own world.”
But nurturing such programs has never been easy, especially in today’s recession, said Susan Treworgy, instrumental and vocal director at Portola. Last year, the school eliminated one of its two music teachers, leaving Treworgy to juggle the choir, orchestra, chamber ensemble and band on her own. She’s turned to grant writing for help and is crossing her fingers that next year won’t bring more losses.
“I feel like I’m running a business,” Treworgy said. “I have to teach, but I also have to keep everything alive.”
Hoping to bring some relief, the Arts Education Aid Council, a booster club of sorts, teamed up with the Winnetka Neighborhood Council to organize the event, which they hope will be staged annually. They enlisted local businesses to donate food and set up vendor booths.
For students from Pacoima Middle School, the day was about more than winning or money.
“We’re a little sad because this is the last time we get to compete for Car,” said Frank Castrellon, a 13-year-old saxophone player.
Car, as his students call him, is George Carganilla, Pacoima’s longtime music teacher. The 30-year veteran retires in two weeks, two years earlier than he had planned, partly because of budget cuts.
In his time at Pacoima, he’s been able to shuttle students from competition to competition using money raised in part by selling magazine subscriptions and crunchy crickets. When a trip to a San Francisco contest (they took first place) proved too costly, Carganilla charged some of the balance to his credit card, hoping to get reimbursed.
“We did it all,” he said. “It was a pain, but it was worth it. The best part was being able to open their eyes to experiences they had never seen, to say, ‘You’re going to get in front of people and play on a stage.’ ”
In the end, Portola’s band took second place, and its orchestra and chamber ensemble tied for first.
First thing on their shopping list?
“A timpani,” Treworgy said. “I’ve had my eye on one of those for years for the orchestra.”