Los Angeles teachers and school district officials might not agree on much these days, but harmony prevailed Saturday when 50 teachers volunteered to work on their day off to help young musicians get a start on their careers.
The sounds of flutes, pianos, saxophones and other instruments filled the hallways of the Los Angeles City College Music Building as 150 nervous elementary school students auditioned for a chance at scholarships offered by the Los Angeles City Elementary School Music Assn.
"It's a chance for them to get their foot in the door," said Evelyn Cain, a music teacher in Los Angeles schools for 25 years. Cain brought 14 of her students from Sheridan Street Elementary School in Boyle Heights to audition for the scholarships.
The "E" string on sixth-grader Alia Edwards' violin snapped just before she launched into her audition, a rendition of a Bach march. The mishap didn't seem to faze her, though.
'Just Came Natural'
"I was scared at first, but then it just came natural," the 11-year-old from South-Central Los Angeles said as she received an embrace from her mother, Rachel Boodram.
"This is a big opportunity for her, an inner-city kid getting a chance," Boodram said.
The scholarships are paid for by the music association's members, most of whom are elementary school teachers, said Fran Benedict, a music teacher who helped coordinate the annual auditions. The 40 students who win $250 scholarships will receive private lessons, many for the first time, Benedict said. The program began in 1947.
"We feel strongly about this, that's why we're here on our day off," said Merv Chase, 37, a voice teacher at several schools in the San Fernando Valley. "You don't get paid for it, but you do get paid in a different way, by seeing the kids excel and do well."
Members of the United Teachers of Los Angeles have been involved in a contract dispute with the Los Angeles Unified School District since last year, and say they will refuse to turn in grades next month. Last week, thousands of high school and junior high school students protested, demanding their grades and supporting teachers in the dispute.
But the controversy seemed to be far from the teachers' minds Saturday as they helped their students through the sometimes stressful auditions.
Music teacher Cain played a piano accompaniment while one of her students, Anthony Zuniga, 10, auditioned on the trombone.
"Give a great big wind, the best that you've got," Cain counseled the diminutive trombonist as he launched into a rendition of "900 Miles," an American folk song.
The three-judge panel applauded loudly when he finished, remarking with astonishment that he had memorized his piece.
"All right, Anthony, nerves of steel," said judge Les Lovitt, a professional trumpet player. Anthony and the others will find out if they won early this week.
Asked how he had done, Anthony merely shrugged his shoulders and smiled.