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And the Bands Played On : In the Post-Prop. 13 Era, Schools : Are Finding New Ways to Make Music

February 17, 1989|PATRICK MOTT | Times Staff Writer and Patrick Mott is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

On various Saturday nights in Cypress, Pat Howard is helping to run a bingo game to keep the musicians of the Cypress High School band in private instrumental music lessons.

In Placentia, meanwhile, Edda Barr and her daughter Heather might be dishing up food at a spaghetti dinner, or washing cars, or selling soap or Christmas wreaths, in order to keep the Valencia High School band in sousaphones.

And in Irvine, while Dick Kerns helps out with yet another bingo game to support the Irvine High School band, his son Eric is probably out hawking candy bars or singing at a paid job in order to pay the salary of the school's choir accompanist.

Is this any way to run a school music program?

In post-Proposition 13 Orange County, music educators and others are finding that it's the only way. During the more than 10 years since the budget-cutting initiative went into effect, many public school music teachers have discovered that the often rosy economic and administrative status quo of the mid-1970s, in which music programs enjoyed not only financial but political support, has evaporated.

But many school instrumental and choral music performance programs are rebounding and even thriving a decade later, the result of a combination of community and parental support, sympathetic administrations and school boards, a little wheeling and dealing, and a few pages borrowed from the gospel according to Prof. Harold Hill.

Wayne Nelson, the band director at Valencia High School in Placentia, plies his trade in a building that many colleges would covet. Standing out in stark modernity against the buff-colored 1930s-era structures that make up most of the campus, the music building contains a large band room; an adjacent choral room with built-in risers, sound and recording equipment; satellite locker facilities, and soundproof practice rooms. The building was built 4 years ago at a cost of slightly more than $1 million and designed by Nelson himself. A new campuswide electrical facility was also built to accommodate the new building at a cost of about $250,000.

The money came from state redevelopment funds earmarked for the refurbishment of old school facilities, Nelson said, and were allocated to Valencia High by the Placentia Unified School District. That the construction of the music building happened at all, however, is testimony to the kind of political clout that teacher skill and inspiration, administrative backing and, often, a strong independent booster organization can bring to bear.

It is Valencia's band boosters--and similar organizations at other Orange County schools that are made up mostly of parents of the student musicians--who can take a good measure of the credit for regenerating the music program after Proposition 13.

"Things were probably the worst at the beginning, right after Proposition 13 passed," said Nelson, who has taught music in Orange County schools since 1966 and was the band director at Cypress High School when Proposition 13 went into effect. "Things were cut back so fast. There were cuts in transportation, instructional budgets, uniforms, music. And in some districts, their priorities for education in the arts weren't high. They stopped repairing instruments and stopped buying new ones and programs just shriveled."

But at Valencia, where Nelson has been teaching for 7 years, the band boosters--and often the band members themselves--have sold candy bars, jewelry and soap, held newspaper drives, spaghetti dinners, garage and parking lot sales and car washes and generally provided the program with enough visibility and money to weather the post-Proposition 13 malaise. Nelson estimated that the boosters provide "somewhere between $20,000 and $23,000 a year" to the program.

"We (the boosters) have to pay for all the other salaries, like the drum instructor or the person who lays out the field shows," said Edda Barr, the Valencia booster, who has seen three children through the music program there. "And any new instruments, or any instruments that are rented, we pay for that, too."

Barr's daughter Heather, a senior flute and piccolo player, said that because Valencia has built up a tradition of high musical quality, "more people are willing to get involved and spend the long hours."

Also, she said, skilled student musicians consistently arrive at Valencia from junior high schools in the area where programs are strong.

"The community support for music in all schools is very high in this district," Nelson said. "And the board (of education) is aware that it's politically astute to support this kind of program. They don't want to upset a powerful group of band boosters."

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