Most high school band directors struggle semester to semester, trying to scrape up money for equipment and supplies, but music department chairman Harry Corea at Corona del Mar High turns down groups who offer to hold fund-raisers.
Corea has a better source.
"I write a letter home to the parents," said Corea, who has been teaching in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District for 29 years. "They send me all I need--$3,000, $4,000."
Praise from parents after a recent concert performed by Corea's stringed orchestra helped show why he earned the county Department of Education's award for Outstanding Contribution to Education of Students.
"You've really given them a wonderful exposure to music," said Carol Guthrie, whose son, Brett, plays the violin in the orchestra.
Mardi Burcaw and her husband, Mark, also lauded Corea for passing his commitment along to students. "The amount of homework he has them do is outstanding," she said.
"I'm (also) learning," her husband added.
The department presents the award to 20 people throughout the year whose "unique efforts have impacted the education of Orange County students," said Phyllis Berenbeim, coordinator of the awards program.
Honorees are selected from nominations submitted by the community.
"We are grateful parents, who appreciate that Mr. Corea has kept the spirit of music alive in an environment that supports mostly sports as extracurricular activity," parent Milvi Vanderslice wrote when she nominated Corea for the award.
She also quoted a student as saying: "He's the only one I know who loves what he does."
A performer since childhood, Corea has taken high school bands and the orchestra to competitions across the country, garnering awards and trophies. In 1974, the orchestra was named third best in the country at a national competition. The walls of his band room are dotted with plaques, awards and application forms for future competitions and scholarships. There are also fading photographs of marching bands.
Before Proposition 13 capped the property taxes that school districts could levy, forcing major spending cuts, Corona del Mar's marching and concert bands boasted a combined 100 members, and the orchestra had about 30, Corea said.
Today, about 50 students are in the concert band and orchestra. The school no longer has a marching band.
Faced with an annual budget of up to $5,000--just $1,300 of which comes from the district--Corea began appealing to parents for money a few years ago.
The money helps pay for instrument repairs, performances throughout the community and supplies.
"I couldn't do it without the community help," he said, adding: "I just want to keep doing it, and to try to restore music to its place."