Advertisement

Pride of the Neighborhood : The Garfield High band is a treasured institution in East L.A. Its success comes from togetherness, discipline--and respect.

November 01, 1994|GARY LIBMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Leticia Castillo, 16, is a daughter in a family of eight. Luxuries are few, but last winter Leticia spent $91 on a baton. Then she practiced for four months and won a contest to become Garfield High School's drum major.

The Garfield band is treasured in East Los Angeles, and Castillo, a senior, had aspired to join since she was 7.

"They would pass by on Whittier Boulevard in the Christmas parade and everyone would go crazy," she recalls about her first memories of the band.

"Their uniforms were so beautiful. Their tall flag girls looked so sophisticated. The Garfield drum major stood straight and was the only one who wore the busby. I loved that."

Friday at 8 p.m., Castillo will lead the band before more than 22,000 fans at the annual Roosevelt-Garfield football game in Weingart Stadium at East Los Angeles College.

At a game that has decided annual East Los Angeles bragging rights for decades, Garfield will have 115 musicians, 103 drill and flag team members, and 12 shield carriers on the field.

In 1968, when band director Harold Manyweather arrived at the school, the band numbered 20 students. He has been building the group ever since. Some compare him to Jaime Escalante, the former Garfield calculus teacher whose extraordinary results were recounted in the 1987 movie "Stand and Deliver."

"It's almost a musical equivalent to Escalante in the sense that Harold inspires kids to exceed their own musical expectations," says Don Dustin, director of performing arts for the Los Angeles Unified School District. "He's an incredibly charismatic person. He gets a lot out of kids and kids love him."

Jose Arellano, the band director at rival Roosevelt, says Manyweather's record is remarkable. "It's unbelievable and incredible how he could maintain a program so many years with such a big band," he says.

"It's difficult to make a band that big sound good and march well. The instruments, uniforms, coordination of rehearsals--that's a lot of people to communicate with. And he seems to do it all himself."

The band's sound and appearance have made it an institution in East Los Angeles.

"The community is extremely proud of its music, and that they have been instrumental in keeping the tradition of our music in our community and beyond," says Jonathan Sanchez, associate publisher for Eastern Group Publications, a chain of East and Northeast Los Angeles newspapers.

"You can see the excitement in the youth and the parents when they play. They send chills up and down everybody's spine, and above all, I admire the discipline. They're such a cohesive band."

Ana Ramos, 15, a Garfield sophomore who is not in the band, says the positive response to the band from people outside the community is a welcome change from negative remarks students hear about East Los Angeles.

"I think it shows that kids in East Los Angeles can accomplish really a lot of things and they just need to be given the chance," she says.

"I'm very proud of them. It makes you feel good that you're part of the school that they come from."

Veronica Cantero, 18, a 1994 Garfield graduate, says that when the band marches in a parade or appears on television, everyone wants to watch.

"When I see it, it gives me chills just to hear the music," she says. "That's our school. That's Garfield right there."

Emma Martinez, 70, agrees. She has lived across the street from Garfield for 43 years and often, through her bedroom window, hears the band practicing on the football field at 7 a.m.

"That is the best thing we have," she says. "That's the pride of the community. Some noises bother you and some don't. The band, it doesn't."

The band has also impressed observers beyond the community. It has won three straight LAUSD large-school division championships and the sweepstakes award for all divisions in 1993.

In recent years it has performed in Mexico City, Ensenada, Las Vegas, the Hollywood Christmas parade and throughout the Southland. It couldn't raise enough money to accept invitations to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics or to an earlier Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.

*

The sky is often pink over the adjacent San Gabriel Mountains, and most businesses on nearby Atlantic Boulevard are still closed when students begin arriving for daily practice at 6:15 a.m.

They practice two hours every school morning, an hour and a quarter after school and often on weekends.

They talk quietly or click drumsticks together in rhythm as they wait for Harold Manyweather.

When the balding, smiling band director opens the door, the students file into the terraced room and begin taking instruments from cupboards, remaining quiet and orderly.

Rows of trophies stand on shelves. Above the curved rows of seats hangs a banner, "LAUSD Band and Drill Team Tournament of Champions Sweepstakes." Students vow they're on a mission to recapture the title from Washington Prep, the 1994 winner.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|