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THE BEST...THE BEAUTIFUL...THE BIZARRE | MARCH MADNESS
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Gone With the Winds

June 28, 1998|Debra J. Hotaling

This evening, beneath the windows of the Police Administration and Jail Facility in Santa Ana, a group of kids marches loudly, just like every other Monday evening. It is a protest of sorts, just not in the way you're thinking.

"OK, everybody, listen up," shouts Robert Ward, who for 27 years has served gratis as the director, musical conscience and cranky patron saint of the youth band Santa Ana Winds. The Winds, as they coolly refer to themselves, are practicing for a grueling, three-parades-in-three-cities Fourth of July schedule.

The music stops.

"I need you to work here," the music man, a Gary, Ind., native who sells band uniforms for a living, barks at the 85 teenagers poised with instruments. Even waiting parents straighten up. They know this is no ordinary band, not one of those cushy go-out-and-put-on-a-halftime-show marching bands, but a hard-core street marching band, which, in a California of massive arts-in-education budget cuts, is exceedingly rare. And any teen can join. "No auditions," says Ward. "If a kid wants to play, he can. If he can't hack it, he'll stop coming." And play they do, paying $10 a month in band dues to fund it. Even after they age out at 22, band members often return as volunteer instructors.

Ward understands their passion for music. What he doesn't understand is why he can't find a shelf or two to show off the band's trophies.

"You'd think a city this large would have a nook or cranny for its children," says Ward, as he gestures to the new government buildings.

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