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20 Marching Bands Keep in Step at 32nd Simi Competition


SIMI VALLEY — Displaying their school colors, wearing stern faces and proudly toting clarinets, tubas and bass drums, they marched onto the field. Then, they showed a cheering crowd what they had been diligently practicing, 10 hours a week, for three months.

When it was all over, only one word could describe the feeling: "Exhilarating," proclaimed Danielle Hubbard, 17, a senior at Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard. She was particularly happy to have made it through a difficult solo on her mellophone. "A couple of measures through it, I realized I was shaking all over."

Danielle was one of more than 3,000 music students, parents and educators from 20 Southern California high schools who descended Saturday on Simi Valley High School's Bob Jacob's Memorial Stadium for the school's 32nd annual Band Spectacular.

Saturday's event, one of dozens that take place throughout the Southland during football season, raised money to support Simi Valley's music program.

Jodi Lindsey, event chairwoman, said she hoped this year's admission and raffle ticket sales would raise $9,500. Despite looming dark clouds, the rain that was predicted for Saturday never came.

Although music programs used to be funded solely by school districts, budget shortages over the years have forced most schools to fend for themselves, raising money for programs through parent booster clubs, said Rick Uhls, president of the Simi Valley Music Boosters.

"Things like the Band Spectacular are typically the biggest fund-raisers of the year," he said. "If we didn't have one, we wouldn't have a program."

Don Page, whose daughter plays the clarinet in Simi's marching band, is one of many parents who volunteered to staff the tournament and said he enjoys helping out.

"With all the cutbacks in music departments, these types of events are the only way to keep the program going," he said.

And keeping marching bands alive is important for every school, participants said.

"It's the best sport--you don't get beat up," said 17-year-old Patricia Cook, who plays tuba in Rio Mesa's band. "And we have the most school spirit."

"It's pride too," said alto sax player Ivan Martinez, 17, also of Rio Mesa. "This is our family."

Ivan, Patricia and 17-year-old Andrew Lucero are the band's drum majors, who lead the group throughout the performance.

On Saturday, Rio Mesa played portions of three musicals--Phantom of the Opera, Fiddler on the Roof and West Side Story. Like most school marching bands, they play together every day in band class and meet at least twice a week after school, plus football games on the weekends.

"It's a lot of fun," Andrew said. "After all that practicing, this is our payday."

Kelly O'Brien, 17, the drum major for Verdugo Hills High School in Tujunga, said she was proud of how well the students performed despite having only four weeks to practice. The school's music director, Victoria Lopez, had been on maternity leave until then.

"For what we had to work with and how little time we had, I'd say this was the best we've done," Kelly said.

"Something just felt right," added Jessica Berns, 17, a member of the school's color guard.

The students are judged in three main areas: music, visual and general effect. Separate judges critique percussion and color guards, said Brian Glahn, Simi Valley High's music department director. Three sweepstakes awards were given out following the performances Saturday in different categories, depending on the size of the band.

"Generally we're judging them on how well they perform what they've chosen to perform," said Don Gunderson, a retired music teacher from Los Altos High School in Hacienda Heights and head judge with the Southern California School Band and Orchestra Assn. The judges' panel oversees contests throughout the region every weekend, he said.

On Saturday, the overall winner was Granada Hills High School, which scored the highest marks in three main categories: color guard, percussion and band.

In the Class A division, Rio Mesa had the best color guard and John Marshall High School won in both the percussion and band categories.

Royal High School in Simi Valley swept the color guard and band categories in the Class 2A division, and Saugus High School had the best percussion.

Hart High School was named best color guard and band in the Class 3A division, and Bakersfield High won for best percussion.

As the hosting high school, Simi Valley High could not participate, school officials said.

Cassandra de Crais, 17, a senior at Royal High, said she and other bandmates sing, "I'm a little teapot" quietly to themselves before marching onto the field to ease the pressure they feel while being judged. The odd tradition was started by a drum major three years ago and has stuck with the group ever since.

"It peps you up," she said.

Despite the turnout Saturday, Gunderson said he has seen it become more difficult for young people to stay in marching bands because of more demanding requirements in academics.

That seemed to hold true at Royal, where band members said their troupe declined from 130 students last year to 74 this year.

Band captain Jeff Harmon, 16, said he wants to encourage more students to get involved next year.

"It's so fun," he said. "It's exhilaration on the field."

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