Belmont High Marching Band performs at 2004 competition.
The Belmont High Marching Band once boasted more than 100 players and had over the decades taken top honors at citywide and state competitions. The school, which serves Echo Park, Historic Filipinotown and surrounding neighborhoods, was filled with pride when the band members in their green and black uniforms performed during an L.A. Raider’s half-time show in the early 1990s. But falling enrollment in recent years and school district budget cuts have taken a toll on the Belmont High music program and marching band, which had fallen to only about 35 members last year. Two weeks ago, Belmont Band Director Brian Higa, was told his position and the music department were being eliminated as enrollment continues to drop.
The news came as the remaining marching band members were preparing for a competition the next day. “They are pretty upset; They were all crying,” Higa said of the students. “They just didn’t feel like practicing that day.”
Some Belmont marching band alumni are working to salvage the music program and marching band. But Higa, who played the flute and saxophone in the Belmont band and orchestra as a student in the 1970s, has announced that the marching and jazz bands would play their final performances at the Belmont commencement ceremony on June 18.
Enrollment at Belmont, which once ranked as one of the nation’s largest high schools with about 5,000 students, has plunged to far below 2,000 as the school district has opened up new campuses and the population in nearby neighborhoods falls or has remained constant.
Higa said that there are currently about 200 students enrolled in the music program, where many of the students have learned to play instruments for the first time. Most of the students and their families can’t afford to pay for private lessons or buy instruments. Belmont provided a free music training for those “who otherwise would not have had the opportunity,” he said.