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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Belmont High prepares to disband its marching band


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.

16 comments

  1. Right! Eliminate anything of value to the students! Smart thinking as always, LAUSD!

  2. Sad, sad news. I’m a proud Belmont grad, this hits home. Well remember the days when the band — and other arty courses, speech, drama, stage craft, mod dance, the school newspaper, the Belmont Sentinel — were on the list of subjects. All the good things that make one human.

    Understand how it works, California and LAUSD are on the ropes or under water. And Belmont, once with the largest student population in the state, now has three modern high school campuses within walking distance. The old place may disappear entirely.

    Jack Webb, Jack Smith, Mike Frankovich, Ricardo Montalban and many others went there, place had a proud tradition of low and middle income kids going on to success in the world.

    Mexican American Ralph Lazo went to the Manzanar internment camp during WW II with his Japanese American pals from Belmont. Became a cheerleader and graduated from the high school behind barbed wire. He was a hero to the community.

    In 1942, following Pearl Harbor, the general community was incensed that a Japanese American kid was student body pres. They agitated to have him removed. The student body refused. That was the school I went to.

  3. I wish I heard about this sooner… maybe a fundraiser could of happened!

    MUSIC is sooooo important and could help these kids in so many ways!

    I didn’t grow up to be a musician BUT had music my entire school life and loved it!

    THIS IS SAD!

  4. This program was a great experience! It’s an art like acting (BAPA) and that program now even has its own school run by a tyrant who doesn’t consider it an artwork. Something needs I be done to keep this program alive LAUSD is giving a negative value by removing this program.

  5. Claudio Alcantar

    To Whom It May Concern:

    The real reason why the Belmont Music program is being cut!

    After feeling the pressure that we the alumni and friends of the Belmont music program have mounted, the administrators called a brief meeting with the current music students on May 31, 2012. A few alumni were present to listen to the administration’s reasoning for cutting the program, and the options of keeping some sort of music education at the school.

    All three principals (yes Belmont High School has three) from the small learning communities were present. All three all but said that the music program was irrelevant in their educational plan for the students in their respective communities. What are small learning communities? Ok, if you don’t already know, Belmont High School is divided into three Academies, also known as small learning communities. These three academies specialize in specific subject and career pathways. The three academies are LAAMPS(Los Angeles Academy of Medical and Public Service), with courses in first responders and medical terminology, SAGE (Science, Art and Green Engineering), with courses in automotive technology, drafting, and computer assisted design, and the Belmont Multimedia Academy, with courses in filmmaking, cartooning & animation, digital photography, digital imaging, and web page design. That being said, where do we fit the Music Program? Both SAGE, and the Multimedia academies offer electives that cater to their curriculum, LAAMPS is the only academy that will not be offering an arts elective next year.

    They said that a traditional music education program, that has demonstrated for many decades its success, has no place whatsoever in their plans because their students were being tracked for their own specialized curriculum. They kept reiterating that research has shown that this is a path to a successful school with better attendance rates, better college university acceptance rates, and better CST scores, and apparently many other schools want to use this as a model. I We wonder if their research also shows how many of their students have actually gone on to pursue a career in their respective community.

    The main reason why there will no longer be a music program at Belmont is because it simply does not fit into what they are trying to do with their academies. Budget cuts do play a role because they won’t be able to offer a variety of electives. One of the Principals said that there are good things and bad things about these academies. Unfortunately something has to be sacrificed, and this time it had to be the Music Program.

    The administrators danced around the issue, small learning communities are killing the performing arts at Belmont. One administrator said that the music students in the neighborhood have the option of studying music at Cortines School for the Visual and Performing Arts in Downtown. They fail to see that the music students want to study music at Belmont because they know that the program has a long history of excellence and caring alumni.

    The administrators presented another solution to save the music program. Their solution was to have it as an afterschool club, funded by A World Fit For Kids and instructed by someone that A World Fit For Kids would hire. Very little details are known on how or who this organization would hire, so we proposed the option of keeping the position with one of the many music alumni that the program has produced with a university music degree. That way we continue to keep it in the family. Having music as an after school program also means that the students will not receive credit for their involvement. This is a band-aid on a gunshot wound.

    After hearing the administrators speak it is evident that they do no intend to save the program but prolong an inevitable death nor that the program was cut due to budgetary reasons. Enrollment is an issue and everyone is fighting for numbers, but each academy will only enroll students into their own desired electives, leaving no students for the music program. Lets face it, there is not room for the music program at Belmont. The only way that we could save the music program is if there was a performing arts academy, but that academy has already relocated to the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools.

    The air at the school is clouded with uncertainty as many of the facets that made Belmont proud are systematically disappearing. What about parent support you may ask? Unfortunately, many of the parents of Belmont students are first generation immigrants that believe that the school is always looking out for their children’s best interest and take whatever decision the school or District make as the right decision.

    With today’s recent development it is clearer now that at 5:00pm on June 18th, 2012, the Belmont music program will have its’ final performance. Many alumni are going to return to their alma matter and play one last time for Belmont. After all it seems that the District wants to turn over Belmont to charter school after they are done modernizing the school.

    Sincerely hope you are able to witness the final performance.

    The Belmont High School Music Program Alumni

  6. What a shame. The LAUSD spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build the new campuses nearby using bond money that we voted to pay but can’t seem to use the facilities for anything other than the basics. The overall lack of capability of the LAUSD to manage the schools and improve the public image of a system that appears to be in crisis is a disaster for our kids.

    Here’s hoping there is a way to change this decision but it seems like the powers that be have already finalized it.

  7. look at that show! seriously they want to cut that?!

  8. What is going on with my beloved Belmont? I’m an alumni from ’94 and all I ever here about Belmont is how they are losing everything that we grew to love in the early ’90’s. I played football and I was always proud of our band, we always had the best band out of any team that we played. This is sad, and it really upsets me. What can we do to salvage the Belmont that we all grew to love?

  9. Being part of that band was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Some kind of artistic activity is definitely important when it comes to forming a well rounded student. To think otherwise is to have absolutely no idea how to form college bound and competitive students.

  10. This is extremely sad to hear! Art is SO important in child development! Art was music for me. Good luck to the current Belmont music students! They shouldn’t stop. With the cuts in the local budget, there are many private music programs growing. There was an article about one on the Eastsider-Boyle Heights. There is also that music school in Silverlake?

    Here is the one from Boyle Heights – http://www.facebook.com/NMSMusicLA – scholarships available and it looks like the most affordable between group and private. They’ve been around since 1914 too! lol
    Silverlake Conservatory is here – http://www.silverlakeconservatory.com/ – scholarships available and seems affordable. Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers is on their board!

  11. If any of you are interested in joining/supporting Belmont’s final performance then join this Facebook Page
    https://www.facebook.com/events/421659141197760/
    Message one of the people who are going into inviting you to the event.

  12. Belmont has provided the most egalitarian programs for students. Stellar music, drama, and choral programs for hundreds each year defined that “classic” high school experience that schools in the suburbs could only dream of having.

    It is disheartening to see what LAUSD has done in the neighborhood — new buildings do not translate into academic achievement. New teachers will not necessarily understand the diverse cultures which influence their students. New ways of dividing the continued reduction of the student body into ever
    smaller groups will not raise test scores.

    Whatever the economic situation of Belmont students and their families — and Belmont remains historically working-class — the arts were free, encouraged by teachers and staff, and all abilities welcomed.

  13. LAUSD is making a HUGE mistake I was part of the band during my highschool yrs and it brought joy and pride. I want to thank Mr. Feliz and Mr. Higa for teaching me everything I know about music they are the best music instructors

  14. This seem to be the norm unfortunately. We had 18 -20 members this past year. We don’t even have tryouts ..we take anyone which means you will win no competitions.Winning is for the schools with money and parents with money. It all comes down to the rich man wins again

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