It was not to long ago that Garfield High School’s Marching Band was the pride of the community.
Today, the band, roughly a third of the size it was in its heyday, continues to win awards and garner loyal cheers, but it could really use some new instruments, says the school’s music director.
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Garfield Necesita Nuevos Instrumentos para la Banda de Majorettes 
On Monday, the 50-member marching band led the Kingdom Day Parade in South Los Angeles, breaking in new uniforms that arrived just last week. A banner, announcing their first place win at the LAUSD’s Beyond the Bell Grand Annual Band and Drill Team Championship on Dec. 10, preceded them down the parade route.
Years ago, under the direction of legendary music instructor Harold Maryweather, the band boasted 140 musicians. Their numbers have shrunk to about 50 over the years.
Garfield’s current music director, Eloy Adame, the third or fourth music instructor since Maryweather, says they must have had 140 instruments at one time, but that’s no longer the case. Adame says he does not know where all the instruments went.
He says music programs have been hit hard by funding cuts over the years. Cuts have not only affected high schools like Garfield, but feeder schools that can no longer prepare the same number of students eager to join a band.
Adame knows this personally. He was a music instructor at Griffith Middle School for seven years before he joined Garfield High School three years ago.
“[Three years ago Garfield’s] program was a little bit … anemic, and there was an opportunity to fill out an application for a grant through the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation,” Adame explained.
Garfield was awarded the grant and the underwriters Fidelity FutureStage gave them $25,000 worth of musical instruments, including an entire set of drums and one or two of each instrument requested. While it was a start, it did not fill their total need, Adame said.
Garfield recently received a second donation from the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation.
This time the donation came in the form of 15 mint-condition electric guitars donated from rock legend Eddie Van Halen’s personal collection.
Everybody — students, teachers and parents — are interested in the guitars, Adame told EGP. The much needed guitars means there will no longer be just one guitar for every two students.
However, cables and amplifiers didn’t come with the guitars, Adame said, adding that a company has already expressed an interest in making those donations.
The guitars are “top notch” and this makes it easier for students to learn, but Adame said he hopes the excitement over the guitars can be leveraged to increase enthusiasm for the marching band, which he says is the main focus of the music program.
“You wanna play an Eddie Van Halen guitar? You have to pay your dues in the marching band,” Adame joked.
Vice Principal Ramiro Rubalcaba credits Adame for getting the ball rolling by writing the grant application.
However, the school’s music program still needs more help because more cuts are expected next year and funding goes first to core subjects like Math, English, Science and History, he said.
“We have a band program that is a championship program but sometimes we have clarinets that are taped, and have rubber bands holding things,” Rubalcaba said, “These kids deserve to have brand new instruments, to have state of the art instruments, because they put in that time and they are champions,” he said.
The arts are important to keep kids motivated in school and “often it saves students from dropping out,” Rubalcaba told EGP.
Principal Jose Huerta calls the electric guitars a priceless donation for the school and says he believes the school was selected because it is improving academically. It went up 75 points last year, and beat every high school in California as far as growth in one year, the principal said.
“It’s all about instilling values in kids and he [Adame] does it. He promotes self-worth and responsibility and all those things kids need to succeed in life. So fortunate to have Adame here…” Huerta said.
Adame said they cannot sell the guitars to raise money to purchase band instruments, noting that they agreed in writing that the guitars would only be used by students.
Adame says about 30 of their instruments are in very bad shape, and while they buy new mouthpieces to keep them going and the school district does a good job repairing them, some of the instruments are 25 to 30 years old.
The band only has one full set of functional instruments and could use another set: one piccolo, e 4 flutes, 4 clarinets and 4 trumpets, said Adame, who hopes someone will step forward to donate the instruments.
Garfield also has a mariachi program and Adame also teaches the jazz program.
Electric guitars and electric bases have begun appearing in band competitions, according to Adame, but adds there’s no knowing when Van Halen’s guitars will make their debut on the football field since all the guitar students are beginners.