By Heidi Carreon, 16, Gladstone HS (Covina)
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Heidi says another great thing about color guard is meeting students from other schools at band competitions.

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As a current color guard member and former choir member, I think the performing arts are some of the most important programs in my district. I can’t believe that a few years ago my school district, Azusa Unified, considered cutting all music programs. I still worry that my district will cut music programs and future students won’t have the valuable experiences I’ve had. There’s so much more to performing than learning to play an instrument, dance or sing. I’ve learned the importance of dedication and hard work—values that make me a better student and person.

Even though there are more than 100 band and choir students at my school, my district’s music coordinator told me that nearly every year music programs are threatened with budget cuts. In 2008, the district proposed to cut music programs from all schools. Because they can’t cut English or science classes, the school board considers cutting programs like band or choir. My band director told me that the band gets only $3,000 to $4,000 a year to spend on sheet music, supplies and instrument repairs. That money cannot be used for competition fees. We fundraise for those. I know that it’s tough for schools to find money because of the economy but the performing arts are important enough that they should be available for all students.

Going into freshman year I joined my high school’s color guard because I thought it would be fun learning to toss a flag and meet new people. At first it was easy, but a couple months later we were taught the single-and-a-half toss. That’s when you toss your flag so that it spins one-and-a-half times in the air and catch the pole straight up and down with the flag at the top. Sometimes I dropped it, other times rather than toss my flag straight up it went to one side. After an hour I was the only one who couldn’t do it.

Our instructor, Angie, singled me out to keep practicing while everyone else got to relax. I felt ashamed as my teammates watched me fail so many times I lost count. Eventually I got so tired of tossing that I didn’t care about doing it right.

“Are you giving up on me?” Angie asked.

“Yes, I am,” I snapped at her. She sent me inside the band room where I was allowed to cry out my frustrations. Then Angie came in and said, “You are a perfectionist.” She told me never to give up. She left me alone and I realized Angie was right—by giving up, I was also giving up on the team and myself. I kept practicing and by the next practice I had mastered the toss.

Heidi practices with the color guard for an upcoming competition. Photo by Amy Fan, 17, Temple City HS

I realized that color guard could teach me lessons about life. There were moments when I was going to fail, but the best thing I could do was learn from my mistakes.

I also learned to manage my time. From August to December during marching season, I practiced at least 18 hours a week and sometimes we had six-hour practices on Saturdays. I learned to do as much studying and homework as I could during breaks in the school day, because I knew that I wouldn’t have the energy to do it after a weeknight rehearsal.

I learned about teamwork

In band, we were taught that even though we each had our own job to do in the show, it would take all of us working together to make the show great. One time this freshman couldn’t get to his spot on time no matter how many times we practiced. The entire band and color guard had to hold a push-up position until he could. As my arms started to hurt while in push-up position, I remembered when I couldn’t toss a single and a half with my flag. Just like Angie was patient with me, I knew we had to be patient with this freshman because the marching band is a team. He got it 20 minutes later.

I couldn’t hate that freshman or the people who made us do push-ups, bearcrawls and laps for leaving their stuff on the field after practice because I loved the people in marching band. Band was the first group in school where I felt completely accepted. My band and color guard friends liked me even though I sang Broadway show tunes in the band room and I got way too excited about Harry Potter.

Some of my fellow music geeks practically live in the band room or the choir room because they don’t want to deal with problems at home. One girl in color guard said to me, “I’m not gonna lie, if it wasn’t for this I’d be hanging with the cholos and watching them gang bang.”

That’s why I’m worried that someday the school board could finally decide to cut music programs. I know that it’s not their fault that money is hard to come by. As unpopular as it sounds, I think that raising taxes could be a way to make sure that music wouldn’t get cut from schools.

As I look back on how important music has been for me, all I can think of is a school board meeting a couple years ago. An art student kept asking the school board to find another way to save money other than cutting fine arts programs. The packed room of students, teachers and parents clapped their approval. Music education changed my life and the lives of many people I know; I can’t imagine what our lives would be like without it.