At Huntington Park Elementary School on Friday, young musicians picked up their violins, clarinets, flutes and cornets and played songs like "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and "Hot Cross Buns" before a small group of parents in the auditorium.
Most schools have culminating festivities like this around this time of year, but just several months ago, this particular showcase wouldn't have been possible. In the fall, the school had no instruments and the L.A. Unified School District said it couldn’t provide them.
Orchestras are the most requested arts form among elementary schools, but since the instruments have a big price tag, the school district can’t afford instruments for every school that wants them.
Now, LAUSD is starting to invest more. The school board approved $356,000 dollars for new musical instruments in March, which will increase access to the orchestra program. The district is also implementing a barcoding system to help keep track of all the instruments that go out to schools.
Next school year, for the first time, Huntington Park will officially be part of the district's elementary music program and will receive 60 or more instruments.
But this year, the school community banded together to make the dream of an orchestra come true for students.
Music teacher René Rowland placed ads on Craigslist and got a few donations, and a neighboring middle school donated some instruments that it wasn't using. After the principal made multiple requests, the school district was able to scrounge up 20 more instruments for the school.
And so since the beginning of the semester, 30 students have been learning to play.
"I felt excited because I was really happy that I was gonna be in an orchestra," said fourth grader Jeanette Flores, who just started playing the flute. Hers was donated to the school. "It feels fun to learn with my classmates."
The students aren’t playing as an orchestra yet – right now they're learning the basics of the instruments in different keys and classes are grouped by instrument – but they performed for a small audience Friday in their sections.
"I’m so excited and I’m so glad to see all these kids playing," said Melissa Knox, a Pasadena resident, who donated a clarinet to the group after seeing a post asking for donations on Craigslist. She came by Friday to see the performance.
"They’re doing well. I was so impressed."
Between songs, students recited some music rules that guide their practice:
I will bring my instrument to music class every week
I will practice at least five days a week
I will walk to and from music class
I will keep my instrument in a protected place at home
I will not allow anyone else to play my instrument
I will not leave my instrument in a car
I will try my best with a positive attitude
As part of LAUSD’s instrumental music program, next year the school will join more than 180 other schools that receive instruments from the central shop.