Several Southern California high schools are scrambling to keep their bands marching.
But a string of recent break-ins has left several South Los Angeles high school bands without tubas. In recent weeks, band rooms have been ransacked across Los Angeles in pursuit of the prized brass instruments.
“It’s demoralizing,” South Gate High School band director Ruben Gonzales Jr. told ABC News. “We’ve been working to build our program by getting instruments donated, so to see them gone is a real kick in the gut.”
South Gate High School is one of many schools targeted in recent weeks. Gonzalez said the thieves had their eyes on only one instrument.
“It’s exclusive to the tubas every time; they are the most valued instrument for any band.” Gonzalez said.
South Gate has been the target of two break-ins since September. The school has lost five of its eight tubas, at a value of up to $30,000.
“We currently have more players than we do instruments,” he said.
The band resorted to old concert tubas that had been in storage so they could at least play their last performance of the year.
“They are too heavy to be marched, but we have to make do with what we have,” Gonzalez explained.
For the time, Gonzalez said the tuba players would rotate the remaining three instruments. The band director has strategized to find ways to replace the instruments, including renting, but the school is struggling to find the money.
“Our budget is stretched thin as is, so we don’t know where to come up with the money to replace it.” He said.
South Gate hasn’t been the only target. Two miles away at Huntington Park High School, thieves stole the school’s last tuba. According to the Los Angeles Times, 13 tubas from nearby Fremont High School had also been stolen, as well as eight from Centennial High School.
The band directors said they suspected the stolen tubas were being sold on the black market.
“We could look for hem, but they could be anywhere, including Mexico,” Gonzalez explained.
They believe the stolen tubas could be melted down for the high priced brass, but it’s more likely that the high priced instruments are being sold — there’s been a recent resurgence of tuba-based banda music in Hispanic communities. Marching bands-style dance music that has a strong tuba presence is popular in Mexico.
“[Tuba players] are paid a lot to play,” Gonzalez said. “Buying a tuba is almost like buying a used car; people want it but can’t afford it.”
He says a banda performer can stand to make more than $100 an hour. A tuba on the black market can sell for between $2,000 to more than $5,000 depending on its condition.
No one has been arrested yet in the burglaries. Gonzalez said he feared the school had not seen the last of the thefts.
“It’s been two weeks, and the locks are not secured,” he said, “I hope the school district will reconsider to safeguard instruments, because this is our home.”