From USA Today:
LOS ANGELES (AP) – They’ve still got their trombones and their trumpets, their cornets and their clarinets.
But the high school marching bands of Southern California are tuba-less these days, and their music directors think they know why.
There’s a band bandit on the loose, they say. Someone, they believe, is breaking into high schools from the east side of Los Angeles to the shores of Manhattan Beach and stealing expensive tubas to supply a fast-growing black market for banda music.
Once little known north of Mexico, banda has become the fastest growing genre of Latino music in the United States over the past 20 years. It is particularly popular in Los Angeles, where musicians gather in places like Mariachi Plaza to offer their services to parties, weddings, quinceaneras and other events.
“Musically, it’s appealing because it’s so dynamic and colorful and bright,” Josh Kun says of the fast-paced, joyous dance music that sprung from the polka tunes that German and French immigrants carried to the Mexican state of Sinaloa in the 19th century.
“Beyond a purely musical context,” says the University of Southern California expert on cross-border popular culture, “it is attractive because it is also the musical context for Mexican immigrant life. … It’s about living between two worlds and sustaining your identity in that balance.”
It also is all about the tuba, the most important instrument in the band.
Without a guy standing front and center blowing out those fast-paced “oompah, oompah, oompah” notes that only a tuba can make, a banda band is nothing.
“The band is driven by the tuba and the drummer,” says Bill Roper, a professional tuba player. “The tuba serves the time function and the bass function, and the rest of the band can’t exist without that.”
Plus, the tuba is so big and pulsating that no one in the audience can ignore it, making it a very sexy instrument in its own right, says Roper. Indeed, people have been known to stuff money by the handful into the horn of a particularly talented tuba player.
So forget the trumpet player, the trombonist or the clarinetist. The tubist is to banda what the lead guitarist is to rock ‘n’ roll.
This is why some of the music teachers at the schools that have been hit say they believe banda bandits are responsible.
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