The possibility of Hermosa Beach students not having the opportunity to create harmonious sounds through musical instruments was almost a reality.
Eight years ago after the Hermosa Beach School District eliminated its music program due to budget constraints, parents’ prayers were answered when they found a person willing to teach an after-school program, calling it Hermosa Beach Youth Music. Parents had scrambled to find anyone who could create some type of organized musical program for the children. Then Ken Harrison, who teaches full time at Turning Point School in Culver City, was recommended by a Manhattan Beach teacher. Harrison was flattered by their request and quickly formed HBYM, a brass instrument playing group, giving students grades fourth through eighth, the same musical opportunities as others throughout the beach cities.
HBYM continued to stay afloat with donations from the HBSD and volunteer organizations until last summer when the sounds of children playing music in Valley school was almost silenced again after the HBSD informed Harrison it could no longer help out financially. Again they were set to lose the group that had become the sound of school spirit, representing the district at holiday celebrations like the Christmas tree lighting and St. Patrick’s Day parade and other communities events like the Little League opening ceremonies. Just like in 2005, parents and Harrison were not about to let HBYM fall to cuts like other programs had in recent years.
“We were trying to find out how we could keep music in the school,” said HBYM President Regina Hoffman, adding that 30 children currently makeup the group. “Ken was upset the program might not continue (so) he emailed this group of parents to try and set up a nonprofit … it’s all for the kids.”
Within a few weeks the group obtained nonprofit status and HBYM finally began solidifying the program’s foundation within the community.
“I think it has been great. They really take the kids’ education in their hands,” Harrison said of the parents. “The parents who support their children are taking it to the next level.”
Superintendent Patricia Escalante said district officials were disappointed they weren’t able to continue to help fund HBYM, but she was optimistic the parents would step up to maintain its existence. She said it’s vital that children in Hermosa Beach have the opportunity to perform in a structured musical program because their neighboring peers are getting that experience in Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach as part of their everyday curriculum.
“Having this program available to students is an important opportunity for students to learn, create and work as a team,” Escalante said.
If HBYM didn’t exist, then children would be left with only private-lesson practices and wouldn’t have the experience of playing musical instruments in a large group. Harrison said they’d be entering Mira Costa High School, for example, having only played in private lessons and trying to compete for spots in the high school band with children who’ve been playing in organized bands since elementary school. And since HBYM meets afterschool on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the students are still getting less band practice time in than other children.
“They’re going in at a disadvantage,” Harrison said. “It’s a challenge for students … we just have to keep developing this program to the next level … every kid has the ability to be a musician.”
Despite the challenge of competing for a chair in high school bands, Harrison said HBYM has had members go on to perform extremely well at that level. And to help build the Hermosa Beach students’ confidence, those former HBYM high school students are even teaching private lessons to them, which sends the younger children a great message of encouragement, he said.
Hoffman’s ultimate goal is to expand HBYM within five years. She wants to take it from only focusing on brass to also offering children the chance to be in bands that use woodwind instruments, percussion or even sing in a choir.
“I’d like to see 100 kids playing and singing,” Hoffman said. “We want as many kids as possible to experience music as part of their lives.”
Escalante believes that will eventually happen.
“I know HBYM will be thriving, growing and an important part of the school culture thanks to the parents who have a passion for music,” she said.
Escalante said what makes the nonprofit a success is the fact that students join the band “because they want to, not because it’s an elective class that they were put into by the school.”
Candy Ayllón-McPhail, a band parent who handles the fundraising for HBYM, said there are so many benefits to children picking up an instrument and performing with their peers. She said there is a very strong correlation between music and academic achievement. Being in a band and playing in front of others also boosts self-confidence, she said, adding that children are thriving under Harrison’s musical instruction.
To help keep HBYM moving toward an even brighter future, she encourages everyone to give a little to help children discover a world of music that some might not even know exists.
“Our mission statement is to initiate and develop music education programs for Hermosa Beach youth (so) we are reaching out to the community and our local businesses for support and our efforts have been yielding very encouraging results,” she said.
Ayllón-McPhail said their most popular fundraiser is held the first Tuesday of the month when the band sells Handel's ice-cream sandwiches at Hermosa Valley School. The next ice-cream sandwich fundraiser will be Feb. 5.