Marching Orders: Music director hopes to establish a marching band at La Jolla High


To Be a Band Booster

■ Mail check payable to: Vikings Band Boosters, C/O Michael Fiedler, 750 Nautilus St., Room 804, La Jolla, CA, 92037

■ Donors may write ‘for La Jolla High Marching Band’ in the memo line, if desired.

By Pat Sherman

In 2012, UCLA’s marching band used the La Jolla High football field to practice for its Holiday Bowl performance. There were no scheduling conflicts — at least not with La Jolla High’s marching band, because the school hasn’t had one for well over a decade.

Its current musical director, Michael Fiedler, hopes to fill that void by establishing a P.E. Marching Band and String Orchestra class at the school next fall.

The band would represent La Jolla High at civic events such as the La Jolla Christmas Parade (which last year featured the award-winning marching band and color guard from nearby University City High School).

“There are so many parades in San Diego that La Jolla High’s never really been able to be a part of because there wasn’t an entity to have participation in it,” said Fiedler, who oversaw a 200-student marching band in Fraser, Mich. before accepting the job in La Jolla. “With a marching band, the school has this physical presence, and they can show the rest of San Diego what they’re about.”

In the San Diego Unified School District marching band also satisfies a P.E. requirement for students. That’s something parent Gitfon Cheung particularly appreciates. Her daughter, a freshman who started in the music program at Muirlands Middle School, wasn’t eager to take P.E. at La Jolla High — which is mandatory in ninth and tenth grades.

“Having marching band just gives you a whole other option,” Cheung said. “It’s an entrée into P.E. that you might otherwise not enjoy.”

Students who take up band in middle school often give up their instrument in high school, as they find their schedules too full to accommodate elective arts classes due to the mandatory P.E. requirement, as well as prerequisites for advanced placement (AP) classes.

“Freshmen start out trying to get as many prerequisites for AP classes (as possible) so they can be competitive getting into a college,” Fiedler said. “A lot of times art classes, including music, are falling by the wayside. (P.E. marching band) is just something that works in La Jolla because of how full the kids’ schedules are.”

At least 10 other schools in the district have P.E. marching bands.

Former San Diego Unified School District Board of Education President Katherine Nakamura became instrumental in assuring students in the district receive P.E. credit for marching band after hearing (in 2009) that the California Department of Education planned to stop offering P.E. credit to marching band and JROTC students.

At the time, her son had started playing tuba in the marching band at Patrick Henry High School. “He was coming home (from practice) sopping wet and exhausted. I said, ‘What do you mean you’re not going to give my son P.E. credit?’ It was such an incongruity.”

Pushing air through an instrument while marching and holding an instrument aloft is about as aerobically taxing as any athletic activity, Nakamura said, citing a study out of Indiana State University that equated the physical exertion required in drum corps to that of marathon running.

Nakamura dug in and did some investigation, eventually spearheading legislation that resulted in California school districts being able to decide whether marching band students receive P.E. credit. “If you’re not in shape before you join marching band, suddenly you find your body changing and adapting to the physical demands on it,” Fiedler said.

Pulling off intricate formations on the field also helps students develop teamwork skills. “It’s a very collaborative effort,” Fiedler said. “If you’re a cog that’s not working correctly with everyone else, there’s a very real effect on how the group works. It gives you a sense of pride in what you can accomplish.”

Shannyn Bessette, president of the band boosters at La Jolla High, said the program will require at least $15,000 for uniforms, instruments and sheet music, as well the cost of a physical education teacher (required in conjunction with Fiedler’s musical instruction).

The booster club received a $6,000 donation from the Kiwanis Club of La Jolla, which it is using to launch the marching band, Bessette said. They’re seeking additional funds from the Foundation of La Jolla High, as well as other private donations, she said.

Bessette said at least 40 students are required to establish the class — enrollment she said she is confident the school will achieve.

In recent years several La Jolla High musicians built a website to support formation of a marching band. “When I would tell my students stories about the great experiences you have in marching band, the camaraderie and the different opportunities you have for scholarships to get into different colleges, a lot of them just got really excited about it,” Fiedler said.

Until recently, reception from school administration has not been quite as enthusiastic. “I brought it up again last year, as I do every year, and instead of saying ‘no,’ the administration said ‘maybe.’ ” Fiedler said.

In addition to musicians, Fiedler is also seeking gymnasts or dancers to participate in the marching band’s flag corps, which leads the band and offers a visual, circus-like element during performances.