Mark Trulson has seen band students come and go in the last 11 years he has been chair of the Visual and Performing Arts Department (VAPA) at Alhambra High School. But while his junior and senior students rehearsed earlier this month for their Spring concert on Friday, Trulson noticed something different about this group of students: Most have stayed in band since freshman year.
“It used to be that you’d start off with a big group and it would wield down to a small percentage,” Trulson said. “But the retention rate that we’re at right now is much bigger than it was, much greater than it ever has been.”
This growth of the VAPA department is not only in numbers but also in recognition. Cheers for VAPA crescendoed this year as the marching and jazz bands, all-male dance team, choir, drama, and art department, as well as the speech and debate and multimedia teams, garnered multiple awards and placed at various competitions, including the all-male state competition, Congresswoman Judy Chu’s Art Competition, Granada Hills Marching Band Competition, and Music Festival in San Mateo. Trulson attributed this year’s success to a tight-knit group of hard-working students from all disciplines.
“I know for us, being in band is a family. [The students] can be themselves,” Trulson said. “If they were bullied in the past, they’re in a place where they’re not going to be bullied.”
The VAPA department has attracted a diverse group of students, according to Trulson, especially athletes who are looking to express their creativity in a family-like environment. “Just about every sport is represented in VAPA,” Trulson said. “The coaches respect what we’re doing here. We respect what the coaches are doing and we can work together to make sure that our kids could be well-rounded and do what they want.”
The supportive atmosphere is marching band president Vivian Dang’s favorite part of the team. The senior started playing trombone her freshman year and remembers older students consoling her after mistakes.
“That was the first year when I learned how to march and it was great because all the seniors were encouraging me. Every time I made a mistake, I would cry. And they were just like, ‘Don’t worry about it!’” Dang said. “Since then, I’ve been here in the program because of the people.”
Oscar Menjivar, a senior who plays percussion, also credits marching band for encouraging him to grow as a musician and be less shy. “I was really shy until I joined the marching band in the summer before high school,” Menjivar said. “It really helped [me meet] a lot of new people and got me out of my shell. It made me join other things like ASB and become presidents and leaders of different groups.”
The AHS jazz band and orchestra will hold their final concert of the year on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Alhambra High Schol auditorium. The marching band will also be performing at Alhambra Park on May 26 at 10:30 a.m. and at the Alhambra Relay for Life on May 31.