“People, time flies by. Let’s go,” said Manuel Castaneda, band director of the Centennial High School marching band in Compton. It was just after 2 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon and his instrument-carrying cohorts were midway through an hour-long rehearsal for a Thursday evening performance at the opening of Art Los Angeles Contemporary, the annual art fair held at Barker Hanger in Santa Monica.
“Imagine there’s a bar over here,” artist Alison O’Daniel told the group of 30 or so high school musicians, gesturing to one side, “and like 500 people around. Let’s see how condensed we can get.”
The musicians shuffled out of the band room to line up outside the door and try again to snake around each other before breaking off into small circles by section— tubas to one side, percussionists in the middle, woodwinds on the opposite side.
The performance was O’Daniel’s brainchild. She’d worked with Centennial’s band as part of her ongoing film project,The Tuba Thieves. That film, a sometimes abstract narrative involving sound, silence and sculpture, was inspired by a rash of tuba thefts that began hitting L.A. Unified high schools around 2011. (An oft-repeated hypothesis is that the popularity of banda, a Mexican dance music in which tubas play a key role, spurred the crimes.) O’Daniel found the idea of a band’s deepest sound being stolen fascinating, though Centennial has since acquired new tubas. The band is featured in her film, and O’Daniel now knows the campus intimately.
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