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Tuba thieves strike again, hitting school bands over winter break

January 4, 2012 | 12:20 pm

Jesse Tucker w Grupo 5 7 095
Burglars broke into two Southern California schools over the holiday vacation, making off with tubas and other musical instruments -- the latest in a string of thefts that appear to be spurred by the immense popularity of banda music

Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach was burglarized at about 12:30 a.m. Sunday, with thieves taking four King sousaphones -- marching band tubas.

"Those start at $5,000 each, not including the case," said Joel Carlson, the school's music instructor. Also stolen were the tuba cases and custom-made mouthpieces.

A closed-circuit camera captured two men in hoods breaking into the school's band room and making off with the tubas, Carlson said.

On the weekend before Christmas, Sycamore Junior High School in Anaheim had all its instruments stolen — valued at a total of $25,000, officials told the Orange County Register. The thieves reportedly passed up computer equipment to pry open lockers where the instruments were kept.

The thefts follow a series of tuba heists at several high schools in areas southeast of Los Angeles, as The Times recently reported. Band instructors say the stolen tubas are probably going into a black market for the big instruments sought for playing banda music.

Banda is an increasingly popular traditional Mexican dance music played with marching-band instruments: trumpets, trombones and clarinets anchored by the tuba. Spurred by a tuba mania among Mexican immigrant party-goers, tuba players have become the stars of the banda world, charging well above the rate of other musicians.

South Gate High School lost five tubas in two separate burglaries over the fall semester. The instruments were valued at almost $30,000, according to Ruben Gonzalez, the school's band director.

Centennial High School in Compton lost eight sousaphones to thieves in an October burglary, a school official said.

Huntington Park High School was burglarized twice, losing its only two tubas. Jordan and Fremont high schools also have lost tubas. Fremont had 13 sousaphones a decade ago and now has none, according to its band director, Akiko Tanaka.


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 -- Sam Quinones


Photo: Tuba player at a backyard birthday party. Credit: Sam Quinones / Los Angeles Times