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Thieves take four tubas from Whittier High School

June 29, 2012 |  7:19 am

High school tubas

Whittier High School is the latest school to be hit by tuba thieves.

The school at 12417 E. Philadelphia St. lost four King-brand sousaphones-–marching-band tubas-–to burglars who broke in over the weekend, police said.

“The only thing that was taken were the tubas,” said Officer Bradley White, a spokesman for the Whittier Police Department.

“To replace them new, they’re $5,000 apiece,” said Michele Leblanc, president of the school’s band booster club. “We still have a few more, but they’re in real bad disrepair; they were there when I was there.”

Leblanc said the school's band director told her the burglars left behind a note. “It read something to the effect that they were sorry they were taking them and that 'The Kings are leaving the building,’” she said.

Leblanc said the school insurance carries a deductible of $25,000, so the entire cost of replacing the instruments will likely fall to parents, who are the main supporters of the school’s band.

Tuba thieves have hit several Southland high schools in the last year. South Gate, Huntington Park, Fremont, Centennial (Compton), Jordan, Bell and Manhattan Beach high schools each have had several tubas stolen.

Many of the tubas are valued at more than $5,000 apiece. The thefts amount to a devastating blow to schools facing slim budgets and bands, many of which are dependent on private funding.

Instructors and musicians alike say the break-ins have to do with the enormous popularity of banda music-–Mexican dance music using marching band instruments, in which tubas play a central role.

The demand for expensive tubas has also been fueled by an unprecedented wave of popularity of the tuba in Mexican pop music locally.

Tuba players often receive double the pay of other musicians, such as trumpet and trombone players, leading many to switch instruments, say musicians The Times has interviewed.

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-- Sam Quinones

twitter.com/samquinones7

Photo: There have been a string of thefts of tubas from Los Angeles area high schools, including South Gate High, which has been broken into twice. Erik Camberos, 16, walks to rehearsal last December with an old sousaphone, one of the last remaining at South Gate High. At right, a workman installs a new lock on the band room door. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times.

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