How Marching Band Changed This Alumnus’s Life

Band

“The Locke band has given me a purpose,” reflected Danny Velasquez, Alain LeRoy Locke College Preparatory Academy alumnus. “It's made me more appreciative of music, taught me a sense of responsibility, and has really shown me the importance of collaborating with others.” When Velasquez transferred to Locke the second semester of his freshman year, he had never played an instrument and had little interest in marching band, but after his first choice elective filled up, he decided to enroll in the band class for one semester.

To his surprise, he developed a love for band and music as the semester progressed. “It felt like a part of me. Going into Locke I knew no one, and now most of my friends are from band,” recalled Velasquez. The band helped him connect with his school community, build confidence, and create lasting friendships. “When you’re marching with a 40-pound sousaphone wrapped around your body for hours at a time, you really bond with the people around you and together you create memories that’ll last your whole life.”

A New Passion

Band

Velasquez and his bandmates were not solely developing their musical talents, but also learning critical life skills as they honed their craft--which is one of the chief aims of the school’s band instructors: “I'm not here to try and make professional musicians, I'm here to help make better people. I'm a big believer in responsibility, taking pride in what you do, and being self motivated,” said Matthew Stickman, music teacher and music teacher at Locke. “I'm really big on life skills. I want my students to leave Locke being able to successfully navigate their adult life because it can be tough.”

By his junior year, Velasquez was in an Advanced Band class and held a leadership position within the band. As brass captain, he oversaw section leaders, led warm ups, and supported the development of other band members. “Danny is an exceptional student but most importantly he is a great human being,” shared Jessica Morales, a counselor at Locke. “He has learned to use his voice to advocate for others. He has a unique gift for helping others find their voice and identify what they are passionate about. Whether it be the major they wanted to apply to during college application season or greater life issues.”

By his junior year, Velasquez was in an Advanced Band class and held a leadership position within the band. As brass captain, he oversaw section leaders, led warm ups, and supported the development of other band members. “Danny is an exceptional student but most importantly he is a great human being,” shared Jessica Morales, a counselor at Locke. “He has learned to use his voice to advocate for others. He has a unique gift for helping others find their voice and identify what they are passionate about. Whether it be the major they wanted to apply to during college application season or greater life issues.”

Band

In his senior year, gone was the shy young man he had been when he first attended Locke; Velasquez was now very involved on campus and was highly regarded by his peers and teachers. “He has an incredible commitment to Locke. He has participated in many academic and extracurricular events here,” said Brian O’Connor, another music teacher at Locke.

A Tough Decision

Attending Locke helped Velasquez gain leadership skills and confidence, but in his senior year, he was faced with a tough decision: AP Calculus BC, the equivalent to both first and second semester college calculus courses was only offered during the same time block as band class. Velasquez was also enrolled in three other AP courses, as well as an upper level computer science course. In addition, he was also on the volleyball team and helped look after his younger siblings in the evenings. “I was debating if the band was worth it. I was spending a lot of time on the band, but after high school, I was planning on becoming a STEM major,” reflected Velasquez. This struggle weighed on Velasquez, because band genuinely brought him joy and opened him up to countless opportunities, but AP Calculus BC would prepare him for the rigors of college and a career in the STEM industry.

Ultimately, Velasquez made a solomonic choice: he enrolled in advanced math class, but continued to support the band by attending all the after school practices so he could learn the music and be able to perform during football season.

“His ability to manage everything did not surprise me one bit,” said Morales. “Danny has always persevered and has always thought of creative ways to manage his time.” The experience challenged him and strengthened his time management skills while allowing him to explore his passion for music and solidify his dreams. “Danny really came out of his shell. It was really cool to see him successfully juggle everything,” said Stickman. Velasquez attributes his ability to effectively manage his time to the lessons he learned in marching band and the rigor of his classes at Locke. “It was really hard balancing it all, but once I got into the rhythm it became second nature,” admitted Velasquez. His commitment to both his education and extracurriculars helped Velasquez flourish.

A Rich History and a Bright Future

As a Locke band member, Velasquez is part of a legacy. Locke High School was founded in 1967, since 2008 it has been led by Green Dot Public Schools. Locke’s band earned a reputation as home to one of the most accomplished marching bands in the country, under the direction of Don Dustin and Frank Harris. They were the first to stage elaborate halftime performances, incorporating dance moves and popular tunes. They performed at Los Angeles Rams football games, marched in the Rose Bowl Parade and traveled around the globe.

Band

Unfortunately, the band program deteriorated throughout the ‘90s, and by the time Green Dot assumed responsibility of Locke in 2008, the band was a shadow of its former self. A major effort to rebuild Locke’s music program helps ensure that students like Velasquez will have the opportunity to honor Locke’s rich musical history and build an even greater future. Today, the band continues to have an impact on the community: current band students frequently recall stories of community members approaching them after practice recalling fond memories of the band and how it impacted them.

Once a Saint Always a Saint

Velasquez graduated from Locke with high honors as the salutatorian for the Class of 2019. This summer he is preparing to study astronomical engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles in the fall. He misses Locke and the band, but is excited to see his school community grow and flourish: “For me, it feels great to know I’ve left a mark on my school and that the band will continue to grow for years to come, and be something even greater than it is now.” Velasquez has made a difference at Locke and likewise, the school has helped shaped who he is today. “When I joined Locke, I had very little. Thinking back on the rigorous courses, my friendships, and all the things I was involved in, it feels good,” reflected Velasquez. “Locke helped me grow in more ways than I could ever describe.”

Green Dot is proud of the work happening within the Locke community to revitalize a music program that, in its glory years, was not only celebrated across the city and recognized nationally, but has also impacted the lives of countless students. The passion and commitment of Locke’s music teachers have helped ensure that Locke’s music program will continue to thrive in the years to come.

Share This