Mandarins Music Academy Spreads Love of Music

Over 1,300 Students Served in Elk Grove School District

ELK GROVE, Calif. — The Mandarins of Sacramento drum and bugle corps may be one of the best in the world, but not everyone has heard of them.

“We’re the best-kept secret in Sacramento,” said Dr. Dan Fong, CEO and President of the group’s parent organization.

With members from around the world, the Mandarins say they are now one of the most inclusive groups in the activity, but when they were founded in 1963, the world was a different place. Discrimination made the corps a necessity.

“The Mandarins started out as the Ye Wah drum and lyra corps, or drum and bell corps, as a safe space for the Chinese youth of Sacramento,” said Fong. “At that time, there really wasn’t much socially that the Chinese kids could be doing and participating in.”

Fong says joining was an experience that finally helped him feel included.

“All those years I was marching, all I wanted to do was acclimate and be part of American society. So, while I had my Chinese roots, I was really taken [with] how drum corps really helped me to integrate into the community.”

As society changed, so did the Mandarins. Horns were added in 1967 and the organization chose a new name that didn’t go far from its cultural roots.

“The name was changed by the members. They selected the name of the Mandarins, which is like a ruling class in ancient China,” Fong says.

The Mandarins also expanded their presence in the community. In 2016, they started the Mandarins Music Academy, which is a way to ensure the presence of music education in local schools.

“We provide the music director… we provide the instrument, the book, all of the accessories,” said Executive Advisor Jim Tabuchi.

They started at one Elk Grove elementary school with seven students.

“That was the start of this widespread program that we have now which now has over 1,300 kids at 45 schools,” said Tabuchi.

That’s about 30 students in every elementary school in the Elk Grove Unified School District. Parents are seeing changes in their children.

Sarah Houser said she’s seen changes in her son, who is in the program at Samuel Kennedy Elementary School.

“It’s really helped him learn how to calm down and focus on the task and made him a better learner,” said Houser.

Other parents have noticed newfound confidence and increased social skills.

“I love doing music, and it’s fun to see all my band friends too,” said student Chace Miller.

Tabuchi gives a lot of credit for the success of the program to the instructors, referred to as music directors.

“Our music directors are really special people. They are what makes this program work. A number of our music directors are also music students themselves. And so we have a fantastic partnership with the Sacramento State School of Music, together with Los Rios Community College.”

It’s great to experience working with such young students and getting to apply what I’m learning in college. It’s awesome. I definitely see the joy and the light in their eyes when they get to pick up an instrument and learn something new,” said music director Sarah Moulton.

Story Credit:
Mike Bunnell, Content Producer
ABC10 Race and Culture Team

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