Michael Herrera: Saxman with a plan

Anthony Hodge

Starting as a young saxophone player, then from serving in the Marines to becoming an aspiring teacher, these events and goals helped make Michael P. Herrera become the man that he is today.

Born on February 4, 1985, Herrera grew up in Bellflower, Calif. during his early childhood years.

When he was 11, his family moved to different cities, such as Downey, Norwalk and Cerritos, until finally settling in Artesia when he was 13.

Herrera was in the seventh grade when he first started playing the saxophone.

“It was kind of an accident with how I started,” Herrera said.

“I actually played drums the year prior at another school, and I registered in band [class] again as a drummer.

“Apparently, so did about half of the students in the class.”

His teacher asked some of the students who wanted to play drums to try wind instruments instead.

“Nobody stepped forward at first, so I gave in,” he said.

“I had no preference on instrument, so the teacher picked randomly for me. It just happened to be the saxophone.

“So the way I see it, I didn’t choose the saxophone, it chose me,” he said.

Herrera attended Gahr High School in 1999, where he played his first jazz solo.

“It was an eye-opener for everyone in my band since many of them had no idea that I could play as well as I did,” he said.

Herrera played the saxophone all four years of high school, but stopped since he used the school’s saxophone and was unable to purchase his own.

Herrera Enlists in the Marine Corp

After graduating in June of 2003, Herrera left home and, after enlisting, reported to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego in August of the same year.

In November 2003, he reported to Marine Combat Training in Camp Pendleton.

He graduated from boot camp as a squad leader and was promoted to private first class in October.

“I have always had the idea of joining the military since my freshman year [in high school].

“And since the Marine Corps is considered the toughest, sleekest and most revered military branch in the nation, it was the obvious choice for me.”

Herrera served as an aviation mechanic in a harrier squadron.

He worked on equipment used to maintain aircrafts such as tow tractors, cranes and other machines.

While he was a lower-ranked private, Herrera was responsible for serving, repairing, and inspecting equipment, as well as keeping an inventory.

He eventually ranked up to corporal and sergeant, and started training other licensed Marines with equipment and kept up records of the Marines’ entire squadron licenses.

Herrera said that the four years of being in Gahr’s marching band helped him make it through the Marines.

Between 2004 and 2009, Herrera took on different assignments and traveled to Hawaii, Australia, Iraq, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and many other countries.

In 2004, he was able to purchase his own saxophone.

By May of 2009, he completed the Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor training.  

Despite the hard work, Herrera said that he enjoyed  teaching others how to work the equipment.

“If there is anything that I have learned, it is that the Marine Corps does not build character, it reveals it.

“Anyone can simply wear the uniform, but not everyone can live up to what it is suppose to represent: honor, courage, commitment. Though I no longer wear the uniform myself, I don’t need to wear it to remind myself of these core values,” he said.

Herrera was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 2009.

Pursuing an education

Now living in Lakewood, he enrolled in Cerritos College in the spring of 2010 and is majoring in music education.

“I really like [Cerritos], it’s close to home. I knew people who were going to Cerritos.”

He joined the Applied Music Program, and joined the concert jazz band.

In his jazz band class, he met his current girlfriend, music major Krissia Molina.

Molina said that they started talking to each other when Herrera sat next to her.

Molina, who also plays the saxophone, said, “I think he is very dedicated. He’s a hard worker, very ambitious.

“He’s a traditional gentleman; he encourages a lot. Even when I know something is bad, he encourages me,” she said.

Herrera shared his thoughts on his girlfriend.

“She’s somebody I really respect as musician and overall as a person. She’s a really talented musician.”

Herrera said that her dedication to music is what attracted him to Molina.

Classmates also shared their thoughts on Herrera.

Music education major Janet Cisneros said that Herrera is a good jazz player and  “a pretty cool guy.”

Music major Reyneelynn Cameros added, “He’s very serious, but he has a very quirky personality.

Herrera hopes to earn his music education degree to become a music teacher.

“I love to teach. It doesn’t matter what it is- music, support equipment, whatever.

“I have always believed that knowledge is power, and to be the person who instills that knowledge into other people, and to see how they apply that knowledge to better their lives is extremely gratifying,” he said.

“I am very happy to share this story with everyone. But one thing that I would like to make clear is that my past experiences and affiliations do not define who I am; I define who I am.”

Herrera will be paying tribute to Charlie Parker, who was considered an influential jazz saxophonist and composer, on Wednesday, March 23, at 6 p.m. in BC-51.