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Watch Live: José Hernández and his Signature Bach Stradivarius LB43 Trumpet
By West Music Mariachi
5/19/2015 10:36:00 AM  

Mariachi Trumpet Master José Hernández, accompanied by Mariachi Sol De México members Adrian Mendoza and Jorge Contreras, show off his signature Bach Stradivarius LB43 trumpet. José collaborated with Conn-Selmer to design this horn to his exact specifications. Sit back and enjoy the sounds of the finest, world-renowned mariachi trumpeters of today.

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Tags: Jose hernandez, conn-selmer, Mariachi sol de mexico, adrian mendoza, jorge contreras, bach stradivarius LB43, trumpet, mariachi trumpet, mariachi instruments, mexico, live, performance, vincent bach
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Connecting Community and Tradition at Denison High School
By Ruben Newell
4/21/2014 9:13:00 AM  

I’m a selfish person. Maybe “selfish” is too strong of a word - maybe it’s more about self-preservation than being selfish.  Either way, mariachi is a part of the Denison instrumental music program for somewhat selfish reasons.

I took the job in Denison in 2009.  I moved here from another 3A school, where I had a fairly successful program with great students.  A lot of people told me they didn’t understand what I was doing, making a lateral move like that when I appeared to be comfortable and doing well where I was already at, but something was pushing me to Denison.  I don’t know if it was the sense of adventure of running a different program or the high quality middle school program.  Or maybe it was that deep down feeling that something bigger awaited me in Denison.  Let’s go for that - it sounds much more romantic!

After taking the job, I was made aware (though somewhat subtly) that teaching at Denison was going to be different from the predominantly caucasian school I had just left. Denison has a high population of latino students, and colleagues were quick to tell me that there were "different challenges" I would face in my new program. Why do some people see diversity as a hurdle instead of an opportunity?

I’ll be honest, it looked like a hurdle to me in 2009, but that hurdle became an opportunity I will never regret. The solution was mariachi.  I didn’t know anything about it - all I knew is that it was popular in Mexico, and if I could use it to keep students in band, then I would. See - that’s a little selfish.  I wasn’t thinking about cultural impact or bringing a community together - it was all about my job and my program.

If you want to hear about our journey to starting a mariachi program, ask me sometime - I’ll go on and on about it.  It was a transformative journey that changed my professional life.  For now, I’m going to skip ahead to spring of 2013 - as we come towards the end of our second year of mariachi education in Denison, because that’s when things really got interesting.

April, 2013:  We were preparing for our first fundraiser with our first high school mariachi.  it was going to be a night of food and music, featuring our middle and high school mariachi.  As the day of the event approached, I had parents preparing food and students decorating the middle school commons.  There were soundchecks and run-throughs, and on a Friday night, there were people sitting in seats, eating and socializing.  As I stepped out into the commons, what I saw in front of me was a perfect cross-section of Denison.  Some white-collar, some blue-collar; some young, some old; some retired teachers, some new families; and yes, some caucasian and some not.  I hadn’t seen it to that degree since moving to Denison.  It was one of the greatest sights I have ever seen.  As good as it was, it was about to be topped in about an hour.

The middle school mariachi performed after the meal - they were very “beginner-y” - playing some easy short songs from their lesson book.  They finished up, and we introduced the high school mariachi, who came in wearing their new trajes (mariachi uniforms).  The air was about sucked out of the room when they came in from everyone making one of those gasping sounds that people make when something catches them completely by surprise.  They looked like a real mariachi.  Then they started playing, and they SOUNDED like a real mariachi.

That’s when I saw one of the greatest things I have witnessed in my professional life.  As the high school mariachi played, there were tears - honest to God - tears.  Grown men bursting with so much pride that it leaked out of their eyes.  They were sitting in the middle of western Iowa, listening to their children play music from THEIR culture.

Fiesta 2014 I have a lot of photos from that first fundraiser, and they all have something in common - smiles.  Every student performing and every person sitting in the audience, no matter what label they had been given: hispanic, white, black, asian, retired, poor, rich, white collar, blue collar, coach, teacher, kid - all of them smiling.  The next week, the compliments started coming in, but one I’ll never forget.  One of our teachers, who grew up in Denison and graduated from DHS said to me in the hall: “Thank you - Denison has needed something like that for a long time.”  It started sinking in at that moment - we had done something bigger than keeping kids in band.  We had changed lives and helped bring a community together.

That’s almost too much to accept - even now when I think about it, it scares me a little.  That’s a lot of responsibility.  After all, I just wanted to make sure my job was secure!  No matter what my original intentions were, every time we perform somewhere, it brings people together and it helps elevate the community and the school a little more.

I’ll tell just one more quick story - a couple weeks ago, we took a group to a neighboring school district for a cultural outreach.  Our middle school interpreter and her husband came with us to demonstrate a traditional dance that went with one of the songs we were playing.  During the soundcheck, about 30 minutes before our first performance, some of the students started playing “El Rey.”  That’s a favorite of theirs, and of a lot of people who listen to mariachi.  However, we didn’t have the singer we normally have for that song, so I told them to stop wasting their chops on that since we couldn’t perform it that day.  Raul (the husband of the interpreter) heard me say that, and humbly came up and told me he could sing it if we wanted to play it.  The teacher in me said “no way” - without time to rehearse it?  I was supposed to trust this random community member I had never met before to sing a song?  The adventurer in me said “go for it.”  And we did.  And it was spectacular.  I found out later that when he was younger, he was in a mariachi in Mexico as a child, and loves to sing mariachi, but has missed doing it since moving here.  This week is our second annual fundraiser, and Raul will be singing two songs with the high school mariachi.

As music educators, these are the moments we live for.  Ratings at contest or trophies mean NOTHING compared to making a REAL difference in lives through music.  That’s what mariachi has done for us in Denison.  It has allowed us to reach a whole different group of people and really touch them through music.  It has provided me some of the most meaningful teaching moments of my career.  I have witnessed students breaking down in tears in pure joy after a performance.  I have seen community members become awestruck by students.  I have exposed people to new cultures for the first time.  I have made a difference in Denison, Iowa.  I have had a lot of opportunities because of mariachi.  My job is better because of it, and the community I live in is better for it.

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Mariachi is Powerful!
By Dr. Donna Emmanuel
1/17/2014 2:06:00 PM  

Initial results from a study conducted at the University of North Texas indicate multiple layers of mentoring that occur during their annual summer camp for middle school and high school mariachi students. Based on the large amount of research in the field of Positive Youth Development, mentors play a significant role in the lives of students who might face challenges. Our camp provides the perfect opportunity for students across North Texas and beyond to come together, build friendships, and share in their love of mariachi.


There are many factors that can help our students be successful in school and life, but one of the most important is having committed, capable, caring adults in their lives. This has proven to be invaluable! In fact, mentoring is at the top of the list of the most important factors!

  1. Sustained, positive adult-youth relationships
  2. Youth life-skill building activities
  3. Youth participation and leadership of valued community activities.

At UNT's mariachi summer camp, mentoring occurs at several levels. The campers get to know the members of UNT's Mariachi Águilas who serve as counselors and teachers for all the campers, staying with them in university dorms for the duration of camp. These undergraduate students serve as powerful role models for the campers, showing them what it is like to be a college student and that college attendance is within their reach.


A second level of mentoring occurs as members of a professional group, Mariachi Quetzal, interact with the UNT undergrads and the campers. Members of this mariachi are all former UNT students and most were member of Águilas in the past. They have been highly visible not only in the camp, but in public schools where they work with students as they prepare for Extravaganzas and Fiestas. Quetzal members also serve as mentors for the UNT mariachi, helping them with performance and teaching techniques and giving them tips on being successful in college.


And everyone is mentored by Maestro José Hernández, the founder and director of Mariachi Sol de Mexico! Maestro Hernández attends the camp as our guest instructor and artist, working with all campers throughout each day and performing with them on the culminating concert! He inspires us all to work hard, to be proud of this musical culture, to do our best, and show us what hard work can provide! He is a shining example of mariachi education at its finest, and the campers and teachers are all excited to have him at our camp.


This ongoing study is continuing for its 4th year this summer at our 8th summer camp. Campers, students, teachers, and Maestro Hernández have all been interviewed and the impact of this multi-layered mentoring is unbelievable! Many former campers have applied to college, most of them the first in their families! Some come to UNT and are now members of Águilas and counselors for camp!!

So when folks in the public schools challenge the importance of mariachi, explain to them that when middle and high school students are able to form relationships with professional mariachis, teachers, and university students, the results can have a lasting positive influence on their lives! Viva mariachi!!

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Tags: mentoring, camp, middle school, high school, university, texas, mariachi, emmanuel, hernandez
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Mariachi in the Denison Schools
By Ruben Newell
1/17/2014 1:16:00 PM  

If you pull out a yearbook from the 1960s and look up the band section, what will you see? A marching band, a concert band, small groups, and maybe a stage band? Take out a yearbook from the 1980s and you will probably see the same thing, except the stage band has likely changed its name to "jazz band." What about your 2011-2012 yearbook? Still a marching band, a concert band, and jazz band? That's how the yearbooks look at Denison High School. The problem is that while the students have changed dramatically in Denison over the last 50 years, the instrumental music program has been made of the same three major components: concert band, marching band, jazz band. When the 2012-2013 yearbook comes out, something will have changed. There will be marching band, concert band, jazz band, and mariachi.

What do you know about mariachi? Maybe I should ask that in a different way: what do you think you know about mariachi? If you are like I was two years ago, you think you know what mariachi is. If you are also like I was two years ago, you are probably wrong. Over the last two years, I have learned that I didn't know anything about mariachi. I learned that mariachi is a very passionate genre of music. I learned that the musicians that make up these mariachis are outstanding musicians with a wealth of knowledge about theory and technique. I learned that the top musicians in mariachi are almost all classically trained, and some hold degrees in composition or performance from major schools of music. I also learned that there was a population of our student body with a cultural connection to mariachi that I was not fully serving.

Mariachi Reyes del Oeste
Mariachi Reyes del Oeste

Denison, Iowa has changed considerably over the last 20 years. If you look up the 2010 census, you will find that Denison has a population of 8,300, and was one of the few rural Iowa cities to grow in population from 2000. That growth is centered around the 40 percent of our community that is of Hispanic decent. They are the families having more kids, which is why our school district of 2,200 students is 57 percent Hispanic. Our high school is around 775 students, and about half are Hispanic.

I know that Denison's story is similar to the story of many towns in Iowa. The increasing diversity in our student body is what makes our school special, but also provides challenges when planning curriculum and deciding what extra-curricular activities should be offered. When I first saw the ethnic breakdown of our district, the first thing I thought was, "Are we engaging as much of our student body as possible in music?" Thanks to a very strong middle school band program, directed by Patti Bekkerus, the instrumental music program in Denison serves a large portion of our student body. In fact, while the percentage of Hispanic students has risen in Denison, the instrumental music program involvement has not declined. It was not a question of if we could involve more students in music – rather could we involve more students deeper in music.


In the fall of 2010, it came to my attention that there were a growing number of mariachi programs in the southern and western United States. The more I looked into them, the more I wanted one here in Denison. For six months, I looked up school districts on-line and contacted directors from around the country, but came to find that there were no school mariachi programs in Iowa. I knew I wanted to start a mariachi at DHS, but without a contact or colleague nearby to consult with, the outlook looked grim. Then, I received my 2011 Iowa Bandmasters Association Conference magazine. There, staring me in the face, was a session on starting a mariachi program.

That day in May at IBA changed the course of the instrumental music program in Denison. West Music, out of Coralville, had brought in Marcia Neel from Las Vegas to talk to us about what mariachi is and where we could go to get some training. That training was in June in Las Vegas, and West Music, along with Yamaha and Wenger, were offering some financial assistance to an Iowa director who wanted to start a program at their school. I left the clinic, found Patti and said, "We're going to Vegas this summer." We lined up a meeting with our superintendent as soon as we possibly could the next week and I braced myself to tell our boss that we wanted to go to Las Vegas and learn how to start an entirely new program at Denison.

Our superintendent, Michael Pardun, was enthusiastic about the idea. He committed to sending us to Vegas for a week and buying the instruments we needed to get our mariachi program started in the fall of 2011. We had a meeting with our building principals, and it was all given a green light. Just like that, in the span of a couple months, we went from a dead end to a new program.

Patti and I spent a week in Las Vegas in late June, 2011, meeting some outstanding music educators and learning how to play new instruments (as well as a much-needed refresher from our college string methods class). We learned about the history of mariachi and worked with other band and orchestra directors who were also trying to start mariachi programs in their schools. During that week, our vision for a mariachi program was clarified and we started forming our plan for getting our program off the ground. When we returned to Denison, we had another meeting with our superintendent, and the following week, all of our new instruments were ordered.


Mariachi Picoso - March 2012
Mariachi Picoso - March 2012

In September, we decided to start our first mariachi group with members of the eighth-grade band. We took a period to give the eighth-grade band a presentation about mariachi, followed by a short survey from each student concerning their interest in being in this type of ensemble. We had to limit the number of students based on the number of instruments we had. By the middle of September, violin and guitar lessons had started. For a few months, the violins and guitars learned in separate classes, twice a week for 30 minutes. Out of the guitar class, we chose two students who were excelling to make the switch to vihuela (a smaller, five string guitar) and guitarrón (the bass instrument of the mariachi). Eventually, the flutes and trumpets were added to the guitar class.

Since we were using the eighth-grade band members for our first mariachi, we did not need to start trumpets or flutes. For the guitars and violins, we used the ¡Simplemente Mariachi! beginner method. When the violins reached lesson 16, they had the tools to play though the first full arrangement, "De Colores." At that point the entire mariachi was put together to start rehearsing for our first performance. The group rehearsed twice a week for 30 minutes.

By winter break, Denison Middle School had its first mariachi, and they had a name: Mariachi Picoso. The students picked it out themselves, because "picoso" means spicy, and they thought they were pretty spicy. Their debut performance was in late March, and Mariachi Picoso performed three songs. One of them featured a member's father as a vocalist. The performance went well, and it was well received by the community. That first performance brought us some attention, including from a journalist in Des Moines, who came out to DMS to interview us and a few students. The result was an article in numerous papers across Iowa about what appeared to be Iowa's first school mariachi program. Thanks to that coverage, we spent the rest of the 2011-2012 school year learning three more songs out of the Libro Acompanante book series in preparation for two performances in Des Moines that June at educator conferences. Later in June, Patti and I returned to Las Vegas to get level two training and brought back plans for expansion of our mariachi program into the high school.


Jocelyn Moran and Jessica Cantu sing
Jocelyn Moran and Jessica Cantu sing "De Colores"
at the March, 2012 debut of Mariachi Picoso.

Today, as I write this, Denison Community Schools has two mariachis – one at the middle school and one at the high school. It involves about 50 students: a number that is limited by the number of instruments the school owns. The school has purchased three vihuelas, two guitarrónes, fifteen guitars, and fifteen violins. We also have trumpet and flute players in both groups, as well as a few violin and guitar players who own their own instruments. Our middle school group is made up of a new batch of eighth-grade band members, and have just started violin and guitar classes. Our high school group, which is primarily made up of our first group of eighth-graders from last year, has chosen a name: Mariachi Reyes del Oeste ("kings of the west"). Since our school mascot is the monarchs and we are in western Iowa, the name seemed to fit! Mariachi Reyes del Oeste just finished presenting at the IMEA (Iowa Music Educator Association) conference this past November, thanks to Robin Walenta at West Music and Marcia Neel from Music Ed Consultants in Las Vegas. They had the chance to perform with Maestro José Hernández, who is one of the most well-known mariachi leaders/musicians/composers/arrangers in the world. Maestro Hernández also worked with the mariachi students – an emotional, musical experience that those students will never forget.

As you look at your band program in your school, ask yourself if you are reaching the students with the same three major components that have been around for generations. If you are, then great, but maybe there's something else out there that could enhance the music education of your students. Maybe a mariachi program doesn't fit your school's population. Is there something else that would fit better? For Denison, it was mariachi, and I know there are directors out there reading this that think a mariachi program would fit into their school, too. If so, give Patti or I a call and we will tell you all about how we got the courage to follow through with this program, and you can, too. In spring of 2011, when Marcia Neel told me to stop worrying about it and just do it, she said that it would be a great addition to the band program and that it would be well-received by everyone. She was right.

Ruben Newell, Eric Ramirez, and Patti Bekkerus.
Ruben Newell, Eric Ramirez, and Patti Bekkerus.

If you can't tell, I am excited about our mariachi program. Some of the most rewarding educational experiences I have had have come over the last two years as a part of our mariachi program. Is it scary starting something new? Yes - but it is so rewarding. Have I questioned if we were doing the right thing? At the beginning I did, but I clearly remember the day when those doubts were put to rest. Right after we got the first group together for the first time after sectional rehearsals, I had them get out a piece called "Duermense." About two measures into the song, one of the violin players stopped, perked up and said, "My mom used to sing this to me at bed time." At that moment, I knew we had something special - we had found a way to connect our instrumental music program more intimately with a large part of our student body. We had made a personal connection with them through music. In the end, that's what really matters.

Patti Bekkerus and Ruben Newell are the band directors for Denison Community Schools. Mr. Newell is in his 13th year teaching instrumental music, including 4 years in Denison. His current teaching duties include the Denison High School Concert Band, two jazz bands, pep band, the Monarch Marching Band, mariachi, and all 9-12 lessons. He is currently the webmaster of the Southwest Iowa Bandmasters Association.

Mrs. Bekkerus has been teaching instrumental music for 26 years, including 19 years in Denison. Her current teaching duties include 6th grade band, 7th grade band, 8th grade band, DMS Jazz Band, Middle School Marching Band, mariachi and 6-8 lessons. She is currently the middle school honor band chair for southwest Iowa, as well as Past-President of the Southwest Iowa Bandmasters Association.

Visit Denison's mariachi program online at www. MonarchBand.org, and on Facebook: www.facebook. com/mariachiReyesDelOeste/.

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Tags: mariachi, iowa, middle school, high school, ruben newell, patti bekkerus, denison
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Mariachi Percussion?
By Randy Hargis
9/9/2013 5:04:00 PM  

Mariachi is a genre of music that originated in the State of Jalisco, in Mexico. It is an integration of stringed instruments highly influenced by the cultural impacts of the historical development of Western Mexico. The United States has experienced a surge in the interest in this genre of music. People of all cultures can enjoy, as well as participate, in this unique music which is full of emotion, passion and excitement. There are many thriving school Mariachi programs in the USA churning out talented performers from all races and ethnic backgrounds.

Mariachi ensembles are generally comprised of violins, trumpets, guitars, vihuelas and guitarron. So what about Mariachi percussion? Sounds silly?  Well, actually through the years some Mariachi groups have added percussion instruments to their ensembles, but it was and is rare. What is not rare is the percussive element that does exist in Mariachi music, void of actual percussion instruments. This drive and percussive element is achieved through the string section.

As a percussionist myself, I have been fortunate to learn about all types drums, shakers and the like (especially since joining West Music in January of 2011) so I was excited to learn about how Mariachi professionals create that rhythm section sound without a drummer keeping the beat.


The vihuela and six string guitar provide the rhythmic sound, the back beat if you will, we experience when enjoying a Mariachi performance. The precise strumming techniques, down strokes, upstrokes, using the hand to mute the strings and at the same time using the body of the guitar over the sound hole as a sort of drum create a unique percussive sound.

At a recent Mariachi workshop in Texas I had the opportunity to sit and talk with Mariachi educators whom themselves also perform with Mariachi ensembles when not mentoring our youth in the art. It became obvious that the classical guitar tone is crucial in its support of the guitarron and vihuela. One prevalent topic I encountered when discussing instruction of young musicians in Mariachi music was the quality of the instruments the students bring to class. Of course, we at West Music have the finest guitarrones and vihuelas available but it was our Westwood line of classical guitars that really grabbed these instructors attention. The above mentioned strumming techniques translate very well on the Westwood guitars because of their fine resonate and durable qualities. The teachers also confided in me that a student might bring an inexpensive guitar purchased through alternative outlets or rent an instrument from the school for a year for around $100.00 a year, while they can own a quality Westwood guitar for less.

Included with each of our Westwood guitars are a high quality gig bag, guitar strap, and strap end pin.

 1/2-size is perfect for ages 5-8 or height of player between 3’10” to 4’5” tall
 3/4-size is perfect for ages 8-12 or height of player between 4’6” to 4’11” tall
 Full-size is perfect for ages 12 & up or height of player 5’ or taller

Westwood Educational Classical Guitars



Upper Bout

Lower Bout

1/2-Size WWCG32 (#302275) Guitar


2 7/8"

9 1/8"

11 /1/2"

3/4-Size WWCG36 (#302276) Guitar



9 1/2"


Full-Size WWCG39 (#302277) Guitar


3 1/8"

11 3/4"

14 1/2"

We encourage you to have a look at these instruments and see what these teachers saw as an excellent choice to bring together their string sections for a more rounded sound at an amazing price. You might also want to share this with your student’s parents so they can insure their children are playing an instrument that will encourage them to practice and stay excited about this wonderful cultural, musical, experience.

 Westwood Classical Guitar

Check out the full line of Westwood Classical Guitars

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Categories: Drums & Percussion, Mariachi
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Hispanic Heritage Month: Mexican Independence Day
By West Music Mariachi
9/9/2013 4:50:00 PM  

Just as we can imagine the festivals, parades and parties that occur in the United States on the 4th of July for our Independence Day, the same occurs in Mexico on the 16th of September. Mexico City, "El D.F.", has a main plaza that showcases an example of how the Mexican citizens celebrate their day of independence. However, here in the U.S., many often confuse "Cinco de Mayo", the 5th of May, with Mexican Independence Day. "Cinco de Mayo" actually celebrates the unlikely Mexican victory over the French in the "Battle of Puebla" in 1862. In fact, many are surprised when they learn that "Cinco de Mayo" is a day that is celebrated more in the U.S. than in Mexico. So, what is "Mexican Independence Day" and what is the history behind it?

Prior the the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, Mexico was a country that had produced complex indigenous civilizations. Populated more than 13,000 years ago, Mexico is the southern portion of North America which makes it part of "Las Americas". Under Spanish rule, the Creoles (wealthy Mexicans born of Spanish decent) grew tired of seeing Spaniards being appointed to important colonial posts. With an already present descent of Spain's hold on the Mexican colonies, Mexicans were looking to separate themselves from the Spanish rule. In 1808, Creole patriots saw their opportunity when Napoleon invaded Spain and imprisoned the Spain King, Ferdinand VII.  Equally empowering was the example to the north where the United States had won their independence decades prior.

In 1809-1810 in Querétaro there was an organized conspiracy which included several prominent citizens. The leaders of this movement included Royal army officer Ignacio Allende, government official Miguel "Dominguez, calvary captain Juan Aldama, and parish priest Father Miguel Hidalgo of Dolores, Mexico to name a few. October 2nd was the date that had been selected for the insurrection against Spain to begin however the plot had been found out and one by one the conspirators were being arrested and harshly punished. Father Miguel Hidalgo learned of the order for his arrest and ordered a meeting at his church. On the evening of September 15th, Hidalgo rang the church bell to call his congregation to mass. Father Hidalgo gave a speech now known as "EL Grito de Dolores," or the "Cry of Dolores" to rally his people to fight. Hidalgo's words "Viva Mexico" and "Viva la independencia!" have become famous and are remembered and repeated each year at celebrations of Independence Day. Within hours Father Hidalgo had formed an army. Armed with knives, stones, slings, clubs, and guns, Criollos (Creoles), Indians, and Mesizos (Children born from a Spaniard and an Indian marriage) fought together as they marched towards the capitol, Mexico City.

Along their path they engaged the Spanish and a battle ensued in Guanajuato known as, "The Battle of Monte de las Cruces." Father Hidalgo's army defeated the Spanish and continued toward the capitol, reaching its gates by November. However once they reached Mexico City, there was hesitation prior to entering and some of the army deserted. Father Hidalgo retreated, perhaps from fears the Spanish army would reinforce the city and be to large to combat.

In January of 1811, Father Hidalgo's army engaged the Spanish in "The Battle of Calderon Bridge." The Spanish were smaller in numbers, but their skill and training forced the Mexican army to flee and led to the capture of rebel leaders, Royal army officer Ignacio Allende, and Father Miguel Hidalgo. They were both put to death in June of 1811 and just as it looked as though Spain had reasserted rule over the colony, José María Morelos, one of Hidalgo's captains, took up the banner of independence and re-formed the disbanded army. Morelos fought until his own capture and execution in 1815, but was succeeded by his lieutenant, Vincente Guerrero and rebel leader Guadalupe Victoria. For six more years they led the Mexican army's fight against the Spanish. Then, in September of 1821, they reached an agreement with turncoat royal officer Agustín de Iturbide which allowed for Mexico's liberation.

Today, in Mexico City, thousands will congregate in the Zócalo, or main square on the evening of the 15th to hear Mexico's President ring the same bell that Father Hidalgo did and recite the "Grito de Dolores.The crowd responds with cheers. Mexicans celebrate by hanging flags all over their home, spending time with family, and enjoying food together. The food is often made red, white and green (like the Mexican Flag). Statues in memory of Father Hidalgo are also decorated with red, white, and green flowers.

The Mexican Flag is made up of green, white, and red. The green is on the left side of the flag and symbolizes independence. White is the color in the middle of the flag and symbolizes religion. The red is on the right side of the flag and symbolizes union. These colors are used often in decorating for the Mexican Independence Day fiesta.

The United States of America is rich and culture and a country made up of immigrants. We are fortunate to be able to learn and partake in many celebrations because these traditions are brought along with these immigrants. In US cities like Los Angeles, Houston, San Antonio, or Tucson with large Mexican populations, expatriate Mexicans will celebrate and hold festivals. Learning the significance of what our neighbors, classmates, co-workers and friends bring from their culture is a great way for all of us to participate in celebrations like this.

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Mariachi Month - A Rationale for Mariachi Music Education
By Valerie Johnson
4/13/2011 11:46:00 AM  

Selected from Mariachi Mastery – Score (Edition 112F) by Jeff Nevin & Noé Sánchez

Mariachi is no longer just a “folk” music: its rich history and diverse repertoire of songs help establish it as a legitimate art form worthy of formal study. Until now, no systematic and comprehensive approach to teaching mariachi music has been available. Music teachers have had to scramble to find or create appropriate materials to share with their pupils. Illegible photocopies and substandard arrangements of mariachi music abound.

Mariachi music is currently at a point within its evolution where it is becoming widely recognized as a “parallel art music”—parallel to the other great art music of the world, such as European art music (“Classical Music”), East Indian Classical Music, Jazz and others—as opposed to its former designation as a so-called “folk” music. This distinction is important, since it implies a greater degree of sophistication, artistic merit, longevity, respect, and broader importance in this world.

Consider the analogy of jazz music: 100 years ago jazz was in its infancy, rooted in American negro spirituals, work songs and certain regional (i.e. isolated) popular musical forms. Through the first half of the 20th Century jazz grew in popularity and spread across the country, with a number of immensely popular performers and composers writing and performing in a number of different “styles” of jazz, such as swing, ragtime, be-bop. Classical composers including George Gershwin and Darius Milhaud borrowed from jazz rhythms, harmonies, melodic styles and created new classical music based on jazz.

And yet still, up until perhaps the 1970s, jazz music itself was widely considered by the musical establishment to be “informal” or un-structured, people quipped that much of it is “made up” (i.e. improvised), it is performed mainly in bars or night-clubs, many jazz musicians were not classically trained, etc. This was hardly a music considered worthy of “serious” study or being taught in school, but by the 1970s the academic community slowly did begin to recognize and appreciate that jazz had indeed become a musical artform unto itself, with its own history, performance practices (jazz improvisation is a remarkably complex and involved skill to master), repertoire, major influences, a large body of performers both professional and amateur (many widely recognized “virtuosos”), and a huge audience base that extended far beyond the United States’ borders. Today, most colleges and high schools with a strong music program offer jazz band in addition to the more “traditional” American music ensembles of concert band, orchestra, and choir, and many colleges have several full-time jazz faculty members and offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in various aspects of jazz music (instrumental or vocal performance, composition, education, etc.).

Mariachi music today is at a very similar point in its evolution to that of jazz music in the 1970s. While still generally regarded as purely “folk” music, many scholars, musicians, students and mariachi enthusiasts have grown to respect the rich and diverse history of mariachi. They have embraced the large number of musical forms and styles that are found within mariachi (huapango, son jarocho, son jalisciense, ranchera, etc.), they appreciate the unique musical style and performance practices that have developed into the modern mariachi, and they have recognized a large number of “virtuoso” performers and immensely important composers who have shaped this tradition. Many classical-music composers, as diverse as Aaron Copland and Silvestre Revueltas, have drawn upon mariachi music as inspiration for their new classical-music compositions for orchestral and chamber ensembles. A number of books have been written about mariachi in both English and Spanish, countless newspaper articles have appeared, and mariachi bands exist in countries on at least 4 continents.

Clearly mariachi is poised to take its place among the other great classical music of the world.

Selected from Mariachi Mastery – Score (Edition 112F) by Jeff Nevin & Noé Sánchez
© 2006 Neil A. Kjos Music Company, 4382 Jutland Drive, San Diego, California 92117
International copyright secured. All rights reserved.

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Tags: Music History, Jeff Nevin, Mariachi History, Mariachi, Mariachi Music, Mariachi Month, Noé Sánchez, Mariachi Mastery, Excerpt, Mexican Folk Music, Hispanic Music, Hispanic Culture
Categories: Mariachi
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Mariachi Month - The Mariachi Education Movement in the United States
By Valerie Johnson
4/13/2011 11:37:00 AM  

Selected from Mariachi Mastery – Score (Edition 112F) by Jeff Nevin & Noé Sánchez

The following is a brief history of events that led to the current status of mariachi music education.

In 1964, in Tucson, Arizona, Father Charles Rourke founded a mariachi called Los Changuitos Feos (“The Ugly Little Monkeys”). This mariachi was established to provide cultural musical experiences to Hispanic children in the area. Father Rourke (an Irish Catholic priest) had been introduced to mariachi music by Father Arsenio Carrillo. Father Carrillo had two nephews (Randy and Steve Carrillo) that had been playing mariachi music for a short time and needed some guidance. Los Changos (as they are affectionately called) were very successful and it didn’t take long before other places starting taking note. This priest had started a movement from which many programs began to emerge throughout the country. Since their inception, hundreds of Changos have graduated from the group, benefiting from the enrichment, encouragement and scholarships provided (funded by the group’s many performances) to attend college. Los Changitos Feos is still in existence and counts among its alumni members of some of the best mariachis in the world.

In 1971, several members of Los Changitos Feos, including Randy Carrillo and Mack Ruiz, graduated from high school and by rule had to leave the mariachi. Along with other Changos including Steve Carrillo, Gilbert Velez, Paul Romo, Wilfred Arvizu, George Corrales and Tony Saldivar they formed Mariachi Cobre. This became a turning point in mariachi education. This mariachi was to influence mariachi education in the years to come through their organization in teaching mariachi music at conferences nation-wide. Indirectly, their model of teaching infiltrated public schools around the country.

The first mariachi conference was held in San Antonio, Texas in 1979, another important moment in mariachi history, and continued until 1988. Isabella San Miguel and Juan Ortiz were responsible for organizing the conference and bringing Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán to perform and teach at it. This conference introduced mariachi education classes but, unfortunately, most of the music was for advanced mariachis, which did little to foster growth in mariachi music. However, this conference did open doors for other conferences.

The Tucson International Mariachi Conference (1983–present) became the model that other conferences would try to emulate. Mariachi Cobre was instrumental in creating the curriculum for the Tucson conference which includes separating classes into beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels (so that mariachi musicians of all levels of expertise could participate) and teaching each of the instruments separately before bringing everyone together in a “mass” mariachi—both of which became important aspects of this and other conferences. Mariachi Cobre and Los Changitos Feos became spokesmen for the importance of this educational component of the conference in order to promote the culture and awareness of the mariachi tradition.

In 1986, Linda Ronstadt sang with Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán at the Tucson conference. By this time, isolated school-based mariachi programs had been in existence for some time around the country, in part due to the influence of these conferences, but the release of Ronstadt’s album, Canciones de mi Padre (1987), created an explosion in awareness of mariachi music throughout the United States, helping to prime the country for the rapid growth of school-based mariachi programs that followed.

Today there are many important conferences across the US besides the Tuscon conference, including Fresno, CA (1983–present), Las Cruces, NM (1994–), taught by Mariachi Cobre and widely regarded as one of, if not the most important educational conference in the country today; Albuquerque, NM (1990–); San Jose, CA (1991–); and San Antonio, TX (1994–).

The only conference in Mexico as of this writing is in Guadalajara, Jalisco, (1994–). The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) became the first university to offer a mariachi ensemble in 1961. Several prominent mariachis emerged from this group including Daniel Sheehy, Director and Curator of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, and long-time mariachi educator Mark Fogelquist. Many universities and community colleges have followed, too many to mention, but the University of Texas at Pan American in Edinburg, Texas (Rio Grande Valley), has long been considered to have one of the top university mariachi ensembles in the country.

While mariachi classes have become commonplace in colleges and universities across the US, in 2004 Southwestern College in Chula Vista, California, under the direction of Jeff Nevin, became the first in the world to offer a college degree specifically in mariachi music (Associate’s Degree in Music: Mariachi Specialization). Courses offered as part of the degree include Music Theory, beginning and advanced mariachi ensembles, Development of Mariachi: Style and Culture, and primary and secondary instrument instruction (guitar, vihuela, guitarrón, violin, trumpet, voice, harp). Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas, began offering a Bachelor of Arts in Music with an optional emphasis in Mariachi Performance and Pedagogy in 2005, and other colleges and universities are expected to continue this trend of offering higher education degrees in mariachi.

Today, school districts in many states, including California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Washington, Colorado, Idaho, and Illinois, provide mariachi as an official class-for-credit during the school day. With this expansion of school-based mariachi programs comes the need for published materials to support them. Mariachi Mastery is the first complete mariachi method published by a major publisher. The Mariachi Connection is the first retail store and website to specialize in providing materials to the mariachi community. They not only sell printed music but also instruments, trajes (mariachi suits), supplies, and the only (as of this writing) widely available curriculum for mariachi, “The Current State of Mariachi Curriculum (2005),” by Noé Sánchez.

The first major book on mariachi music in English is Jeff Nevin’s Virtuoso Mariachi, published by University Press of America (2002). This book includes basic mariachi history, an in depth and sophisticated discussion of the mariachi style and how it has evolved, a close examination of the trumpet style including tonguing, vibrato and rubato, different song styles and the author’s thoughts on the future of mariachi music. Daniel Sheehy’s book Mariachi Music in America, published by Oxford University Press (2006) presents an overview and description of mariachi music’s evolution, a discussion of the cultural significance of mariachi to musicians and others in Mexico and the US, and details the changes that have occurred in mariachi as a result of its popularization in the US.

On December 13, 2005, MENC: The National Association for Music Education held a meeting at their headquarters in Reston, Virginia, where a group of mariachi educators from around the country met with their executive board to discuss creating a mariachi component to MENC. The fact that this, the largest and most important music education organization in the US, would consider placing mariachi alongside band, choir, orchestra and jazz in its list of standard American classroom ensembles is a testament to the extent of mariachi’s growth in the US, its future, and indeed the level of respect that mariachi music itself has attained.

Mariachi music has come a long way since the 1960s when Father Rourke started the movement that flourishes in American public schools today. The future of mariachi music education is dependent upon us providing music educators with training in mariachi music as well and the continued proliferation of high quality, standardized published materials for these teachers to utilize. There is every reason to expect that mariachi music will continue to be offered in more and more schools throughout the country in years to come.

Selected from Mariachi Mastery – Score (Edition 112F) by Jeff Nevin & Noé Sánchez
© 2006 Neil A. Kjos Music Company, 4382 Jutland Drive, San Diego, California 92117
International copyright secured. All rights reserved.

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Tags: Mariachi Month, Mariachi, Jeff Nevin, Noé Sánchez, Tucson, Charles Rourke, Mariachi Mastery, Excerpt, Selection, History, Cultural, Folk Music, Mexican
Categories: Mariachi
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Mariachi Month - Market Value and Impact
By Jordan Wagner
4/4/2011 12:49:00 PM  


  • Hispanic population in the United States is growing more than any other group
  • In 2000, there were 32.5 million Hispanics in the United States, comprising 12 percent of the population
  • Between 1990 and 2000, this population increased by 10 million, accounting for 38 percent of the overall population growth in the United States
  • Hispanics will account for 51 percent of the United States population growth between 2000 and 2050
  • By 2050, Hispanics will comprise 25 percent of the United States population and will number 98 million
  • Hispanics are currently the largest minority group in the United States
  • By 2020, more than one in five children under the age of 18 will be of Hispanic origin due to immigration and birth rates


  • Sixty-five percent of all Hispanic students live in large cities, or the "urban fringe"
  • Hispanic students comprise 25 percent or more of students in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas
  • In 2000, the dropout rate for Hispanics was 28 percent compared to seven percent for Whites and 13 percent for African Americans; in 2005, 52 percent of Hispanic males graduated on time from high school compared to 74 percent of White males
  • In 2000, only 64 percent of Hispanic youth had completed high school compared to 92 percent of Whites and 84 percent of African Americans
  • In 2009, the high school graduation rate for Latinos was 61 percent vs. 90 percent for Asians, 81 percent for Whites, and 59 percent for African Americans


  • Funding for Title III for ELL programs is slated to increase from $20 million to $800 million in the proposed 2011 budget

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Tags: Mariachi Month, Hispanic Arts Education, Arts Education, Music Education, Hispanic Music Education, Importance of Education, Importance of Music Education, Importance of Arts Education, Mariachi
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Mariachi Month - Casa Grande Students Motivated to Play Mariachi
By Valerie Johnson
4/4/2011 12:10:00 PM  

Article originally written by Susan Randall for USA Today.

CASA GRANDE, Ariz. — When Steve Heil moved to Casa Grande several years ago, he wondered why its public schools had no programs for stringed instruments like those in some other states. Heil, who is principal of Casa Verde High School, was talking to students in September about the kind of electives they would like to have, and they told him they wanted a music program.

Several were taking private lessons on the violin or cello already, he said, and others played or wanted to play the trumpet or guitar.

"How can we be involved?" they wanted to know.

Kim Calderone, a Casa Verde parent and the owner of Accelerate the Arts mobile music store, suggested that he call Maureen Berger, musical director at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church and School and president of Golden Corridor Center for the Arts, a nonprofit organization that provides string classes to adults and children, puts on concerts and is developing youth and adult orchestras in Pinal County.

Heil, Berger and Calderone met last fall with about 20 Casa Verde students who said they would be willing to give up their lunch break to start a mariachi band, playing traditional Mexican music.

There was no money in the budget, but Calderone volunteered to begin working with the violin players in October so they could learn how to play before they tried mariachi music.

Berger volunteered to coach the trumpet players. Jazz musician and guitar teacher John Sutton volunteered to work with the string players. They started teaching the young musicians in January.

Berger said she, Calderone and Sutton are all part of the Golden Corridor and are volunteering to bring this program alive, "so there is some musical component in the high school charter school."

"The reason we are so successful," Calderone said, "is our love and passion for music and for the students. And they want so badly to learn."

Calderone said some of the students played by ear when they started the program but could not read music. Others had not played an instrument since elementary school.

"We want our students to learn how to read music, write music, understand the elements of music, experience the different genres of music -- and not just learn to play by ear," she said.

Even though the class and teachers are volunteers, they are following the general national standards for music defined by the Music Educators National Conference.

"I am so proud of these young people," Berger said. "They're dedicated to making this a success and taking ownership of the program. I think it will be highly successful because the kids definitely want to do it. They are motivated and they have the ability. They just so impress me with how far they have come in such a short time."

And mariachi music is enjoyable, she added.

"It has a lot of joy in it. It's not easy. There are musical challenges -- in particular with the trumpets, because they are in all the sharp scales and keys."

"I explained to them they are using the left side of their brain when they are playing those sharps. It's like math, only something musical."

Mariachi music also involves a dance form, she said, folklorico.

The group does not have dancers yet, but it will, Berger said. A folklorico teacher is "ready to jump on board."

The musicians meet during the school's lunch break: violins on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; guitars, guitarron and cello on Wednesdays; trumpets on Thursdays; and everybody together on Fridays.

Last week, an audience piled up in the hallway outside the open classroom where the group practiced "De Colores," "La Valentina" and "Las Golondrinas" (the swallows).

"There are two things that are really hard to play," Sutton told the group as he conducted the rehearsal, "slow and soft."

When the mariachis are ready for a real audience, there will be no conductor. The guitarron and cello will set the beat.

"This is so neat," said school nurse Lydia Montigo, who stopped by to listen to the rehearsal. "I love this."

More students are invited to join Casa Verde's mariachi program next year when it becomes a regular class, Heil said. The students are putting on a dinner-and-concert fundraiser late in April to fund the class, and he plans to look for grants.

Article originally published by USA Today at the link listed below:

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