A different mariachi perspective

2015-Aztlan-grads-play_DSC8153-sw-dbaWhile working on The Mariachi Miracle I have seen a large number of the teachers and students of the mariachi community of Tucson in a very close and personal way over a long period of time. From these extended encounters I have come to view these young men and women as much for their personal character as for their musical and educational achievement. And I come away very impressed with what I see time and again.

In under a week I have gone from watching a high school graduation at Pueblo High Magnet School to watching many of the members of that school’s mariachi program serving as teachers and assistants in an elementary school mariachi summer camp.

Graduation-family-P1000924-sw-dbaGraduation night is a special occasion at Pueblo, particularly for the members of Mariachi Aztlan, graduating senior or not. It’s a time of great emotion as the seniors head out into the real world. But it’s also the first night in Mariachi Aztlan for the incoming group of young players stepping in to replace them. Some of these new recruits have barely finished eighth grade, but their talent has won them a spot with one of the city’s finest performing groups.

Daniel-Motley_DSC7998-sw-dbaThe main action of the night was overshadowed by the outpouring of love of the friends and family of the graduates as they charged onto the football field to congratulate the young men and women in caps and gowns. Even the pomp of the graduation ceremony itself and the noble speeches there delivered was an anticlimax compared to that swarm of bodies lunging toward the graduates, smiles, balloons, flowers and signs in tow,

Jesus_DSC8067-sw-dbaBut what most folks didn’t see was what was going on in the ranks of the mariachi as five of their comrades graduated. Though he was not graduating, group leader Daniel Motley was assuming duties with his new role in the Pueblo chapter of the National Honor Society. And so Jesus Lujan stepped up to count off the charts and keep the players – old and new – in complete alignment.

New-Aztlan_DSC7558-sw-dbaWithin the group you saw something special going on. Older members were welcoming the new recruits with care and concern, joking with them as they waited for the speeches to be over, and generally making them feel not just welcome but truly part of the group. It’s how they themselves had been ushered into the group, and something that clearly explains the remarkable musical cohesion of this ensemble of players and singers. The bond starts on day one.

Jaime-kids_DSC8269-sw-dba-sw-dbaLast Wednesday I sat in on the second day of Mariachi Summer Camp at Davis Bilingual Elementary School. A school that has in many ways been the launch pad of mariachi talent throughout the entire Tucson Unified School District, for many of the young teachers and assistants in the program that afternoon, this had been the place where their love affair with the music started.

Mind you, second day. But what I saw in classroom after classroom was the same. Respect on the part of the main teachers for their young assistants, and vice versa. Respect for the students. An understood order that gets the groups of youngsters quickly and efficiently to work. And so much more.

Summer-school-violin_DSC8330-sw-dbaI watched University of Arizona student Adriana Dalton, who just finished her freshman year of college, working with young violin students. So easily and comfortably she worked to establish the right playing practices – how to hold the bow, how to hear and correct the wrong note, how to sit properly in the chair and how to create an ensemble sound. It was remarkable to watch, as was her interaction with her assistant, Pueblo high junior Yasmine Durazo, with whom she had played in Mariachi Aztlan until last year. There was an instant understanding of what needed to be done and how to split the student group to work collectively and individually on the music.

Summer-school-Rudy_DSC8353-sw-dbaThe emphasis on calm underscoring of fundamentals was in place in every room at Davis Elementary School. Rudy Valenzuela, head of the mariachi program at Roskruge Middle School, was working with trumpet players, urging them to play with their arms slightly out so as not to restrict their air flow. Guitarists were being coached to hold the instrument correctly and address elements of melody and harmony.

Again, I say day two, and with a group of children many of whom were barely larger than their instruments.

Summer-school-violin_DSC8337-sw-dbaAnd again you see this overearching culture from the top on down, treating each other with respect, unity and purpose. Seeing this at this level, imprinting itself on the generations the way physics repeats the form of a sea shell in a galaxy light years away gives me greater understanding of the mechanics of how these youth mariachi and folklorico programs transform the societies in which they bloom.



~ by Daniel Buckley on May 31, 2015.

One Response to “A different mariachi perspective”

  1. We are so proud of our kids and the mariachi families who established this community of learners. Our kids have learned from the best, musicians like the Valenzuelas, the Gallegos and Mr. Contreras. The kids have noticed how these talented musicians work together in our community and have been a positive example for them. Now it’s their turn to give back by helping the younger kids and passing on the tradition and sharing their knowledge with the younger generations. I am sure these young kids will be doing the same thing in a few years!
    A proud mama from one of those student taught by the Valenzuelas and now a teacher at the Davis Mariachi summer camp,
    Haydee Hernandez

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