Mariachi ensemble embraces diversity

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New music class prepares for end-of-semester concert.

By Maritza Ramirez

This college’s first mariachi class is preparing for a free concert at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the auditorium of McAllister Fine Arts Center.

The mariachi ensemble will be accompanied by two opening acts, Brackenridge High School’s Mariachi Aguilar and three youth vocalists from Armando Chapa Middle School from Kyle, Texas, mariachi Director Alicia Covarrubias said.

This college’s mariachi ensemble consists of violins, trumpets, guitarron, guitar, vihuela and an accordion. Performances will include rancheras, sones, boleros and huapangos. Eight songs will be played, and most are commonly known in Mexican culture, such as “El Son de La Negra” popularized by Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.

The class is a section of MUEN 1132, Instrumental Chamber Ensemble. It was offered for the first time this semester.

Covarrubias, an adjunct at this college, said her mariachi group is composed of mostly English speakers, and only about two or three of her 13 students actually speak Spanish. During class, pronunciation is practiced, but her students mostly get all of it, Covarrubias said.

“Most are used to singing Spanish and not speaking Spanish,” Covarrubias said.

“Everyone sings even if it’s a big part,” she said.

To be in the group, Covarrubias said all members must audition for the ensemble. They have to be vocally and musically experienced, she said. A select few of her students perform mariachi professionally while not in school.

Covarrubias has also played professionally most of her life and is a violinist in a group called Mariachi Rayas del Sol. She is a mariachi alumna from Brackenridge High School and graduated from Texas State University with a music education degree with an emphasis in voice under the Latin music studies department.

Covarrubias said it’s important for the community to embrace Mexican culture.

“It’s important for the music department to have diversity,” Covarrubias said.

“Very few mariachi programs are offered at schools,” she said.

“I’m glad to share the diversity,” Covarrubias said.

Music sophomore Daniel Gonzalez said he feels privileged to be a part of a new tradition. Gonzalez started learning mariachi music as a guitarist in middle school, but his interest in the music grew when he played the vihuela in high school. The vihuela is a larger guitar with a higher pitch.

There are three instruments in the ensemble from the string family: Guitar is the medium sound, guitarron is lower and vihuela is higher. Gonzalez talked about what mariachi music meant to him as a Hispanic.

“You can’t drive around in the car without playing Vicente Fernandez or at a gathering having the drunk person singing,” he said, referring to a popular mariachi singer famous for his version of “Volver, Volver.”

“It’s a piece of culture,” Gonzalez said.

Fine Arts chair Jeff Hunt said now that this college has a Mexican-American studies program, “I would like to reach out to the professors if they would be interested in a Mexican-American music appreciation course.”

Covarrubias and the mariachi group has been preparing for the concert since after her hiring in early February, she said.

“I’m extremely proud of my first mariachi ensemble,” Covarrubias said.

“They’re hard workers and all share the same passion for mariachi as I do,” she said.

The mariachi concert is a free event, but donations are welcome.

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