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Youth 'Boot Camp' Teaches Mariachi Music


The mariachi music of Mexico is flourishing in the United States, where Mexican-American youngsters are keeping alive the sounds of their homeland. A three-day conference is helping young musicians refine their skills.

Rodri Rodriguez, founder and chairman of the Mariachi USA Foundation, says mariachi is a central part of the culture of Mexico.

"Mariachi music could be compared to what country music is the United States, or even jazz," she explains. "It is the backbone of the music of Mexico. And anyone that's gone to a Mexican restaurant, or gone on vacation to Mexico, is very aware of what the music is."

Mariachi originated in the 19th century in the Mexican state of Jalisco, and was brought to the United States by immigrants. Ms. Rodriguez created her foundation 16 years ago, and this year, the organization is providing intensive, special instruction.

"We decided to do a three-day conference, and that conference encompasses all the different instrumentation, instruction, showmanship, technique. And we're calling it a boot camp of sorts because it's pure, unadulterated mariachi music," she explains.

Working with professional teachers, the teenaged students practice their mariachi instruments, which include violins.

And trumpets, and guitar, as well as a small guitar known as the vihuela, and a bass instrument called the guitarron.

Fourteen-year-old Daisy Munoz, a violinist, says she likes many types of music, including pop and hip-hop, but mariachi is part of her Mexican heritage.

"It's really important for my family, the music. Other generations of my family have been mariachis, so it's really interesting for me too," she says.

Valentino Tril has brought two of his children for instruction. They already play at parties and weddings on weekends as part of a family mariachi band. He says the music is perfect for any kind of celebration.

"Oh yeah. Everybody loves mariachi. It's fun to have mariachi," he says.

In parts of the U.S. southwest, mariachi is taught in the music curriculum in schools. Rolando San Miguel is a mariachi instructor at a middle school in San Antonio, Texas.

"We teach mariachi six periods a day at the junior high, and there are many schools that have it in their system already, maybe 2,000 schools. It's huge," he says.

He says mariachi instruction helps students in other areas.

"We stress grades and character overall. We build their character, and after that, then we build musicians," he says. "We tell them to be there on a Sunday morning, we want you at four o'clock in the morning, they'll be there for us. They just love it."

Rodri Rodriguez says some students at the Los Angeles "boot camp" are third-generation Mexican Americans who speak little or no Spanish. They are even further removed from the origins of the music on Mexican farms and ranches. Still, she says, they feel the emotion of the music.

"So you could be singing a song and be teary-eyed about it, and when you find out what the lyrics mean, my horse died on the ranch and now I have to buy three extra cows," he laughs.

It all leads up to a youth performance at the Mariachi USA Festival, the biggest mariachi event in the United States. It will be held in Los Angeles June 24.