A teacher at Venice High School in California, using a grant from Farmers Insurance, has begun working with the first mariachi band ever at the school, which serves a predominantly Hispanic population.
Some teachers in the country have won bigger grants through the insurance company’s “Thank America’s Teachers” program, but David Lee’s mariachi band at Venice High School, the first such ensemble in the school’s 100-plus-year history, must number among the projects that bring the best sound, dancing, and fun into the lives of students.
“I get to connect with my culture and where I came from,” Joshua Fenty, the web editor of the student newspaper, The Oarsman, quoted one sophomore violinist as saying. “It makes me happy that I have something to remind me of my roots.”
In addition to as many as eight violins, a typical mariachi group can consist of two trumpets and at least one guitar. The vihuela is a traditional high-pitched guitar (five strings: A3 D4 G4 B3 E4) that has a round back and is used mainly to provide the rhythm. A guitarrón also provides rhythm for the ensemble, but it’s about an octave lower (six strings: A1 D2 G2 C3 E3 A2).
On occasion, depending on the music being performed or the arrangement, mariachi groups can have a flute, French horn, accordion, and organ.
Thank America’s Teachers Grants
This year, 180 teachers will receive $2,500 grants to fund projects in the classroom through a program funded by Farmers Insurance.
“We couldn’t be more excited to see the array of proposals for innovative school and classroom programs,” says Farmers Insurance. “In the past, Farmers has spent millions of dollars funding programs right in your backyard like:
- Indoor equestrian learning facility for special needs children and adults
- Teen driving training course
- Literacy initiatives to help at-risk readers
“Inspired by their great work and tireless dedication, we created the Thank America’s Teachers initiative,” the company says on its website.
The Mariachi Tradition
In Mexico, mariachi groups have a tradition of male dominance. That is, not too many women participate in traditional mariachi bands in Mexico. At a US high school, however, even though the group may still serenade a female student on her birthday or other special occasion, the mariachi band at Venice will include female musicians.
Enjoyment of the music, as the sophomore student suggests, generally comes because the performance reminds people of scenes from their childhood or takes them to far-away places.
The group is known as the Mariachi Gondeleros, and they rehearse every Friday for about an hour after school.
“Mariachi Band is a great and exciting opportunity for students and staff to perform,” Mr Lee was quoted as saying. “It’s always fun to learn something new.”
In Tucson, Arizona, a few good sources for books about and traditional arrangements of music for this type of ensemble can be found, including several branches of Yoly’s Music Shop. Yelp says the phone number for the branch on 12th Street is (520) 620-0830.
And if you read Spanish and want a real textbook for the school’s library, I would recommend Origen e historia del mariachi (Serie Historia regional) (Spanish Edition) by Hermes Rafael. The book comes with a price tag over $100, so it’ll probably have to stay in the reference section of the library, but it’s a self-published, authentic study of the origin of the mariachi and their musicians in Mexico.