Archive for June, 2007
By Barbara Alvarez
Several mariachi groups are learning and performing in and around Las Cruces, gracing lucky area residents with the spirited rhythm and sounds of Mexico. Mariachi comes from various Mexican states, such as Jalisco, Michoacan and Veracruz.
Mariachi is a form of ensemble music, with such diverse instruments as the violin, guitar, trumpet, vihuela, guitarrón and, sometimes, the flute and a harp. The vihuela is a small, five-string instrument resembling a small guitar. The guitarrón, like the vihuela, is a stringed instrument. It has six strings and is much larger, producing a much lower bass sound.
Mariachi Real de Chihuahua consists of high school and college students. The members generally have had experience playing in other local groups; two of the group’s members, Wendy Martinez and Tony Avila, are music majors at New Mexico State University, and provide private and group instruction.
Martinez, vocalist and violinist with Real de Chihuahua, is the creative director for Mariachi Espuelas de Plata, from Court Youth Center, and Mariachi Espuelas de Cobre, the apprentice group for Espuelas de Plata. She provides instruction to the young violinists.
Avila the violin, guitar, vihuela and guitarrón for Real de Chihuahua. He also sings and occasionally assists with instruction for Espuelas de Plata and Espuelas de Cobre. Avila, a 2002 graduate of Las Cruces High School, is also a former member of Mariachi Diamante de Las Cruces High School.
Mariachi Espuelas de Plata was established in 1998 in a Las Cruces garage by a resident who dreamed of youth learning the music of their ethnic heritage. The parents of the original group members spent many weekends working at fundraisers to earn money for music, instruction, instruments, supplies and trajes (suits that were worn by wealthy Mexican landowners in the 19th century).
In 1999, Irene Oliver-Lewis, artistic director of the Court Youth Center, invited the group to practice at the Court Youth Center. Oliver-Lewis, now the madrina, or godmother, for both Espuelas de Plata and Espuelas de Cobre, began to put many hours of time and effort into the development of Espuelas de Plata. In addition to inviting the group to practice at the Court Youth Center, Oliver-Lewis, in partnership with the Espuelas de Plata Parent Board, influenced the artistic direction of the group. Even more importantly, the Court Youth Center, in partnership with the mariachi parents, sought financial grants to assist the young musicians.
Nine years later, Espuelas de Plata has blazed an historical path in Las Cruces. The group was selected to perform at the Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference in 2000, only two years after their founding. The original group members have all moved on – some to college, some to the work world, and others have continued as musicians in other groups. Only six years after the group was first formed, Espuelas de Plata took yet another important step in their growth by recording and releasing a CD, Herencia del Mariachi, in May of 2004.
Espuelas de Plata has provided instruction to young musicians interested in the art of mariachi during the Hispanic Heritage Week, held annually each summer at the Court Youth Center. This year, the event will be held June 11-15, 2007, from 1:30-5:30 each day, culminating in a concert at the Court Youth Center on Friday, June 15, at 6:30 p.m.
Several other groups have been formed, as well. Some have disbanded, while others are still learning and performing. Three of those groups are Mariachi las Aguilas, Mariachi Palenque and Mariachi Cuerdas de Oro. These groups, as well as others, perform in and around Las Cruces at community celebrations, weddings, quinceañeras, Masses, baptisms, engagement and graduation parties.
Mariachi as an art form, and as an expression of the Mexican heritage, is here to stay.