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In Tune with Tradition…

The San Antonio College music program introduces its new Mariachi Ensemble, which will give their first official concert April 19.
Mariachi group by Koehler

In Tune with Tradition

Entering into the music practice room inside the McAllister Fine Arts building, a visitor sees a dozen students with their instruments standing in a semi-circle. Close to the door are the violinists with an accordion player next to them. In the middle are the trumpet players who are flanked by a guitarrón player, a vihuela player and a pair of guitarists.

But it is not the sight of the musicians that captures a person's attention. It is their sound. 

It's difficult, if not impossible, not to be captivated when the students in San Antonio College's new mariachi ensemble launch into a song such as Yo lo Comprendo  or Solo Veracruz es Bello, singing in three-part harmonies over the blending of their musical instruments. 

The San Antonio College mariachi group will give their first official performance at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 19, in the McAllister Fine Arts Auditorium. The concert is free and open to the public. 

mariachi pic 2The concert is an event that was several years in the making.  

When professor Jeff Hunt became chair of the music program six years ago, one of his first ideas was to add a mariachi program to the established ensembles on campus. 

"I felt that SAC was missing that musical ambassador group that could recruit students from our own backyard," explained Hunt. "It is not always easy to take out a jazz band or a brass ensemble. In fact, it's much more difficult to organize and make happen." 

At the time however, his initiative did not receive much enthusiasm. Some felt that Palo Alto College already had a mariachi program that students could join, so the idea went dormant for a few years. 

When Dr. Robert Vela became president of SAC, Hunt approached him with the idea. Dr. Vela gave him his support but asked Hunt to make sure to gauge interest from the students themselves. Hunt began putting out the word on starting a mariachi ensemble at SAC and he soon found a groundswell of support from students in the music program. 

Those students, in turn, asked the student government to get behind the idea, which they did, and a request was made to the Alamo Colleges Board of Trustees. The students' enthusiasm swayed the Board to approve the new mariachi program. 

Last fall, the music program began recruiting students for the mariachi group and in October, students were fitted for their trajes, their mariachi outfits, as well as their sombreros . 

Mariachi pic 4 The mariachi ensemble also took a big step to becoming a reality when Hunt hired Alicia Covarrubias to be the director of mariachi at SAC.  She is a SAC graduate who studied violin and voice before transferring to Texas State University. At Texas State, she studied music education in the University's new Latin music studies program and was the first graduate of that program. 

As a SAC student, Covarrubias used to talk to Hunt about needing to start a mariachi ensemble. Then last August, she received a call from him saying it was time. SAC would bring mariachi to the school and he wanted her to take charge. 

"It is a dream come true for me. I feel so blessed that he trusts me to start this program. I love it and wouldn't trade it for the world," said Covarrubias. 

Her passion for the new ensemble is matched by the student members, several who have been playing mariachi music since middle school. 

"I really like the music," said Araceli Martinez, a 21-year-old music major who plays trumpet. "It's upbeat and fun to play. It's something I have always enjoyed." 

When asked about what to expect at the concert, Daniel Gonzalez, a 20-year-old student at Palo Alto who plays the vihuela, laughs and said "expect some crying and some gritos - yelling." 

"When you come to the concert, have fun," offered Florian Love, a 25-year-old education major who plays the violin. "The audience will want to dance at some of the songs. They are going to want to sing along. By all means go ahead. We love it. We feed off that energy." 

In May, the mariachi ensemble will take a tour of schools in the San Antonio Independent School District to recruit high school students to SAC's music program. 

Hunt sees this as a strong beginning for a program that will continue to grow. "Eventually I think we will have a very diverse student body in the mariachi program. That's our goal, to really educate students about the culture and music," he said. "That's my plan and so far it's working."

mariachi pic 3

Singer and guitaron player William Galvez speaks with director of the mariachi program Alicia Covarrubias.