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Making a Difference with Mariachi Music
Juan Morales, Mariachi practitioner and Director, The Mariachi Studio, Delano, CA
Advocacy for culturally responsive music curricula that can be used as tools of empowerment for youth in marginalized areas has been the focus of my work for two decades. At The Mariachi Studio, we use mariachi rather than classical music as an agent of social change; but we have many characteristics in common with programs directly inspired by El Sistema.
Mariachi is an ensemble musical form and provides the same benefits as playing in a classical orchestra: the skills of listening, cooperating, and harmonizing, which ultimately contribute to harmony of the human spirit. Like classical music, mariachi lends itself to peer teaching, and can be performed in a variety of venues and performance settings.
There are also important differences between mariachi and classical music that can be beneficial in our students’ learning process. For example, mariachi is both a vocal and an instrumental genre. Therefore, all of our students are encouraged to learn to play and sing.
Another difference is that mariachi, as an expression of Mexican culture, is the folk genre most meaningful to our students’ families. As they gain proficiency, they experience pride not only
in their musical prowess but also in their cultural heritage. It helps them build strong bonds with their communities and bridge the gap between themselves and their familial elders.
Finally, our students’ growing skills are commercially and musically valuable. Many student ensembles perform regularly on weekends and receive compensation. For our mostly low- income student families, this is particularly crucial.
Our academy is proud that in a region with one of the state’s lowest high school graduation rates, we have celebrated over 40 college graduations with our alumni, plus our many alumni who entered military, trade, and law enforcement schools.
Some have also pursued professional careers in mariachi.
We use high-quality mariachi music education to empower our students to dream far beyond their current realities, attend college, and break the cycle of generational poverty in their community. Our ultimate goal is not to make more professional musicians or music educators, but to give our students something to be proud of—themselves— so that they can thrive in college and adult life.