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Training the next generation of Mexico’s Mariachi musicians

As I have written here, mariachi music has experienced a remarkable rise in popularity throughout the United States.  According to a 2019 report by Nielsen Music, Latin music, which includes mariachi, was the fifth most-consumed genre in the United States. Of course, today, 4 years later, there are dozens of mariachi groups in the US, many nationally known, such as Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán,  Flor de Toloache ,and Mariachi Los Camperos. Mariachi education programs in high schools and universities are mushrooming, especially in the Southwest.

The vibrant melodies, rhythmic beats, and emotional lyrics of this traditional Mexican genre rocks not only Mexican immigrants but all kinds of music lovers. From cultural festivals and concerts to weddings and county fairs, mariachi bands have become an integral part of the American music scene.  And they have crossed over and taken home Grammys and fused with country, rock, and pop, which has further propelled Mariachi’s popularity and attracted a wider audience.

So  here I am sitting in the home of mariachi – or one of the homes, because many places claim it – and am surrounded  by it. Every weekend there is some sort of mariachi celebration going on. And an hour up the road is home of the annual International Mariachi Festival in Guadalajara, which attracts 500 bands from around the world and 10,000 people a day for a week.

 So where do all these bands and mariachi musicians come from?

Practice at the Pedro Reyes School of Mariachi

This week I experienced up close the answer to that question. Here in Lakeside; they come from the Pedro Reyes School of Mariachi, which celebrated its first birthday with a concert by its students and a visiting student band. And I got to video the moving of a donated baby grand piano from the Lakeside Little theater to the Pedro Reyes School of Mariachi – no small feat.

Pedro Reyes School of Mariachi at the Ajijic Cultural Center

Incidentally, the school’s namesake, Pedro Reyes,  is revered throughout Mexico as is a multi-instrumentalist Mexican musician known for a unique blend of traditional Mexican music with contemporary sounds. He has released several albums throughout his career, including “Electronic Mariachi” and “The Temporary”. He has also been recognized for his work as an activist, using his music to raise awareness about social and political issues in Mexico.

All of that was on full display as several dozen students ranging from 5 or 6 years old to early teens held forth in Ajijic’s Cultural Center to an overflow audience that include a front row lined with dignitaries and political and musical leaders. School Director Daniel Arturo Medeles Córdova led his students through mostly classical classic mariachi music pieces such as Los Laureles, Las Mañanitas, and Cielo Rojo, but the visiting Mariachi group snuck in some fusion numbers. And, as I sat with local students and their families in the balcony while the visitors played, rap could be heard softly emanating from the resting students’ earbuds.


The next morning I was at the Pedro Reyes School of Mariachi filming the move of a piano from the theatre to the school. The school is a long, dusty adobe building set in a courtyard. I have never watched a baby grand piano moved before, or any piano for matter. I expected cranes or electric lifts and a team of muscular guys. After all, the pianos are big, heavy delicate instruments. I was surprised when a white van with the words “Mi Piano”  on the side pulled up to the theater and Oscar Chavez and his daughter  Alba, a young local singer climbed out. Oscar is pretty big, but Alba is a petite young woman – no team of muscular guys with cranes.

ALBA and the piano

 The father-daughter team quickly disassembled the piano’s legs and pedals, lifted it onto a roller board and eased it  down a ramp and into the van, (in addition to being a great singer, Alba has muscles). They drove it to the school, muscled across cobblestones, up curbs and into its place of honor in the school.

Theatre Board members, Pedro Reyes School faculty and Oscar Chavez and Alba

While the duo was moving the piano in, musicians were practicing in the next room under the direction of Daniel Arturo Medeles Córdova, who I had watched the previous night conducting the entire student body. All I can say is that I loved watching a slice in time of the education of the next generation of mariachi musicians.

Patrick O’Heffernan



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About Patrick O'Heffernan, Music Sin Fronteras (471 Articles)
Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist based in Mexico, with a global following. He focuses on music in English and Spanish that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America, especially Mexico like cumbia, banda, son jarocho, and mariachi. He is also edits a local news website and is a subeditor of a local Spanish language newspaper. Check out his weekly column Music Sin Frontera on Sunday nights.

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