‘Mariachi culture is family’

In this first year of regional competitions, Bryan High School was the only school in Region 8 to participate, meaning each of the representatives at the Nov. 2 region contest will be members of Los Vikingos.

Four years after Bryan High School’s mariachi ensemble was first developed, the school’s Los Vikingos are the only representatives in the first Texas Music Educators Association Region 8 mariachi band.

Though the Los Vikingos ensemble has participated in the UIL state competition at University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, this is the first regional competition it has been able to pursue.

While mariachi has a large presence in the Rio Grande Valley region of the state, director Glenn Lemons said, “now TMEA has recognized it in a way where TMEA is pushing all the regions in the state of Texas to have a region mariachi ensemble.”

This places mariachi alongside more traditional music ensembles — choir, band and orchestra — that have regional competitions.

In this first year of regional competitions, Bryan High School was the only school in Region 8 to participate, meaning each of the representatives at the Nov. 2 region contest will be members of Los Vikingos.

“I think it’s great for us to lead the way for every other region or every other school in our region,” BHS senior and Los Vikingos Vice President Julian Sanchez said. He said he hopes their lead means students in other districts throughout the state can have similar opportunities.

Based in folksong tradition, Lemons said, the mariachi culture is one that is passed down from one generation to the next.

When Los Vikingos play different events, he said, “I see seniors and the young kids singing the same songs. … Mariachi culture is family.”

The students know the songs better than Lemons, he said, because they have been exposed to it, often for years before entering high school and joining the ensemble.

During performances, he said, he sees how emotional parents and grandparents sometimes get as the songs take them back to their own childhood or connect them with a memory.

BHS senior and Los Vikingos President Judith Esquivel said, “For me, it’s like I’m making my family proud, because I’m sharing the culture that they showed me and the culture that they grew up with. Even though I wasn’t there with them, I’m passing it on, and I’m sharing it to other people who might not know what our culture is like.”

Lemons said he saw the draw the ensemble had from the start when, during the first concert four years ago, everybody in the audience had their phones out recording.

“I knew I was in trouble. Then, it just exploded,” he said, “and we’ve been going playing around town.” In addition to playing at local radio and TV stations, the ensemble plays at local establishments and events as well as quinceañeras and other parties.

Mariachi has followed a wave moving farther north in the state after starting in the Rio Grande Valley. As the style of music becomes more popular throughout the state, Lemons said, he sees more public schools adding it to their fine arts offerings and more teachers becoming qualified to direct mariachi ensembles, techniques classes and teach the instruments.

“There’s really not a music ensemble that’s really touching that [Latino] culture. I just wanted to do it one time,” Lemons said, with a laugh. “Four years later, we’ve got our own polos, we’ve got our own uniforms, we’re traveling all the way down to the Valley to play at state.”

Expanding mariachi throughout the state, he said, will allow more students to be involved with and connect with music ensembles in their schools.

“It’s going to touch the culture. It’s going to reach people that normally don’t get reached through a typical, traditional music education,” he said.

This year’s UIL state mariachi competition is scheduled for Feb. 21-22 at UTRGV, and TMEA is expected to add an all-state mariachi band as more schools and regions begin participating.

Ultimately, Esquivel said, they want to win state.

“I want to see that happen with this school, for us to go down to the Valley and show them that us northern [musicians] can also be as good as them,” she said.

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