Posted on 01 March 2015 by La Habra Journal
Students from Washington Middle and Sierra Vista Elementary Schools have joined to create a mariachi group.
By Jay Seidel
La Habra Journal
Nearly 40 children filed onto the outdoor stage of Ladera Palma Elementary School last week. They smiled with nervous anticipation as they readied their instruments. For many, this was the first time they have performed in public as a La Habra school sponsored mariachi group.
The mariachi group started at Washington Middle School last October by the group’s director, Jose Luis Rodriguez. In the three months the group has been together, it has grown to include students from Sierra Vista Elementary School. Something Rodriquez hopes will continue. “I’d like to see it be something district wide or even city wide,” he said with a smile. Rodriguez first approached Washington Principal Mario Carlos with the idea of starting a mariachi performance group late last year. Carlos liked the idea and worked with Rodriguez to bring the group together. Carlos explained that one of the initial challenges was to get the instruments. He reached out to the community and collaborated with the Boys and Girls Club to help with donations. He contacted Boys and Girls Club Board Member Ofelia Hansen who contacted fellow board member Cindy Singer and her husband of Singer Music.
“Danny and Cindy Singer were generous enough to exchange instruments, currently not being used, for the instruments needed to conduct the Mariachi program,” Hanson explained. “The Singers are a great couple that have invested a lot of their time and support to our community.”
The instruments students are learning includes: trumpet, violin, guitar, vihuela, and guitarron. Rodriguez helps the kids practice their instruments after school. The children practice as a group on Mondays and Thursdays and those playing trumpets practice additionally Tuesdays and Wednesdays because it takes a little more to learn. To add to the training, on Thursdays, Ernesto Molina from Mariachi Estrella de Jalisco joins Rodriguez in teaching the students. Starting a youth mariachi group is not new to Rodriguez. The retired school teacher started a similar group in 1992 when he worked in the El Rancho Unified School District in Pico Rivera. In addition, Rodriguez explained that performing as a mariachi is also something that is in his blood. “There are 120 mariachi performers in my family,” Rodriquez said. “I’m the only one who became a school teacher.” Growing up in a musical family, Rodriguez learned to play the instruments. And while he didn’t follow in the family’s mariachi footsteps, he was still drawn to the music. “It’s part of my life and upbringing,” he explained. “It’s right in my heart.” His passion for teaching is equal to his passion for the community. “My kids went to school here,” he explained. “La Habra has given me and my family so much that I need to give something back in gratitude.” Being a teacher, Rodriguez stresses academics for his musicians. He requires them to maintain good grades in order to stay a part of the group. Further, language is not a barrier for students who are interested. He explained that seven of his current mariachi performers don’t speak Spanish. However, he concedes that despite the fact they can’t speak it, “they sing can sing it so beautifully.” Rodriguez said that the most beautiful aspect of the mariachi group is that through the music no longer are people divided by language and that it can connect the generations. “We have about 60 parents and grandparents at our meetings and practices,” he explained. “The children are playing and the parents are singing. You never see that anywhere else.” But for Rodriguez, it all comes back to the children. Helping them discover, experience and grow are the things he treasures. He also helps foster teamwork.
“We help them discover their aptitude, because they all have one,” he said about the training. “They work together and gain confidence in themselves. I remind them they are a group and need to rely on each other. When they do, it’s harmony.”