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Mexico City school seeks to dignify mariachi music
During that time, they’ll learn music theory and mariachi history and be taught how to sing as well as play the trumpet, guitar, violin and the round-backed guitar called the vihuela.
Trumpet player Raul Rosas, 38, who waits in the plaza for clients, admitted he and the other musicians there could use some training.
“We all should go that school because we don’t play the music like it should be played,” said Rosas, one of nine brothers who play in mariachi bands. “We’re musicians who play by ear, why fool ourselves?”
The first mariachi bands, in the 18th century, played only stringed instruments and dressed in white cotton fabric, huarache sandals and wide-brimmed straw hats _ the clothing of Mexican farm workers of the time.
Trumpets were added in the early 20th century, and mariachi bands began wearing the more elegant charro, or cowboy, outfits familiar to modern audiences: a short, embroidered jacket, snug-fitting pants with shiny buttons along the legs, fluffy bow ties and the iconic wide-brimmed sombreros.
By the mid-20th century, mariachi music had become a widely popular symbol of Mexican culture, played by radio stations and featured in charro films during the country’s Golden Age of cinema, from 1935 to 1959. By then, the music had become popular in Central and South America and the United States.
The 1980s saw the genre fade as radio buzzed with more commercially successful music such as norteno and banda, which includes lyrics about drug trafficking, or pop music.
Now, few hit songs are done in the mariachi style, and only a handful of places in this metropolis of 20 million feature live, professional mariachi bands.
“The place mariachi bands get in movies nowadays is not very dignified because they are usually second-rate characters who are accompanying the singer,” Jauregui said. “Another factor is the contempt with which the Mexican intelligentsia treats mariachi. No historian or sociologist, musicologist or folklore expert has done studies on mariachi music.”
Nonetheless, mariachi retains deep roots in Mexican culture, with many people knowing by heart longtime favorites. Almost every big event in Mexico, from weddings and funerals to Mother’s Day celebrations, includes a mariachi band, and abroad, the music offers a tie for many Mexicans to their native land. Most of that music is amateurish at best.
The handful of top mariachi stars left can nonetheless still fill auditoriums in Mexico, and fans can catch the best mariachi at occasional festivals.
“In the United States, the music is viewed with more respect and that has to do with the fact that they teach it in junior high schools and in high schools and that doesn’t happen in Mexico,” Jauregui said.
Soto’s school has tried to turn that around by hiring some of the best musicians in the business, including former members of the group Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan, which continues to tour worldwide, often performing with classical orchestras and symphonies.
If anything, the market has shown it’ll pay more for higher quality mariachi, said Victor Lemus, 44, who has played violin with Los Emperadores in Plaza Garibaldi for the last 22 years.
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