As an eighth grader at W.E. Greiner Middle School in Dallas, Maria Lupe Vargas won a music scholarship. The scholarship was created specifically for Greiner by the late Martha Vaughan in honor of her son, Stevie Ray, who died in a plane crash in 1990. Before becoming a legendary guitar hero, Stevie Ray grew up in a musical family in Oak Cliff – just like Lupe Vargas.
Today Lupe brings the musical erudition full circle. She teaches orchestra and mariachi at her junior high alma mater, and on October 4th, Lupe Vargas will be an honored guest at the 15th Annual Stevie Ray Vaughan Remembrance Ride and Concert. First, she is this week’s Art&Seek Q&A:
Art&Seek: Is there something special about the cultural climate of Oak Cliff that produces musicians?
Lupe Vargas: I think that Oak Cliff makes you close to your family. Family is everything in my book. They were and always are there for me for any kind of support, and being a musician, you really need all the support you can get. They drove me to my lesson, to the performance, to the rehearsal. I needed particular clothing for performances, they had to sign permission slips, I needed instrument rental money… Without a caring family, it’s really hard to get these things. I believe Oak Cliff promotes a sense of unity and culture. It allows all cultures to express themselves.
A&S: How did you first hear about the Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial Scholarship?
L. V.: My teacher, Mr. David Large (now at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts) informed the orchestra class at Greiner that scholarships were being offered for students who planned to continue taking music throughout high school. I was very excited to think that at age 14, I could receive a scholarship that would benefit me in college, and make my parents proud.
A&S: What has your musical life been like between the time you were a student at Greiner and your return here as a teacher?
L. V.: As you know, I now teach at my alma mater, Greiner! I love it there! Since Greiner, I continued on to Molina High School where my mother and I literally began the orchestra program. Throughout high school I took free private lessons from a violinist from the Dallas Symphony, Sho-mei Pelletier, through the Dallas Symphony’s Young Strings Program. The Program introduced me to summer chamber music camps and also gave me opportunities of performing at the Meyerson Center. I also played in the New Conservatory of Dallas Orchestra directed by another musician from the Dallas Symphony, Arkady Fomin.
I went on to the University of Texas at Arlington where I had a music scholarship. I majored in Music Education and took private lessons, played in the orchestra, and also joined a mariachi band on the side. The mariachi band helped economically as I was in college and needed the extra money for gas. My uncle Mando taught me how to use my knowledge of music and apply it to my Hispanic culture music, norteno music. I initially played the violin and he played the bajo sexto (12 string guitar), then I began to take interest in the button accordion, learning it by ear, norteno style. We eventually took on gigs at quinceaneras, weddings and private parties. We made it a family affair. My mother sang the second voice, my uncle sang the first voice and played the bajo sexto, my brother played the electric bass and I played the button accordion as well as the violin.
A&S: What made you decide on teaching orchestra and mariachi?
L. V.: Since I love orchestra and mariachi, and I play in a professional mariachi on the weekends, why not start a student mariachi at Greiner? The school already owned a guitarron and a vihuela and some guitars. These instruments are the heart of mariachi. There are so many talented students at Greiner – it gives them another ensemble to play with that is a little more relaxed than orchestra. It also keeps them off the streets and makes their families happy, playing music from their culture.
A&S: Can you give us a quick primer on what makes good mariachi?
L. V.: A good mariachi is attitude. Also, the more, the merrier! People are wowed by the size of the Greiner mariachi; we usually have seven guitar players, two guitarrones, one or two trumpet players and ten violins! Yes!
The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment.