If you attended Art&Seek’s Pecha Kucha way back, you might recall Mariachi Los Unicos, the Greiner Middle School group that performed before the show. Quin Mathews has been following the group for some time. He caught up with them this week as they got ready to play House of Blues.
Listen to the story that aired on KERA FM:
Greiner Middle School’s most famous musical grad is the blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. But watch out. There are some new kids working hard, getting noticed and winning prizes.
They are Mariachi los Unicos – the one and only Mariachis. Lupe Vargas-Garcia founded the group in 2009, when she became the school’s orchestra director. She’d discovered evidence that Greiner had Mariachi in its past.
“When I came I saw the Mariachi instruments in the back room, and asked the principal if I could start the Mariachi again, and he said yes. And from there it’s grown to fifty kids per class, almost.”
Vargas-Garcia knows these kids. She, too, was a Greiner student who wanted to be a police officer. But she was also learning to play in an orchestra through the Dallas Symphony’s Young Strings program. At UT Arlington, she took her classical training. Then she went in a new direction.
“I was invited to join a Mariachi, and my parents allowed me to join that, and I just started to get into Mariachi world and loved it.”
Mariachi’s roots are in Mexico. It picked up other influences, including a generous helping of Czech polkas. The instruments are familiar: violins, guitars, trumpets… But there’s a huge acoustic bass guitar that’s almost as big as some of the players, like Angela Segura.
“This is a guitarron, yes?” I asked Angela.
“Yes,” she said.
“It’s not like what Paul McCartney plays exactly.”
“Mmmm…I don’t know who that is.”
It’s OK, they don’t have to know the Beatles. They know plenty of other good things, like how to practice and work hard together. They compete with kids much older than they are. They were the only middle schoolers to win against high school bands in a recent Mariachi festival in Grand Prairie.
“It’s like the best thing ever, I guess, because you get to practice more and you get to work harder so you could prove yourself better,” says Eric Martinez.
And by winning a grant from the House of Blues Foundation, they and four other Dallas school groups earned the privilege of performing Wednesday on the House of Blues stage. It was a taste of what professional musicians do.
“Exactly, yes they’re doing gigs like professionals do,” says Vargas-Garcia. “Only their money, when they get donated money, it goes to their booster club.”
If you wonder what this experience does for these middle schoolers’ confidence, listen to Cecelia Montoya.
“Yes I’m excited because we’re going to be competing against, we’re not competing but like just being up there with other like kids, being role models for the other Mariachis that are just starting.”