Whether performed at restaurants or at family gatherings, weddings or other church ceremonies, mariachi has evolved over the last century into the music most closely associated with Mexico's cultural heritage. This fall, a mariachi class dealing with the history, evolution and tradition of the iconic musical genre switched gears and has become a performance-based course.
Previously, the course "dealt with the academic understanding but not the performance aspect," said David Frego, chair of the Department of Music. "Now we will be going for the real-life experience that is so much more visceral, that grabs you by the heart, because the students will be learning technique," and then performing what they have learned, he said.
"We hope to develop a community ensemble that will represent the university, but will also become an integral part of the community's cultural and musical roots," Frego said.
The one-credit-hour class attracts many non-music majors, Frego noted.
The course's goals will include "getting students to perform more frequently, to get out there and play the music in public," said lecturer Michael Acevedo, a well-known local mariachi performer who plays on the San Antonio River Walk as well as other venues.
Begun as regional folk music in the 18th century, most likely in the state of Jalisco in southwestern Mexico, "mariachi" refers to the type of music—played on guitars, violins and trumpets—as well as to the musicians and the band that perform the music.
While mariachi groups in middle and high schools have been popular since the 1960s in the American Southwest, particularly in the San Antonio area, "you can probably count on one hand the number of university mariachi programs," Acevedo said.
UTSA's community ensemble will serve to educate both the students and the general public on the various mariachi styles, Frego said. It will also help strengthen students' mastery of the music while expanding their repertoire, which could lead to more musical engagements, Acevedo noted.
"Usually in high school or middle school, mariachi [students] will learn a few songs that they play repeatedly," Acevedo said. "One of the course goals will be to significantly expand both different techniques and the number of songs in their repertoire, because [a mariachi's] bread and butter comes from how many songs you know."
Acevedo performs with a group on the San Antonio River Walk and also serves as the mariachi and orchestral director at the Northside Independent School District's Sam Rayburn and Pat Neff middle schools.
He noted that his goal with the college-level course is to develop enough interest so the university could someday offer a minor in mariachi music.
While Frego said there is still work to do before a minor is created, "there is a great desire to go down that road. But first we need to build up critical mass, get more students interested in it to create a need for more classes."