Mariachi is a beloved musical tradition, the joyful sound of Sunday brunch filling the air of Mexican restaurants, the music that marks celebrations ranging from birthdays to weddings across Mexico and the American Southwest.
But for Chapman University students Erandi Sanchez ’22 and Lino Sanchez ’25, it’s family, life and legacy. In addition to their training in classical music, the sister and brother have studied and performed traditional folk music since childhood, grateful to carry on a beloved tradition of their culture.
“When I play mariachi, it’s a whole different feeling than when I play classical music or jazz. I have a deep emotional connection to this, ”says Erandi Sanchez.
For Lino Sanchez, “playing it fills me with honor … It makes me proud, it makes me happy. “
Now that passion is helping to shape a new set of students at Chapman’s College of Performing Arts.
It all started last year when Assistant Professor Tammy S. Yi asked Erandi Sanchez and Julian Garrido-Figueroa ’21 if they would be interested in helping to launch a mariachi set in Chapman as part of his efforts to develop the college’s world music offerings. The students were all in it. Yi landed a $ 5,000 grant from the Provost’s Office for essential instruments – the guitarrón, a big bass guitar, and the vihuela, a five-string guitar with a hunchbacked back. The rehearsals have become virtual, like last year. But they persevered.
A first for Orange County
The result is the Mariachi course, led by Yi, Ed.D., at the college’s Hall-Musco Conservatory of Arts. This semester, they meet in person, with the Sanchez siblings providing additional mentoring to classmates new to the genre.
The group performs as Mariachi Panteras, a nod to Chapman’s venerable mascot Pete the Panther, and is Orange County’s premier college mariachi ensemble. They debuted in May at Heartbeat of Mexico.
“The students take great pride in having their cultural heritage reflected in the music curriculum and also creating an inclusive space for the students,” says Yi, violinist, string specialist and conductor who teaches music education and is semi-finalist for the GRAMMY 2022. Music educator award.
Indeed, Yi sees the set as a way to help increase campus diversity. Through a partnership with the Santa Ana High School Mariachi Program, she occasionally lectures there and their instructor assists the Chapman class.
“It’s all part of a bigger goal. I want the Santa Ana High School mariachi students and the Chicanx students to see each other in Chapman and keep playing mariachi, ”Yi said. “I love that we can build a community with mariachi.”
Mariachi teachers in demand
The ensemble’s experience also supports the career goals of music education students, says Yi, who started playing mariachi in college and continued while teaching at the University of Arizona. High schools in the Southwest are keen to expand their curricula, especially in states like Texas, where mariachi competitions are as competitive as Friday night football.
Plus, adding mariachi to the conservatory’s curriculum is recognition of its artistry, a genre that should share the stage with classical traditions, says Yi.
“It is important that students of color and those who come from immigrant families feel seen, valued and that their traditions are recognized. For students who may not be from a Mariachi background, they still benefit from learning about Mexico’s rich culture, ”she says.
The genre is a challenge for many newcomers early on as it relies on musicians’ abilities to learn score-free music through aural training, to master a variety of styles reflecting regional sounds, and – a hallmark – demands. auditors in the field.
“It’s not just folk music. It’s complicated, ”says Erandi.
Thrive through teamwork
Indeed, says his classmate David Anderson ’23, a major in violin performance with a minor in musical affairs. This is his first semester with the ensemble and he says stepping out of his comfort zone has helped him grow as a musician and has introduced him to a performance style that relies on teamwork.
“One thing that’s really different from classic stuff is that everything we learn is by ear and by people showing each other how to play,” says Anderson. “With sheet music you get carried away a bit, but with mariachi you can pay much more attention to what’s going on around you. It is very funny.”
Ultimately, it is the Universal Notes that resonate with everyone.
“The purpose of music is to bring people together,” says Yi. “And Mariachi reminds us of the immense beauty of the diversity of music.”