Mariachi Cardenal Makes State Conference Debut

February 9, 2024

Mariachi Cardenal has made its Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) Convention debut! Founding Director John Lopez delivered a clinic, in which the students of UIW Mariachi Cardenal served as the demonstration group, at the TMEA convention on Thursday, Feb. 8 to a room full of mariachi instructors from across the state of Texas and beyond.

Lopez’s session was called "Demystifying Mariachi Armonia Instruments." Lopez focused on how music educators can teach musicianship to students who play instruments in mariachi’s armonia section – these instruments include the harp, guitarron, vihuela and guitarra de golpe (string instruments that are strummed rather than played with a bow) – rather than just teaching the notes and rhythms on a page. As he discussed techniques and musical exercises, Mariachi Cardenal was at the ready to demonstrate them.

Attendees learned of Lopez’s definition of mariachi theory: “A system that organizes the primary chords in any given key into a hierarchy of harmonic functionality.”

It’s the awareness and understanding of this harmonic functionality that Lopez says is crucial to transforming students from people who can read and play music, to musicians.

“I’m a big believer that you are musicians first – then you can play mariachi or any other genre – but you are musicians first,” he explained.

So, how does one become a musician in one of Lopez’s mariachi ensembles? It is this question that was answered during the clinic. In addition to reviewing how to address positive and negative habits in young armonia instrument players, Lopez shared ways that the rest of a mariachi ensemble can be involved in becoming stronger musicians while directors work with the armonia section. Practices like singing along, implementing body percussion and more were demonstrated by Mariachi Cardenal to showcase how one-on-one work with one instrument or section in a rehearsal doesn’t have to mean the rest of the ensemble is ignored. While the armonia section practiced the intricacies of specific strum patterns for example, the violinists and trumpet players listened for key changes to train their ear to become better at identifying changing chord progressions.

For the members of Mariachi Cardenal on stage, the experience was a meaningful one.

“It was honestly amazing,” said one member named Abigail. “It shows a part of our culture. Getting to see how far we’ve come, making it to TMEA is a really big thing. My favorite part was getting to see how big the mariachi community really is.”

That state-wide mariachi community showed their appreciation for the still-new mariachi group after each demonstration, offering their applause and even calling for a performance. While time did not allow for a full performance, Lopez did leave the audience with some parting words about Mariachi Cardenal.

“This is the beginning of their second semester in existence,” he shared. “It’s an honor for me to be their director … be on the lookout. This program is going to be the next program to talk about.”