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Arts & Culture

Mariachi Bands Turn To Online Tutoring After Gigs Disappear

A group of musicians perform. Now that San Antonio has enacted stay-at-home orders, gigs are much harder to come by for mariachi bands.
Javier Vela
A group of musicians perform. Now that San Antonio has enacted stay-at-home orders, gigs are much harder to come by for mariachi bands.

Many San Antonio musicians — including rockers, head bangers and country crooners — are struggling financially as most public venues they perform in are closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The city’s famous mariachi bands have disappeared from the River Walk, restaurants, weddings, quinceañeras and even funerals because of social distancing protocols against gatherings of 10 or more.

But that hasn’t kept them from sharing their talents with others.

Cynthia Muñoz is a former mariachi musician and now helps put on the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza every December in San Antonio. She also oversees a mariachi resource website.

Mariachi Vargas is a Mexico City-based world renowned performance group first founded in 1898. They are also the namesake for the extravaganza that attracts mariachis from all over the U.S.

She said the stay-at-home orders have cleared the city of gigs for mariachi bands and that many of the 300 professional mariachis in San Antonio have turned to online tutoring to make ends meet. There are a lot of instruments for students to learn.

“The six instruments that are essential to mariachi include the guitar, the vihuela, the harp, the guitarrón, trumpets and the violin, so they are offering instrumental classes along with vocal classes,” said Muñoz.

There are 5,000 high school and college students enrolled in local mariachi programs, Muñoz said. Many professional mariachis teach classes during the day and perform at gigs on weekends and weeknights.

Members of Mariachi Vargas are among those offering tutoring.

Muñoz said local and state funding to support musicians in need can be hard to come by.

“It’s tough because a lot of the relief funds out there are for businesses or nonprofits, which leave out many of the individual artists. But I do know that the Texas Music Office recently posted a list of grants that musicians can apply for,” she said.

The week-long Mariachi Vargas Festival in December is still on for now.

The festival features competition between the nation’s best mariachi groups and the winner will open for Mariachi Vargas. There are also music workshops.

It is held at the Lila Cockrell Theater and is entering its 26th year, making it the longest running mariachi festival in Texas, according to organizers.

Find information about online mariachi tutoring here.

Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at Brian@TPR.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian.