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Mariachi Summer Recital: Young people learn from pros how to sing from the heart

Carolina Rodriguez, Leylanie Rodriguez and Nayelli Peña, all from Grulla High School
Jack Morgan
Carolina Rodriguez, Leylanie Rodriguez and Nayelli Peña, all from Grulla High School

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The future of vocal Mariachi music convened recently at the Tobin Center’s Carlos Alvarez Theater to fine-tune their vocals and elevate their performances.

From pre-teens up to 24 years of age, young people worked to overcome their backstage jitters. They were guided by teachers as they ran through scales to warm up to theMariachi Extravaganza Vocal Summer Recital.

Vanessa Alonzo is one of the lead instructors.

Alexa Posas
Jack Morgan
Alexa Posas

“My grandmother used to sing and my dad likes to compose songs and sing, but I am the main mariachi singer in the family,” she said.

Alonzo has also performed in three Mariachi Operas with the Houston Grand Opera, as well as operas in Minnesota, Chicago, and San Diego. Despite her incredible accomplishments, she says she really enjoys teaching young Mariachi fans.

Most of the 44 participants took Master Classes with one of those teachers, including 17-year-old student Carolina Rodriguez.

I've been singing for about six or seven years already, since I started in sixth grade,” Rodriguez said.

Like most of these ambitious singers, Rodriguez attended mariachi classes at school. But she cited her interest in it as starting with her family.

“I started hearing mariachi because of my grandfather. And ever since then, I really like the sense of performance and seeing my uncles and my aunts performing on stages, she said. “So I was like, ‘I want to be like that one day.’”

She sang for Master Class instructor Octavio Moreno, who liked what he heard.

“This is in pretty good shape. I'd encourage you to practice it as if it was bolero to elongate the vowels, shorten consonants,” he said.

Teaching these Master Classes is a major pleasure for Moreno.

Octavio Moreno, vocal coach
Jack Morgan
Octavio Moreno, vocal coach

“We encounter many, many fine instruments, some of them almost finely tuned and some of them in the raw. But that really represent a promise,” Moreno said.

Rodriguez seemed pleased with her Master Class, and has set her future sights.

I want to attend the UTRGV, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley,” Rodriguez said. “I want to hopefully be in Mariachi Aztlan, and I want to get my doctorate degree in music education.”

These master classes and rehearsals for the summer recital started on June 26 and culminated in the performance on June 30th.

“I've been singing since I was in sixth grade, so that's about 7 years,“ Neyalli Peña said. “My voice is my main instrument, but I do also play the harp and the guitar.

Most of these young singers play musical instruments, and some play several. Peña is wearing a dramatic red dress with flowers stitched all through it.

“This dress was actually my mom's and she repurposed it and we just added all of these applications onto here,” she said.

Nayelli Peña and her "recycled" dress
Jack Morgan
Nayelli Peña and her "recycled" dress

Finally, it was showtime. The host Alexa Posas greeted those who came.

“Are you already for tonight’s show?” she said to large applause, as the music started.

One after the next came to the stage and performed with surprising ability and confidence.

Gianna Gonzalez spoke beforehand about what Mariachi has come to mean to her.

“I think this organization really brings out the culture and it connects us with our roots,” Gonzalez said. “It really shows us how like tradition and how fruitful the culture is in Mexico."

Like most of these young singers, she’s filled with ambition and expects to find a career with singing.
“That is the career that I want and it's what I'm aiming for. And hopefully one day I'll be in the Latin Grammys,” she said with a chuckle.

Posas announced the singer from the furthest distance.

“Our next vocalist comes all the way from the Bronx, New York. Please help me welcome Jazmin Duran!” she said.

“Buenos Noches, San Antonio!” said Duran in response to the applause.

Jazmin Duran Garcia didn’t so much come onto the stage. She strutted.

“Yeah, I really felt just the energy of the room,” Garcia said.

During intermission she described the trajectory of the 24 year-old’s musical interests.

Michelle Meraz, Jade Gonzalez, and Aysia Zarate sing scales backstage
Jack Morgan
Michelle Meraz, Jade Gonzalez, and Aysia Zarate sing scales backstage

“It started with my dad that he taught me a lot of the songs. But then my career took a change in high school and I started doing vocal lessons, but opera based,” Garcia said. “And it wasn't until college where I realized Mariachi was where I was the happiest.”

Like many of these singers, she too has set her goals high.

I graduated the Crane School of Music, but I think I might come back to studying, get my masters in voice,” she said.

Student after student came out and sang in front of at least 200 attendees, with remarkable talent and poise. And one of them in particular.

“I'm Mariana Rowan. I'm nine years old. I'm from Uvalde Texas,” she said.

Mariana Rowan
Jack Morgan
Mariana Rowan

Her stage presence, and at such a young age suggests she’s bound for much success. And yet, she says that her confidence isn’t always rock solid.

“Yeah. Well, sometimes when I'm still scared, I just sing,” Rowan said. “Once I start singing the first verse, I don't feel scared anymore.”

Like nearly everyone I spoke to, she too hopes to sing professionally.

“When I get older, I want to be a singer and sing all kinds of genres,” she said.

Teacher Alexa Posas reflects on these last few days.

“I was once in their shoes and I remember what it feels like coming year one and being like, Oh my gosh, what am I doing?” she said.

Posas attended the first summer recital in 2012 and went on to win the 2015 Grand Champion vocalist for the Mariachi Extravaganza, which is the recital’s parent organization.

She too can trace her interest back to family.

“The primary reason why I chose to do music in the first place was my grandpa,” she said. “I grew up hearing him play the accordion at the house all the time, or playing the Bajo Sexto, or the guitar.”

Vanessa Alonzo directs the last segment, with all singers forming a choir
Jack Morgan
Vanessa Alonzo directs the last segment, with all singers forming a choir

She said he plays 11 different instruments, and she loves to sing with him. He’s still here, and yes, she still plays with him.

“Nothing could ever compare to the feeling of being able to sing with my grandfather,” she said.

The night closed with all 44 young people singing together as a choir, for parents, friends and all who came.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Arts & Culture News Desk including The Guillermo Nicolas & Jim Foster Art Fund, Patricia Pratchett, and the V.H. McNutt Memorial Foundation.

Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii