Mariachi: saviour of the American music curriculum?
With music education facing extinction in UK schools and budget cuts leading one prominent musician to proclaim the situation ‘child abuse’, at least it’s good to know that some of our friends across the pond are getting it right, at least in one major city. Chicago schools are generating high levels of student engagement through allowing them to form their own mariachi bands. Trump is making ominous calls for big cuts to the arts and humanities in the U.S, too, and Mariachi could represent a cheap and cheerful grass-roots antidote to all the belt-tightening.
32% of the population of Chicago is Hispanic, and the majority of those are of Mexican origin. Teaching mariachi helps reconnect them with their roots and nurture self-esteem. Acousticguitar.com quotes an area music shop owner who supplies schools with instruments as saying that Spanish guitars and other Mariachi-related instruments are flying off the shelves. He adds, ‘Kids are excited about going to school; graduation rates are going up. Parents are more involved, the community is involved. Mariachi instils a sense of pride.”
Launched in 2002, Chicago’s Mariachi Program provides over 5,000 students with daily mariachi instruction, which employs 30 full-time teachers. Those passionate enough about it can progress to a mariachi degree specialization at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, California. Texas State University offers a master’s degree and a minor in mariachi education. John Lopez, founder and coordinator of TSU’s Latin Music program, says “By 2013, [mariachi] had gotten so big, it justified perseverance”, adding that “Mariachi music was here before Texas became part of the United States. We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.”
Cesar Maldonado, who launched the Mariachi Heritage Foundation in 2012 as a means for bringing mariachi instructors and instruments into Chicago’s public schools, says “Mariachi is a connection you can’t get anywhere else … we want students to feel good about themselves. When they feel good, when they have pride and self-esteem, they learn. Discipline is everything in mariachi. We treat the kids like pros. They know they get what they earn.”