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Saturday, March 2
The Indiana Daily Student


Becoming Marachi

Class gives students an opportunity to learn and appreciate Mexican culture

Dressed in black and white, the nine members of Mariachi de la Flor held their stringed instruments tightly but gently as they prepared to perform at Collins Coffeehouse Monday. Some of them have never before sung or played a Mariachi tune -- a rhythmic, lively melody, words that breathe of a culture unknown to most of us.\nBut tonight, they are ready to perform.\nThese nine are part of an elite 16 students who have practiced all semester as part of Professor Cándida Jáquez' class, Mariachi Performance and Culture. While most are aspiring musicians, students of all majors are welcome to the class, which takes a look at Mariachi musical culture as a representative of Mexico and its culture. \n"Mariachi is not just a musical tradition. It's a cultural tradition, but many people don't realize that," Jáquez said to the audience at Mariachi de la Flor's performance at Collins Coffeehouse Monday. It was Jaquez's mother who came up with the ensemble's name. \nAn ethnomusicologist in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Jáquez is teaching the class for the third time in her IU career. The class meets once a week for two and a half hours on Tuesdays. This three-credit course consists of lectures and a performance practice. Although performance is a major component of the class, it is not limited to music majors. Most class participants are in the College of Arts and Sciences. In the past, students from such different fields as business, folklore, music, and arts have taken the course.

THE CLASS \n "It is truly a unique class," Jáquez said. "As far as I know, it's one of the first classes where both history and performance are taught. It's not strictly music."\n The course requirements include participation in at least two performances -- one during the semester and the end of term concert. The ensemble performs on-campus and in Bloomington for a variety of audiences. This semester, they presented an educational concert at Bloomington High School South, Collins Coffeehouse and other venues around Bloomington. \n "I want the students to gain an understanding through doing and appreciation for skill and artistry," Jáquez said. \n None of the class members is expected to be perfect at the end of one semester. After all, Mariachi performance requires years of professional training. Jáquez just hopes her students come away playing a little bit better, with an appreciation for the long cultural tradition. \n The class is evenly divided into lectures -- with quizzes, assigned readings and discussions -- and performance rehearsals. Students have weekly playlists of songs to be rehearsed during the following week that they must learn on their own. While no knowledge of Spanish or previous Mariachi experience is necessary, all students must possess an eager interest for learning about culture and music. \n "Students have to understand that as far as the workload, they must invest themselves in the class," Jáquez said. \n Although one of the class' major goals is to learn Mariachi music performance, students also learn about the various aspects of Mariachi tradition and the culture that surrounds it. In addition, students who are not sure about their musical performance skills can opt for an alternative. Students have the opportunity to write grant proposals, put together costumes, and work as a community liaison. These students still attend the lecture and practice sessions, but do not participate directly in the performance. They provide behind-the-scenes support for the ensemble.\n "I wanted to share Mexican culture," said Christine McKenna, community liaison for the class. "It was an option to be involved but not to perform."\n The students learn to work together, in a group. In a Mariachi ensemble, the success of the group depends on individual performers. \n "This is not a frill or an afterthought," Jáquez said. "They are making art themselves. We are engaging diversity in an actual setting, not where it's just presented, but acted out also."\n Other universities also have similar ensembles: UCLA, Stanford, University of Texas at Austin, and Arizona State University at Tempe have Mariachi bands. However, all of them are affiliated with their Schools of Music and focus on performance.

THE ENSEMBLE\n Mariachi de la Flor is not the traditional Mariachi ensemble -- not a professional one, at least.\n "What most people don't realize is that Mariachi tradition has over 200 years of history," Jáquez said. "The tradition is a living one."\n Originally just one of many regional Mexican musical styles, Mariachi culture became the national symbol in Mexico in the 1930s when mariachis gained the attention of the budding electronic media in Mexico City. While Mariachi ensembles have gained prominence and popularity beyond their state of origin, Jalisco, their instrumentation and repertoire have been modified, as well. \n Today, a Mariachi ensemble is usually a mix of strings and winds -- guitars, violin, trumpets, vijuelas, and a guitarrón. At the turn of the 19th century, Mariachi ensembles were smaller and much more likely to include only string instruments, with a repertoire was appropriate to that combination. While everyone is familiar with the first three instruments, the latter two instruments are unknown to many. Nonetheless, the vijuelas and the guitarrón are the very heart of a Mariachi ensemble. A vijuelas is smaller than a guitar, has a convex back, and only five strings. A gitarrón functions as the base instrument of the ensemble. Its sound is so deep that it sounds almost like a percussion instrument. \n Mariachi de la Flor consists of two singers, a violinist, a guitarrón player, two acoustic guitarists, 3 vijuela players and two trumpeters.\n Mariachi ensembles often perform celebratory music, but their performances have also figured at Catholic Mass, at funerals and during social events. Mariachis often perform at quinceneras - a celebration of a girl's 15th birthday.\n "I grew up with this music around the house," Jáquez said. "It reminds me of home."\n While most Mariachi ensembles have a diverse repertoire of songs for various occasions, the most well-known is the 'ranchera' style. Ranchera literally means 'farmer,' but in the recent years, ranchera songs have become more urban, frequently melodramatic and sentimental.\n "I learned about the variety of song literature written for the Mariachi ensemble," said Mary Fessner-Tarjanyi, a graduate student in Clarinet performance. "Prior to the class, all I knew was the stereotypical 'Cielito Lindo' song."\n \nUNDERSTANDING A DIFFERENT CULTURE\n Indiana has a growing Latino population - especially of Mexican descent. According to Jáquez, there is a large Mexican-descent population in the Calumet region, Northwest Indiana. \n "We have Latino students who don't represent a large percentage of the school," Jáquez said. "For them, it's important to see the culture represented. The class lets them know that the institution takes it seriously."\n The class encourages delving into a culture that many students otherwise would not have an opportunity to learn. Through public performances, interested audience can learn more about Mariachi culture and listen to the music. This element of Mexican folklore promotes understanding and learning.\n "Folklore fosters a beneficial sense of awareness in boundless ways," said McKenna -- a folklore major. "This sort of awareness helps us realize the expanse of possibilities, understand a different culture, appreciate and celebrate the culture as opposed to not even knowing about its existence."\n Over the past semester, the students in Jáquez's class have learned to play and work together to produce a final concert, held yesterday at the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center. \n "I think others should take the class -- it's great to learn about another culture/musical genre unfamiliar to many people in the US," Fessner-Tarjanyi said.

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