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Mariachi band organizes local concerts


Professor Steve Wagschal plays violin with the rest of La Perla del Medio Oeste. The group had rehearsals in La Casa Latino Cultural Center in preparation for performances. Matthieu Picard Buy Photos

One can hear the sound of two trumpets, two violins, a guitarrón and a vihuela when entering the La Casa Latino Cultural Center.

This is where the mariachi group, Perla del Medio Oeste, or Pearl of the Midwest, conducts their weekly practice. 

“When I came here, I discovered that being in a big music school meant that there were many different types of music," said Jonathan De La Cruz, a second-year graduate student and the founder of the group. "I didn't understand why there wasn’t mariachi in a huge music school."

De La Cruz, originally from Texas, is working toward a master's degree in jazz studies at the Jacobs School of Music. He remembered feeling homesick for family and friends when he first arrived in Bloomington and decided to start the group to remind him of home. 

De La Cruz said starting this band, which he did six months ago, was not easy.

“What is very challenging here is starting a group in a community where nobody plays this music and having to teach them from the very beginning,” De La Cruz said.

He said when he started the group, it felt like he was alone. However, he said he was fortunate enough to be sponsored by La Casa. Through this sponsorship, they were able to receive a grant to bring in his mentor from Texas, Tony De La Rosa.

"He came and gave a clinic here, and I was so happy, because I got to sing with him again, and he brought his vihuela and talked about the different styles from the different regions.”

De La Cruz said he also found it difficult to find mariachi instruments like the vihuela and the guitarrón in the beginning.

The vihuela is a rhythm instrument that resembles a small guitar, and the guitarrón is a bass instrument that looks like a very large guitar. 

De La Cruz said La Casa reached out to the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology and the Latin American Music Center. It turned out the former of the two departments had several mariachi instruments and was willing to let Perla del Medio Oeste use them. Both groups also came on board to sponsor the band. 

The group is comprised of six members, including De La Cruz. 

They will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 29, at the Musical Arts Center; 6 p.m. Friday, March 30, at the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center; and 5 p.m. Friday, April 20, at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

Lillian Casillas-Origel, director of La Casa, said the mariachi group is important for the Bloomington community because it gives face to the Latino community and it also provides an opportunity for Latinos and non-Latinos to come together. 

“The most beautiful thing that I saw from starting the group was that we had a Muslim member, a Canadian member, a Korean-American member, a person from Panama, a guy from Mexico," De La Cruz said. "And it was probably the most diverse mariachi in the world that day."

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