Don Mariachi is ready for the spotlight

Don Mariachi: Singing and Playing Guitar
Adjunct Professor of Music Ernesto Viramontes playing along to a student singing. / Photo by Adam Ponce

A flurry of guitars and violins reverberates off the walls of the small rehearsal room. Cutting through the loud instruments, Adjunct Professor of Music Ernesto Viramontes lets out a soulful grito, a joyous shout that comes from deep within the body. 

The students of Don Mariachi spent every Wednesday night this semester preparing for their first performance at home venue Phillips Hall in three years, a night of classic mariachi songs on May 27 called “México de Noche.” 

Conductor, Ernesto Viramontes playing the Guitarrón. / Photo by Adam Ponce

“Mariachi is played from the heart. You can not get the style from reading it off a chart,” Viramontes, who is conducting, casually tells his students. They are practicing “El Son del Caballito” repeatedly until they get it right. “Let’s try it one more time, but this time at a faster tempo,” Viramontes says.

Don Mariachi is more than just a class. It’s a way for the students to express their love and passion for the music of their country while serenading their audience with mournful yet beautiful music.

Originating in the 19th century in the Mexican state of Jalisco, Mariachi is known for its hybrid sound that incorporates violins, guitars, guitarrón (large bass guitar), and trumpets. A typical mariachi band will have anywhere between four to a dozen members. It is also responsible for creating some of the most iconic and recognizable songs such as “El Son de La Negra” or “El Rey.”

“México de Noche” will present different styles of traditional Mexican music such as son jalisciense, ranchera, bolero, and huapango. The set list includes songs by famous mariachi artists like Jose Alfredo Jimenez, Juan Gabriel, Mariachi Vargas and Tomas Mendez.

Edwin Martinez, student violin player in the ensemble. / Photo by Adam Ponce

“A lot of the songs we are doing people have heard before,” said Viramontes. “People like to hear old songs. For some people, they will remember when they were kids and for some, it will bring back memories of their grandparents. It is a family tradition.” 

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Mariachi music is direct and driving, and it is designed to instill emotion, but all that was lost with pandemic-era concerts, all held over Zoom or at the Johnson Center.  

Until they returned for in-person learning this semester, students enrolled in the music classes that comprise practices via Zoom while occasionally meeting in person in open spaces. Rather than practicing the music as a group, the students would sit and listen to their prerecorded parts in hopes of improving. 

“It was very difficult dealing with Zoom issues because it is such an in-person type of class,” said violinist Edwin Martinez.

For singer and guitarist Paul Rodriguez, who has been in the ensemble for about seven years, there is no better feeling than performing in person. It reminds him of the first time he sang “Creí” to a live crowd.

“When I first sang, I could feel the audience everywhere. I turned, and I could feel that they were enjoying it,” Rodrigez said. “There is no better feeling than to make people happy.”

After months of many late night practice sessions, the Don Mariachi is ready to put down their sheet music and take it to the stage for a night of whistles and claps.

This semester the concert will take place inside the Phillips Hall Theater. “It feels good to be back,” said Viramontes.

The“México de Noche” will take place Friday, May 27 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for general admission will cost $9.99, for students and children: $5.00. Tickets can be bought online or in front of the Phillips Hall Theater.

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