- Lecturer and Director, University of Texas at Austin Mariachi Ensemble, Mariachi Paredes de Tejastitlán
Ezekiel Castro has had a unique history with the School of Music at The University of Texas at Austin. At age nine, he was the youngest of 11 students who were selected from the Austin Independent School District (AISD) to be in the first class of the [Junior] String Project in 1948. The [Junior] String Project was established due to a shortage of string teachers in the United States after World War II. Dr. William Doty, Dean of Fine Arts, realized that action had to be taken in the School of Music at the University of Texas.
Dean Doty selected Albert Gillis because of his creative genius to be the director and organizer of the [Junior] String Project (JSP). As the JSP continued to be successful, Castro and other students in the JSP would go to the Music Building at the University of Texas at Austin three times a week after school and on Saturday Mornings.
Castro entered the University of Texas after graduation from Austin High School; and at Professor Gillis’ recommendation, changed instruments from violin to viola. As a Freshman, he joined Gillis’ other viola students who had been preparing since the year before for a special tour as The University of Texas Viola Ensemble.
The Viola Ensemble established by Albert Gillis, one of the more unique musical groups in the country, traveled to the New York area performing in numerous locations including Yale University; Montclair [College] State University in New Jersey; at the home of Ambassador to England, Averell Harriman; and culminating their tour with a performance at the Historic Manhattan Music Hall, Carnegie Hall. The University of Texas Viola Ensemble was one of three outstanding groups especially invited by The Violin, Viola, and Violoncello Teachers’ Guild of New York, which included Jascha Heifetz, Mischa Elman, Joseph Szigeti, Gregor Piatigorsky, and the Budapest String Quartet.
The opportunity Castro received as a member of the [Junior] String Project and as a teacher and conductor of orchestras from 1957—1961, in The School of Music at The University of Texas at Austin, set the stage for his entire career in performance, music education and pioneering public school Mariachi Programs.
After years of teaching orchestra and band, and playing in symphony orchestras and chamber music groups, Castro was introduced to Mariachi Music in the San Francisco Bay Area. Almost 20 years after leaving Texas, Castro was recruited by AISD to teach orchestra. He soon became the Founder and Director of The Mariachi Program at Travis High School, which thrived and expanded in a similar manner as Albert Gillis’ Vision for the [Junior] String Project. Under Castro's Leadership, The Travis High School Mariachi Rebeldes del Sur quickly gained local, state, and national recognition.
Throughout his career, Castro has received numerous awards and honors which include The AISD 1986 Teacher of The Year Award, The 1996 Austin American-Statesman Leadership Award “Teacher of Music, Leadership, and Heritage,” The AISD 2001 Hispanic Heritage Teacher of the Year Award, The 2012 Austin Latino Music Association (ALMA) Music Showcase Award, and recently on May 2014, The Lifetime Achievement Award in Music, Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.
In the summer of 2011, 50 years after receiving a B.M. in Viola Pedagogy from the School of Music, Castro has now “come home” to where he began his studies in 1948. He was invited by the Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music to join the Music Faculty as Lecturer and Director of The University of Texas Mariachi Ensemble, Mariachi Paredes de Tejastitlán. In addition, he is the Founder and Director of The Annual University of Texas at Austin Longhorn Mariachi Camp.