If you ask a mariachi student about misconceptions around their art form, you’ll find no shortage of adjectives that seem to place it outside of professional realms.
“Perhaps the most problematic misconception about mariachi music is that it’s an unpolished and un-academic music style,” says Aidan Barriga (B.M. 2022 | Composition & Vocal Performance). “I can confidently say that being in a mariachi ensemble teaches one how to be a successful ensemble member and a soloist in a way that most students in band or choir do not get to experience.”
Much of what structurally defines mariachi is its unique assemblage of instruments: six violins, two trumpets, one guitar, one guitarrón (a large bass guitar) and one vihuela (a small five-string variation of the guitar). The two final instruments are native and necessary to the mariachi. As the national folk orchestra of Mexico, it originates specifically from the central western region that encompasses areas of Jalisco, Michoacán and Colima.
Mariachi music is a combination of Western, indigenous and African musical traditions; the prime example of this combination is the basic son rhythm, which alternates between 3/4 and 6/8 time signatures. Mónica Fogelquist, assistant professor of practice in mariachi music and ethnomusicology, who came to the Butler School in 2018, describes sones as “joyful, exciting and the ultimate musical representation of the mariachi.” Fogelquist now directs the University of Texas Mariachi, which was previously led Ezekiel “Zeke” Castro.
A (VERY!) INCOMPLETE LIST OF MUSICAL FORMS IN MARIACHI
SON — from sonido, which translates to sound — is Mexican folk music which varies significantly by region, but still shares a number of common characteristics in its rhythms, lyrics and dance; it is a mix of Spanish, African and indigenous elements which dates back to the 18th century. The Mexican son likely originated in Veracruz, but there are also major son traditions in the Huasteca region, the Pacific coast of Guerrero and Oaxaca, Michoacán and Jalisco. The music utilizes string instruments such as guitars and violins, with musical elements that haven’t changed since Spanish Baroque music was introduced into Mexico during the colonial period. The dance associated with this music is social and often includes a stomping rhythm to provide percussion.
“Sones are my favorite genre within mariachi...every-thing about the son, from the liveliness to the styles of performance make it all very exciting. Sones create a rush of adrenaline for me that I can’t help but beat along to or even sing the instrumental lines. It’s easy for me to get entranced by the music and become lost in the melody of the violin or the rhythms of the vihuela.” — Lyssandra Archer, B.M. 2022 | Environmental Science
EXAMPLES: “La Bamba” (son jarocho from Veracruz, later adapted and popularized by Ritchie Valens in the United States) “El Son de la Negra” (son jalisciense considered to be the signature piece of the mariachi)
RANCHERA is a genre of the traditional music that was created before the Mexican Revolution, but became popularized and urbanized during the golden age of Mexican cinema, during which many of the movies featured ranchera music performed by soloists and often accompanied by Mariachi Vargas, the world’s greatest mariachi group; rancheras are not exclusive to the mariachi and are performed by many different types of ensembles including bandas and conjuntos norteños. The lyrics of a ranchera can cover any topic, but are frequently about love, nature or patriotism.
“My favorite song form to sing is the ranchera; it is the ultimate outpouring of human emotion. Many ranchera songs speak of unrequited or lost love, and I believe that we as humans can all connect on some level to the emotions that come from that theme. Unspoken thoughts can thoroughly be expressed through song.”— Mónica Fogelquist, Assistant Professor of Practice | Mariachi and Ethnomusicology
EXAMPLE: “Tú, Solo Tú” popularized by Linda Ronstadt in the late 1980s and then by Selena in the mid 1990s
HUAPANGOA is a Mexican folk dance and music style; the word is believed to be an evolution of the Nahuatl word cuauhpanco which translates to “on top of the wood,” an allusion to a wooden platform used by the music’s dancers. This type of song, like the ranchera, is not exclusive to the mariachi. It has its origins in the northeastern/central eastern region of Mexico and is distinguished by the use of falsetto singing. The huapango adapted to the mariachi has alternating rhythmic patterns similar to the sonjalisciense and both major and minor keys are used.
“Huapangos are a song form in 3/4 that feature very virtuosic violin parts, and incredibly difficult vocal melodies that require singing strongly in the chest and falsetto registers.” — Aidan Barriga, B.M. 2022 | Composition & Vocal Performance
EXAMPLES “Huapango Torero” performed by Lola Beltrán “Huapango” composed by José Pablo Moncayo
Prior to her appointment at The University of Texas at Austin, Fogelquist served as director of mariachi music at the College of Southern Nevada and Chaparral High School in Las Vegas. She received her Master’s degree in ethnomusicology from the University of Texas Río Grande Valley, and served as second violinist and first vocalist with their Mariachi Aztlán during her graduate studies. But while still a green undergraduate, Fogelquist joined Mariachi Reyna de Los Ángeles, the foremost all-female mariachi group in the world; her only prior playing experience was in her father’s student group, and there was new pressure to learn very quickly and — most of the time — by ear.
“Stylistically, I was deficient for the group. In the mariachi world, each group carries its own style and players have to adapt their playing accordingly,” says Fogelquist. “I also found that the women in the group had high expectations for each other, and as a new member that could be overwhelming. Although in the moment I might have felt inadequate or isolated, I am appreciative that there was some pressure from the other members because it strengthened me as a musician. I feel that the respect and admiration from my colleagues was genuine, and earned me a place within the ensemble.”
By necessity, effective mariachi instructors are those who have had a lot of experience as active professional musicians, but they must also possess deep knowledge of the intricate culture, which can only be ascertained through participation and fluency with the Spanish language.
“Mariachi music and mariachi culture are filled with double meanings, jokes, sayings and slang that will just not be understood by someone who does not have a full understanding of the language,” says Fogelquist. “Musically speaking, mariachi music goes well beyond the notes on a page. This music is soul music; it is an experience.”
Her students agree that there is no substitute for real world experience in a mariachi instructor; Barriga cites this as Fogelquist’s biggest pedagogical strength, also pointing out that her father wrote the first academic thesis on mariachi music in the United States in 1975: “Growing up she was steeped not only in the music, but also the cultural and historic aspects that make mariachi so special.”
Fogelquist has many goals in mind to expand the Butler School’s mariachi program, many of which follow a theme of creating community leadership to strengthen the music’s practice across all age levels.
“I would like to see more students who are in the Music and Human Learning program participate in learning mariachi music, as I think it will come in handy as they find teaching jobs in public schools, both in and outside of Texas.”
She also hopes to create a University of Texas at Austin-based festival to bring world-renowned mariachi musicians to campus.However, her primary goal is to create a group of knowledgeable mariachi musicians who walk away with a set of skills that will allow them to continue playing mariachi music long after they graduate from UT. “Professor Fogelquist pushes us to do the things she knows we are capable of with hard work,” says Noah Galloso (B.S. 2021 | Computer Science). “I cannot wait to see how this group progresses in the future."
WAYS TO SUPPORT MARIACHI MUSIC IN AUSTIN
• Create more awareness about The University of Texas Mariachi: “I think there are a lot of people who are still unaware that our campus has a mariachi at all,” reminds Fogelquist.
• Attend mariachi concerts if you are fortunate enough to be in a place that has live mariachi musicians; request songs and tip the musicians. “And please do not request ‘El Mariachi Loco,’” Barriga adds laughingly.
• Take the mariachi lab or “History of Mariachi” classes offered at UT; those outside the community can request that mariachi classes be offered in their own public education institutions.
• Donate funds and other resources to mariachi programs in your community. To give online, visit music.utexas.edu/giving; UT Mariachi is one of the specified areas of gift designation within the Butler School of Music.
UT Mariachi would like to thank Renato Ramirez for his generous donor support, as well as Director Mary Ellen Poole, Professors Ryan Kelly and Robin Moore, and Dean Doug Dempster for their advocacy and institutional support.
STORY: Jenny Catchings PHOTOGRAPHY: Nathan Russell