Mariachi music bridges cultures, generations

SUNNYSIDE — Auraria Campus—Mariachi—that exuberant celebration that is Mexico’s national music—is alive and well in Denver.

Bryant-Webster dual language school at 36th and Quivas offers mariachi lessons and performing ensembles for between 45 and 60 third- to eighth-graders each year. North High School is starting a mariachi program this fall to allow Bryant-Webster students to continue playing in high school. Some will continue playing in college in Metropolitan State University’s Mariachi program.

“We want kids to feel something to be proud of—to have a talent to share with the world,” says Pamela Liñan, principal of Bryant-Webster, who started the mariachi program in 2002. “About half of our students are native Spanish speakers, and 95 percent are Hispanic. Mariachi bridges the generations between students and older family members. It helps them remember where they came from.”

Musicology professor Lorenzo Trujillo leads Metro State’s 10-member Mariachi Los Correcaminos de MSU (Correcaminos means “roadrunner,” Metro’s mascot) and classes in mariachi. The group started as an after-school club four years ago and became a for-credit class in the music department in 2014. “For Latinos, mariachi is about their community and families,” said Trujillo, a violinist, and attorney, specializing in nonprofits, who spent his early childhood in the Jefferson Park neighborhood of NW Denver. “For the Anglos in the group, it promotes cross-cultural understanding through a common interest that ties the cultures beyond language.”

El Mariachi Juvenile de Bryant Webster has performed at the mayor’s mansion, at Little Man Ice Cream Plaza and the Corky Gonzales Library grand opening. They also perform at music conferences, including the Colorado Music Educators Conference in Colorado Springs. The 14-year old program costs between $ 15,000 and $ 30,000 each year and is self-sufficient, garnering support from fundraisers like their annual Mariachi Extravaganza at North High School that features professional mariachi performers. “We get help from the district to buy the instruments,” said Liñan. “Members of Mariachi Sol de mi Tierra [a professional Denver mariachi group] teach vihuela and trumpet and help with our outfits, which are made in Guadalajara.”

Mariachi Los Correcaminos de MSU performed last month at the El latir de México concert at Boettcher Concert Hall, sharing the stage with the Colorado Symphony for a celebration of Mexican culture. The group performed at Civic Center for this year’s Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Trujillo said mariachi as we know it dates to the early 1900s when gatherings like weddings, baptisms, funerals and fiestas would be accompanied by mariachi music. It made its way into churches, onto movie screens and into restaurants as it pervaded popular culture.

Precursors of mariachi music began in rural Western Mexico with ensembles of rattles, drums, reed and clay flutes, and conch-shell horns. After Cortés conquered Mexico in the 16th Century, musicians adopted European instruments including violins, trumpets, guitars and harps. The Mexicans added the vihuela, a round-backed guitar that gives mariachi its distinctive rhythms; the deep-voiced guitarrón that serves as the bass of the ensemble; and a Mexican folk harp, which usually doubles the bass line. “The harp is used mostly in Texas mariachi, as is the accordion,” says Trujillo.

Mariachi songs are about love, betrayal, death and politics. “The songs express the cultural values encoding society—they are universally true for all: family, community and sharing,” said Trujillo. “The songs transcend the pettiness of life.”

Traditionally, mariachi music was passed from generation to generation and learned by ear. Now it’s written down. “Musicians learned songs by rote and kept them in their heads,” said Liñan. “Some of the music was getting lost. Now arrangements for groups are available, especially in the Southwest. They are more abundant in Texas and California, where they have more groups.”

In addition to its instrumentation, mariachi is defined by its rhythms and performance styles. “Students of mariachi learn an appreciation for its complexity,” said Trujillo. “It may sound simple, but it can be as complex as symphonic music.”

Mariachi’s rhythms come from many musical styles, including waltzes and polkas. The 6/8 rhythm of son, a folk musical style, is often heard. Ranchera is a polka rhythm with a “two” beat. Rhythms like the huapango might mix duple and triple meters to reflect the intricate steps of a dance.

“Our general music program exposes kids to many languages, cultures and styles,” said Liñan. “Along with American pop music, they get Mexican, Hebrew and African music. Our instrumental program is mariachi.”

Parents are involved at Bryant-Webster through the parents’ dance group, new last year. “Many of them have danced before, so they are excited to be part of the celebration of mariachi culture,” Liñan said. “We’ll have an assembly during Hispanic Heritage Month.”

Trujillo said some of his students have what it takes to go professional. He said there are about 14 professional mariachi groups in Colorado, including his own Lorenzo A. Trujillo and the Southwest Musicians. “The kids can get work and earn money if they’re good,” he said. “Mariachi is versatile because it’s not limited to the concert hall and groups are small, about seven to 12 players instead of 60 or 80. Mariachi bands with various skill sets play for weddings and quinceañeras, or churches, or restaurants. Some groups tour.”

About half of Trujillo’s students are music education majors who plan to teach after they graduate. Four students volunteer as mariachi teachers at Denver schools; two of them are at Bryant-Webster. “We are short of teachers in Denver who can teach mariachi,” Trujillo said. “Only about five schools here offer it. It’s important because mariachi helps keep kids in school and achieving better. It gives them a connection between school and their interests.”

“Programs have started that didn’t last,” said Liñan. “Mariachi is hard to teach if you don’t understand it.”

Trujillo hopes to grow the Metro program. “About 40 colleges nationwide teach mariachi, but degree programs are rare. I’d like to provide more teachers to advance the understanding across cultures.”

El Mariachi Juvenile de Bryant Webster will perform at the Highland Haunt, 32nd and Clay Streets, Oct. 29. For more information see www.highlandhaunt.com. Mariachi Los Correcaminos de MSU will give a concert on Dec. 3 at the King Center on the Auraria campus. For more information see their Facebook page.

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Denver bridges the digital divide

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WEST DENVER — What does six-time Olympic medalist Jackie Joyner-Kercee have in common with the world of cyberspace? Aside from her out-of-this-world performances in four Olympic games that won her three gold, one silver and two bronze Olympic medals in the women’s long jumping competition and the grueling Heptathlon she sees her next great victory helping bridge the digital divide. Connecting communities and mentoring students set her sights on not leaving a whole generation behind.

To win this race for information access and equality amongst all, she has joined forces with Comcast as the national spokesperson promoting Comcast’s Internet Essentials plan that brings affordable, high-speed Internet to low-income families. The winning award is to close the “digital divide” for all economic walks of life.

Joyner-Kercee remarked at a recent press conference in West Denver, “What Internet Essentials means to me is giving our people access to have the opportunity so you can be in the race.”

Joyner’s grit met Mayor Michael B. Hancock’s wit at the Denver Housing Authority’s Mulroy Opportunity Center on 13th and Lowell during Comcast’s official announcement of its program achievements. They also unveiled five new technology hubs in West Denver. 

Hancock got a chuckle out of the packed audience of dignitaries and local residents when he joked in all seriousness, “I used to teach financial classes for economically challenged households. The one thing they would say to me is ‘You aren’t touching my cable.’ They may not eat for a week, but don’t touch their cable.”

Comcast launched Internet Essentials five years ago and aims to bring Internet access to all households across America. In the past five years nearly 33,000 families in Colorado,  or 132,000 Colorado residents, have signed up for Internet Essentials. In Denver, 8,000 families, or 32,000 residents, have been connected. Nationally, Internet Essentials has connected 750,000 families, or 3 million Americans, to the Internet at home.

In addition, Comcast expanded the program’s eligibility to households receiving HUD-housing assistance, including public housing, Housing Choice Voucher, and Multifamily programs. There are nearly 50,000 HUD-assisted households in Colorado that stand to benefit from this expansion, and up to 2 million in Comcast’s service area across the country. This accounts for approximately 40 percent of all its households, according to HUD. Now even more individuals, including seniors and veterans, can apply for the program.

Denver was identified as one of the top 10 cities for the nationally acclaimed program. David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Comcast Corporate was on tour with Jackie Joyner-Kersee and shared the dais with Denver partners, Mayor Hancock, HUD Region VIII Director Rick Garcia and DHA Executive Director Ismael Guerrero as they outlined the program and implementation of five technology hubs in the Denver Housing Authority communities. The Mulroy Opportunity Center at 3550 13th Avenue is one of the West Denver facilities to get a technological facelift based on a $ 100,000 Comcast grant to help upgrade them.

Cohen noted that the basis of the Internet Essential program was developed to bring affordable, high-speed Internet to low-income families.  “We didn’t know if this would be successful, but our 5 year status report headline is that we, not just Comcast, but thousands of business and community partners have connected over three million Americans, mostly for the first time in their lives.”

As a result of the programs’ success, families receiving housing assistance by HUD have been added to the roster of eligible customers. Said Cohen, “We increased the eligible pool by two million families nationally and by 50,000 in the state of Colorado, including 17,000 in the city of Denver.” 

For many who take the Internet for granted, it is hard to fathom life without a computer. Yet, millions of American’s struggle for this necessity, no longer a privilege, but a lifeline to schoolwork, job applications, medical assistance, communication, and inclusion. In a video showcasing the program, one mother noted, “My son likes to get on the Internet. But, to do that he has to go miles to the library. He needs to do this because if he keeps his grades up, he could get a free scholarship. “ Another young mother with a baby in tow said, “Having the Internet in my home would be much easier than traveling for hours and transferring on 3 busses with a baby.” 

Internet Essentials will significantly improve connectivity for students, families, and workers who currently travel for hours to local libraries for only $ 9.95 per month. They may also purchase a computer through the program for $ 150.

HUD’s Rick Garcia noted, “The partnership with Comcast’s Internet Essentials has allowed us to broaden their footprint in all HUD developments. HUD has proposed a new rule that all newly funded construction must have Internet access as part of the basic requirement.” He continued,  “The Denver Housing Authority is one of 20 cities around the country that knew by working with local partners, Denver Public Library systems, Denver Public Schools and now Comcast, that we could bring this resource alive to local communities. Families will now be able to access the same level of high-speed Internet in their homes and classrooms, particularly in West Denver neighborhoods.”

At the Mulroy Opportunity Center and four others in West Denver (North Lincoln, Sun Valley, Westwood, and [email protected]) a state-of-the-art technology program is now in full swing. Each technology hub will act as a high-quality resource for residents to obtain information on affordable high-speed Internet and technology devices. Each hub is outfitted with 70” Promethean boards (a highly intelligent interactive computer chalkboard, of sorts), new computers, video conferencing equipment, printers, and scanners. They are all available for the community’s use. The technology hub also includes a computer lab with training classes, resume and interview skills development, job leads, resources and referrals.

Tony Frank, a local Northwest Denver resident and Digital Inclusion Director of DHA’s “ConnectHome Denver” implements the program that offers free digital literacy training at DHA’s five opportunity centers. They also train parents on how to use the Denver Public School Parent Portal and technology resources effectively. He said, “It is a dream come true. It’s not just a room, it is a way to connect people from their homes to resources whether it is teleconferencing with health providers, studying, applying for a job or simply being able to send an email.”

A robust class schedule started on September 28 and promises to teach the tools of technology, social media and most importantly, perhaps, bringing the community together to bridge the great digital divide.

To see the facility or a list of upcoming classes go to www.connecthomedenver.org or contact Tony Frank at [email protected] or 720.932.3117.

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