With Mariachi Corazon de Phoenix

Wickenberg concert with Mariachi Corazon de Phoenix, 2007


With Mariachi Diablos del Sol (ASU) in 2004

If anyone had told me that, after moving to Arizona to get one graduate degree in percussion, I would take up mariachi while in pursuit of a second one, I would never have believed them. It isn’t part of my personal cultural heritage, I didn’t grow up listening to it, hadn’t studied Spanish, and had no real inclination toward playing stringed instruments. I did play the violin in 4th grade before switching to percussion a year later; I attempted to learn guitar in 5th grade, but gave up in frustration because my fingers were too short to play chords. Once I joined the band, my attention was on percussion. ASU had a mariachi class and I attended most of their concerts each semester through my master’s degree and into my doctoral studies. I loved the music, especially the rhythmic interplay between the vihuela and guitarron. And everyone could SING! I don’t recall what in 2004 finally pushed me into approaching the instructor, ethnomusicology professor Dr. J. Richard Haefer. I hadn’t ever had a class with him, but he knew I was a percussionist and asked what instrument I thought I could play in the group. One concert I went to had included a harpist; having harbored a long fascination with harps–of any kind, any size, any use–I volunteered to give that a try. Though I had NO skills on the instrument and NO knowledge of the mariachi style, he agreed to let me try. There happened to be one of the correct style sitting in a case in the music building, unused and lonely. He gave me a stack of music and a key to the storage room, and said he’d expect me at rehearsals twice a week. What to do?? I set about teaching myself (YouTube was not then what it is now), only to discover a few months later, at my first mariachi conference in Tucson, that I was doing pretty nearly everything incorrectly. But I sure did have fun–and success enough in learning the music that I was invited to return for the fall semester.  Dr. Haefer recommended that I try the guitarron. One had just come back from a long repair job, so he loaned me the bass and a method book over the summer. I waited until August to tackle the imposing instrument, but got it together eventually. A couple of years later, I took up the vihuela. My fingers are still short but I manage somehow to play both instruments well enough to make some money at it.  I’m no superstar on either one and I still don’t sing, so I’m lucky that Mariachi Corazon de Phoenix still keeps me around as a regular member. Playing mariachi music continues to be a learning experience in so many ways. Sometimes I still don’t believe that it has become part of what I do to earning a living. Long may the fun and learning continue!


Photo by Masato Kubota

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