Mariachi school co-founders teach the love of music

Clemente Montes is poised and ready to practice.

It’s like hearing a field of flowers blooming all at once, a concert of life bursting forth from young fingers gliding along violin strings. Romantic guitar notes blend with the sounds of vibrant trumpets blaring a heart-stopping melody with the solid, steady beat of the guitarrón, a fat-boy-sized bass guitar keeping perfect rhythm. “Ay ay ay,” the joyful chorus sings..
These exuberant sounds drift through the air every Saturday morning at Gilroy Center for the Arts as 45 young students of the Mariachi Academy of Music practice playing folk music from Mexico.
Felipe Garcia, 27, and Jorge Rodriguez, 23, opened the academy in May 2014 and a second school in San Jose in September, which now has 50 students enrolled.
Their goal is to train skilled musicians while helping restore a sense of Mexican heritage through mariachi music.
“We started the school to give the community the same opportunities that we had as children,” Garcia said.
Garcia was born in Mexico City and his family came to the U.S. when he was 4-years old. By the third grade, he was playing the violin. Rodriguez, a San Jose native, took up the trumpet at age 8 and now also plays piano and guitar.
Both said the key for deepening their lifelong love for music was taking mariachi music classes in school programs, where they also learned about the culture.
He and Rodriquez met while teaching at another music school and decided to partner up and start the Mariachi Academy. Their grassroots program started with their own finances, community support and the help of eight families that first enrolled their children.
“We wanted to reconnect Mexican children with their heritage through mariachi music,” Garcia said.
Based on their musical backgrounds and teaching experience, they designed their curriculum to focus on music first and the mariachi genre second.
“We make certain our students learn music theory and how to properly play their instruments and then learn mariachi songs,” Garcia said.
Stressing a solid music education is crucial to a child’s development, according to Rodriguez. “It’s important to create musicians capable of joining the symphony or a jazz band and playing any genre, not just mariachi,” he said.
One of their students, Rudy Vega, 13, grew up in a music-loving family and started playing classical violin at age 5. But three years ago he found his cultural niche and switched to mariachi music, taking up the guitarrón when he enrolled at the academy last year.
A student in the intermediate class, Vega dreams of becoming a professional mariachi musician one day.
“The teachers are very dedicated helping us understand the music and why we play it,” Vega said.
His mother, Karla Dominguez-Vega, said the instructors always find events where the children can perform, like festivals, churches and senior centers.
“It’s been a great experience for us giving the kids exposure that builds their confidence, and that’s why
the program is growing,” Dominquez-Vega said.
The academy offers three levels of classes—beginning, intermediate and advanced levels. Classes practice every Saturday at the Gilroy Center and classes at the San Jose school meet on Wednesday evenings. Students can select from violin, guitar
or vihuela, and trumpet, guitarrón
and vocalization.
Anthony Angeles, 20, one of the academy’s six instructors and Garcia’s younger brother, teaches violin and once played with the San Jose Youth Symphony. He said the instructors strive to keep the classes creative, engaging and fun for students.
“We teach the students to express themselves in any musical genre with emotion, and that’s one of the things that makes our classes and students stand out,” Angeles said.
For more information about the academy, call (408) 386-2373

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