Last week, at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, high school students from all over the Lone Star State gathered for the 2019 UIL Mariachi State Festival. They displayed their skills for judges and peers, but for almost all of the attendees, this year’s festival represented something deeper.
The roots of mariachi music run deep in Texas. Mariachi has been a part of the curriculum at some schools and universities since the 70s. But 2019 marks the first year the University Interscholastic League officially sanctioned the festival, which is in its fourth year.
“At first I thought UIL would kind of mess it up because that are super strict,” says Marta Ocampo, mariachi director at Grand Prairie Fine Arts Academy in North Texas. “But it’s been well organized and well run and it’s been really great.”
UIL is the governing body that creates the rules and hosts almost all athletic, musical and academic competitions for schools in Texas. The state mariachi program had been in a pilot phase for the last three years – though UIL competitions have previously been available at the regional level.
In El Paso, Americas School Mariachi Director Sergio Ramos escorted his students onto a bus at five in the morning the day before the competition.
“You know what It was a little tough, not gonna lie. It’s a little hard trying to get them going,” Ramos says.
The drive from El Paso down to the Valley with a bus full of high schoolers is not for the faint of heart. Though, Ramos says, even after a drive that took longer than it should have, he’s excited to be at the festival with his students and thankful UIL is taking mariachi seriously.
“I’m glad to see that mariachi is finally starting to become standardized and it’s being acknowledged as what it should be, as a high level performance ensemble,” he says.