Young mariachi singers bring their talented voices together to learn from the masters

Each summer the producer of the Mariachi Extravaganza convenes a summer workshop for young singers to learn from those who have made a career of it.

By Jack Morgan, Texas Public RadioJune 28, 2024 8:00 am, , ,

From Texas Public Radio:

In San Antonio on Monday, about 50 young people, one-by-one, stepped up to a microphone at the Carlos Alvarez Theater in front of mostly strangers and belted out a favorite mariachi song.

The young people — teenagers and younger — came forward to give it their all, something that few people have the nerve to do.

“Hi, I’m Mariana Rowan from Uvalde, and I’m going to sing ‘Aires de Mayab,’ ” she said. Then she did just that.

The event is a practice session for the Mariachi Extravaganza Summer Recital which takes place Friday night at the Alvarez Theater. Nearly every one of these kids sang before their peers. But they also performed for the experts.

Jonathan Palomar and Lianna Hernandez during a lesson.
Jack Morgan / TPR

“We have a golden cast of maestros and maestras who have come together here in San Antonio to teach the students,” recital producer Cynthia Muñoz explained, “and they are the real attraction for the camp.”

A maestro is a teacher, and four teachers here are instructing the kids in group sessions and then in individual master classes.

“Last December was my first time experiencing having an audience for myself, having a mariachi accompany me,” Lianna Hernandez said.

Her first time singing mariachi onstage was at last December’s massive Mariachi Extravaganza, the yearly international competition.

“That was a really great experience to have. And I think that without having the Extravaganza wouldn’t have gotten me here today,” she said.

UTSA’s Mariachi Ensemble provides music for the kids to sing to.
Jack Morgan / TPR

She also went one-on-one with a maestro to sculpt her performance up a notch. “I’m about to have a private lesson with Jonathan Palomar,” Lianna said.

Palomar played on guitar a series of notes that he asked Hernandez to recreate vocally. One time she would be doing so while saying the “a” sound, descending, the ascending the scale. The next time he would ask her to follow his directives on guitar, this time with the letter “e.”

Those vocal exercises were meant for her to better pronounce her vowels. After the class, Lianna said it worked.

“That helped me really find the placement because some of the vowel shapes he was making and notes he was hitting — I’d never done before in an actual song,” she said. “So that really helped me find my placement, like a lot!”

Jonathan Palomar makes a point to Lilianna Hernandez.
Jack Morgan / TPR

She followed up the exercise by singing a song of her choice as Palomar accompanied her on guitar. The exercise gave her a specific context to practice the skill she had just been learning.

The teacher said he finds working with young people rewarding.

“It’s beautiful to see how they are taking care of our culture from Mexico and how they’re teaching these kids to embrace it, and to learn those songs in Spanish,” Palomar said. “And sometimes they don’t even speak Spanish. And they learn those songs in Spanish. So it’s beautiful to see all that.”

Muñoz said the Mariachi Summer Camp and recital will celebrate a 10-year birthday on Friday night with the Alvarez Theater performance. That will feature young singers from across the south and southwest.

“Students come to the camp. from all parts of the country. We have students from California, Arizona, Florida, and all over Texas, Houston, Midland, Odessa, the Rio Grande Valley and of course, right here in San Antonio,” Muñoz said.

She said that if members of the public wish to attend, they can find ticket information at Tobin’s website — the sooner the better because tickets go fast.

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