A Championship Season in Mariachi Country

Twenty minutes later, it was Mariachi Nuevo Santander’s turn. They tracked down the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts, which delivered a vibrant performance that made clear why Starr County teams see them as a threat. When the announcer called out Roma’s name, the auditorium erupted into loud cheers, red shuttlecocks fluttering in the air. Roma is known for packing homes with passionate supporters. Relatives of Martinez, the violinist, waved individual letters that spell out “NANA,” her nickname. Since they had practiced so many times, the students walked onto the stage in bone-colored outfits with red outlines and red shoes. Martinez gestured with his bow, and the first song began. Roma plays with a loud, balanced sound and near-perfect technique, as it did year after year under Garza. One judge, a guitarist named Jonathan Palomar, began to nod to the beat.

Then the second song started. Garza chose “Qué Bonita Es Esta Vida”, popularized by Colombian singer Jorge Celedón and arranged for the mariachi. The song celebrates life, which Garza finds appropriate after the isolation and deaths Starr County has suffered because of the pandemic. Garcia, the violinist who sang the national anthem during the Border Patrol ceremony, began singing: “I like the smell of the morning…” Three students sang along with him: “Oh, how beautiful is this life! No matter how painful it is sometimes, and no matter how painful it is, there is always someone who loves us, there is always someone to take care of us. …”

Solo instruments followed. Christian Cano pulls his harp to the front of the stage and makes his fingers dance on the strings. After playing with the violin, Martinez changed his instrument and joined the trumpeters in their group in solo. As the students sang, Óscar Ortega, a judge who was shaking his head and tapping to the beat of the music, now took a folded napkin and dabbed it in his eyes. He did the same when the Las Vegas Academy performed, and now it’s clear he’s wiping away tears. The judges took more notes, and when the show ended, they clapped as the audience chanted, “Roma, Roma, Roma!”

College teams follow high schools, so the night before the judges took to the stage to announce the high schools finalists. The first name they called came as a bit of a surprise – Roma’s junior team made a cut. This is an impressive achievement for Garza, who has coached both teams in the same amount of time that other directors have coached one. The next four announcements were not entirely unexpected. Mariachi Cascabel, Mariachi Grulla de Plata and Mariachi Nuevo Santander, Mariachi Nuevo Santander’s other team, along with Mariachi Nuevo Cascabel from Sharyland High School, are also from the Valley. Then, as Zárate had predicted, the sixth and final group was called: Mariachi Internacional from the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts.

Four of the six finalists are from Starr County which is another impressive feat. The judges explained that today’s scores will be announced and that each group will compete from scratch tomorrow in front of three new judges. After three months of preparation, all will come to a final performance.

Last day of The festival began with a promising note for Starr County: two of Grulla’s singers finished third in the vocal competition. All that was left for the directors that afternoon was to give the teams, now dressed and waiting for them to warm up, one final message. Each director approaches these moments differently. Rodriguez gathered his players in a hallway to tell them that, after reviewing a video of the previous day’s performance, he wanted to make some adjustments. “As a director, I ask that you respect my decisions,” he said. The students nodded, and he led them backstage into the dressing room, where they would run through the parts of the program he felt needed more tightening.

In the dressing room next door, the Rio Grande City team’s warm-up was interrupted to welcome them when Carlos Martínez, director of Mariachi Vargas, arrived to wish them well. He gave an impromptu talk in Spanish. “To me, this is the most beautiful thing,” he said of the mariachi music, “and how wonderful that when you were born here in America, you are continuing our tradition from Mexico. .” He encouraged the students to have fun on stage. When he left, Zárate decided to let his team relax for the minutes remaining before the show. He picked up a guitar and joined the students as he sang “Mi Tesoro” – “my treasure” – and one of his assistants improvised an amusing violin recital. taste.


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