For Carmen Cornejo, seeing her 13-year old daughter Mariana Alejandra blossom as a mariachi vocalist has been rewarding.
"It opened her eyes to mariachi music and to playing the guitar," Cornejo said during a meeting Tuesday to encourage middle school and high school students to become part of the Denton school district's mariachi program.
Since the program was approved last fall, members of the district's fine arts department have moved quickly to get funding for instruments, including vihuelas and guitarrones.
Two months ago, the district hired Miguel Cantu as mariachi program director.
Cantu was previously a private mariachi instructor for the Lewisville and McKinney school districts and a member of Mariachi Aguilas at the University of North Texas.
He now performs with Mariachi Quetzal.
"It is very exciting to finally have brought mariachi into the public schools in Denton," Cantu said. "The goal is to have 30 students in each [ensemble]."
So far, 20 students are part of the middle school ensemble.
David McCullar, the district's fine arts director, said during Tuesday's meeting that the program needs more students and community support.
"We have sent out fliers, we sat down with the principals and sent out e-mails," McCullar said, "but we are still in need of help with recruitment."
To play trumpet or violin in one of the mariachi ensembles, a student must already know how to play the instrument, McCullar said.
No experience is necessary for students who want to play the guitar, since lessons are provided.
McCullar noted that acquiring proper mariachi attire, which costs about $200 per student, is essential.
"We feel that is a very important part of their learning experience, getting them motivated," McCullar said.
Students in the program also are encouraged to participate in the Mariachi Aguilitas Summer Camp, held at UNT each year since 2008. Last summer, the five-day camp cost $200, and more than 50 students participated.
The UNT camp introduces students to new music and professional musicians.
"For example, last summer we had Jose Hernandez, who is very big in the mariachi world," Cantu said. "He is the go-to guy for Hollywood whenever they need music from that genre."
Cantu said the mariachi program exposes students to another genre in the fine arts.
"We welcome them with open arms," he said. "We want to open that special door to kids who have not been interested in [others arts programs offered like] band or choir."
McCullar said that if the high school mariachi ensemble does not take off during this school year, the hope is that the middle school students will bring the program with them when they move on to their high schools.
Cornejo said the UNT mariachi camp has allowed her daughter to participate in talent shows such as Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento and Estrellitas del Sábado, featured on KMPX-TV (Channel 29). Mariana Alejandra, an eighth-grader at Strickland Middle School, made it all the way to the quarterfinals of Estrellitas del Sábado last year, her mother said.
If everything goes as planned, Cantu said, he would love to see the mariachi ensembles participate in local events like the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival.
"That would give them great exposure," he said.
KARINA RAMÍREZ can be reached at 940-566-6878. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
SCHOOL MARIACHI ENSEMBLES
Rehearsals, which begin next week, are from 4 to 6 p.m. Mondays in the choir room at Calhoun Middle School, 709 W. Congress St. For more information about the Denton school district's mariachi program, call 940-369-0075.