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David Minton

UNT mariachi camp expands horizons

Profile image for By Rachel Mehlhaff / Staff Writer
By Rachel Mehlhaff / Staff Writer
Jose Hernandez of Mariachi Sol de Mexico, instructs the class of middle and high school students on the ins and outs of Mariachi at the UNT Mariachi Aquilltas Summer Camp, Wednesday, July 25, 2012, in Denton, TX.David Minton
Jose Hernandez of Mariachi Sol de Mexico, instructs the class of middle and high school students on the ins and outs of Mariachi at the UNT Mariachi Aquilltas Summer Camp, Wednesday, July 25, 2012, in Denton, TX.
David Minton

University of North Texas student Stephanie Moreno’s life was changed by mariachi camp, and she hopes to share her experience with other students.

“Being at the camp, they opened my eyes to this whole new world,” said Moreno, who first attended the five-day camp about four years ago as a Grand Prairie high school student. The camp motivated her to go to college, she said.

Moreno now helps teach at the camp and sees herself as a guide and a role model. She’s studying music education at UNT and plans to be a choir teacher and start mariachi programs at elementary schools.

The UNT Mariachi Aguilitas Summer Camp is in its fifth year of teaching middle and high school students from Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, Grand Prairie, Garland and Krum.

Two years ago, students from the camp began attending UNT.

“That’s one of my primary purposes for the camp,” said Donna Emmanuel, associate professor of music and founder of the camp.

Campers interested in learning more about the admissions process are given the opportunity to talk with UNT’s admissions department, Emmanuel said.

Other students, like Moreno, who have graduated high school and gone off to college come back during the summer to help with the camp.

UNT student Juan Sigala attended the camp and helped teach at the camp this year. He is studying music education at UNT and said he hopes to teach mariachi music.

Sigala, who plays violin and sings, attended the camp for three years while he was at Paschal High School in Fort Worth.

“It’s a good experience to have,” he said.

Rice University student Janie Rios also came back to teach at the camp. She remembers the camp being smaller when she first attended it five years ago as a student at Sam Houston High School in Arlington.

“It was a lot smaller,” she said. “It was a lot more intimate.”

But it’s nice to see the program grow over the years, Rios said.

The violinist said she enjoys having been a student and now experiencing the camp as a teacher because she enjoys giving back.

Between 60 and 70 students attended the camp this year, Emmanuel said. The number is down from last year’s attendance of about 100 students because of a lack of grant funding, she said.

Normally, Emmanuel uses the grant money to offer scholarships, she said.

This year, she had to raise tuition $50 and wasn’t able to offer scholarships.

Fort Worth, Grand Prairie and Garland high schools help their students cover the full tuition of $250, she said.

Traditionally, in the public school system, mariachi hasn’t been valued, Emmanuel said. That’s another reason she decided to start the camp.

But it’s gaining credibility, she said.

A few years ago, mariachi was recognized as a category in the University Interscholastic League.

For current students at the camp, the music is their favorite part, they said.

“I love the music,” said Joshua Ward, 17, of Grand Prairie.“It helps me in more ways than musically.”

Ward said more students need to attend the camp.

Both Valeria Ibarra, 15, who attends Krum High School, and Seth Bullis, 15, who attends R.L. Turner High School in Carrollton, found out about the camp from their mothers, who signed them up.

Ward, Ibarra and Bullis have all been at the camp for four years.

Bullis’ school doesn’t have a mariachi program, he said. He’s enjoyed meeting the other musicians and learning about other cultures.

Ibarra has enjoyed learning from mariachi maestro Jose Hernandez, who has taught at the camp for the past three years.

“For me, it’s really cool because he’s a trumpet player,” said Ibarra, also a trumpeter.

Hernandez performs in an ensemble Mariachi Sol de Mexico, which has played for film scores such as Rango and Beverly Hills Chihuahua.

He’s a wonderful musician, and he’s a wonderful teacher, Emmanuel said.

“These kids revere him,” she said. “He’s virtually one of a kind.”

RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is .


•  What: Free performance by students in the University of North Texas’ Mariachi Aguilitas Summer Camp

•  When: noon Saturday

•  Where: Winspear Hall in the Murchison Performing Arts Center, located on the north side of Interstate 35E at North Texas Boulevard

•  For more information: Call 940-369-7802 or visit .