El Son de la Gila Mariachi Conference Benefits Students and Their Mentors Alike

© Western New Mexico University

The sounds of mariachi music could be heard throughout the western part of the WNMU campus June 4-7, as the university hosted El Son de la Gila, its annual mariachi conference. Drawing students and their mariachi directors from across the southwest, the conference provided an opportunity for high school students to learn from master mariachis, and it allowed their group leaders to network and learn from each other.

Organizing the conference was a group effort, involving not only WNMU music faculty and staff, but also the members of the university’s mariachi group, Mariachi Plata de WNMU. One member of the Mariachi Plata de WNMU, guitar player Jesus Mendoza, said that he and his fellow group members assisted with the classes. “We are like substitute teachers for the maestros that came to teach here,” said Mendoza, “so we help them out with the students, translating, and making sure they have what they need.”

Mendoza, who has been playing guitar for ten years, said that the conference reminded him how far he has come in his own musicianship. “When I came [to WNMU], it was pretty scary, and I had to learn a lot more than I did in high school,” he said. “And now when I see [the next generation of high school students], I see how I was before and how I have grown now, and I can teach them how I grew …. If I can do it, you can do it.”

According to Mendoza, honing technique is just one part of the conference. “This conference is a major event that not just teaches students but passes on this tradition to future generations,” he said “The music is very endearing; it is very beautiful.”

“Every song is like its own poem, and it talks about life struggles, hardships, love,” explained Mendoza. “If it is not about heartbreak, it is maybe about a wedding, someone who has recently passed, or about declaring your love for someone. That is what interested me [in mariachi]: the poems, the stories behind it, and the people who wrote it.”

Raymond Gomez, Assistant Director of Mariachi Plata de WNMU, said that the musicians teaching at the conference, members of Mariachi Estrella de México, were the reason for the success of the conference. “The primary value [of the conference] is working with the instructors,” he said. “They are some of the best musicians in the world from Mexico. So just getting to learn from people with so much experience and that are so good in their craft is huge for everybody. They teach not only music but also how to be a performer, how to act on stage, how to maximize everything you do.”

For the high school mariachi group leaders, said Gomez, the conference offered an opportunity for professional growth and networking. “To come to any conference where you can converse with other instructors from around the area helps you know what is going on and to see how you can grow and help each other grow,” he said. “It is a support system. That is what we want to build here.”

The conference culminated with a musical showcase that allowed high school groups to compete for a chance to join Mariachi Plata de WNMU as the opening act for a concert with Mariachi Estrella de México at ¡Fiesta Latina!, the university’s signature cultural event.

The showcase was a fitting conclusion to an eventful week, said Mendoza. “Conferences play a role in students’ lives,” he said, “and help to pass on this amazing music and allow kids to fall in love with this music, as well. I think it is very beautiful when we all come together and we all sound like one. It is a huge wall of music, and it is amazing.”

Submit Feedback