It might be a long way from Mexico to Washington, but with music the distance evaporates. This Sunday at the Pantages Washington’s premiere high school mariachi band, Mariachi Huenachi (from Wenatchee, of course) will open the show for the band widely regarded as the world’s best: Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán. For the Wenatchee students it’s not only their first time in Tacoma, it’s the highlight of a touring schedule that has them taking mariachi joy around the state.
“We play a lot of places – Seattle, Idaho, the Mariners, we even opened for the Seahawks,” says Ramon Rivera, director of the three bands (including Mariachi Huenachi) that make up the mariachi program at Wenatchee High School. “But this is even better. It’s a great honor for our program to be playing with the best in the world. These musicians are (our) idols. The students are so excited; it’s beyond surreal.”
Since 1897 the famous Mariachi Vargas musicians have toured the world, appearing in more than 200 films, making numerous recordings and generally setting the standard worldwide for this Mexican folkloric music that blends trumpets and harp with violin, vihuela (a type of guitar), guitar, guitara and bass guitarron.
“When we learn songs, it’s their music,” Rivera says.
The 25 students in Mariachi Huenachi will get to meet their musical idols before the show and talk about what they do. Mariachi Vargas regularly play at festivals to do just this – encourage young people to pursue mariachi and achieve their goals. In a way, it’s exactly what Mariachi Huenachi themselves do around the state of Washington.
“Every school wants us to play for their assemblies, because they want a program like ours,” says Rivera. With 300 students in the Wenatchee district program from fourth through twelfth grades and around 80 auditioning for Rivera’s top band every month, it’s a highly popular music program, rivaling choir, orchestra and traditional band. As such, Rivera says, it’s also highly successful at keeping kids learning and connected with their culture, requiring good grades to stay in the band.
“Every study shows that students who do music do better in school,” he says. “It teaches school pride and cultural pride. The Latino population is growing, and they’re trying to find ways to connect kids to school, to help them stay there. Mariachi is a highlight, like basketball or cheerleading. It’s another way for them to graduate and be successful.”
With so many local students coming from agricultural families, Rivera adds, these young mariachis will often be the first in their families to go to college.
“It’s a real honor (to be in Mariachi Huenachi),” he says. “You not only represent the school, the city and the state, but you also represent the Latino community.”
Mariachi Huenachi and Mariachi Vargas play 3 p.m. Nov. 11. $39/$59/$69/$125 (includes post-show meet and greet.) Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma. 253-591-5894, broadwaycenter.org