Sept 5, 2018–When you think of Schreiner University, the first thing that comes to mind is not mariachi music. But if an enthusiastic group of young musicians have their way, mariachis might take their place alongside Mountaineers.
When Courtland Gully, a Junior from McAllen, arrived back on campus last year, she happened to visit with Schreiner President Dr. Charlie McCormick.
“It came up that I played the vihuela in high school and sang in a mariachi band, and he told me about this new choral director that had played in a family mariachi,” Gully said. So she decided to look up Michelle Luevano.
Luevano, Coordinator of Choral, grew up in Boerne playing with her five brothers and two sisters in the family band “Mariachi L.” When she was hired at Schreiner University and discovered there was interest in a mariachi program, it was natural that she lead the way.
“When Dr. McCormick realized there was a current pool interested, he said, why not?” Luevano recalled. “It was kind of a club at first. We tried to fit it into the students’ schedules because they were really busy.”
That first year she was still a few vihuelas short of un grupo, so she brought in her brothers and sisters, and even hauled out some of her own instruments.
Their first “real” gig was at a student barbecue last April.
“There were some holes I filled in with my brothers and sisters just so the students could get in front of an audience,” Luevano said. “That was really their dream. It was really cool to see them in performance. The students were just smiling just to be up in front of everyone.”
Even music fans may not be aware that mariachi is a tradition in so many Texas high schools, especially in San Antonio and the Valley. It is now a UIL-sanctioned event, meaning it is officially recognized competitive event. Luevano remembers getting into trouble for missing high school classes to attend competitions before they were sanctioned.
Luevano notes that while mariachi mostly reflects a Mexican heritage, you can now find it throughout the entire world, including a more diverse mix of students embracing it.
Mariachi is a revered musical art form, tracing its roots back to 18th century Mexico. Instrumentation includes familiar instruments of up to six violins, two trumpets, and guitar. Added to that are the guitarrón mexicano, guitarra de golpe, vihuela, and accordion.
Together, the sweetness of the violins, the brilliance of the trumpets, the deep guitarron and high vihuela, combine with syncopated rhythms to create a distinctive sound described as “the heart and soul of Mexico.”
Competition mariachi groups can run to 15 or 16 students. Luevano currently counts about five committed students, a number she hopes will build with scholarships and awareness.
For Gully, playing mariachi is like being in any band, but the instruments are “cooler.”
“It’s cool when it comes together, and the kids come out and listen to us,” said Gully, who has always been involved in music. “I just love doing it.”
The group is now a Varsity Program, one of many extracurricular activities offered on campus. They plan to play at school events, and are available for seranatas, or serenades for Mothers Day and Valentines Day.
The budding group is working on raising funds for instruments and costumes, which are quite elaborate. One uniform easily exceeds $500, and up to as much as $800. The classic charro style outfit includes the signature short jackets, mariachi pants with their many shiny buttons, huge bow tie, long boots, and traditional Mexican sombrero. And of course you need the earrings.
“Yes,” she laughed. “You must have big, gold, loop earrings for the girls.”
Luevano dreams of a larger presence for this unique style of music. She is looking at forming a Hill Country youth mariachi program for students with an interest.
“I would like to have something for these students to have access to for playing mariachi,” she said. “We could make it a funnel into Schreiner or into the mariachi world, make it an opportunity for them.”
She understands the challenge for busy students who also love the music.
“I was kind of torn going to school for choir,” said Luevano, who continued to play mariachi while pursuing her music education degree at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “In my heart, I always wanted to continue mariachi, so it is exciting to still have mariachi in my life and to be able to share it with students and the community.”
Gully feels the same way.
“It makes me happy that I get to play again after high school,” she said. “I loved doing it, and it feels great being able to play.”