Mariachi Master Apprentice Program
It was the closing number at the 2012 showcase concert of the Tucson International Mariachi Conference, and the teenaged musicians from San Fernando, California, were bringing their performance to a thrilling conclusion: As bows flashed and fingers strummed, the trumpets rose to a soaring crescendo that brought the audience of mariachi devotees to their feet.
Standing ovations are nothing new for these polished young musicians. As participants in San Fernando’s Mariachi Master Apprentice Program (MMAP), they’ve had the opportunity to learn technique and showmanship from some of the genre’s most accomplished performers, members of the Grammy-winning group Mariachi Los Camperos. “These young people represent the future of our tradition,” states Natividad “Nati” Cano, a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow who is the founder and director of Mariachi Los Camperos. Cano, in collaboration with Virginia Diediker, created MMAP to perpetuate the Mexican folk music tradition. The City of San Fernando celebrates 12 years of this unprecedented partnership.
Apprentices, who range in age from 10 to 18, mostly come from San Fernando, a town of 23,000 with a large Hispanic population. At weekly sessions, participants learn the mariachi repertoire and gain proficiency in the violin, trumpet, folk harp, and guitars—including the guitarrón and vihuela—that make up a traditional mariachi band. The most experienced students join MMAP’s performance ensemble, Mariachi Tesoro, which plays at events throughout Southern California, occasionally sharing the stage with Los Camperos. But even the younger musicians—attired in traditional short jackets with silver hardware—also appear on stage regularly, if only to play a number or two.
“When they walk on stage, oh my goodness, you should see them: The way they carry themselves is amazing,” beams Gerardo Ascencio, Sr., whose three children participate in the program. “They’re proud to be Hispanic, and they’re proud to be Mexican-American.” The program also imparts responsibility and accountability, adds instructor Sergio Alonso. “They learn to be at rehearsals on time and to come prepared. And, whether they know it or not, they start to apply these skills in different aspects of their lives.”
Most MMAP participants go on to college. Though all of them don’t study music, several have formed their own bands, continuing to sow the seeds of Mexico’s traditional music north of the border.
The teachers we have are some of the best musicians in the world. And, it is an amazing experience to be able to work with them. For them to teach us all that they know is not an experience many people are able to have.Gerardo Ascencio, Jr.