Karen Villaseñor, 12, was nervous prior to taking the stage Sunday at the International Mariachi Festival and Competition at Pepper Park in National City.
A trumpet player in El Cajon’s EJE Academies Charter School mariachi band, Villaseñor said a few parts in the scheduled songs had her on edge.
She need not have worried.
The trumpet section rang out loud and clear from Villaseñor and her classmates at EJE Academies, a school that enroll students in first through eighth grader. They were joined by young musicians from the National School District in National City, which offers a mariachi music program for elementary students.
These young musicians served as the opening act for a competition among high school mariachi bands, as well as well-known headliners, at the sixth annual festival hosted by the National City Chamber of Commerce and the Port of San Diego.
Mariachi bands usually made up of trumpeters, guitarists and violinists.
“The National City Chamber of Commerce organized this annual festival and cultural celebration to promote youth development in the arts, in particular supporting Hispanic heritage and holding onto the traditions of our ancestors through the study and practice of mariachi music,” said Jacqueline Reynoso, CEO and president of the National City chamber.
About 15,000 people were expected to attend this year, transforming Pepper Park in a showcase of all things mariachi.
The festival included folkloric dances from the region and beyond. Among them were a group of 5 to 14 year olds from the Boys & Girls Club of Greater San Diego in National City, which offers an after-school ballet folklorico dance program.
“This year we added a fashion show, and it’s being organized by the San Diego continuing education program,” said Reynoso. “We are really excited to see that. It’s a fashion show inspired by mariachi.”
Mariachi bands from Sweetwater High, San Ysidro High, Chula Vista High and Montgomery High competed for prizes ranging from $1,000 for first place to $250 for third place.
The headliners for the festival were Mariachi Aztlan from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which also served as judges for the high school competition. The marquee performer was Javier Rodriguez and Mariachi Los Reyes from Los Angeles.
In all, a dozen bands and eight folk dance groups took the stage Sunday.
Last week, there were two days of educational workshops at the University of San Diego where professional mariachi instructors showed high school students how to improve their musical skills. Instruction was led by renowned mariachi musicians Rigoberto Alfaro, Sergio Caratachea and Juan Manuel Arpero Ramirez.
“These are all very well-known artists who have written and played music with the best mariachis in the world,” said Reynoso.
While high school mariachi performers attended workshops at USD, middle and elementary school musicians received training through a non-profit arts organization in National City.
“This year we added the elementary school component to expand the scope of the study of mariachi music beyond high school,” said Reynoso. “We are starting to integrate into the school curriculum at a younger level.”
Cody Hines, 13, a seventh grader at EJE Academies Charter School, plays trumpet and drums in other ensemble bands at school. But he enjoys the upbeat tempo of mariachi best.
“It’s just a style that’s fun to play,” he said.