I recently enjoyed a great conversation with Ms. Alicia Covarrubias, director of the award-winning Mariachi del Alamo from San Antonio College (SAC). It’s crazy how busy our lives are that we finally had a chance to chat on the phone and reminisce about SAC’s stunning performance during the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza last November. Eight months have gone by since their big win and I thought it would be timely to post this blog and share a bit of our chat as Mariachi del Alamo heads to Albuquerque to participate in the 2019 Mariachi Spectacular. So, here we go and we hope you enjoy!
Cynthia: How long have you been at SAC?
Alicia: I arrived in Mid-February which was Spring of 2017.
Cynthia: How did you get connected with SAC?
Alicia: I’m an alumni of SAC. When I was a student, Jeff Hunt was my mentor. He was the Chair of the Music Department and I worked for him while in college. He was aware that I had a very deep passion for mariachi music and helped me get into Texas State University following my studies at the Junior College. Jeff was also aware of my interest in having a mariachi music music program at SAC. After I left SAC to attend Texas State, we stayed connected. Right at the time that I was graduating from Texas State, Jeff contacted me and invited me to help rebuild the mariachi music program at SAC.
Cynthia: You wear many hats with the positions you hold, so let’s identify these.
Alicia: My full-time job is working for the San Antonio Independent School District as the Mariachi Director for Irving Middle School. I also teach SAC’s Mariachi Ensemble class and work as a private vocal coach on my off time.
Cynthia: What type of time commitment is involved on your end as SAC’s mariachi director?
Alicia: We meet twice a week for a couple of hours during the Mariachi Ensemble class. It’s officially part of SAC’s Department of Fine Arts and the class is held in the band hall located near the McAllister Theater. As it gets closer to competition, the hours increase as we have more rehearsals.
Cynthia: As an alumni of SAC, it’s thrilling to see the mariachi program reinvented after being dormant for decades.
Alicia: Yes, SAC is one of the first colleges to have a mariachi group. I believe it started back in the late 70s/early 80s under the leadership of Belle and Juan Ortiz, but it was short lived. The recent rebirth is tributed to several students who approached Jeff Hunt to request a meeting with SAC’s President Dr. Robert Vela. One of the current members of our mariachi, Roberto Guardiola, was one of the students who took the leadership role approaching Dr. Vela to request that the college bring back the mariachi music program. Dr. Vela supported the idea and brought back the program in 2017. He is now one that goes beyond expectations for the mariachi music program.
Cynthia: Did you ever think that in two short years, SAC would have an award-winning mariachi music program?
Alicia: I always believed that it was possible but I didn’t know it would happen so fast. I’m grateful for the talent that we have, the support from the SAC community and administration and our students’ drive for excellence.
Cynthia: How has SAC’s mariachi music program grown over the past two years?
Our program has grown significantly since 2017. When we first started, I had about nine to ten students. After competing in the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza in 2017, and winning second place, we grew to 13 students. We then competed in Albuquerque at the Mariachi Spectacular in the Summer of 2018 with more students and won first place. In November, we competed in Vargas with 15 students and this weekend, we’re heading back to Albuquerque with 16 students.
Cynthia: What kind of response did the group receive after placing first at Vargas last year?
Alicia: Just competing in Vargas generates an incredible pride in our community.
When you walk onto the campus, there’s a trophy case that displays awards won at Vargas and Albuquerque. Now we have three trophies: Second place in Vargas in 2017; First place in Albuquerque in 2018 and First place Vargas in 2018. This generates a lot of pride among the students, faculty and administrators and it’s an incredible honor to represent SAC.
The response from the community has been incredible. Now we see more invitations to perform at various events, more resources go towards supporting the mariachi music program and more recognition is given to our group. Lots of people want the SAC mariachi to be part of their events and this is fun and exciting.
Cynthia: Who is the musical director?
Alicia: We have sectional leaders. Julian Morales is the sectional leader for the violins and also plays the role of musical director on stage during performances.
Cynthia: Who created the arrangement for your award-winning piece for Vargas that was captured by SolarShot on this beautiful video?
Alicia: It was definitely a beautiful arrangement and I can honestly say this was a team effort. I’m fortunate to be working with incredibly talented students that make it easy. It was a combination of all of us working together and playing off the strengths of the group. We have some students that write music and they took the lead in creating the arrangement you see on the video with the Tema/Los Capulines, Popurri Vicente, El Ranchero, Arracadas, A Pesar de Todo and Puro Michoacan songs.
Cynthia: It’s absolutely gorgeous!
Alicia: Thank you Cynthia.
Cynthia: You’re welcome. Now you’re off to Albuquerque and we want to wish you good luck in this year’s competition in holding on to your title as first place winners.
Alicia: Thank you, Cynthia. The group is returning to Albuquerque to hold that title, but most importantly, to have fun and make new friends. Just being around other groups is an incredible honor. I get as excited about the competitions as the students do and for me, it’s not really about winning, it’s about seeing the growth within the students and being able to see them succeed on stage.
Cynthia: Beautiful and congratulations to all of your students who competed in Vargas last year and those who will represent San Antonio in Albuquerque:
Julian Morales, Violin
Carlos Cornejo, Violin
Michael Medina, Violin
Roberto Noriega, Violin
Zackary Vara, Violin
William Galvez, Violin
Ashley Criado, Violin
Armando Jasso, Trumpet
Araceli Martinez, Trumpet
John Nieto, Trumpet
Russel Lopez, Bajo
Christian Crespo, Armonia
Daniel Gonzalez, Armonia
Maria Jarquin, Armonia
Vincent Pequeno, Armonia
Alicia Covarrubias is a 2016 graduate from Texas State University in San Marcos where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education with emphasis in Latin Music Studies. Among the many students she teaches is Kyle, Texas native Jizelle Rodriguez who was the Grand Champion Vocal Winner in the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza in 2017.
Alicia works under the guidance of Martha Fabrique, Music Coordinator, San Antonio College, Department of Fine Arts