Kudos to Clark County School District in Las Vegas for their success in mariachi music education.
What do you think of when you hear Las Vegas? We’ve all watched movies or shows that take place in the city and it’s always a combination of bright lights, poker chips, slot machines, boxing, casino heists, and we can’t forget the never ending – partying. Las Vegas is one of the top tourist attractions in the world, but you already knew that. What you didn’t know is that Las Vegas has the largest amount of students enrolled in mariachi music programs in the world.
With 26 different programs and over 5,800 mariachi students, Clark County School District in Las Vegas – the 5th largest district in the nation – now has more students enrolled in mariachi programs than any other city in the U.S. Who would’ve thought that a city known for its gambling and its nightlife could be leading the nation in mariachi music education? Well, it actually makes a lot of sense once you do a little research.
Las Vegas is the 28th most populated city in the U.S. with a little over 2 million people living in the area. A third of its population is of Hispanic or Latino descent and the Mexican border is just 5 hours south from the city. The demographics, combined with the high tourism industry, make the city well suited for Latino cultural arts programs – specifically mariachi. However, it takes more than statistics to build a mariachi program. In order to better understand their success, I contacted Fernando Gonzalez, Mariachi Director of Mariachi Encendido at Del Sol Academy of the Arts in Clark County.
Prior to moving to Las Vegas, Fernando and his wife Guadalupe lived in California where they co-pioneered the first public school based mariachi program in San Bernardino County. Outside of the classroom Guadalupe played the violin with Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles (under the direction of Jose Hernandez) and Fernando played trumpet with Mariachi Voz de America. Both groups are premier Los Angeles – based mariachi ensembles.
According to Fernando, it was around 2002 when former Mariachi Cobre member Javier Trujillo opened up the first mariachi programs in the city. They started out with 5 school programs, and every year, one or two more were added. A key player in the success of the program was the first Hispanic to be elected President of the Clark County School District Board of Trustees – Larry Mason. Trujillo and Mason, along with other administrators from the district, made some crucial decisions that ensured the long term success of the program. They made sure that mariachi educators in the district were hired specifically for the mariachi program and not for other programs like band or orchestra. In addition, they offered mariachi directors a full time salary for the position.
“It’s way too common to see music educators administering multiple programs like band, orchestra and mariachi simultaneously. It’s almost impossible, ” said Fernando.
It was that early support from the administration that set up the CCSD mariachi program to become what it is today. In addition, Fernando pointed out other advantages that Las Vegas has over other cities. For example, Clark County School District is the only school district in Las Vegas, which allows the programs more ease to support one another through fundraising. Every Friday during the school year, they host Noches de Mariachi, a fundraiser in which mariachi groups perform for each other and sell food. The different schools in the district take turns hosting the event every Friday bringing the community together while supporting the programs.
It has been this type of teamwork that has enabled Las Vegas’ mariachi programs to travel to San Antonio to compete in the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza. In 2019, six mariachi groups attended the Extravaganza to compete in the National Group Competition. In addition, they had eight finalists in the National Vocal Competition. The following lists shows all the participants that traveled from Las Vegas:
MVE National Group Competition
Mariachi Los Pumas – K.O. Knudson Academy of the Arts
Mariachi Los Gavilanes – Monaco Middle School
Mariachi Azul – John C. Fremont PDMS
Mariachi Internacional (2nd) – Las Vegas Academy of the Arts
Mariachi Encendido – Del Sol Academy of the Performing Arts
Mariachi Plata (3rd) – College of Southern Nevada
MVE National Vocal Competition
Roberto González – K.O. Knudson Academy of the Arts
Mario Terán (2nd) – K.O. Knudson Academy of the Arts
Josie Borges – Las Vegas Academy of the Arts
Darlene Cuadros – Del Sol Academy of the Performing Arts
Ariel Pérez – Las Vegas Academy of the Arts
José Mejía (1st) – College of Southern Nevada
Precious Carrasco (2nd) – College of Southern Nevada
Alejandra Hernández – College of Southern Nevada
Out of 25 competing High Schools, both Mariachi Encendido and Mariachi Internacional from Las Vegas made it to the National Group Competition High School Finals along with 5 other mariachis. For the second year in a row Mariachi Internacional from Las Vegas Academy of the Arts took home a trophy when they were announced as the 2nd place winners. Mariachi Los Gavilanes of Monaco Middle School also took home a trophy when they placed 3rd in the National Middle School Group Competition. Mario Teran of KO Knudson’s Mariachi Los Pumas placed 2nd in the National Middle School Vocal Competition. Mariachi Pumas from K.O. Knudson Academy of the Arts is directed by Johnny Gonzalez who is also Fernando Gonzalez’s brother.
Las Vegas has also expanded mariachi music programs to the collegiate level. Fernando and his wife Guadalupe worked hard to put together a competitive mariachi program for the College of Southern Nevada, and for the first time in 2019, Mariachi Plata competed and placed 3rd in the National Group Competition College/University category. José Mejía and Precious Carrasco from Mariachi Plata also competed in the National Vocal Competition and came in 1st and 2nd. President of the college – Dr. Federico Zaragoza – is a San Antonio native and was very supportive of the program when the Gonzalez asked for help. Gonzalez also hopes that the mariachi community will work together to open up more programs in other high education institutions.
Through their accomplishments at the Extravaganza and other festivals, the Las Vegas mariachi programs have proven that they’re not only great in number, but also in talent. Their ability to work so well with one another strengthens them as a whole and should be looked at by other programs in the U.S. Next time you hear someone say Las Vegas, you won’t be thinking of poker chips and slots, you’ll remember the 5,800 kids and educators that are proud to play and sing about their culture.
“We’re proud of Clark County School District for establishing and growing excellent mariachi music programs over the past two decades,” says Cynthia Muñoz, Producer of the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza. “The district has established a model program for other school districts across the country to follow. Their programs are not only large in number, but their students are dedicated, competive and team players. Kudos to the leadership at the Clark County School District for hard work in making it all happen,” she says.
Mariachi Trivia: Las Vegas Edition – Comment your answers!
- How many mariachi programs does CCSD currently have?
- Name 5 CCSD mariachi directors.
- What prestigious mariachi did Javier Trujillo play with? Where is the group known for playing?
- Which mariachi student from Las Vegas placed first in the National Vocal Competition College/University category in 2019?
- How many mariachi programs from Las Vegas competed in the 25th Annual Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza?
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