Many of us have seen the video of Mariachi Nuevo Santander varsity students performing “El Relámpago” together, each from their own home. Since that video went viral over the past week, Eloy Garza, the mariachi director responsible for it, has been deluged with media interview requests and questions from other group directors and individual musicians on how he accomplished this feat. MariachiMusic.com contributor Jonathan Clark contacted Maestro Garza to ask him how the video was made and how he got the idea for it.
mariachimusic.com: Have you been using this technology for a long time?
Eloy Garza: No. In fact, I just started a couple of weeks ago.
mm.com: So how did this viral video come about?
EG: Well, when the pandemic broke out and our campus closed, the school district suggested I ask my students to send me individual videos of them practicing on their own at home. Then I started using videoconferencing program called Zoom for face-to-face video sessions with them. We would set up a meeting and I’d say: “Hi! How are you guys doing? Are you practicing? Okay, let me hear you one by one.” I couldn’t listen to them play together as a group, because the time lag would throw everyone out of sync.
mm.com: Right. The latency for each participant is always going to be a little different, depending on how far away they are and on the speed and bandwidth of their internet connection, etc., which makes playing together like this in real time difficult to achieve with existing technology. So how did you get the idea for this virtual mariachi, and how did you overcome the synchronization obstacle?
EG: I had asked each of my students to send me a video of themselves playing, so I could post it on Facebook. But when I looked at those recordings I started thinking, Could it be possible to synchronize these individual performances so that everyone played this song together? I wanted to come up with something that would inspire the kids and motivate other mariachi directors. This is really a cool project, I thought, and by pure trial and error I proceeded to search for ways to pull it off.
mm.com: So what was the first step?
EG: I started out by asking each student to record a video of themselves playing to the classic Mariachi Vargas recording of “El Relámpago” from the Sones de Jalisco album. Our group already knew that son. The only equipment they needed was a cell phone and some other device with headphones to play the Vargas recording as a guide. They used the built-in video camera on their cell phones to record themselves. The students sent me their videos expecting me to grade them on their performances, but they never expected I was going to do anything else with those video recordings!
mm.com: How many students participated in “El Relámpago”?
EG: Fifteen: four armonías, nine violins, and two trumpets.
mm.com: Did you use a multitrack video editor like Final Cut Pro to assemble and sync up all 15 recordings?
EG: Are you kidding? (laughs) No, I didn’t have anything like that! This is how I did it:
All the editing and assembling was done on an iPhone using PicPlayPost. The free version of this app allows you to bring up a maximum of four videos on your screen at one time. I would start out by synchronizing those four tracks. If one ran a little bit ahead of the others, I would sync it by trimming off a fraction of a second at the beginning, until it more or less lined up with the others. Next, I would submix those four tracks together, then save them as one video. I’d keep mixing and bouncing the tracks in this manner until I’d consolidated all 15 performances into one stereo audio track with 15 video tracks.
mm.com: Wow! Who could have imagined? That is a very creative solution, and it worked!
EG: Yes. On March 25th, I posted a virtual mariachi video of “El Relampago” on our mariachi program’s Facebook page. The students and their families loved it, but I never imagined how enthusiastically the general public would receive it. It quickly went viral. Between Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, it’s now approaching two million views. CBS, NBC, Fox, and Telemundo picked up the story, and PBS and Kelly Clarkson have called me for interviews.
mm.com: Do you plan to continue using this technology even after the pandemic has ended?
EG: Absolutely! I think it’ll become a permanent teaching tool for me. I just finished putting together our third song, and I’m working on a forth one right now. You can see and hear all of these on the Roma ISD Mariachi Program’s Facebook page.
The old proverb “Necessity is the mother of invention” definitely applies to our current “stay at home” situation. The necessity of finding ways to rehearse and collaborate musically during this quarantine will undoubtedly lead to other ingenious solutions by other creative musicians and group directors. Since the current pandemic broke out, new articles and reports on these kinds of solutions have been coming out almost every day.
How are you and your mariachi group dealing with the latest restrictions imposed by the pandemic? Have you come up with novel solutions of your own? Please leave comments below and share your testimonies with our readers here at mariachimusic.com.
Eloy Garza is one of the nation’s leading mariachi music educators. He directs and oversees the Roma Independent School District Mariachi Program in Roma, Texas, where he teaches at Ramiro Barrera Middle School, Roma Middle School, and Roma High School. Eloy directs two high school groups: Junior Varsity Mariachi Santander and Varsity Mariachi Nuevo Santander. Last December, Varsity Nuevo Santander won first place at the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza national competition, where they had already won that distinction six consecutive times. In addition to performing around the country, the group appeared on season 12 of NBC’s America’s Got Talent and recently opened for a Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán concert in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Jonathan Clark is a mariachi musician and researcher who resides in Northern California. He is a frequent contributor to mariachimusic.com.