I recently shared Nayelli Peña’s video of her award-winning performance at the Mariachi Extravaganza with a fellow from Oklahoma City who knew a little something about mariachi music. As he was watching Nayelli’s Grand Champion performance he said, “Wow, this is totally different from what I expected.” I said that’s exactly what most people say about much of the talent that convenes each year at the Mariachi Extravaganza. “This is almost like an opera,” he said…”and the musicians…..there’s so many of them!”
The excitement in his voice helped jump-start this blog about this year’s Mariachi Extravaganza Vocal Competition.
The Mariachi Extravaganza Vocal Competition began in 1997, two years after the start of the music festival in 1995, as a result of the youthful talent participating in existing competitions. It was the first of its kind and modeled after the mariachi group competitions that were part of the festival since it’s beginning. The competitions were held in 3 categories as they continue today: elementary/middle school, high school and college/university. First, second and third place winners were selected in each category and one student was named the Mariachi Extravaganza Grand Champion Vocal Winner.
Nayelli Peña is the most recent winner who has enjoyed an extraordinary year. After being named Mariachi Extravaganza National Grand Champion Vocal Winner in 2022, Nayelli opened for the esteemed Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán at the Lila Cockrell Theatre in November. Her win was celebrated with a huge billboard in Grulla and she also received a $5,000 scholarship from KHS America Academic Alliance, H-E-B & Cano Health. She represented the Mariachi Extravaganza in the King William Parade during San Antonio’s Fiesta Week celebration and performed at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts – Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater during the Mariachi Extravaganza Summer Camp. Nayelli has participated in several television and radio interviews, including KENS-TV’s “Great Day SA,” and recently performed at the Wortham Center’s Brown Theater for the Mariachi Festival in Houston. In October, Nayelli will make her debut performance with an entire 75-piece orchestra where she will perform with the Amarillo Symphony on October 13-14 and Trio Los Reyes during a Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration billed as Celebraciones. After all is said and done, Nayelli will have raked up over $10,000 in scholarships, performances fees and travel before the year is up.
There’s a increase in opportunities for Mariachi Extravaganza winners. Students who make it into the vocal finals, end up with photos and video that can be used as marketing materials to secure other performances. These materials also aid students with college entrance applications and other scholarship opportunities.
Nayelli and I had a chance to chat about this year’s Mariachi Vocal Competition and how to start planning now for the big event.
Cynthia: Nayelli, can you share some advise for students interested in competing this year in the vocal competition?
Nayelli: When I submitted my video for the vocal competition last year, I was not focusing on whether or not I was going to make the finals. I was simply concentrating on submitting a solid entry on time. This was the main focus and I wanted to give myself enough time to submit the best video.
Cynthia: How long did it take you to record your video?
Nayelli: It took me two tries. I messed up towards the end of the first video I recorded. So, we re-recorded the piece on the same day, one right after the other. It was pretty solid on the second take and both my director (Alfonso Rodriguez) and I were happy with that version which is the one we submitted.
Cynthia: What did you use to record your entry?
Nayelli: We used my mariachi Director’ basic IPhone to record my voice while I played the track on my my iPhone. I recorded the video vertically in one spot – straight to the point where I could sing directly into the camera. My IPhone was connected to Alfonso’s speakers on his computer. I tested the volume to get the best balance of my voice with the music before starting the recording. If you record horizontally, this allows you to move around but I was interested in just focusing on my voice for the initial submission.
Cynthia: Where did you record the video?
Nayelli: All the recordings for everyone submitting a vocal entry are recorded on the same day at Grulla High School in Mr. Rodriguez’s office. The sound quality and lighting are good and there’s no background noise. Each vocalist records their song. If they want a retake, they go to the back of the line to rehearse their piece while the next person is recording.
Cynthia: When is the best time to start planning for your dress attire?
Nayelli: Start thinking about your attire as soon as you select your song. You want to make sure your dress attire is appropriate for your song selection. It’s best to select your song early in the year so you have plenty of time to practice prior to recording your video for the submission. Plus, if you’re trying to order an outfit in November, it’s stressful because this is the busiest times for many seamstresses.
Cynthia: Thank you Nayelli. I’d like to add to your recommendations, with a few of my own.
Avoid last minute surprises. I often hear students say they were sick the day of the recording. Record throughout the month of September so you can select the best entry by October 1.
Have your camera facing you straight on. Here is Nayelli’s entry from last year. It’s close up, her voice can clearly be heard over the music and it’s with traditional mariachi accompaniment. Entries may be submitted with live music or a pista as long as either is used with full or partial instrumentation traditional to mariachi. In other words, do not submit your entry with piano accompaniment.
Know the lyrics to the song you are submitting. If you are reading the lyrics from your cell phone at the time of the recording, the judges can not assume that you will know the song in time for the competition. This may be at your disadvantage so be sure to have the lyrics memorized.
Please keep your submission to a maximum of 4 minutes. This includes the introduction. Timing starts from the first note to the last. Going over this limit affects everyone involved in the competition. Be respectful towards your fellow competitions and stay within limit to avoid point deductions.
Students often submit an entry singing in the wrong key. One reason might be that the student could not find a pista in their key so they adjust to the only pista they could find. It’s very important that you select the right key from the beginning as way too many times, I hear the judges comment about a student having an amazing voice but they’re singing in the wrong key. There are apps that make it easy to adjust the key. Nayelli recommends the Moises App which is free. Just download the app on your cell phone. There are other apps and extensions available. Just search “Apps to change the key of songs.” Pistas can be very expensive so using an App can save you money.
Another common error is when students submit entries using a pista and their timing is off. This is common when using a pista versus live mariachi music accompaniment. When using a pista, you have to follow the pista versus singing with a live mariachi group. The group follows you with your direction so you have more control over the timing and tempo.
The registration period is the same every year, so, there are no exceptions, all participants must adhere to this strict October 1st deadline! Click here to register whether you are registering with or without a mariachi group. The individual registration form must be completed even though your mariachi director may already be registering you with a group. If your director is paying for your registration, you do not need to pay twice. Simply click the button that reads “already registered with a group”
Also, remember these IMPORTANT DATES:
Sept. 1 – Registration opens
Oct. 1 – Deadline to submit your entry
Nov. 1 – Finalists to be announced via a live Facebook drawing in order of performance
Nov. 15 – Deadline to submit pista (if you plan to compete with a pista versus a live mariachi group)
Dec. 2 – Mariachi Extravaganza National Vocal Competition
Good luck to everyone submitting an entry!!! The Mariachi Extravaganza National Vocal competition is the toughest vocal competition in the nation. Also remember, you are a winner simply for trying!
For more information, call (210) 225-3353.
Make plans to attend the 29th Annual Mariachi Extravaganza November 30 – December 2, 2023. Tickets are on sale now for the Mariachi Extravaganza concert on Saturday, December 2 at ticketmaster.com. Competition registration opens on September 1 at mariachimusic.com. Hotel reservations can be made at the Grand Hyatt or the Emily Morgan hotels.