The Big Night

The violin section of the Mariachi workshop at La Casa de la Música Mexicana prepare for the annual Christmas Concert.
The violin section of the Mariachi workshop at La Casa de la Música Mexicana prepare for the annual Christmas Concert.

Here are some photos and audio I gathered at the Concierto Navideño, the annual school-wide Christmas concert at La Casa de la Música Mexicana in Mexico City, which took place on December 15, 2008.

This was the much-anticipated night when students got to show off their semester of hard work for family and friends. I was beyond giddy when I posed for a picture with my mariachi classmates, many of us about to make our Mexican music debut together in front of a roaring crowd of proud parents. My parents were understandably absent, which turned out to be a major cause for concern among my classmates.

That underscored a key aspect of my project, which first emerged during my interviews over the last few months. For many young people who commit to learning traditional music, especially in a city where those traditions se están perdiendo (are becoming lost) in the wave of globalization, part of why they do it is to ease the cultural concerns of their parents.

In class, these urban students can indulge their own curiosity in Mexican history, and acquire increasingly hard-to-come-by musical skills that bolster their sense of Mexican identity. But at the annual concert, it’s all about showing this off. By demonstrating skill and fluency in dying or distant traditions, some students hope this helps to close the widening cultural gap between themselves and their older relatives.

The youngest members of the mariachi workshop, ranging from 14 to 22 years old.
The youngest members of the mariachi workshop, ranging from 14 to 22 years old)

At the concert, the upbeat carols and regional costumes created an atmosphere that teemed with not only Christmas cheer, but Mexican pride, which was evident in the whooping and whistling. Audience members spanning several generations joined in an interactive, staged version of Mexican Christmas traditions. These included pidiendo posada (a crowd of carolers seeking shelter, reenacting the journey of Mary and Joseph), and breaking a piñata filled with candy.

Backstage with my mariachi classmates, we were pretty nervous. While other classes played on the outdoor stage, we occupied ourselves in the classroom by running through our two pieces, El Son de la Negra and El Son de la Culebra. The girls applied lipstick in the reflection of their cell phones, and the boys awkwardly attempted to perfect the ruffles on their red moños (bowties).

Maestro Pedro Gutiérrez and his students put the finishing touches on their charro costumes.
Maestro Pedro Gutiérrez and his students put the finishing touches on their charro costumes.)

The typical mariachi costume is a traje de charro, or charro suit. Charros are traditional horsemen in the state of Jalisco, and their clothes reflect the influences of the areas Spanish colonial settlers.
The typical mariachi costume is a traje de charro, or charro suit. Charros are traditional horsemen in the state of Jalisco, and their clothes reflect the influences of the area's Spanish colonial settlers.)

The full mariachi ensemble + yours truly.
The full mariachi ensemble + yours truly.

A note about the following audio:
The mainstay of mariachi repertoire is the Son. This music genre originated in the rural provinces of Mexico, and has many regional varieties. These include the Son Huasteco in the east, the Son Jalisciense in the west, and the Son Guerrerense on the southern coast.

Sones are first and foremost Bailables (danceable). Most also imitate something, usually an animal or an object, either through the musical notes, the lyrical content, or the associated dance steps.

  • Listen to our performance of El Son de la Negra, which imitates a locomotive engine gathering speed:
    [audio:http://www.mtvu.com/sitewide/promoimages/uber/fulbright/2008/katie_good/012309/BlogClip_SonDeLaNegra.mp3%5D
  • Title: El Son de la Negra (The Son of the Black [Locomotive])
    Genre: Son Jalisciense
    Origin: Tepic, Nayarit

  • Listen to our performance of El Son de la Culebra (Snake), which is traditionally danced in a serpent-like, slithery fashion:
    [audio:http://www.mtvu.com/sitewide/promoimages/uber/fulbright/2008/katie_good/012309/BlogClip_SonDeLaCulebra.mp3%5D
  • Title: El Son de La Culebra (The Son of the Snake)
    Genre: Son Jalisciense
    Origin: Jalisco

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