Young mariachis face off at fair

More than 200 musicians play at nationals competition for money and fame.

Article Tab: mariachi-band-fair-compet

Lesly Moran, 15, of the Los Changuitos Feos Mariachi band, holds her instrument behind the stage before performing with the group Saturday at the OC Fair. The band’s name means “Ugly Little Monkeys.”

The Plaza Arts Stage at the OC Fair was packed last weekend as more than 200 young mariachis sang in hopes of winning stardom and a big check.

The Mariachi Heritage Society held their second annual Jose Hernandez’ Mariachi Nationals and Summer Institute, which started with music classes at Orange Coast College and culminated in a competition at the OC Fair for the students from California, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico.

What will you do with the prize money?

High School Ensemble Winner: Mariachi Azteca ($2,000)

Montgomery High School, San Diego

“We’ll probably use it to maintain the group, to repair instruments and uniforms, to go to other conferences.” — Jacob Lizarrago

Vocal Winner ($1,000)

Clyde Guerra

Roma, Texass

“I can use that to pay for my lessons and anything that will help me advance my musical career.”

Community Ensemble Winner: Mariachi Acero ($2,000)

Las Vegas

“We’re going to Chicago in August to perform so the prize money will help with that.” — Benito Pineda

Teresa Hernandez, co-founder and current board member of the society, said she and her husband, Jose Hernandez, lead singer for Mariachi Sol de Mexico, started the group 22 years ago to preserve mariachi music in California. Originally, the society was based mostly in Los Angeles, but she said that when they moved to Newport Beach 15 years ago, they wanted to do something closer to home. That’s how the summer institute in Costa Mesa, for youths who play mariachi music, came to be.

“The ultimate goal is to build up to more students so we can make a profit and open up a permanent after-school mariachi program and pay a teacher,” Teresa Hernandez said.

Jose Hernandez has been singing mariachi professionally for 32 years.

“Mariachi is my whole life,” Jose Hernandez said. “It’s totally a part of me. It’s been in my family for six generations.”

He said the summer institute, which helps young musicians improve, is important “because they get to learn mariachi at a higher level,” Jose Hernandez said. “It makes them grow as musicians.”

The summer institute costs each student $130, which includes food, instruction and tickets to the fair.

Participants in the competition were given 15 minutes to perform and were judged on tone, technique, interpretation of style, vocals and balance, among other things. Traditional mariachi songs, as well as contemporary songs performed in a mariachi style, are allowed.

Prizes up to $2,000 were awarded for best mariachi high school ensemble, best mariachi community ensemble and best mariachi vocalist. Other winners included Mariachi Azteca.

$ell SmArt… with Art!