Emmanuel Terrazas likes to play his trumpet, and he plays it a lot during the school year.
As a freshman at Del City High School this last year, he played in the marching band, jazz band and concert band.
So, now he is adding to his skill set by learning the methods of Mariachi trumpet.
“I kind of already listen to it, since I’m Mexican,” said Terrazas. “And, I’ve tried so many styles of music except for this one.”
He is one of about 15 students who have enrolled in the Mariachi Music summer Camp.
Free Press visited the camp on the first day and the day before the last.
Terrazas just naturally pointed out the two basic reasons students sign up for the course says administrator Robert Ruiz.
Ruiz is an accomplished Mariachi singer, guitarist and leader of his own Mariachi band, Mariachi Orgullo de America.
He said students come for several reasons, such as the musical challenge of learning a new style or connecting to their Mexican heritage.
People whose roots go back to Mexico are still the largest subset of Hispanic culture in Oklahoma City even though the population is starting to receive more people from other countries in Central America.
With only a few days left in the camp, Mia Saavedra, a student from Coolidge Elementary, told Free Press that she has enjoyed the camp.
“It’s been fun every day to learn music and make friends.”
She told us that in only about eight class days she has learned one song and is learning another.
Her parents have Mexican ancestry and wanted her to learn Mariachi.
What did they say when she came home and played a Mariachi song for them on her guitar?
“Oh, my goodness!” Mia said with a giggle.
The camp is organized by Academia, a program to supplement the arts in local schools. Academia is a project of Scissortail Community Development Corporation where Ruiz is the president.
When we asked Ruiz why they work so hard to put on the camp his answer had several points.
“It’s tied to the cultural roots. It’s maintaining connections with families.”
He said several students last year had experiences where they were able to go home and play traditional Mexican songs to their surprised parents and grandparents.
“It provides a bridge to the larger culture,” said Ruiz.
Parents are amazed that they can enroll their child to learn a music form that may not even be possible elsewhere.
“In Mexico, kids don’t really become Mariachis unless they have some family member or someone who is involved,” Ruiz said.
“School programs are unique to the United States, too. Mariachi music doesn’t exist as a part of the curriculum in Mexico.”
And so, students whose heritage is represented so strongly by Mariachi music actually have more opportunity to learn it here than in the country where it originated.
Need Mariachi musicians
Ruiz said that his own band is one of the few in Oklahoma City.
“For every 3 calls we have to turn down two. That’s not a healthy situation for a growing community.”
And so, he and several others from his band contribute each summer and then during the school year in after-school programs to promote more students picking up Mariachi music.
The after-school program has been running for several years now and will begin as soon as school starts back up in August.
“This camp is meant to promote more interest in the after-school program by giving students a way to try out Mariachi music for the first time or to continue their learning during the more relaxed summer months,” said Ruiz.
Teacher Maria Belén Ruffin was assigned to work with the youngest violinists on the first day.
She has played violin with Mariachi Orgullo de America for the last decade and is now passing along her knowledge of the mechanics and heart of Mariachi music to the next generation.
“I started playing Mariachi when I was 16,” Ruffin said. “This guy I went to middle school with was in a Mariachi band. The first time I heard them play I thought, this is so exciting!”
The few students Ruffin was teaching needed to be taught fundamentals, like how to hold the bow.
She demonstrated, then manually helped the students get the feel of the right way to hold the bow by moving their small fingers into the right position and then taking them through some exercises.
While older listeners in audiences might expect to see a Mariachi band with all male members, women have been accepted into the genre over time.
Ruiz said that when Mariachi Orgullo de America plays they “get mixed reviews” by listeners who see three women in the band of 10 members.
“Some come up and object, but most have accepted it over time,” he said.
Ruffin said that when she first started there weren’t many women in Mariachi, but that has changed.
“Nowadays there are a lot more women,” said Ruffin. “I remember when I went to Mexico I saw other women playing in Mariachi bands.”
José Cruz came in from teaching trumpet at a college in Mexico to help with the camp. Leaders said they felt lucky to get him to come.
Through an interpreter Cruz talked with us at the end of the camp.
He thinks the camp is very valuable because the students feel freer to become who they are through their music.
They take more pride in their culture because Latinos identify with Mariachi.
Academia is now planning for its after-school program.
School begins for Oklahoma City Public Schools Tuesday, Aug. 2.
Ruiz said they are planning to have another successful year at Shidler Elementary which has been the longest-running after school Mariachi program.
But they are planning to add Adams Elementary and several KIPP charter school locations as well.
UPDATE, 7-20-17, 8:36 p.m. — Caption names were added to the photo of the trumpet class.