One cannot fail to be impressed by the quality of mariachi and folklórico teaching in our schools.
A recent visit to Summit View Elementary School in the Sunnyside School District recently brought this home.
There I watched Myrna Salinas working with beginning violin students in an after school program for mostly fourth and fifth graders.
It’s very early in the school year, but the progress in a single session is plain to see.
Salinas is everything you’d hope for in a teacher. Calm, focused, methodical but also flexible enough to see how the group is advancing and give them incentive to stay excited.
She opened with a quick review of what the students had learned in the previous session – the parts of the violin and the bow, how to properly hold each, and why such basic practices are important.
The enthusiasm was palpable, and she fed that joyful eagerness by offering the students a chance to individually and collectively show what they could do. Corrections were gentle but firm, always with explanation, demonstration and encouragement. Getting the right technique from the start avoids bad habits that will have to be corrected later on.
The classes were relatively small, which afforded more individual attention. And progress was quick and steady. Within an hour, her first class was bowing together and producing a surprisingly warm ensemble tone. They left with homework that reinforced the basics they’d picked up, and would prepare them for the class to come a few days later.
Her second class of the afternoon was a bit more advanced, and a little smaller, allowing her to alternate work with small sections while the remaining students practiced. More advanced musical notions were being introduced, including the concept of sharps and flats. You could see it sinking in as the kids tried it out.
But these classes were about more than just music. A number of her students are English learners, and all are working on the basics of English grammar and structure in their regular classes. The kids were required to answer questions in complete sentences, and with proper agreement of subject and verb, even if such terms were never used.
A box of bananas near the door gave her students a treat for their work, and at the same time was part of an effort to introduce kids to different types of fruit and healthier ways of eating snacks.
Myrna Salinas comes by her gifts for working with children honestly. She is the daughter of Alfredo Valenzuela, aka Dr. V – the man who created the mariachi program at Davis Bilingual Elementary School is the Tucson Unified School District. She and her brothers Jaime Valenzuela, who took over the Davis program when Dr. V retired, and Rudy, who teachers the mariachi program at Roskruge Middle School, had been assisting their dad in teaching youngsters since they were teens. And all of them teach at the Davis Summer mariachi programs, as well as the Tucson International Mariachi Conference.
Educating young mariachi students has come a long way since Tucson’s first youth mariachi – Los Changuitos Feos – started in 1964. And it is in good hands in many programs across district lines throughout the city.
I’m very grateful to Myrna Salinas and her talented students for the opportunity to watch them at work, and to the schools for offering and maintaining these important arts programs.
– Daniel Buckley
The Mariachi Miracle