Budding musicians from high schools across Texas competed at the first-ever University Interscholastic League (UIL) State Mariachi Festival. Dressed in elaborate traditional outfits—complete with embroidered ties, silver-studded pants and sombreros—the 57 groups sang and strummed their hearts out at the two-day festival, which took place March 11-12 at Southwest High School in San Antonio.
“The goal of the festival is to provide sound educational student-centered competition against a ratings standard, all while providing instruction from a panel of experts,” says UIL Music Director Dr. Bradley Kent. “Ultimately, the desired end result is to facilitate the growth and development of mariachi programs in our schools.”
The UIL, which operates under the auspices of the Vice President for Diversity & Community Engagement, has held mariachi regional competitions since 2007. The move to a statewide competition is a response to the growing popularity of mariachi programs in schools across Texas.
Joe Muñoz, former director of special events for the Mexican American School Boards Members Association, says the number of competitive high school mariachi musicians has ballooned in recent years. By his estimate, the number of groups competing at the regional level increased from 11 in 2009 to 50 in 2015. Those with a Division 1 rating advanced to the finals at this year’s pilot contest.
For a maximum of 10 minutes on stage, the groups were judged on their talent and artistry. But for many of these students, success isn’t all about medals and top rankings, says Muñoz. It’s about respect in the genre and taking pride in one’s culture.
Lessons learned in these competitions also empower young musicians to reach for their goals—on and off the stage.
“The Texas High School Mariachi Competition provides students with a lifetime opportunity that promotes positive values, healthy competition and education,” he says.
Photos by Anthony Tamayo, courtesy of UIL