The Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference. Implanting Culture In Our Youth

As the September air ushers in the autumn season, and the sounds of the trumpets subside after the fiestas celebrating dieciséis de septiembre in Mesilla, a new melody announces the mariachi season upon us. The indescribable sound made by trumpets, violins, vihuelas, guitarrones and guitars playing harmoniously together along with the vibrant attire of the ballet folklorico dancers swaying back and forth are the essence of what the Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference is known for.

This year, the Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference celebrates the 20th year of this exciting cultural event. However, contrary to popular belief, it is so much more than just a mariachi concert. It is an extensive celebration of our rich culture and traditions, an educational week of workshops for youth of all skill levels, a showcase of our magnificent local talent, and an explosive finale with a spectacular concert.

Beginning on September 8th, the LCIMC will initiate its yearly festivities with the much welcomed Mariachi Sundays on the plaza in the Town of Mesilla. This concert series continues on through November with a myriad of mariachis and ballet folkloricos gracing the Mesilla Plaza with their talent, dedication, passion, and love for the art. Mesilla’s Mayor Nora Barraza, a strong advocate of the LCIMC and our local talent, said, “It’s part of our culture and heritage. Our residents look forward to it every year and if it were up to them, they would have them year round. Mariachi is in our blood!” The series ends with a Mariachi Sundays finale which kicks off the actual conference week on November 17th.

During the workshop portion of the conference, over seven hundred students from across the country will participate in voice, instrument and dance workshops taught by professional mariachi and folkloric dance educators brought in from all over the U.S. and Mexico. The LCIMC instructors are made up of individuals who have mastered their instrument and are now imparting their knowledge to aspiring mariachis and dancers. The music workshops are led by the conference padrinos or godfathers, Mariachi Cobre. Under their direction for the last 19 years, the conference has impacted the lives of thousands through the instruction of the beautiful mariachi art form.

Through its history, the conference has seen great fruit and its benefits to our community. When the conference began its plight, there was not a single mariachi in Las Cruces. Today there a few to choose from, some have even become educators in our public schools and at the conference. Imelda Wendy Martinez is a teacher at Zia Middle School and Las Cruces High School and is just one example of such a musician. Wendy began attending the conference in 1998 and recalls how the conference helped her grow as a musician and as a person. “Knowing that I was able to approach any member of a big group like Mariachi Cobre and ask for their help gave me a sense of belonging. And just the fact that one of them would take the time and just ask me how I was doing, built up my confidence,” recalls Imelda. Since 2004, she has been a regular faculty member of the LCIMC and continues passing on her passion, culture and heritage to younger generations.

Ballet folklorico is also an important part of the conference. Instructors from the University of Colima in Colima, Mexico come to the conference each year to share their talent and their knowledge of folkloric dance. Juan Carlos Gaytan is an award-winning dancer who has been a member of the LCIMC dance faculty since the conference’s inception. He received his instruction from the renowned Maestro Rafael Zamarripa, who until recently was one of our main instructors at the LCIMC. Along with Juan Carlos and his dance troupe, members from Ballet Folklorico of El Paso, under the direction of Jorge Badillo, take on the challenge of coordinating and
choreographing for the multitude of dance students that come to Las Cruces to learn and perfect their dance.

Workshop instruction ends on Friday evening, but not without the treat of a private concert by Mariachi Cobre for all the students. Randy Carrillo, founder and director of the group, says, “Mariachi Cobre is very proud to have been the musical founders of the LCIMC. Now going into our 20th year, when we have the privilege of performing for the students, I realize the great opportunity we’ve had in handing down this music to a generation or two of musicians that have been through the LCIMC program. It’s an important concert for Cobre as we are not simply entertaining, but, in essence, still teaching.” Immediately following the private concert, the LCIMC Participant Showcase begins and students have the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned during the educational workshops.

The zenith of the conference happens on Saturday evening with the spectacular concert. At 7:30 p.m., the backdrop behind the stage rises to highlight the hundreds of mariachi performers that participated in the conference. The musicians await the, “Un, dos, tres,” from Maestro Stephen Carrillo, lead vocalist and trumpeter of the famed Mariachi Cobre. Maestro Carrillo conducts the performers on their first song as the ballet dancers enter the Pan Am from the tunnels and wings onto the main stage. After the opening numbers, featured celebrity performers such as Lola Beltran, Pedro Fernandez, Pepe Aguilar, Aida Cuevas, Ana Barbara and many others have graced the stage of the LCIMC in an electrifying concert.

The festivities start to unwind on Sunday with the traditional Mariachi Mass at the Pan American Center. Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Las Cruces, The Most Rev. Ricardo Ramirez, O.S.B., has celebrated every past mariachi mass for the LCIMC. As a past partner to the conference, the Diocese of Las Cruces continues the tradition. This year, Bishop Oscar Cantú has committed to the yearly event. The Liturgy Committee for the diocese is in charge of the mass and is already hard at work preparing for the monumental service. After mass the final event, The Parque Festival, is a colorful mix of New Mexican foods and recreational family activities. Hands-on art, artisan exhibits and vendors offering traditional Hispanic arts and crafts add a festive flavor to the conclusion of yet another mariachi year.

Evidently, much time and planning goes in to putting together an event of this caliber. The LCIMC relies on partnerships and the collaboration of individual volunteers as well as businesses and other institutions for a successful conference. This year, El Paso Electric will be partnering with the LCIMC as the exclusive Title Sponsor. Additionally, New Mexico State University has been instrumental in making sure the conference has a home. Roberto Estrada’s unwavering support of the LCIMC has been both a blessing and an invaluable asset to the conference. Each year, Roberto’s Restaurant provides breakfast burritos for the instructors and conference staff and feeds the attendees. Roberto is fully committed to helping the conference each year and says, “I do this mostly for the kids, for the students.  I know the culture and I want them to be part of it.”

The production of the weeklong event that is the Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference could not be possible without the dedication and commitment of its Board of Directors. Everyone involved has been asked, at one point or another, why they continue to support and work so hard for this event. The general consensus is, and always has been, that they get great satisfaction from knowing that the conference exists for the children and all the benefits they take away, not only from the workshops but from being a part of such a prestigious event. “Mariachi and ballet folklorico are beautiful art forms and part of the culture of our community. The LCIMC assists in preserving these art forms through educational workshops for youth musicians and dancers. We are keeping these traditions alive,” said Phyllis Franzoy, the Executive Director of the LCIMC since its inception.

Summer 2013
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