By John Philip Wyllie
Following the lead of high schools throughout the Sweetwater Union High School District, Bonita Vista High School added an elective class this fall in mariachi musicianship. Under the direction of veteran band director, Del Bangle, the students have been practicing hard on their instruments as they prepare to represent the South Bay high school on stage. Starting from scratch, the group, called Mariachi Bonita, will make its public debut in April as part of the Tucson International Mariachi Conference.
“I had been trying to organize a Mariachi band here as a club for the last two years, but with mixed results,” Bangle said. “(Up until this year) Bonita Vista was the only high school in the district without a mariachi band. That and the fact that it wasn’t working as a club prompted the need to turn it into a class. Now we meet once a day after lunch during sixth period.”
Much to Bangle’s disappointment only one student had enrolled when the school year began last September, but through word of mouth interest began to grow. Currently numbering 22, the group is now off the ground and well on its way.
“Our first performance will probably be a little nerve-wracking, especially for those who have never performed before,” said junior trumpeter, Victor Marquez. “It may not be the best performance because everybody will be new to it, but (eventually) I think it will be pretty cool.”
With three years of trumpet experience, Marquez, who began playing while studying at Montgomery Middle School, is one of the more experienced musicians in the group. Some of his bandmates had no previous experience at all.
“My students have varying levels of ability,” Bangle confirmed, “from beginners to advanced.” The group draws upon the experience and leadership of three students in particular, Nicolett Alcala, Kareem Gomez and Ernesto Marquez according to Bangle. They have helped to ease the group’s growing pains.
Miguel Cesena, who joins Marquez in the band’s brass section, looks upon the experience as a way of exploring his Mexican roots.
“I’ve learned more about Mariachi music, who performs it and how it affects my life,” Cesena said. “Off and on throughout my life I’ve heard mariachi music played by both my mom’s and my dad’s side of the family.” Cesena shares Marquez’s optimism for the band’s future.
“I think our band is becoming bigger and better. More and more people are becoming interested. In a few years, I think we will be really good.”
Following their debut performance in Tucson, Mariachi Bonita plans to perform at the school’s annual Cinco de Mayo assembly in conjunction with the school’s Grupo Folklorico Bonita Vista dance ensemble.