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Mariachi Kicks Off Campaign

With terse lips and ballooned cheeks, Francisco Soto, 55, belted out a staccato series of notes on his trumpet. The sound, like a lightning bolt striking through the steady and precise chord progression of guitars, filled the pavilion with mariachi music.

Soto, who looks toward the sky as he plays, has made mariachi music his life. “This type of music is more attuned to the spirit and lifting people’s hearts,” he said.

Last Monday night at the Reston Town Center, Soto and his eight-member band, Mariachi Los Amigos, entertained a group of about 250 music education advocates.

The evening dinner party at the pavilion was a chance for the National Association of Music Education (MENC) to kick off its mariachi education campaign. The Reston-based organization, which represents 120,000 music teachers around the globe, started the national effort to raise awareness of mariachi music.

“One of our goals is to have music accessible to all kids, and mariachi is just one facet for providing that opportunity,” said John Mahlmann, executive director of MENC and Reston resident for 33 years. MENC was founded in 1907 as Music Educators National Conference. Although it changed its name in 1998, its mission to advance music education for all has stayed the same.

With Mariachi Los Amigos as the main attraction, MENC highlighted the need for music education to be diverse and inclusive of many cultures.

For Soto, originally from Tuscan, Ariz., mariachi music has seen a renaissance. “Every time I go back home, I’m moved at the number and quality of students playing mariachi music,” said Soto, who moved to Springfield in the early 1980s.

Growing up, Soto said that mariachi music was all around him. “I heard it at parties and weddings, at anything,” he said. Today, the line on Soto’s business card reads, “mariachi music for any occasion,” and according to Soto, the band is booked nine to ten months of the year. Over the years, he’s already had six opportunities to play at the town center, one of his favorite venues. “I enjoy the festive mood here and how crowds can gather from people passing by,” he said.

Mariachi, as it is known today, developed in the 19th century in Mexico.

The traditional style of play was called "son," which was a mixture of folk traditions from Spain and Mexico. Different styles of son spread throughout Mexico and into the Americas. Mariachi, more generally, has gone on to influence all kinds of music.

“I like the sones, the original authentic mariachi music,” said Soto. “I’m particularly interested in following the classical repertoire.”

Thanks to the efforts of MENC, more students throughout the country will learn more about mariachi. For many Latinos, it’s an opportunity to learn more about their musical heritage. “[Mariachi] is a good connection with community and schools, and there’s an increasing Hispanic and Mexican voice in communities throughout the country,” said Mahlmann.

Soto is also excited about the goal of the campaign. “I’d love to have it here in our local metropolitan area — it gives children a chance to learn this music from the ground up,” said Soto. “It would help [Latino children] to express themselves and give them pride in their heritage, even though the music is primarily of Mexican descent.”