Morton Ranch HS mariachi celebrates diverse student body

By R. Hans Miller, News Editor
Posted 9/10/21

Morton Ranch High School Director of Orchestras Gabriel Katz is excited to have finally begun a mariachi group for the Mavericks.

“I’ve been wanting to start a mariachi group for the …

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Morton Ranch HS mariachi celebrates diverse student body

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Morton Ranch High School Director of Orchestras Gabriel Katz is excited to have finally begun a mariachi group for the Mavericks.

“I’ve been wanting to start a mariachi group for the last couple years,” Katz said. “I approached (Morton Ranch High School Principal Julie Hinson) about it and she was just super excited.”

Katz said the group had a bit of a false start during the 2019-20 school year due to the pandemic and virtual schooling that faded out as virtual learning took over. However, during the summer, he worked with Hinson to develop a plan and get the group underway. After a student-interest meeting to gauge excitement for a Mariachi program, Katz said about 30 students showed up and committed to the program.

Two of those students are Pedro Barrera and Evelyn Garcia.

Serendipity pulled Garcia into the program, she said. She hadn’t planned on joining the mariachi group, but she’d stayed after school one day and saw the number of people attending the student-interest meeting. She thought about it and spoke with her family and decided it would be a good way to meet new people, learn about music and get in touch with her family’s roots.

Barrera said mariachi has been a love for a long time. Growing up, his family had always enjoyed it as a preferred musical genre and he’s played violin for years now. After finding out Katz was going to start a mariachi group, Barrera said he got very excited.

“I was so happy to join,” Barrera said. “Especially because, when you join, like, all these other people who love mariachi and you get to make new friends doing the things that you love.”

Katz said he’s excited to have the opportunity to let students play a style of music that isn’t as formal as an orchestra-style band group. Mariachi, in a way, he said, has similarities to jazz in that there is improvisation and an art to it that isn’t as formal.

“That is what I’m enjoying a lot because instead of orchestra where it’s a lot more technical and having to match with everyone else, mariachi actually has its own feeling to it,” Garcia said. “It’s a different vibe altogether and it’s more like you get to be free and have fun and play the way you feel like it matches with the style of the mariachi.”

Barrera agreed and said he has enjoyed how a wider variety of instruments come together to make up the traditional Hispanic music the Maverick Mariachi group plays than in a traditional band.

Hinson said she was happy to have been able to support the new group which helps represent the diverse student body at Morton Ranch High.

“My favorite thing about our student body is the diversity,” Hinson said. “And just being able to implement and support something that celebrates that diversity and that culture – it’s a very predominant culture here at Morton Ranch – how would I say no to that?” 

Support for the new group is ongoing, Katz said. He is currently working with the district’s finance department to obtain funding for mariachi clinicians to come in and help students improve their skills in preparation for state-level competitions. Those musical meets are overseen by the University Interscholastic League, much like sports teams across the state, and Katz is hoping the students can compete and represent the Mavericks and KISD well at the state level – especially since the Morton Ranch team is the first mariachi group in the district.

For now, though, the focus will be on helping the students improve their skills and learn more about mariachi as a style of play and preparing for some spring semester shows Katz said he’s hoping to put on.

“Marching band season’s running right now,” Katz said. “And so, we’re going to be working with some students and then as (marching band) kind of ends, then we’ll bring everyone in. But it’s going to kind of start off slow and then hopefully build up so we’ll have some performances in the spring semester hopefully.” 

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