Pictured: Brian Burgin keeps the beat as the group's only guitarron player this summer. Photo by MAURICIO JULIAN CUELLAR JR.

This year's group includes 22 Alice students

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

Mariachi musician J.C. Rivera is spending the summer much as he did last year, playing the music that interests him. This time around though, J.C. is expanding his options by learning the vihuela. Last summer, he spent the month of June learning the violin, and after his seventh grade year spent in the William Adams Middle School Mariachi Band, J.C. felt it was time for a change.

"I like playing these instruments, it's fun and they sound good. I played the trumpet and vihuela last year, but it's better to learn more instruments, that way you're not limited," J.C. said.

Fellow string player Christina Villanueva said that after watching her brother and cousin play guitar, she wanted to learn the instruments as well. Christina played violin in the Mariachi last year.

"I really just wanted to expand my capability of playing instruments. I wanted to learn different instruments," Christina said.

This summer 22 students are participating in the Beginning String Program, which prepares seventh grade students for the WAMS Mariachi Band. There are four guitars this year, along with four vihuelas, a guitarron player, and 13 violinists participating this summer.

"We encourage all the students to learn different instruments so that they'll be much better off and gain an understanding of how the parts relate to one another," Mariachi instructor Joe Murillo said. "This year we have more students coming in who participated last year, but have decided to play another instrument. We have quite a few trumpet players doing string instruments now."

Unlike in years past, mariachi students participate in the group because of their love of the music and instruments and not necessarily because of cultural interests. When asked if any of the students enjoyed listening to mariachi music, or heard it often at home, J.C. said, "Does Ramon Ayala count?"

"Really, I just wanted to play guitar and learn different styles of music. The cultural concerns are not really part of it," Christina said.

Vihuela player Evan Cordova said that although he doesn't come from a musical background, his family has been supportive of music both in band and in mariachi.

"Last year I played trumpet, but I always wanted to learn a string instrument, now I have the chance," he said.

As the only Guitarron player this summer, Brian Burgin is perhaps the most important musician of the group, according to Murillo. He said the guitarron is always difficult to recurit for, because of its size, and sometimes the reluctance of parents who don't want the responsibility of carrying such large instruments in their vehicle to and from practice. "It's very big, but it's not as heavy as it looks. It really is the most important one. Brian has done a very good job this summer. We don't have very many guitarrons in the band, but the ones we do have are very good."

Brian was attracted to the guitarron because it's a large bass instrument and loud. The guitarron player is in charge of keeping the pace for the rest of the band, which is an important responsibility.

"I've always wanted to play the guitarron," he said. "I'm just glad I finally got the chance."