Juan Zaragoza, Director of Southern California band Mariachi Las Olas shares his story on developing as a musician, educator, and band leader
Beyond being a band director, Zaragoza is an avid ethnomusicologist, educator, mentor, and music lover. In 2007, he was the recipient of the Santa Barbara Independent's Local Hero's Award. Here he shares stories about Mariachi traditions past and present, his personal journey as a musician, resources on instrument and apparel makers and traditional Mariachi apparel tailors, and Mariachi in the classroom.
I try to be conscious that I live in a community that has many different income levels. So I do slide my rate for the services that I offer. Not to say that my services are any less for the lower rate than the higher rate. I try to give everyone the best presentation possible with the configuration and musicians that I'm able to hire.
In Santa Barbara we don't have that many musicians to pull from, like in Los Angeles, Santa Maria, and San Jose, there's more working musicians that play Mariachi gigs as a full time job.
I started this not only because I love the music, but also when we started to work professionally, it was to compensate for some of my income. At one point, I was working less hours at my job at the post office.
I started to not only do a lot more subsidized gigs, but I also did a lot more community gigs and community programming. I started a nonprofit, Sonando Santa Barbara, bringing musicians from Mexico and did some collaborations with UCSB.
We had some artists in residence for a couple of months. I had recently graduated at that point, and was getting my feet wet in cultural programming in Santa Barbara. A student asked me to do a project for him for his DFA presentation at UCSB, and it just developed and grew from there.
We started getting calls for gigs not only with the UCSB community, but the Santa Barbara community. Then I started to invite community members to come out to the university to practice and to start to develop their repertoire for different schools. Many of them were able to read music, which is a big plus, especially nowadays. Many also have a classical background.
We started to play a lot of the cultural celebrations here in Santa Barbara or city-wide celebrations that are not necessarily cultural, like Fiesta and Cinco de Mayo. We played many times for Cinco de Mayo on campus at UCSB. UCSB has been a big supporter of my projects and works.
To be honest with you, many of the musicians that I've been fortunate to hire and known over the years have come out of UCSB relationships. Just developing and nurturing those relationships.
Many of them have never had any Mariachi background. I think the common bond for me, what makes it easier to work with and hire people that they're musicians first of all. I think that's the most important thing for any program to develop is you have to develop as a musician. Know your instrument.
This genre is geared towards the Western type of learning music, and it's good to start with fundamental music training.