Quantcast
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

American Mariachi at the Old Globe

Our most accomplished musicians don’t show up in mainstream culture

American Mariachi tackles a conceit of Mexican-American culture in the 1970s: the idea that females couldn’t handle such intricacies.
American Mariachi tackles a conceit of Mexican-American culture in the 1970s: the idea that females couldn’t handle such intricacies.

Occasionally, an experience forces me to reflect on just how much American culture has twisted around what we pay attention to in music. And I don’t know whether to be proud or disturbed.

Manufactured pop has been the dominant art form for decades, often accompanied by elaborate stage spectacles characterized by troupes of lip-syncing dancers. If it’s catchy and fresh, and you can shake your booty. It sells.

Meanwhile, our most accomplished musicians don’t show up in mainstream culture. They’re more likely to be playing background music. Like the soundtrack in an office building lobby, or the hold music while you’re waiting for customer service. Think chamber music, think jazz.

Think mariachi. American Mariachi, playing at the Old Globe through April 29, gets it out of the way early, with a winking joke to the audience: Americans associate mariachi with the bands stalking your table at Mexican restaurants. And we don’t always like it.

But learning even a very little bit about something can inspire a greater appreciation. If more of us had a better understanding of the mastery mariachi musicians bring to provide restaurant “atmosphere ,” we would all be in a rush to tip them better.

Mariachi musicians appear throughout the play, performing traditional tunes plus a couple of new pieces. At one point, we’re quickly taught a few of the different rhythms employed by the three different sizes of mariachi stringed instrument: the guitar; the large, bassy guitarrón; and the small, ukelele-like vihuela.

There are no drums in a mariachi, so strumming techniques set the time and feel. Simpler ranchera forms draw from European time signatures such as the waltzy 3/4. Lusty boleros are played in slow 4/4 to rouse a romantic feeling. The musician strums up, strums down, quickly mutes the strings with a quick slap of the palm, or drags a strum for a pronounced arpeggio. All four techniques may show up in a single bar, happening almost too fast be understood on a casual listen. The really challenging stuff shows up in a huapango, which makes a subtle shift each bar between 3/4 and 6/8; a concept almost impossible to reconcile with modern pop. Factor in harmonizing voices, flourishes, and embellishments, and mariachi music proves impressively difficult to master.

American Mariachi tackles a conceit of Mexican-American culture in the 1970s: the idea that females couldn’t handle such intricacies, despite the fact that it had been roundly debunked by a slew of successful all-women mariachi groups that arose in Mexico in the 1950s.

Are the challenges of culture, gender, and ethnicity in America more difficult to surmount than refined musical compositions? If you turn on the radio, it doesn’t always sound like we’re doing well in either regard. But it’s usually the case: stop to genuinely listen, and anything becomes easier to appreciate.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Luna Bay Booch's San Diego origin story

Woman owned hard kombucha brand brewed elsewhere, now sold locally
Next Article

Two poems by Julia Wehner

A reminder of how richly good it is to feel, and to live
American Mariachi tackles a conceit of Mexican-American culture in the 1970s: the idea that females couldn’t handle such intricacies.
American Mariachi tackles a conceit of Mexican-American culture in the 1970s: the idea that females couldn’t handle such intricacies.

Occasionally, an experience forces me to reflect on just how much American culture has twisted around what we pay attention to in music. And I don’t know whether to be proud or disturbed.

Manufactured pop has been the dominant art form for decades, often accompanied by elaborate stage spectacles characterized by troupes of lip-syncing dancers. If it’s catchy and fresh, and you can shake your booty. It sells.

Meanwhile, our most accomplished musicians don’t show up in mainstream culture. They’re more likely to be playing background music. Like the soundtrack in an office building lobby, or the hold music while you’re waiting for customer service. Think chamber music, think jazz.

Think mariachi. American Mariachi, playing at the Old Globe through April 29, gets it out of the way early, with a winking joke to the audience: Americans associate mariachi with the bands stalking your table at Mexican restaurants. And we don’t always like it.

But learning even a very little bit about something can inspire a greater appreciation. If more of us had a better understanding of the mastery mariachi musicians bring to provide restaurant “atmosphere ,” we would all be in a rush to tip them better.

Mariachi musicians appear throughout the play, performing traditional tunes plus a couple of new pieces. At one point, we’re quickly taught a few of the different rhythms employed by the three different sizes of mariachi stringed instrument: the guitar; the large, bassy guitarrón; and the small, ukelele-like vihuela.

There are no drums in a mariachi, so strumming techniques set the time and feel. Simpler ranchera forms draw from European time signatures such as the waltzy 3/4. Lusty boleros are played in slow 4/4 to rouse a romantic feeling. The musician strums up, strums down, quickly mutes the strings with a quick slap of the palm, or drags a strum for a pronounced arpeggio. All four techniques may show up in a single bar, happening almost too fast be understood on a casual listen. The really challenging stuff shows up in a huapango, which makes a subtle shift each bar between 3/4 and 6/8; a concept almost impossible to reconcile with modern pop. Factor in harmonizing voices, flourishes, and embellishments, and mariachi music proves impressively difficult to master.

American Mariachi tackles a conceit of Mexican-American culture in the 1970s: the idea that females couldn’t handle such intricacies, despite the fact that it had been roundly debunked by a slew of successful all-women mariachi groups that arose in Mexico in the 1950s.

Are the challenges of culture, gender, and ethnicity in America more difficult to surmount than refined musical compositions? If you turn on the radio, it doesn’t always sound like we’re doing well in either regard. But it’s usually the case: stop to genuinely listen, and anything becomes easier to appreciate.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Is Midway the new Soccer City?

Fresh chapter unfolds in San Diego's well-lobbied Sports Arena muddle
Next Article

Customer complaint chases bullying Starbucks barista from corona-crazed coffee collective

Star-BUCKS
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer News — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close