Mariachi classes are now being offered at Wright Middle School and Glencliff High School as part of the new Music Makes Us education program, a public/private partnership among Metro Schools, Mayor Karl Dean, and music industry leaders in Nashville.
“One of the aspects of Music Makes Us is the notion that nontraditional programs are being offered alongside of the traditional programs in the public schools for the first time. And by nontraditional I mean Mariachi, Hip Hop, Rock Band, Guitar, Country Bluegrass, Songwriting,” said Laurie Schell, Director of Music Makes Us for Metro Nashville Public Schools.
Mariachi is traditional Mexican folk music. Teacher Alan Lambert was surprised at how the Nashville community welcomed his class with open arms.
“The community gave a big party to celebrate the fact that Mariachi was here. And in my previous job I had those kind of contacts and that kind of support but not in the beginning,” said Lambert.
“And here I walk into Nashville and the community is already organized and excited.”
Jose, a Mexican student in Lambert’s class, signed up for Mariachi class because he was raised with the music.
“My parents usually turned it on in birthdays and stuff, even holidays. Plus, it’s finally getting my grades up because it’s making me focus more on math and stuff, because they told us that if we didn’t come up with enough grades to pass some classes we were getting kicked out of here,” said Jose.
“What they’re doing with Mariachi here in Nashville is they’re bringing more kids to school every day. They’re coming to school, they’re staying in school, they’re doing better in their classes, they’re graduating. And you know that spills over to their parents and to the community,” said Alan Lambert.
“And for those who have a cultural connection to the music, they come from Mexico or from Latin America, it goes back generations.”
But not all the students in Mariachi have a cultural connection to the music. Many have to sing in a language they’ve never learned before.
“It’s like kind of difficult because I don’t know what the words mean or anything and it kind of gets jumbled up in my head,” said Payton, an eighth grade student in Lambert’s class.
“I’ve learned that it’s actually kind of sad when you listen to it because it’s actually about somebody’s story that they’re telling about, in music.”
Lambert says he is already seeing the impact the class is having on the community.
“It pushes students to go beyond what they thought they could do themselves. And that spills over into the communities. Their parents suddenly see they’re really interested in school,” said Lambert.
“Once they see their students being motivated, and then they come to a performance and they see the audience go crazy—-which the audience will go crazy when these kids go on stage, they don’t even realize it yet—-it just trickles through the whole family.”