Bond helps mariachi program thrive at Sam Houston High School

Sam Houston High School mariachi group members

Sam Houston High School mariachi group members

March 2017  - When most people think of the AISD’s bond program, they think of dollars, budgets and new facilities. But for Sam Houston High School students Crystal S. and Daisy H., the bond program means a guitarrón, a vihuela and a passion for music that has blossomed in high school.

“We’re really lucky to have bonds like this,” Daisy said.

The 2014 Bond program provides funds for quality instruments and uniforms for the AISD’s music programs. It has enabled the district to eliminate instrument fees, ensuring every student has the opportunity to play an instrument.

Daisy, a junior, plays vihuela, and Crystal, a senior, plays guitarrón in the Sam Houston mariachi group, El Mariachi Tejano de Sam Houston. Theirs are the two instruments required to make a mariachi band mariachi.

Mariachi started as a club at Sam Houston in 2005. In 2011 the club had only 13 students but has been growing in recent years. This year, thanks to support from Principal Fernando Benavides, Sam Houston has an actual mariachi class with 33 students, and an additional 25 participate after school on Wednesdays.

“It’s just like a little family,” Crystal said.

Sam Houston is the only school in Arlington with a mariachi program.

“It’s something we’re very proud of,” said Jillian Adams, Sam Houston assistant band director and one of the mariachi teachers.

“It’s a big influence in this school with so many cultures here,” Daisy said. “Even though mariachi is founded on Mexican culture, Sam’s mariachi is open to everyone.”

It’s certainly been a big influence in Crystal’s life. Even though she’d often heard her mother listen to mariachi, she had no plans to play that style of music herself. When she arrived at Sam Houston as a freshman, she just wanted to sing.

But the guitarrón player in Sam Houston’s mariachi had just graduated. Crystal remembers Adams coming up to her with the instrument.

“Mrs. Adams said, ‘I need you to learn guitarrón. Here you go,’” Crystal said.

That was four years ago. Now Crystal has mastered the instrument and is the backbone of the advanced mariachi group.

“She’s what keeps the group together,” Daisy said.

At the UIL Solo and Ensemble Contest in January, the judge praised Crystal for her control and said she was the reason the performance was so tight.

With that performance, the varsity mariachi group qualified for the UIL State Mariachi Festival in San Antonio March 10-11. This is the second year UIL has held the festival, part of a pilot program for mariachi.

It’s also the second year Sam Houston will participate. Last year the group scored a two at the festival. But this year, they’re aiming for a one, the highest possible score.

Crystal described last year’s festival as “one of the best experiences of my life.” Seeing other good bands was inspiring and she learned so much about how to improve.

Daisy agreed.

“The experience made it all worth it,” she said. “The practices may be long, but in the end, it all pays off.”

Daisy compared mariachi, and music in general, to the blood flowing through her body.

“It’s like a way of life,” she said.

Music brings happiness and peace, she said, especially when school and life are stressful.

“It makes everything so much better.”

Crystal and Daisy are quick to credit their mariachi teachers – Adams and Kristi Tollefson, Sam Houston’s head orchestra teacher – for making their mariachi experience so powerful.

“They’re amazing,” Daisy said.

Crystal explained that Tollefson used to be a professional mariachi player herself, so she is extremely knowledgeable and really good at teaching all the details.

Adams does whatever she can to support the group and instills confidence in the band members.

“Mrs. Adams has so much to do,” Daisy said, “but she still makes time to help us become a better group. She has a lot of hope in us.”

“She’s never going to doubt us,” Crystal said.

Instilling confidence and providing opportunities and transformational educational experiences like mariachi are the reasons behind the bond. It’s not just about dollars and buildings, it’s about educational opportunities for Crystal and Daisy – and each and every AISD student.

Don’t just read about Sam Houston’s mariachi group. See them perform – May 5 at Levitt Pavilion. The group can also be booked to give personal performances for mothers on Mother’s Day.