Loud, vibrant music resonates through the halls of Chapin High School early each morning – a clear sign that student musicians are hard at work perfecting their craft.

But instead of marching band music, jazz or even classical, it is the familiar sounds of “La Culebra,” a traditional mariachi song that can be heard.  

“El Capitan” is Chapin’s new mariachi ensemble and it is going strong with around 20 members who have enrolled in a mariachi class. The ensemble formed last year, but was only a club.

“It’s a joy to be able to share and learn about the traditions and cultures of this music genre with such a diverse group of students,” orchestra teacher Margarita Mendez said. “We want the kids to enjoy it, but we also want a quality product to present.”

Last fall the group began as a club, meeting twice a week after school. As a class, the group meets everyday to practice during zero period. The name of the ensemble, El Capitan, refers to Chapin’s namesake: U.S. Army Capt. John L. Chapin.

Chapin joins Bowie High School’s “Mariachi Orgullo” as the second mariachi ensemble in the District. Mendez has wanted to start a mariachi ensemble for a few years. She is overwhelmed with the response she has received from students.

“We announced it to all our classes, posted a sheet, and the kids started coming by to sign up,” Mendez said. “I played mariachi for a lot of years, so to get the students involved is exciting.”

Mendez co-directs the group with guitar teacher Andres Hernandez, allowing the students to practice as both an ensemble and in smaller sectionals.

“When we notice things, like the timing today, we work with them the next day to make sure we get it right,” Hernandez said. “The biggest takeaway has been seeing them grow. They are getting more comfortable with each other and becoming more united.”

For sophomore Christian Carmona joining the mariachi group was a no-brainer. A violinist since fifth grade, Carmona now plays the vihuela for the ensemble.

“I’ve always wanted to be a mariachi. Ever since I was a kid it’s been my dream to do a ‘grito,’ to sing and to play. I just really like the music,” Carmona said. “I’ve seen other schools’ mariachi groups perform, and watching them play has been very inspirational to me.”

Carmona is also lending his vocal talents to the ensemble, singing the traditional mariachi song “La Ley del Monte,” as part of the group’s set.

“At first I felt really nervous because it was my first time singing in front of people, but I’ve sang so much in front of the group that now I am pretty comfortable,” Carmona said.

The students will compete in the UIL State Mariachi Festival this spring. To gear up for the competition, the students had their debut performance last month during the school’s faculty meeting and Fine Arts Extravaganza. The ensemble invited Bowie for a pre-UIL performance at Chapin on Feb. 2.

Freshman Yanel Perla isn’t too worried about the competition at the moment. Instead she is focusing on having fun and the music – music she feels a personal connection to.

“I really identify myself with mariachi music because most of my family is of Mexican heritage,” Perla said. “When I listen to it, it feels like home.”

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