In 1822, when the Spanish flag came down forever in California, Santa Barbara, along with the rest of the state, became part of Mexico. Although it was governed by Mexico for only 28 years, aspects of Mexican culture are firmly woven into Santa Barbara’s complex identity.
The Santa Barbara Youth Mariachi Group uses music to connect today’s children to the region’s cultural heritage, as well as to support the children’s musical and academic development. Originally called Mariachi Pantera, the group was created by the vice principal of Peabody Charter School, Casey Kilgore, in fall of 2007. Later, when Kilgore was offered the position of principal at Franklin Elementary, she seized the opportunity to open up the mariachi program to the entire school district: In fall 2008, Mariachi Pantera (named for the Peabody Panthers) became the Santa Barbara Youth Mariachi Group (SBYM). It has expanded to encompass a scholastically diverse group of children in fourth through eighth grade.
The group’s 19 enthusiastic musicians meet once a week to practice and to perform for various private parties. They have also performed for the Santa Barbara Mariachi Festival, twice as the opening act at the Santa Barbara Bowl. The young mariachis are instructed by Brett Larsen and musical director Frank Chavez, both renowned for their expertise in musical ensemble and their ability to harness the electrical energy of young performers.
The students not only learn about culture and history, but they also become immersed in it by learning how to play instruments, sing, and dress as mariachi performers. Although this may seem like a large commitment of time and money, the SBYM is an official nonprofit whose board helps alleviate the financial stress on families, and makes it an opportunity anyone can take advantage of. “This is a great opportunity for children that establishes a good foundation for personal development and discipline, and also establishes good friendships for the children,” said parent and board member Rosa Alvarado. Not only does music serve as an excellent hobby, and supplements classroom education, it can help open many doors for students in the future.
In this vein, the combined efforts of parents, participants, and instructors has led to the group’s being invited to the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, to perform at the “50 years at the Lincoln Center” festival on May 29, 2010. The Lincoln Center has earned a reputation as the world’s leading performing arts center, and it is a great honor for the students to be invited to perform on the world-class stage in Alice Tully Hall during the celebration. In addition to performing on stage, the children have received an invitation to participate in an exclusive music workshop hosted by the Juilliard School of Music, New York University, and the Manhattan School of Music, among other prestigious institutions — amazing opportunities made possible through the generous support of people in Santa Barbara dedicated to cultural enrichment. To contribute to the club, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.