Former PHS student revives mariachi program

PRESIDIO – Huddled in a corner at the Chinati Foundation’s arena, 20 Presidio Junior High and High School mariachi students performed at Chinati Foundation’s Community Day on Saturday in Marfa.

Wearing the traditional mariachi attire, the band closed the day of art viewings, talks, food and music with a handful of Mexican songs. A few students were given the microphone to sing a song. After that performance, the students hopped on a bus and did it again in front of an audience in Alpine. Their teacher Molly Rodriguez was proud of them.

“I was just immensely proud of what they’re doing,” said Rodriguez.

The performance showcased what the mariachi program has been working on during this school year. When Rodriguez, a Presidio High School graduate, decided to teach in Presidio last fall, she told herself that she would bring the mariachi program back.

She said the program started almost 20 years ago under the direction of Mr. Jose “Taro” Gutierrez

“He taught many generations of students,” said Rodriguez.

But Gutierrez eventually retired and the program wasn’t available for Rodriguez during her middle school and high school years. However, Rodriguez performed with her parents and brother in Mariachi Santa Cruz.

Karla Villasenor revived the mariachi program during Rodriguez’s senior year and the program ran for three years until Villasenor moved to the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Rodriguez’s father, John Ferguson, step in to also bring the program back, which she said he did the best he could.

“Knowing my dad, not only is he the mayor of Presidio, he’s also a high school counselor and has so many responsibilities,” said Rodriguez. It was not easy when Rodriguez took over the reins of the program as well. There were students in the previous band that didn’t want to return. She didn’t think there would be enough students to participate. Some of the guitars were not in good condition, so Rodriguez learned how to fix them. Because there’s a lack of mariachi music in publishing, Ferguson helped with writing the songs in the appropriate key for the students to play. “He was a huge resource in that,” said Rodriguez. Those first days were hard to Rodriguez, and she said she felt like a mess. There were times when she felt lost and doubted herself, but her husband and her mom kept encouraging her. She was honest with her students and told them that she’s never taught mariachi before, but used her experience as a musician to guide them. She slowly noticed the class impacted the students, especially in the middle school. It warms Rodriguez’s heart to see them practice during recess. “My dream is that they rather be outside playing their guitar during recess than being on their cell phone,” said Rodriguez. The Monday after the performance, Rodriguez asked her middle school students how they felt about their performances in Marfa and Alpine. They told her they felt so cool. One student was excited to receive a compliment on the way to the restroom about how good the band sounded. “No one had told him that before,” said Rodriguez. The students were also proud that the crowd was singing along to the more popular songs such as “El Rey.” Rodriguez said the students didn’t want to sing at first. She showed them YouTube videos of mariachi groups with different singing styles and had them watch the crowd’s response. “That’s important to see early on. That’s how mariachi works,” said Rodriguez. “I think that’s how the mariachi came about, to spread some sort of positivity for the people. I think music in general has done that in history. Bringing people together and entertaining.”