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Mariachi Véritas Joins Fiesta in San José Debut

By Rebecca J. Mazur, Contributing Writer

This year,  Mariachi Véritas de Harvard, Harvard’s student mariachi band, is traveling for the first time to San José, California for “¡VivaFest!”—an annual Mexican heritage and mariachi festival now in its 20th year. The celebration, which runs from Sep. 18-29, presents a wonderful opportunity for Mariachi Véritas to learn and teach: members will participate in workshops led by renowned mariachi players and serve as college mentors to younger mariachi musicians.

Mariachi Véritas will devote the first two days of the festival to technical and stylistic training by attending full-day workshops run by Mariachi Cobre, a traditional 12-piece Mexican Mariachi band that performs daily in the Mexico Pavilion at the Epcot theme park.

Beyond their personal musical training, Mariachi Véritas is focused on mentoring the younger generations of student mariachi. Together with musicians from the University of Texas-Pan American, they are participating in panel discussions that advise high schoolers on how to continue their mariachi training in college—and how the art form can help them get there. “We are promoting this idea of higher education—we are promoting this idea of falling in love with music,” says trumpet-player and Mariachi Véritas  president George W. Zuo ’13.

The festival concludes its celebration with two final Sunday performances: an outdoor student showcase of participating mariachi bands and traditional Mexican dance groups followed by an evening performance of professional mariachi. Mariachi Véritas has been honored to play in both—a testament to their virtuosity. Not only will they present a half hour of their repertoire in the student showcase, but they are among the students selected to open the evening show with three specially-commissioned works by Mariachi Cobre.

Mariachi Véritas attributes their inclusion in the festival in part to their diverse student body. “It all started when a Harvard alum who is in charge of running this organization came to us and said ‘This year the theme is going to be diversity, and you have pretty much the most diverse mariachi in the world,’” says Zuo. He notes that both Asian musicians and women are rare amongst most mariachi bands—yet Mariachi Véritas’s membership includes many of both. The group is also diverse musically. “About half the members have known mariachi music since they were children [and] have grown up playing it—the other half are coming from all over the place and still find a way to connect with [the music],” says Julian Moll-Rocek ’12, a senior who played classical and rock music before joining the group.

Mariachi Véritas views their diversity as a strength. “It is something we definitely take pride in, we are breaking boundaries,” says Zuo. Yet this diversity also creates some challenges for the group. Diego Rentería ’11-’12, who has been playing mariachi music since middle school, says it is sometimes difficult for the members of Mariachi Véritas to grasp the cultural connotations of the music they play—a kind of inexperience that he says may cause other mariachi groups to have lower expectations for them. Nonetheless, he remains confident that the group has worked to overcome such obstacles: “If there is this perception like ‘You guys aren’t actual musicians,’ we [just say] ‘No, we have our music ready and we are here to play like you guys,’” he says.

“¡VivaFest!” is expected to help Mariachi Véritas overcome some of their cultural disadvantage. “We will be able to learn the more intangible elements of the music,” says Anthony Liu ’14, who is the treasurer of Mariachi Véritas. The guidance at “¡VivaFest!” is especially valuable because Mariachi Véritas is not directed by a professional faculty member. “We always really value [times] when we can actually work with people who are professionals,” says Maggie Geoga ’12, who plays violin and occasionally sings for Mariachi Véritas. The band also values the opportunity to learn and perform in the American Southwest, where mariachi is often at the heart of the local culture. “Hopefully this [festival] can be the start of some sort of greater connection between Boston area schools and mariachi musicians throughout the U.S.,” says Rentería.

Like all student-run college organizations, Mariachi Véritas faces a constantly shifting membership. “This coming year four of us will graduate ... [as leaders of the band] we need to have inspired and invested younger members to keep the band going,” says Moll-Rocek. Looking forward, Mariachi Véritas attributes the importance of tours and festivals like “¡VivaFest!” in creating the unity that will allow for the band’s certain longevity at Harvard.

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