Mariachi Leader Strives to Keep the Tradition Alive, Begins Classes


The violin sounds strain above teacher Jose Hernandez’s voice as his students learn the end of a classic mariachi song, with its traditional ending that Hernandez likens to a hiccup.

The students smile as they go on to the next lesson, repeating their strokes and following their instructor’s lead.

In August, Hernandez, whose Mariachi Sol de Mexico just finished recording two albums, announced the opening of his Mariachi Heritage Society at the Los Angeles Music and Art School and at his alma mater, North Ranchito Elementary School in Pico Rivera.


So far, about 60 students have signed up at the music school and another 30 are taking classes at North Ranchito, where there is a long waiting list, he said.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to do this,” Hernandez, 33, said after announcing the start of the nonprofit organization. “My family has been playing this music for over 100 years, and it has helped us bond.”

Hernandez, Laura Sobrino, a former member of Hernandez’s Sol de Mexico and Mariachi Los Galleros, and other professionals teach classes in the musical instruments of mariachi: guitarron, vihuela, trumpet, guitar, violin and voice. Classes will also teach mariachi-style music and dance.

The effort to preserve mariachi traditions for the future comes as schools continue to cut music classes that could lead students to an interest in mariachi, Hernandez said. Rio Hondo College, for example, where Sobrino taught mariachi, has closed those classes indefinitely.

Hernandez is saddened by the assumption that mariachi music may be a thing of the past, as a TV commercial in Mexico recently suggested.

“That really hurt me,” Hernandez said. “That’s our future. If we don’t teach our kids the importance of our culture and music, it will be lost.”

For many of the current students, the classes not only teach the musical notes and songs, but serve as a key to who they are.

“There haven’t been a lot of outlets to find out what my people are about,” said Norma Hernandez, 30, a student who followed Sobrino from Rio Hondo. She has been studying mariachi music for 1 1/2 years and plays the guitar. (She is not related to Jose Hernandez.)

“There’s a certain feeling in the singing and the movements,” she said. “It hasn’t been taken seriously, and it’s been reduced to caricatures in some people’s minds. They think all we play is ‘Guadalajara’ or the ‘Mexican Hat Dance,’ but it is much, much more. It is really beautiful music.”


Students at North Ranchito Elementary School, where Jose Hernandez first took trumpet lessons and was a member of the marching band, play in the mariachi group Rayo del Sol.

To raise money for these classes at both schools, Hernandez put together a mariachi symphony, composed music for the different instruments and held a fund-raiser last March in San Gabriel. The $27,000 collected will go to pay the teachers, provide class materials and buy uniforms. He hopes to make the fund-raiser an annual event.

The mariachi classes will fit in well at the Music and Art School, which was established 48 years ago as a nonprofit organization to teach music and dance to people in East Los Angeles.

“We make an effort to breach the gap where the public schools don’t teach these classes,” said Jack Gard, a member of the school’s Board of Trustees.

Students who have no training in the mariachi instruments will first take classes offered through the school before they advance to the music of mariachi. Classes meet once a week and are $5 each.

“If there’s any (financial) difficulty for them, we will work something out,” said Teresa Hernandez, a member of the board and the wife of Jose Hernandez.

To enroll or for more information, call the school at (213) 262-7734. The Los Angeles Music and Art School is located at 3630 E. 3 rd St. in East Los Angeles.