It was to be her final performance as a high school violinist. What a way to go out.
Canyon Springs High School senior Karla Garcia-Cardenas played a mariachi concert with 250 other students May 18 at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, 361 Symphony Park Ave. The concert also featured students in the Clark County School District’s ballet folklórico program and Clark High School’s 90-piece symphony orchestra.
With orchestra no longer offered last year at Canyon Springs, 350 E. Alexander Road, Garcia-Cardenas found another course that could challenge her. She also found a passion for a new type of music.
"It’s just a different type of classical," she said of mariachi.
Students prepared for the concert by rehearsing with professionals for a day at the Cashman Center, 850 Las Vegas Blvd. North. Mariachi Cobre, the resident mariachi ensemble at Disney World’s Epcot Center in Orlando, Fla., led intensive music workshops and rehearsals. Mariachi is a genre of music originating from Mexico that usually consists of violins, trumpets and guitars.
Garcia-Cardenas is one of about 3,000 students from 16 high schools active in the school district’s mariachi program. She said her favorite part of the Mariachi Festival and Workshop was not even the music.
"The main thing I liked is the bonding with the other students," she said. "I feel like I’ve gained more experience and also created wonderful memories."
Garcia-Cardenas is scheduled to graduate in June and plans to attend the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She said she probably will continue to play the violin recreationally, but this concert was a kind of farewell for her.
"I’m sad it’s all over, but at least I know it’s going to stay with me," she said. "… A lot of people don’t know what (mariachi) is about. I think it’s a really good experience, and everyone should try it. You’re basically opening yourself to a new way of life. You get to experience the unexpected."
The Mariachi Festival and Workshop was sponsored by the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce and the school district.
The district began offering mariachi classes in 2002 at four schools. Javier Trujillo, a former member of Mariachi Cobre, helped start the Clark County program.
Sophomore Maria Saldana, 16, a student in the ballet folklórico program at Rancho High School, 1900 Searles Ave., also performed at the Smith Center.
"I love to dance, and this was a chance to learn new steps and new songs," Saldana said. "It’s sort of like taking it from my culture."
Xavier Gastellum, a music teacher at Von Tobel Middle School, 2436 N. Pecos Road, moved to Las Vegas from Tucson, Ariz., in 2006 to teach mariachi. His students participate in two mariachi conferences every school year.
"Their experience is really beneficial for them," Gastellum said of the workshop and performance. "They get the camaraderie with kids from other schools with the same interest in music. They learn from professionals and their peers.
"In the classroom, they can’t have the same experience."
Gastellum’s family started the Elisa Gastellum Memorial Fund to offer college scholarships to mariachi students. The fund is named after Xavier Gastellum’s sister, who died in a car accident in 2006.
Elisa Gastellum was a member of her high school’s mariachi program. The Gastellums plan to donate four $500 scholarships this year.
Gastellum also started a traveling mariachi group, Los Charritos, made up of 10 to 15 students at a time.
They perform at conferences in the southwest United States several times a year. He said the group is primarily student-run and he acts as an adviser.
"I hope people can truly be educated on what this art is and its importance," Gastellum said. "Kids of all nationalities participate in it. Music is music. It’s the international language."
Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at firstname.lastname@example.org or 224-5524.