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El Centro Latinx for Latino and Latin American Studies

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Mariachi club members now earn credit thanks to new CWU class

Mariachi music has been steadily gaining popularity on the CWU campus ever since the Mariachi del Centro club was founded in 2014. Students who enjoy playing the traditional Mexican folk music now have another outlet to develop their skills.

This fall, the CWU Department of Music introduced a non-conducted class, Music 217L, that allows Mariachi club members to hone their musical talents and receive credit at the same time. (Music 417L, for juniors and seniors, is offered during the same class period.) 

The class, led by Associate Professor Bret Smith, meets Wednesdays at 7 p.m. in the McIntyre Music Building, providing 11 of the club’s 12 members with an extra rehearsal opportunity every week. 

“It’s more like an hour-long musical coaching session than me teaching students how to play Mariachi,” said Smith, a conductor and cellist who specializes in instrumental music education. “They all want to become better musicians, so I try to show them how they can improve, both individually and as a group. Then they get together and rehearse on their own.”

Mariachi del Centro also meets for two hours every Thursday and has performed at campus events this fall, including the Latinx welcome, the Fall Open House, and Día de los Muertos. Their next performance will be December 4 at 8 p.m. in the McIntyre Music Building recital hall.

The club is led by president Daniel Cedeno, vice president Abel Banuelos-Juarez, and treasurer Yajayra Ramirez. They are joined by eight other club members in Music 217L and Music 417L.

“We eventually want to win awards and become recognized around the state,” said Cedeno, who started playing Mariachi in the fourth grade in his hometown of Wenatchee. “But the main thing is the music.”

Smith said he has been helping his students learn to isolate certain sounds and highlight those melodies to create a better harmony when they play as a group. He also advises them on selecting the songs they will eventually perform.

Overall, he has been impressed by his students’ commitment to excellence.

“They have a high vision of what they want to become,” Smith said. “They’ve been practicing a lot, and it shows.”

Smith added that he believes CWU is an ideal location to build interest in Mariachi music and, more broadly, Mexican culture. Ellensburg and other cities in Central Washington have rich agricultural traditions, and a great deal of that history involves Latin American immigrants. 

“Mariachi allows arts and culture to intersect with the Latinx community,” he said. “Because of where we’re located — with the migration and settlement traditions of this area — CWU is a natural fit for something like this.”

Smith and his colleagues also have been discussing long-term plans for the Music 217L and Music 417L class. Over time, the music department would like to introduce a general education course that would focus on the history, evolution, and cultural importance of Mariachi music.

But, for now, Smith is just happy to be working with this talented group of young musicians as they work to develop a new musical tradition at CWU.

“We are just getting started, so we’re still considering our options,” he said. “The main thing we want to do is build sustainability so we always have new students coming through the program.”


Media contact: David Leder, Department of Public Affairs, 509-963-1518,

Thursday, November 7, 2019

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