By Eilene Lyon
See a gringa in this mariachi band? Yup, that’s me!
Sorry, no big sombrero or fancy conchas down my pant legs, but I really am blasting out “Volver, Volver” on my silver Getzen trumpet.
My parents were both musical (not so much these days). They insisted that my brothers and I get a musical education, which included singing in church choir and learning to play an instrument. Really, I am glad I know how to read music and music has always been a big part of my life.
My brothers were well-endowed with musical talent. My older brother played drums. My younger brother is quite good on the guitar. Me – not so much. Piano lessons lasted about six months before I rebelled.
In 5th grade, I began playing the French horn. I didn’t always hate playing the horn, but there was a particular period in my life when that damn horn was nothing but an instrument of torture! Note to parents everywhere: 13-year-old girls with braces should never be forced to play French horn.
I’m not talkin’ about those cutesy little plastic things they glue on your teeth these days. I’m talkin’ those Robocop-Iron Man-Full-metal-jacket monstrosities from the 1970s. (And people actually wonder why some kids start drinking at an early age – sheesh!!)
In high school, I played in a drum and bugle corps-style marching band. Yeah, a French horn player. They actually have an instrument called a “frumpet” for marching. One year of that and I had enough. Trumpet was the lead instrument, playing the melody (and much lighter, to boot), so I switched for good.
My brother (left) with cornet, and me with the frumpet in 1979.
I played in band for a couple years in college, then the trumpet gathered dust until about 2000.
A couple local Hispanic women, who were involved with the Ballet Folklorico (a group of school kids doing Mexican folk dance), decided that Durango needed a mariachi band. Hispanic culture has a long history in southwest Colorado, which was Spanish territory and later part of Mexico.
Here’s a tidbit about me: those miserable years of braces and French horn were mostly spent in Central America. I actually used to speak Spanish tolerably well (not Castilian, of course, but Guatemalan slang did not escape me).
Guatemala City has these huge roundabouts with military statuary and fountains in the center. On warm evenings, mariachi bands in full regalia were out in force. People drove around until they found the band they liked and then parked. I really loved listening to mariachi, but it wasn’t anything I ever sought out after returning to the States.
The local group sounded like a good opportunity to take the trumpet out of mothballs, so I learned to play mariachi music!!
Many people aren’t aware of this, but traditional mariachi bands consisted of only stringed instruments, particularly violins, harps, and guitars. That’s right – no trumpets. Nowadays, trumpets are a signature sound of these groups. Can you imagine hearing “Cielito Lindo” without trumpet?! (Gringos might think of this as the “Frito Bandito” song: Aye-yi-yi-yi.)
The mariachi band only lasted a season or so, but when I went back to college in my 40s, I decided to join the college concert band. After doing that for three years, my choppers had had enough. The trumpet became part of the local high school inventory, and my days of playing were history.
The Song is the Thing