A very mariachi Circle of Light

A folklorico with dancers and mariachi band

Dec. 6, 2023 – DENTON – Jason Molina, Elisa de la Rosa and their students are going to raise the festive level of this year's Circle of Light Festival.

Molina's mariachi program will perform on the steps of Music Building, joined by de la Rosa's International Dance Company for a folklórico show in Thursday evening's festival, which gets underway at 5:45 p.m.

It's a partnership between a program in its infancy and one that has been a staple of TWU's School of Arts & Design for 45 years.

In his first semester at TWU, Molina has seen a remarkable reaction to the introduction of mariachi to the TWU Division of Music.

"When I was approached by TWU and Dr. Youngblood (Pamela Youngblood, director of the School of Arts and Design), I didn't know what to expect or how many students would be interested," Molina said. "By the fourth audition phase, I realized that the amount of people that we had was enough for two full ensembles. Right now, I probably have about 35 students. Mariachis are usually half that size, maybe 15 to 16 musicians for a full ensemble. I have double that. And that's our first semester."

TWU's mariachi program for now is just the ensemble, but there are plans to add studying mariachi and training educators.

"They're setting their sights on expanding it to a program where kids can come here and eventually study mariachi education," Molina said. "Pedagogy in mariachi, the way they play, the folk instruments, mariachi, arranging things of that nature that you would need to know if you're going to go and teach mariachi somewhere here in public schools."

The inclusion of mariachi in music pedagogy is expanding rapidly, emanating from the Texas Lower Rio Grande Valley and into the southwest United States. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley offers a bachelor of music with a concentration in mariachi.

"They've been graduating mariachi educators for a while now," Molina said. "Mariachi programs are exploding in public schools now, but there's a lack of educators in mariachi. So that's why colleges, I think, are trying to jump on board with offering programs for students to come study that specifically."

If schools needed any supporting evidence, look to the enthusiastic reception at TWU to merely starting an ensemble.

"One of the cool things is that I have music majors that are studying to be musicians or music educators," Molina said. "On the other side, I have nursing majors, I have biochemistry majors, anything. They've played mariachi in the past and they want to keep up with it. Here in Denton, the scene is blowing up.

"The idea that it's just a Hispanic thing, nothing can be further from the truth," he added. "The majority of students that auditioned that have been studying with me in the high schools are non-Hispanic."

Mariachi music developed in western Mexico, flavored by Spanish, African and Cuban influences, and it remains a varied school of music, including rancheras, corridos, cumbias, boleros, ballads, sones, huapangos, jarabes, danzones, joropos, pasodobles, marches, polkas, waltzes and chotís.

"The majority of this performance is going to be what we call sones," Molina said. "There's son de la Negra, La Madrugada and La Charreada, and the type of song that mariachi plays called Son Jalisciense."

mariachi band

A folklórico combines traditional dance, music and costumes to highlight Mexican cultures. Dancers wear long, flowing dresses which allow them to twirl their skirts in whirl of bright, vivid colors to the sounds from an ensemble of guitars, horns, violins and vocalists.

"We do everything from Aztec Dance to Afro Cuban dance to dance from South Korea and contemporary ballet folklórico," de la Rosa said. "This is going back to the traditional roots of ballet folklórico. That's what we're going to be doing at Circle of Light."

A TWU alumna, Karla Canamar, who teaches in Carrollton Farmers Branch as a full-time director, started a folklórico program, and she's been brought in to help with Thursday's performance.

“She created a remix with the songs that Jason mentioned and worked with our students to teach them the traditional ballet folklórico steps," de la Rosa said. "So we'll be premiering that on Thursday. We're also going to be doing a contemporary ballet folklórico in a song called La Llorona, which translates to the Weeping Woman. And so there's that fusion of contemporary dance with folklórico elements."

"The costumes are from Jalisco," de la Rosa added. "So we just pulled those out, and we had rehearsal and they tried them on for the first time. They're really great. And we have some folklórico shoes that we'll be wearing as well. Luckily, we have some that fit all the dancers because we're kind of finding stuff in our closet that's from, 2005, but it works. When the dance is happening, you will see this skirt look like a pinwheel. It's got lots of fabric in it, so when they're turning, it really does give that circular shape."

Dance is even contributing musicians to Thursday's folklórico. Brittany Padilla, who is the staff musician in the Division of Dance, will be singing with the mariachi band.

"I'm from the Valley," de la Rosa said. "South Texas. So I grew up around Tejano, mariachi, Selena (Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, an American singer known as the "Queen of Tejano Music"). All of that is part of my identity. Coming to TW as a student, I had to leave my love for Selena in my dorm room because, at that time, modern and ballet were just really elevated. And now that I work here at TWU, we did Selena music across the floor in a modern dance class.

"I miss my family," de la Rosa added. "It's a 10-hour drive, and hearing the mariachi music, it just brings just so much beautiful, vibrant energy and makes me feel like I'm at home. And I know that people recognize the music because it's so iconic. There's just something that mariachi music does, especially when you have live musicians. We had rehearsal this morning, and Brittany was singing and we had the mariachi music and the students had the skirts. It's really cool to bring that culture here at TWU. I just feel like this is the beginning for more future collaborations that we can't even imagine."

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Page last updated 11:10 AM, December 6, 2023