Mariachi Spectacular de Albuquerque —
 Definitely One of the Best

Mariachi Spectacular de Albuquerque

by Jonathan Clark on August 7, 2010

in Mariachi

By Jonathan Clark

“To my mind, Albuquerque is the best of all the US conferences, and this year’s was the best I can recall,” asserts veteran mariachi educator Mark Fogelquist. Over the past three decades, the San Diego, California teacher has attended more mariachi festivals and conferences than he can count, including the past 20 consecutive Mariachi Spectacular celebrations.

The 20th annual Mariachi Spectacular was held July 7-11, 2010 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For three days, some 650 students took classes from a prestigious roster of instructors that included some of the most distinguished musicians in the history of mariachi music. Classes were divided into Beginning, Intermediate, Advanced, and Master levels. “The workshop music was well-chosen, well-balanced, practical, usable repertoire, tastefully and authentically arranged. The teachers were outstanding, the students highly motivated,” observed Fogelquist. Music teacher Sharon Jones of Carmel, California, who has taught violin at the last 16 Albuquerque workshops, coincided in her observations: “The music was perfectly matched to the level of the students, and the students themselves seemed better prepared than ever. Consequently, this was the easiest year for me as a teacher. It was also the most satisfying.”

Pepe Martínez coaches instructors Joe Baca, Mike Guzmán, and Mark Fogelquist

Pepe Martínez coaches instructors Joe Baca, Mike Guzmán, and Mark Fogelquist (Photo by Cassandra Trejo)

Cassandra Trejo of Midland, Texas has attended a total of 15 Mariachi Spectacular workshops as a student. This year, she took all eight members of her group, Mariachi Gran Corazón, with her to Albuquerque. “They thought it was the greatest musical experience of their life,” she commented effusively. “The instructors were fabulous and took a personal interest in each student. We were so impressed with the workshop music, and everything was so organized. This conference just keeps getting better and better!”

Pepe Martínez makes his Mariachi Hall of Fame acceptance speech.

Pepe Martínez makes his Mariachi Hall of Fame acceptance speech

The presence of 2010 International Mariachi Hall of Fame inductee Pepe Martínez, musical director of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, was a major attraction at this year’s Spectacular. “The impact of having living mariachi giants there to interact with the participants can’t be overestimated. Not only did Pepe join in the spirit of the conference, he lifted it to a higher level,” observed Mark Fogelquist. “Having direct access to the pioneers is invaluable,” concurred music educator John Vela, who drove 14 hours from Alice, Texas to attend this event. “If you have a musical or historical question, you can get your answer straight from the highest authority.” Also present were previous Mariachi Hall of Fame inductees Miguel Martínez, Jesús Rodríguez de Híjar, and Rigoberto Alfaro.

Hall of Fame members Miguel Martínez, Rigoberto Alfaro, Pepe Martínez, and Jesús Rodríguez de Híjar

Miguel Martínez, Rigoberto Alfaro, Pepe Martínez, and Jesús Rodríguez de Híjar (Photo by Cassandra Trejo)

While the question of which is this country’s number-one mariachi conference or festival will continue to be debated, the fact that no other event has done more to honor mariachi music’s pioneers or has presented them more consistently than Albuquerque is unarguable. From its inception, the presence of legendary, seminal mariachi musicians has been ubiquitous at Mariachi Spectacular, which has also been one of the conferences to most consistently offer mariachi history presentations.

Friday night’s Showcase Concert and Competition at the downtown Civic Plaza was one of the highlights of the festival, with numerous unusually fine mariachis featured among the 21 ensembles that performed. First-place awards went to Mariachi Nueva Era from Valley View High School in Pharr, Texas (High School Division), Mariachi Aztlán from University of Texas-Pan American at Edinburg, Texas (University Division), and Mariachi Sonido de México from Tucson, Arizona (Open Division). UT-Pan Am’s outstanding Mariachi Aztlán, directed by Francisco Loera, received the highest overall score of any group.

Noberta Frésquez, Pepe Martínez, Dahlia Guerra, José Hernández, Miguel Martínez, Jesús Rodríguez de Híjar, Rigoberto Alfaro, and Francisco Loera pose with UTPA’s grand champion Mariachi Aztlán after their winning Friday night performance.

Noberta Frésquez, Pepe Martínez, Dahlia Guerra, José Hernández, Miguel Martínez, Jesús Rodríguez de Híjar, Rigoberto Alfaro, and Francisco Loera pose with UTPA’s grand champion Mariachi Aztlán after their winning Friday night performance.

The biggest event of the conference was Saturday night’s Spectacular Concert at Sandía Casino Amphitheater, featuring three world-renown mariachis: Sol de México, Internacional Guadalajara, and Reyna de Los Ángeles. In general, Reyna and Sol, both directed by José Hernández, performed mainly well-known songs while Internacional Guadalajara, under the musical direction of Sergio Caratachea, focused more on original material. All three groups gave extraordinary performances. Reyna, the all-female counterpart of Sol de México, successfully dispelled any doubts that they could hold their own alongside the very best all-male mariachis.

For most of the audience, the musical climax of the evening came at the end of Sol de México’s set, when Reyna suddenly appeared at the rear of the theater and proceeded to engage in a musical dialogue (coplas) with Sol. Though the program could well have ended at that point, a performance by guest vocalist Ángeles Ochoa closed the show. Although she was in remarkable form, the previous sets had been so exciting and there had been so many outstanding vocalists among the three mariachi groups that it was an almost impossible act for any singer to follow without being anticlimactic.

Miguel Martínez, Ángeles Ochoa, Jesús Rodríguez de Híjar, and Rigoberto Alfaro

Miguel Martínez, Ángeles Ochoa, Jesús Rodríguez de Híjar, and Rigoberto Alfaro

A Mariachi Mass at Veterans Memorial Park on Sunday morning, officiated by the Rev. Patrick D. Schafer, OFM, brought Mariachi Spectacular’s 20th anniversary celebration—one of the most memorable mariachi festivals in recent history—to a solemn close.

This past decade has been one of myriad changes, not the least of which include economic recession and a radical restructuring of mass media and its means of distribution. While most of these changes have not been favorable to mariachi music—or to any other genre, for that matter—enthusiasm and support for the mariachi appear undiminished. This year’s Saturday concert was virtually sold out, and a record number of students attended the workshops, according to Mariachi Spectacular director Noberta Frésquez. “I’m afraid I’ll give out long before support for this festival wanes,” she predicts. Frésquez was recently chosen to receive the Mexican government’s prestigious Ohtli award for her many years of selfless dedication to the perpetuation of Mexican culture in the United States.

Mariachi Spectacular’s declared mission is to “respect, honor, preserve and promote mariachi music and its rich cultural traditions.” After 20 successful years, it remains uncompromisingly faithful to that commitment.

Interview with  Pepe Martínez during  Mariachi Spectacular de Albuquerque:

Interview with Pepe Martínez

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Cynthia Munoz August 12, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Felicidades a Norberta Frequez. This is quite impression to receive such as prestigious award. It is well deserving and we are very proud of your accomplishments!

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Cassandra Trejo August 22, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Maestro Jonathan:
¡Qué bello te expresas con tus lindas palabras! Siento haber estado allí de vuelta. Es un don lo que Dios te regaló, ver y sentir todo, se me hace hasta poder estar escuchando música a través de leer tus palabras. Gracias también por incluir mi nombre en la lista de todas aquellas increíbles personas. Realmente es un gran honor para mí haber tenido el privilegio de conocer a los pioneros y escuchar sus testimonios en su propia voz. ¡Gracias, Noberta, por haberlos traído!
Que Dios les conserve por muchos años más les desea su amiga de siempre,
Cassandra Trejo

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CASSANDRA TREJO August 23, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Maestro Jonathan,

I would so like to thank you for your hard work and dedication that you put into bringing us history, including pictures, music and—most of all—testimonies from these great pioneers and maestros of la música de mariachi. Thanks to you, we have the chance to read, view and listen to their wonderful accomplishments, because of your traveling and hunting down a picture, a comment, a story on these amazing men and women. We are so blessed to have someone that can go and find this out. Without this work, we would never know as much as we do in these workshops. For anyone truly interested in knowing history of mariachi they need to know you or attend these wonderful workshops. A special thanx to Norberta Fresquez for bringing them to us, where we can speak to these wonderful, humble men on a one-on-one basis and hear amazing stories and their travel experiences, and what inspired them for a song… If you want to know about Jorge Negrete or Pedro Infante and how their personalities were, just ask the maestros. They will talk about anything you want to know, and you learn so much from meeting the men that wrote or arranged La Bikina, El Rey, Si Nos Dejan, Mi Soledad, El Rey de la Huasteca, etc. They are there for us to enjoy and live through your words and their words, and capture all these beautiful moments and relive them again. Its amazing!

Thank you, maestro, and I so thank you, my friend Noberta, for inspiring us and helping us continue the excitement of the Mariachi Spectacular. I will see you next year, si Dios quiere, and count the months and the days to feel this mariachi experience again. It’s forever recorded in our hearts, and you leave feeling in love… in love with mariachi and its true essence. ¡Gracias!

Su amiga de siempre,

Cassandra Trejo

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