Music teachers from across Colorado gathered inside the University of Denver’s Newman Center on a hot day last August for the annual Bringing Music to Life Instrument Drive distribution day. The local non-profit handed out more than 400 instruments to teachers from across the state.
Among them was Hamilton Middle School music teacher Priscilla Shaw. She took flutes, clarinets, a saxophone and two accordions back to her school in Denver.
“We’re trying to start a mariachi band at our school,” Shaw says. “We have an increased number of Latino students. And so I just thought it was really cool to have students learn on this instrument. It was just like very unusual to have in a band program.”
Six months later, Hamilton’s mariachi program is in full swing. They meet every Tuesday after school. Eighth grader Adam Fried wields one of the newly acquired accordions.
Fried had no exposure to mariachi or the accordion before Shaw handed him the instrument at the beginning of the school year. He learned to play the instrument in just six months.
“It’s this whole different experience with music from what I’m used to,” Fried says. “I’ve never experienced a genre of music just like this, and being able to experiment with it is very fun.”
The mariachi band is just three boys. A boy named Diego, who plays guitarrón, is the only member with previous mariachi experience. And his friend Kevin rounds out the group with a small guitar called the vihuela. Kevin is an immigrant from Mexico and English is his second language.
Shaw says she was intimidated to start a mariachi program because she didn’t have much experience. She says Adam, Diego and Kevin have set an example for her.
“It’s such a different, diverse group of boys that have found harmony in music,” Shaw says. “You come from different worlds and different experiences, different cultures even, and can put everything aside and find commonality in music. And that’s why I love being a music teacher, because that’s what it’s all about.”
The Bringing Music to Life Instrument Drive is accepting instrument donations through March 23.