Uvalde Mariachi Band and Boulder Concert Chorale collaborate to spread healing through music

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Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District
The Uvalde High School marching band won a statewide title at a Texas student mariachi festival last year. An honor that brought them to the attention of the Boulder Chorale.

The cacophony of sound that filled the fellowship hall at Boulder’s Atonement Lutheran Church Tuesday night immediately hinted at the high-energy week ahead for the Uvalde, Texas, High School Mariachi Band "Los Coyotes" as they launched into their special partnership with the Boulder Concert Chorale.

After dropping their bags and instruments in a warm-up space, the students gathered for a large buffet-style dinner at the start of their first meeting and then broke off into different rooms to begin rehearsing.

"I'm just excited to share a new experience with the group,” said Arianna Ovalle, one of Los Coyotes’ violin players. “Most of us will never experience this ever again."

Jayro Del Valle, who plays the guitarrón with the group, echoed her feelings. "It's just amazing playing with other people, meeting new people and bringing two things together. Singing and playing."

The Colorado visit is the latest opportunity for pride and healing for the small Texas community still reeling from the unimaginable tragedy of the May 24, 2022, attack on Robb Elementary School that killed 19 students and two teachers.

Just under a year after the massacre, Los Coyotes provided Uvalde with a much needed moment of celebration by winning a first-division rating at the UIL State Mariachi Festival. Media attention surrounding that achievement led Boulder Concert Chorale Artistic Director Dr. Vicki Burrichter to reach out to  Mariachi Director Albert Martinez.

"I saw an article in Rolling Stone magazine about them last summer, and I was so impressed with Albert and I thought,’ my God, this guy is just amazing what he's doing with these kids,’" Burrichter said. "He's helping them to celebrate their culture and celebrate their music… Everybody goes through difficult times and tragedy, and he has just really taken the opportunity to use music as a way to mend hearts and lift spirits and help make the kids proud of who they are and where they come from."

Martinez said the band received interest from many different places after its festival win, from invitations to perform at award shows to offers to record an album. Although he and the school district viewed many of those proposals with some reservation, the invitation from the Boulder Chorale stood out.

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Welcome sign for Uvalde Mariachi Band at their welcome dinner with the Boulder Concert Chorale at Atonement Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall, April 23, 2024.

"Number one, the history of the choir, the history that they have. They've been here for a long time, and so you know that that's something to respect," Martinez said. "And the way Dr. Vicky spoke about her choir and the people here and the hearts that they have and the community here, it just felt right."

Ann Marie Espinoza, executive director of communications for Uvalde CISD, explained that the district's vetting process examined more than just logistics of a partnership.

"Where is their heart? What do they intend to highlight? Because we have a group of students here excelling in Mariachi, representing our district with extreme pride and culture, and then going to competition," Espinoza said. 

Eden Lane/CPR News
Members of Los Coyotes, Uvalde High School's mariachi band, warm up before their first rehearsal with Boulder Concert Chorale at Atonement Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall, April 23, 2024.

During their five-day visit to Colorado, Los Coyotes held a masterclass with St. Vrain Valley School District students at Skyline High School in Longmont and will play in four concerts around Boulder County, including the Chorale's Fiesta de la Luces this weekend. 

"It's cool to try and teach other people what we can do and they can also follow us if they want and try to just to have fun with meeting others," said Del Valle, the guitarrón player.

The events may be fun, but Martinez believes this opportunity will be transformative for his students. He compared the experience to his time playing with Linda Ronstadt,.

"I want to see the way these kids are going to turn around because they don't know it yet. They don't understand it yet. This is amazing. And that's what they're about to feel and they don't understand it," he said.

Eden Lane/CPR News
Boulder Concert Chorale Artistic Director Dr. Vicki Burrichter and Uvalde Mariachi Band Director Albert Martinez during the two groups' first joint rehearsal, April 23 2024.

Raydean Roman, a chaperone for a Mariachi band trip, recognizes the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her daughter and the other students. “I'm amazed — the group of people that got us here, the friendship as we walk through the door, the comradery that they have amongst each other.”

For Ovalle, the violinist, this week underlines the unifying power of music. 

"It makes me feel proud,” she said, “especially playing mariachi music since it is cultural and music's just beautiful. I listen to it every day, everybody listens to music every day, so just to be able to play it, it's an awesome thing."

For her part, Burrichter expressed gratitude for this new partnership, and the opportunity to celebrate the traditions of both groups.

"This is just how I wish the world worked. That different cultures, different peoples would talk to each other, would play music together, would eat fabulous food together, would share their lives and their stories," she said. "And music is one of those things that does that."

Uvalde High’s mariachi band and the Boulder Concert Chorale are putting on a free concert Friday evening at Pioneer Elementary School in Lafayette and are both featured at the Chorales’ Fiesta De Las Luches Saturday and Sunday. Los Coyotes will also perform Saturday as part of BMoCA’s Dia Del Nino celebration.