Wenatchee’s Premiere Mariachi Band
written by Sheila G. Miller | photography by James Harnois
First, the horns. Then the strings. A flash of sequins on a blue uniform. This is Mariachi Huenachi—Wenatchee’s pride and joy. Wenatchee High’s mariachi band was started in 1999, and today 300 students participate in the school district’s mariachi program. Three middle schools each have two classes (beginner and advanced), and the high school offers classes for freshmen, junior varsity and varsity. The band’s director, Ramon Rivera, teaches six mariachi classes each day.
Wenatchee calls itself the Apple Capital of the World. The region is also known for growing cherries, pears and other fruit. As a result, there is a large Hispanic community in the area (almost 30 percent)—migrant workers who stayed and now make their homes in Wenatchee.
Mariachi music, Rivera said, is like Christmas carols—everyone knows the words to all the songs. For many of Rivera’s students, mariachi brings the family together. “You can’t take grandma to Drake,” he said. “But with mariachi music, it’s music the whole family can go to. That’s the beautiful thing about mariachi music, it’s something the whole family can participate in.”
The group performs about forty times a year throughout the state and now, increasingly, across the country. This fall, Mariachi Huenachi will travel to Washington, D.C., to perform during Hispanic Heritage Month. Students pay nothing to participate in the mariachi program—their instruments, uniforms and other costs are covered by the school district. “The school district doesn’t believe in pay-to-play,” Rivera said. “A lot of these parents are farm workers. … The mariachi program makes our district proud so the superintendent and the district really supports music education.”