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Committee proposes teaching students to play popular Mexican music

Mariachi Cascabel members Dennise Contreras, left, and her brothers, Manuel, center, and Alfredo, all of Spicer, perform in this undated photo at El Tapatio on South First Street in Willmar. One of the owners of the restaurant has asked the Latino Business Owner's Committee to consider setting up mariachi bands consisting of local students to play at weddings, parades and festivals. Dennise Contreras, who is also employed as a waitress at the restaurant, would train the students. Tribune file photo

Robert Perez is sick of having to call out to St. Paul for a decent mariachi band.

At a recent meeting of the Latino Business Owner's Committee, the manager and part owner of El Tapatio in Willmar said there was no reason a city with such a sizable Latino community couldn't produce a few of its own.

"We have lots of talent in this community, we're just not using it," he said.

So Perez is proposing the newly established committee work to set up three four-person mariachi bands made up of students from local schools. Anybody can join, he said, and they could play at local weddings, parades and festivals. The students would be taught by Dennise Contreras, a waitress at El Tapatio who plays violin and guitar in a group called Mariachi Cascabel out of Spicer.

Contreras has taught students in Mariachi before, guiding a class of 25 in California in the art of mariachi violin and guitar.

Mariachi music, which has its origins in the Mexican state of Jalisco but is popular throughout Mexico and the United States, is an important part of Mexican culture, said Contreras. The bands, typically made up of a varied number of violins, trumpets, guitars, and guitarróns, play at weddings, quinceañeras, and other community events.

But Contreras said that there is a generation gap in who listens to the music.

"It's mostly older people," she said, "but young people are the ones who can learn it."

But before young people can learn it in Willmar, the group will need a few things, said Perez. They'll need a place to practice, mariachi uniforms, instruments, and, of course, the actual students to learn how to play them.

How to get those was part of the discussion at the committee meeting on Thursday, but plans are still in their preliminary stages, said Perez.

The important thing, he said, is that the music can be played locally in Willmar.

"There's got to be a way we can help with this," he said. "People like this music."