Music of the Mexican variety

WILLMAR - The point was to teach choir students some appreciation for the variety and international influences in Mexican music. Rub?n Flores got his point across.

WILLMAR - The point was to teach choir students some appreciation for the variety and international influences in Mexican music. Rubén Flores got his point across.

He did it with a smoldering mariachi love song about Mexico and a rollicking version of "La Bamba" that had members of the Willmar Varsity Choir and students from some other classes on their feet dancing in the school's auditorium.

Flores is one half of "The Minnesotan and the Mexican," an artist-in-residence program this week in the Willmar, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City and New London-Spicer school districts.

The program will culminate with free performances for the community at 7 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday at the Willmar Education and Arts Center auditorium.

The aim of the program is to foster acceptance and respect between the different cultures in the area.


"What did you think when you saw my suit," Flores asked. He wore an authentic mariachi suit from Mexico City, with silver decoration on the sides of the pant legs.

"I want it," one girl said. "I thought they were tight," said another, as the students laughed. "Yes, I admit that," Flores said with a smile.

"What do you think when you see someone dressed differently," he asked.

"I love people who don't dress normal. ... So everyone doesn't look the same," a girl in the front row said.

The week-long program that he and fellow artist Larry Swenson present will try to help people understand that not everyone needs to look the same, Flores said.

Flores is a native of Monterrey, Mexico, who moved to New York City to further his show business career. He had studied opera in Mexico City and had starred in the Mexican productions of several Broadway musicals and in a television show similar to "Saturday Night Live."

He went to Manhattan to polish his English and to expand his opportunities, but "I also brought a little part of Mexico with me," he said.

In Manhattan, he saw people from all over the world, all living together and accepting each other, he said.


"They are bringing elements from their own countries to enhance Manhattan," he said.

The aim of the program he and Swenson present is to help students understand how people from other nations have helped enrich and improve life in west central Minnesota, he said.

Flores described the growth of Mexican music and the influences of other cultures on it. Mariachi music grew out of the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s and evolved into a romantic style of music in movies of the 1940s and 1950s.

At the turn of the 20th century, miners from Bohemia, later called the Czech Republic, came to the country's Pacific coast and introduced accordion music and a polka beat, a style of music that is increasingly popular in northern Mexico and the southern United States.

Many years ago, Spaniards brought African slaves with them to the country. The influence of the African drums led to the marimba, another form of Mexican music.

Flores translated the words to "La Bamba," but the students sang it with him in Spanish. It's a happy song, with lines that proclaim the person to be a captain, not a sailor, in other words, a leader, not a follower.

"We celebrate that feeling in Mexico," he said. "We want to be leaders."

Flores got the students involved. They stood on their feet, clapping and singing, as Flores cupped his hand around his ear to get them to sing "La Bamba" even louder.


He saw a group of girls working on their own dance moves and invited them up on stage. He and the rest of the students joined them as they incorporated some hula-type hand movements and moved their hips during the refrain.

When Flores opened the class for questions at the end of the class period, the students, mostly the girls, actually, wanted him to sing "La Bamba" again. They urged him to use the staircase in a theater set on the stage to make an entrance.

He complied, and many of the girls screamed in delight as he danced on the stage and then in an aisle. He got the students to sing again with him on the refrain.

Between classes, Flores said he has been pleased with the response he's had from students in the three schools this week.

"It's rewarding when the kids allow themselves to be part of a celebration," he said. "The students have been really participating. I give them a lot of credit for that."

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