West Liberty High School Band to start mariachi program

WEST LIBERTY, Iowa–The West Liberty High School Band Program will introduce a brand new mariachi program, thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine’s Racial Justice Fund. West Liberty High School Director of Bands, Ashley Smith, outlined the new program as an opportunity for students: “to learn a new instrument and be provided with everything they need to participate, from trumpets and violins to guitars, vihuelas, and a guitarrón. We will have the help of some community musicians who are more experienced than I am, in regard to both string instruments and authentic mariachi musical style .”

When the West Liberty High School Band Program applied for funding, Community Foundation’s Marketing Specialist Natalie Jones said their new mariachi program seemed like a natural fit. “The Community Foundation’s Racial Justice Advisory Committee felt that Los Cometas Mariachi’s mission to teach culture through authentic music education fit with the grant’s mission,” she elaborated.

Though Smith had considered introducing a mariachi ensemble ever since she found a beginning mariachi songbook tucked away in a file cabinet when she started as band director in 2013, she never felt quite sure where to begin. This summer, LULAC of West Liberty’s President, Ed Moreno, approached her about starting one, and encouraged her to reach out to Ruben Newell, the band director at Dennison High School, a western Iowa school with three mariachi ensembles. He also shared information about the Community Foundation’s Racial Justice Fund. With these tools in hand, Smith took the first steps to starting West Liberty High School’s first mariachi program.

As the mariachi program gets going, Smith hopes it will appeal to many students, and that over the next few years, it will grow to serve the middle school band as well: “At West Liberty, the ensembles we offer – marching band, concert band, and jazz band – represent the traditional musical heritage of families from the United States but don’t really reflect the culture or history of Mexico or Latin America, where many families in our community come from. I think it’s critically important to make sure our school music program is something that reflects the culture of all students at West Liberty High School – not just half of them – and so I’m beyond excited to begin this next step in growing the band program at WLHS,” she said.

Jones at the Community Foundation has similar hopes. “West Liberty represents the first majority Hispanic town in the state of Iowa, and their school district features the second K-12 dual-language program in the state,” she explained. “The Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine is excited to support and engage our youth by enriching and broadening their perspectives and opportunities in this way, while celebrating and integrating our diversity of culture.”