Bryana Martinez, a sophomore at Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School, is violinist in CYSO’s Philharmonic Orchestra and a very busy young musician. In addition to playing with CYSO and in her school band, Bryana also performs as a violinist and singer in Mariachi Herencia de Mexico, a 18-member group of high school-age musicians that perform traditional mariachi songs.
Bryana described the different approaches to learning music between her CYSO orchestra and mariachi ensemble. “We start off with sheet music and then after a week or two we take away the music and try to incorporate our own feelings into it,” she said of her Mariachi Herencia de Mexico rehearsals. “If it goes well, we listen to the piece and we all comment on it and say what we think of it.” Bryana’s mother, Nancy Martinez, added, “Everything’s in the group. Everything is organized in the group.”
Bryana described that for mariachi songs, “each song has its own feeling to bring” and the musicians, and especially the singer, “have to pretend you’re the person that made this piece and you’re going through what they’re going through.” Because of that big emotional investment, Bryana said that she approaches performing differently. “You’re a bit more free with what you’re playing [in mariachi],” she said.
When Mariachi Herencia de Mexico performs, Bryana acts as leader, deciding what song to play next based on how the audience is reacting to the performance. “If they’re feeling hyped up then we try a more fast song, happier song, instead of other songs that are slow.”
Bryana described how, like in mariachi, she tries to incorporate emotions into her orchestral playing as well. “With orchestra, I also like to listen to the piece and try to think about what it’s trying to express. When I first started orchestra, it was a little difficult because it was new for me. I think it was a Vivaldi piece, I had to listen to it a couple times each day.”
While she’s learned emotionality from mariachi playing, she said that performing with CYSO has helped her gain discipline as an ensemble-member. “It’s helped me a lot with listing to my surroundings and make sure I know my part.”
Last year, Mariachi Herencia de Mexico recorded their first album, “Nuestra Herencia” (“Our Heritage”), featuring mariachi standards accompanied by guest artists. The students recorded separately in Chicago while the professional signers and ensembles recorded in California. Bryana said, “When we were done recording here, then the guest artists recorded their part. When we first got to hear it together, it was amazing.”
In the fall, the young mariachi players got some exciting news– their album was nominated for best Ranchero/Mariachi album at the Latin Grammys. Bryana described how she found out: “I was in school, and I kind of broke down in tears and my teacher was like, why are you crying?”
The ensemble was able to attend the Grammy ceremony in Last Vegas back in November. Though they didn’t win, it was still an unforgettable experience to walk the red carpet as a group and to meet so many of their idols.
Bryana’s mother, Nancy Martinez, talked about the resurgence of interest in mariachi by Mexican-American youth who are often second- and third-generation and haven’t experienced the music back in Mexico like their parents or grandparents may have. “One of the big things right now is that mariachi is for a new generation in the United States,” she said. “It means parents are exposing their kids to our culture.”
Bryana agreed that playing in the ensemble has connected her with her family’s background, and she wouldn’t be where she is today without her orchestral training as well. “Orchestra is important because orchestra is your discipline,” she said.