North Side High School's mariachi program honors its Hispanic roots through music

North Side High School’s mariachi program honors its Hispanic roots through music

طوبیٰ Tooba 9 months ago 0 3


FORT WORTH ( — What sometimes starts out as chaos, occasionally has a way of developing into perfect harmony.

For more than 40 years, North Side High School’s mariachi ensembles have racked up countless awards and honors. And for the last 20 years, they’ve been under the direction of a man who had to learn mariachi music from the students he was teaching. 

When Ramon Niño became the director of the mariachi program, Espuelas de Plata, at Fort Worth’s North Side High School, he’ll be the first to tell you that he might have been in a bit over his head. 

“So, I was a trombone player. Like, I’m a jazz guy,” says Niño. “The only reason I teach mariachi now was because I got the job to teach marching band. And so, by the way, there’s mariachi tied to the job. And I just fell in love with the work ethic. And when I came, I knew nothing about mariachi. And the students were the ones that were teaching me about mariachi.” 

North Side High School FWISD Mariachi Program

Fort Worth ISD

He gradually taught himself how to play the trumpet, the violin and guitarron. His crash course in the genre would lead to his understanding and his ultimate immersion in the music. A blend of brass and a symphony of strings weave the rich melodic tapestry of Mexico’s history. Each song is reflective of the country’s western region, where the sound of mariachi was born. Lyrics tell the story of the people, traditions, and culture. It’s all performed with passion by his students while orchestrating life lessons that extend beyond their instruments. 

“So, the music just happens,” says Niño. That’s why they’re here, because they want to play the music. So, what we’ve got to teach them is how to grow as a human being and how to be a positive person that impacts society in some way.” 

What they’ve managed to create together is pure magic.  

Espuelas de Plata is so popular that they often have performances scheduled seven days a week, and book events more than a year out. Not only are they well known in Fort Worth, they’ve performed outside of the state and even internationally. The group has been showered with accolades over the decades, but perhaps their biggest honor came in 2014 when they received an invitation to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City. That was quickly followed by another thrill: an impromptu performance at Times Square. 

North Side High School FWISD Mariachi Program performs in Times Square in New York

Fort Worth ISD

“The police officers were like, ‘You have to have a permit to be able to perform at Times Square.’ So we said, ‘Okay.’ And he’s like, ‘But if you go across the street and I turn this way, I won’t know what’s going on.’ So that’s what we did. We did a 30 minute performance in Times Square, and he stood and watched over there the whole 30 minutes. When we were done, he came back and he stood in his post. So it was, you know, it was a great experience for the kids because, I mean, when are they going to perform in Times Square? It’s rare,” says Niño. 

In 2019, they had an opportunity to share mariachi music, and their Mexican culture, when they performed in Austria, Switzerland and Germany. 

“We were there for about ten days, which was awesome because we performed at Lake Zurich and we performed at Mirabell Gardens where they filmed The Sound of Music,” says Niño. “So we had to teach these kids, like, this is who Mozart is. We had the whole year to show them European music that we wouldn’t traditionally teach because it’s not mariachi.” 

North Side High School FWISD Mariachi Program

Fort Worth ISD

A performance half a world away, rooted in heritage close to his students, with the hope of engaging audiences everywhere to appreciate the art that is mariachi. 

“Mariachi ensembles have to do everything, right? So it’s theater arts because they’re performing. It’s vocal, like choir, and it’s instrumental whether that’s trumpet, like in band, or violin in orchestra,” says Niño. “Appreciate what you hire when you hire a mariachi. Don’t just say, ‘Oh, it’s Hispanic Heritage. It’d be fun to have a mariachi playing in the background,’ because there’s a lot of time and effort that those students go into putting that presentation together. Like I said, students or professional.” 

The mariachi students continue to honor their Hispanic roots  and show pride in their heritage with every note they play.


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