By Kevin Matthews
Valeria Garcia, a senior majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology, is a first-generation college student and the first in her family to go crazy for musical instruments. She started violin when she was little because her name also started with a “V.” Growing up hearing rancheras and standards of the mariachi genre, she later picked up the guitarrón, vihuela and guitar to become nearly a one-woman band, lacking mainly the trumpet in her mariachi repertoire.
Though only 21, Garcia is on a mariachi journey that has already lasted 10 years. She’s played weddings, birthday parties and quinceañeras, baptisms, bar mitzvahs and corporate parties. She started learning at a community center in Oxnard, launched a mariachi group as a student at Rio Mesa High School, and played with UCLA’s Mariachi de Uclatlán under the direction of Jesús “Chuy” Guzman.
A daily commuter to Cal Lutheran pursuing a minor in music, Garcia began a Cal Lutheran mariachi club in the spring, after hearing through the department that the recently hired dean of the College of Arts and Sciences wanted a student ensemble.
Not everyone in the new Mariachi Ensemble has this level of experience, but in little time a core group of six or seven student performers has run through its set and learned to interpret mariachi’s emotional range, covering the main instruments and bringing in singers from the CLU Choir.
“I feel like a true musician wants to know a little bit of everything. They really want to get to know world music,” said Garcia, who recruited for the group.
The ensemble is directed by a classically trained professional who is teaching at a university for the first time this semester. A violinist and violist who grew up in Oxnard and trained at USC’s Thornton School of Music, Rocio Marron helped to launch the USC Mariachi when she was a student. Among many career highlights, she played solo violin on “Proud Corazón” for the 2017 animated film Coco.
The Dec. 6 performance will take place in Overton Hall where the ensemble rehearses, like an open house.
“Come by,” says Garcia, whose younger sisters Dariana and Brisa are also active in the group. “Come by and listen to us. A lot of people are serious about mariachi, and a lot of people don’t really know what mariachi is. It’s quite a complex genre. I think people should come by and dance along, cry along, whatever. We have sones. We have rancheras. We have boleros. A little bit of everything for everyone.”