The state champion and national award-winning Mariachi Master Apprentice Program (MMAP) — like many other artists and musicians — has been unable to perform publicly because of the ongoing coronavirus health pandemic. But MMAP has found a way to play for an audience as well as celebrate its 20th anniversary.
A 70-minute video is being released at 6 p.m. PST today, Dec. 17, highlighting many memorable moments of the decorated after school program and offering a virtual concert by 44 of this year’s students, from the advanced Mariachi Tesoro de San Fernando and the younger, beginning Mariachi Los Tesoritos.
The video helps MMAP meet its obligations of using the grant funds it receives to operate its programs. Most important, it gave students idled nearly nine months because of COVID-19 an opportunity to display the performing skills that come from hours of training and rehearsing, along with showing the pride and joyousness inherent in the art form.
“More than a concert, this presentation reflects our desire to express music, culture, and community together…even when we can’t be!” San Fernando High music instructor Sergio “Checo” Alonso, a harpist with Los Camperos and a longtime instructor at MMAP, wrote for the video.
The students perform 10 songs at various locations in the City of San Fernando serving as backdrops, including the Las Palmas Park Mural, the Cesar E. Chavez Memorial, and the Lopez Adobe.
The video also provides glimpses of past live performances — including the historical 2012 visit and show at the White House before President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama after MMAP was named one of 12 recipients of the President’s National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards — as well as testimonials from former students who have either gone on to become professional musicians themselves, or traveled down other career paths.
Alonso said the best way to tell MMAP’s story was through its current and former students.
“The main thing was letting them tell the story. And through photographs and the music, telling the story as it connects to San Fernando,” Alonso said.
“You can view it through two lenses. One is the collective accomplishment in recognizing the students understand that collectively they are greater than their individual parts. That together we can create a sense of community as we celebrate our ethnic heritage, culture and music. But we also have former students doing great things outside of music. And we hope that we contributed to the preparedness of those students who’ve moved on to [other] professions, and keep that door open if they want to come back and give back to the community.”
Wanting to Make a “Perfect” Video
Jorge Castillo, 18, a senior at Bishop Alemany High who said he has been playing the trumpet since the third grade, admitted to “feeling some pressure” wanting Mariachi Tesoro to make “the perfect video,” even though it was incumbent upon the students to do some of the audio recording, and a lot of the filming of themselves out in public with their phones while practicing proper social distancing.
“We recorded on our own separate times, when we wanted,” Castillo said. “We had to make sure it was in sunlight, that the lighting was good. And we were assigned certain frames of where to shoot (in the video) so that none of us were doubling up on the shot.”
He said the students had “about two weeks” to learn and rehearse the songs before the audio recording. Once the filming began, “There were many takes we had to do to make sure they were perfect, not only with the lighting and positioning, but also our posture and eye movement — we had to make sure our faces weren’t twitching. I wear glasses, so I had to make sure they weren’t falling or had to ‘fix’ them during [the filming]. And we were trying to not be distracted by the public. It was all in busy areas, and sometimes there were people watching us play.”
Castillo had to overdub some trumpet parts after a band member had to leave for college. He also performed with a heavy heart; his grandfather passed away during the making of the video from complications of the COVID-19 virus.
He said there were times he felt the spirit of his grandfather watching him play. And that he was proud of participating in the project despite the obstacles created. “The biggest thing was realizing the culture we have [despite] the pandemic. And we were able to continue that culture,” Castillo said. “I learned how vibrant our culture is. With the pandemic there were no concerts, we weren’t busy. But [the recording project] made me realize how connected we are.”
Aida Alonso, a violinist-singer for Mariachi Tesoro who said she’s been performing since the age of four — and who is also Checo’s daughter — said she ultimately appreciated the effort it took to make the video although it proved a bit more complex than she first imagined.
“We couldn’t listen to each other,” said Aida, 16, a junior at San Fernando High School. “When you can listen to each other it’s easier playing as a group. This was more of a challenge, recording our separate parts.”
“Even though we’ve been stuck in our homes and can’t go outside or meet in one place to rehearse, we ended up being successful,” she said. “It turned out well even though we were separated — we all did our part. And what we produced turned out very well.”
A Brief History
MMAP was a concept conceived by Virginia Diediker, a retired cultural arts supervisor for the City of San Fernando. She presented the concept to Natividad “Nati” Cano, longtime leader of Los Camperos, who quickly agreed with the idea of having master musicians teach mariachi music at local schools as a way to inspire new generations with the art form and its traditions.
Diediker wrote grant proposals to the City and other financial backers that established the program in October of 2000, and continued to pursue grant funding year after year to ensure the program’s sustainability.
As Alonso emphasizes in every conversation about the program, “We can’t thank Virginia enough for what she has done for us. There is no way MMAP would be here without her.”
“With [Cano’s] vision to better educate the new generations, and Virginia, with her desire to support the great demand for youth mariachis in the community…they created this program that offers a professional level of instruction in the study of mariachi music,” Alonso said.
Cano, who passed away in 2004, emphasized singing with heart in order to transmit it to the public so they could also feel it, Alonso said. And he taught through example how to wear the charro (Mexican cowboy) suit with respect and dignity because “it not only represents a charro or mariachi,” but is a Mexican national symbol.
“For him, education and the new generations were very important,” Alonso said of Cano. “He was always thinking of the responsibility of giving them what they needed to preserve and love their roots.”
And now fans of Mariachi Tesoro, or those who haven’t yet seen or heard the talented youths performing the music with passion and verve, will have a lasting record of what makes this universally esteemed program so respected.
“We’re upholding the legacy of Nati Cano, and what he stood for in raising mariachi music to new levels and instilling that pride in one’s background and culture,” Alonso said. “It’s with the intent to inspire the kids, to empower them, so they could feel proud about themselves and where they come from. [The music] is a way of making that statement.”
A link to a preview of the upcoming video can be seen here at