In 2018, Clark County School District welcomed a new mariachi program to Las Vegas High School. This program was “founded for a community that embodies what it truly means to be American, and its members have stepped up to show their families what the American Dream can really look like,” says Stephen Blanco, who was tapped to lead this new program.
In the years since its inception, the group, called Mariachi Joya, has grown and experienced tremendous success, including performing “La Tierra del Mariachi” for the virtual Parade Across America for the 2020 inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. “We hadn’t seen each other in nearly a year, so the inauguration performance was taped and recorded in seclusion,” Blanco says. “The school gave us special permission to meet in the gym to watch the inauguration. Standing back and seeing my students watching their hard work … well, there is no greater feeling in the world!”
Blanco says that Mariachi Joya “isn’t a normal class that performs four to five times a year. They perform nearly 100 times a year,” including events with Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak. The group recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to perform for the Mexican Embassy and to meet with Senator Catherine Cortez Masto.
Blanco spent his first week in Las Vegas at Music Education Consultants’ mariachi conference learning implementation strategies and stylistic nuances of mariachi music. Blanco created a five-year plan that included all the needed materials, curriculum and marketing strategies for the program. He says, “We are now ending year four of that five-year plan, and things are going great!”
Mariachi is more than a specialized ensemble at Las Vegas High School. “My students consistently give me reasons to be proud of them, whether it be laughs during rehearsal or them performing for sold-out crowds of thousands of people,” Blanco says.
According to one of his students, Blanco tells them to “rock that stage no matter where we are at and to release energy into the crowd.” Blanco and his students rally before every performance because they know that they have a job to do. “Every person in the audience is expecting a show, and we give them the best show they’ve ever seen,” Blanco says.