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Mariachi and Mindfulness

Gratitude, sharing and using grouding words are some ways that members of Mariachi Joya and their music director find balance.

As music teachers, we wear many different hats — musician, arranger, teacher, uniform designer, chef, tour guide, life coach, repairman. The list goes on and on.

That’s why teacher burnout is a very real issue. I’m in year 6 of my teaching career, and I’m noticing the difficulties of the job, and I can feel the weight on my shoulders that more experienced colleagues have talked to me about.

Members of Mariachi Joya from Las Vegas High SchoolRecently, I took my students at Las Vegas High School to the world’s largest mariachi competition, The Mariachi Extravaganza in San Antonio, Texas — an extraordinary experience. Our group, Mariachi Joya, was one of the newest groups there. The months of preparation leading up to the competition performance were extremely stressful for me. I always say that students are mirrors of their teachers, and it became clear that our student musicians were feeling some of this stress as well. I didn’t want my kids to be stressed about mariachi when they were in their math class or while they were taking their driver’s permit test. I had to figure something out.

Mindfulness Training

For me, mindfulness, along with gratitude, are huge factors in having a balanced life. Even as adults, mindfulness is tough to include in an already packed daily schedule. I wish I had been taught about it at a younger age, which led me to start mindfulness training at Las Vegas High.

The members of Mariachi Joya spend between 15 and 25 hours with each other every week, so we experience the good, the bad and everything in between together. The students have seen each other go through intense loss as well as pure joy.

High school is already a roller coaster of emotions and being stuck at home for over a year during the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t allow them to learn how to deal with the crazy ride of their hormonal teenage years, let alone how to help each other along the way.

Mindfulness is proving helpful for these all-star performers, and it’s helping me get through my regular 80-hour weeks as well. Sometimes teaching is the best way to learn, so my own personal journey through mindfulness has started to really take off, too.

Members of Mariachi Joya from Las Vegas High SchoolShare Circle

One simple exercise we do at the beginning of every rehearsal is a “share circle,” which is similar to elementary school carpet time. We sit on the carpet in a circle, and the student leaders decide on a subject to talk about. We’ve had share circle topics as simple as our weekend plans to deep conversations sharing the things in our lives that we are self-conscious about.

These group discussions have gone a long way to make everyone feel cared about, and they have, in turn, made the program much more successful. I am able to push my students harder, work them more, and they have responded by making the most beautiful music possible.

Dealing with Frustration

Another exercise we have adopted is using simple grounding words when we notice frustrations during rehearsals or meetings. Part of mindfulness is accepting that all kinds of emotions are a part of life. It’s important to show my students how to accept those feelings, sit with them and move forward.

Moving on from being upset or frustrated isn’t easy. One of the words we use when we notice these emotions is “gratitude.” Just last week, I myself was getting frustrated during rehearsal, and my student director looked me in the eye and said, “Gratitude, Mr. Blanco.” It immediately turned our rehearsal around, and I was so happy that I equipped my students with this technique.

Mariachi Joya from Las Vegas High School

It’s Worth It

Another issue we often deal with is fatigue through the long but necessary after-school rehearsals. One thing we tell each other to get through the tired times is that “hard work isn’t supposed to be easy, but it is supposed to be worth it.” We work together to make sure it is worth it every single day.

My students and I are about to embark on a big new journey (announcement coming soon)! We are as equipped as we can be to keep each other in check, help out one another, and spread the love, passion and mindfulness inherent in mariachi music.

¡Viva Las Vegas y Viva El Mariachi!

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