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Palo Alto College plans…

Palo Alto College music instructor Juan Ortiz was featured in the March 11 issue of the San Antonio Express-News and the March 26 issue of Conexion.
Ortiz 480x270

Palo Alto College plans mariachi academy

Photo credit to Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express-News

Palo Alto College music instructor Juan Ortiz was featured in the March 11 issue of the San Antonio Express-News and the March 26 issue of Conexion. The article, written by Francisco Vara-Orta, spotlights the new Juan Ortiz Mariachi Academy, expected to begin in Fall 2014. Click here to read the full article on

Palo Alto plans mariachi academy named after 'godfather' of genre

By Francisco Vara-Orta

SAN ANTONIO — Palo Alto College plans to open a mariachi academy in the fall that will be open to students as young as middle school and for adults who may have an interest in returning to college to learn the art form.

Alamo Colleges officials said the new endeavor will be named the Juan Ortiz Mariachi Academy, in honor of the man who founded the college's mariachi program in the 1990s and who still teaches at Palo Alto.

The two-time Grammy winner is a founder of Mariachi Campañas de America, an ensemble that has performed at the White House and helped modernize the genre by covering pop songs by mainstream artists. Many mariachi performers consider Ortiz a godfather of the genre.

The academy's creation springs from the growing popularity of mariachi programs in local school districts, which have attracted non-Latino and non-Spanish speaking students as mainstream culture has become more inclusive of the art form.

Ortiz said the academy's appeal is two-fold: It will help develop and sharpen students' musical performance skills and keep them engaged to stay in school. For some adults, the academy can pave a way back to school, he said.

The course will be part of Palo Alto's continuing education division.

The eight-week course will cost $70. Students will be instructed by working professionals, such as Ortiz, and will be exposed to theory and practice.

Evening classes will be offered.

“We want to make it accessible,” Ortiz said, adding that the price is low because students will have to provide their instrument and transportation to the South Side campus.

Mariachi classes are now open only to students who have taken a college assessment, so the new academy will open the program to the wider community, officials said. PAC also has its own mariachi group, Mariachi Palomino.

The first year of the new academy will be limited to 60 students who will be broken into five groups, each focused on a prevalent instrument in the genre such as the guitarrón and vihuela.

Mary-Ellen Jacobs, Palo Alto's dean of arts and sciences, said the academy's size could be expanded if the demand supports it. She said the mariachi academy will help bring middle and high school students on campus and acquaint them with higher education.

The college is recruiting mariachi instructors, and applications are still being taken.

Palo Alto hopes to partner with local school districts, especially those that don't have a mariachi program or face challenges in expanding.

“We want to have this program to help build off our existing programs, not compete with them,” Ortiz said. “We don't want to be a factory. It's to overall help strengthen academic opportunities to learn music.”