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Culture Watch: A mariachi battle of the bands on Saturday

To listen to Sharon Litwin’s interview of Carlos Miguel Prieto on WWNO Radio, click here.

Mariachis Vargas: Top mariachi band in Mexico

Carlos Miguel Prieto learned early in his life to play the violin, but these days the Music Director of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra wields a baton more often than a bow. Ever the fiddler, however, he is looking forward to the upcoming “musical duel” he is anticipating on Saturday. That’s when the entire LPO orchestra string section will challenge and be challenged by the string section of the world’s leading mariachi band.

Mariachi Vargas is actually the inheritor of the original mariachi sound,” Carlos Miguel explains about the Mexican music group, whose history dates back to 1891. They will be playing with the LPO for the first time in New Orleans and, he says, “they play in a way that is so exciting it makes the whole orchestra step up to that intensity.”

So, if you want to be caught up in the excitement and rhythms of mariachi, whether you play an instrument or not, the Morial Convention Center Theater on Saturday, March 24 is the place to be for an extraordinary musical experience — one that Prieto promises will thrill your soul.

The mariachi string tradition is a very old one. There are informal groups and pick-up groups that can be hired in the town plazas of Mexico. And then there is Mariachi Vargas. All aspiring performers are required to audition for the privilege of playing with the group. And most have been playing a violin or guitar since childhood.

LPO’s Carlos Miguel Prieto: Looking forward to a mariachi match

Ask musicians today how to encourage children to learn an instrument and the chances are you’ll hear it’s not so easy in this competitive era of computers, iPhones and electronic games.

“It’s a very, very interesting question,” says Carlos Miguel, the 40-something father of three children under 8. He admits to being an “addicted” owner of every electronic piece of equipment on the market. And he has watched, he says with a wry laugh, as his 5- and 7-year-old daughters have “become virtuosos of Angry Birds.”

“As kids, they don’t remember what was before all that,” he says. So he tries to describe learning how to play the violin as if it were just another “gadget.” “And I try to tell them it’s a long term investment that will last their whole lives.”

When they get a little older, Carlos Miguel adds, he will tell them that “what’s incredible about music is it’s really not you working with, for example, this little instrument called a violin. It’s really about you using the violin to work with your soul; to talk to yourself and to other people through that.”

And he seriously means that about all would-be musicians. Learning the skill is for personal pleasure first, he says, whether or not one intends to make it a career. Which is why, for him, living in New Orleans for approximately a third of each year is pure joy.

“There is still that human level of involvement that only exists through an instrument,” he says. “We live in a perfect city for that. And I think that, even though the Mardi Gras parades are fantastic, the soul of Mardi Gras is the music in all those parades.”

Tickets for the Pan American Life’s Fiesta Sinfonica concert starring Mariachi Vargas and the LPO start at $10; for more information or to purchase, click here.

Sharon Litwin, who writes about the cultural life of New Orleans, is president of NolaVie.







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