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Class Notes May 2004: Volume 1, Number 2

More than Margaritaville
Jeff Nevin, Ph.D., ’98


Mariachi music isn’t just for chips, salsa and margaritas. It has a rich musical tradition and history, and is gaining respect in the academic community.

Jeff Nevin is one of the pioneers bringing Mariachi into symphonies and school programs.

A native of Tucson, Arizona, Nevin has been playing trumpet since the age of 10. When he was 15 he joined a Mariachi community band and a local symphony orchestra. Since then, he has played trumpet in two worlds. “Sometimes I even play both on the same night. I only have time to change my jacket and tie and move from one style to another,” says Nevin.

Mariachi music dates back to the Spanish colonization of Mexico, when the native people were introduced to European instruments. The more modern style of Mariachi was developed in Jalisco in the 19th century. But until recently there has been little in the way of serious study of the art form. In an effort to rectify this, Nevin has been working on the first Mariachi method books for violin, trumpet, guitar, bass and harp. In addition, he helped found the world’s first Mariachi degree program, at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, where he is a professor.

“You can compare it to Jazz. Fifty years ago many at the universities looked down their noses at it as an informal style,” says Nevin. “Nowadays they appreciate the style, history and form of it. In my opinion Mariachi is on the same trajectory. In 15 to 20 years, I think many universities will have actual degree programs.”

Last October, Nevin performed in and conducted the La Jolla Symphony’s concert, “Un Canto a México, A Mexican Serenade.” This included his own compositions of Mariachi songs, which set to music the works of Mexican poet Alberto Blanco.

Earlier this month (May 4), Nevin performed with the Mexican soprano Monica Abrego and the Colorado Symphony in Denver, Colorado, to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. And on June 3, his Mariachi Champaña Nevín group will perform for the Mainly Mozart Festival in San Diego

— Karla DeVries, ’04

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