Among science books and computers in the Fillmore Elementary School library, teacher Christiaan Osborn gives his violin players gentle reminders.
Osborn makes the rounds. He asks the violin players: “What note is that in measure six?”
The students let out a groan at their mistake: “A.” He nods. “Yes. Some of us were playing a D.”
In a part of town where interest in traditional bands and orchestras is waning, the popularity of mariachi is growing.
Fillmore is one of three schools in Oklahoma City with mariachi programs. The others are Capitol Hill and John Adams elementary schools.
“It's cultural music, but we all hear it,” said Susan Gabbard, director of fine arts for the Oklahoma City School District. “It's been really good. It's very popular, and the kids love it.”
The district's mariachi program began eight years ago with a grant from the VH1 Save the Music Foundation, Gabbard said.
Funds were used to create a program that would speak to the increasing Hispanic population in the district, she said. The instruments are paid for, so students aren't limited by family income.
“It's important for every culture to have their traditions continue,” Gabbard said. “It helps people identify and be proud of who they are.”
At Fillmore, members of the mariachi group are leaders and good students, said Principal Susan Martin. To play is a privilege, and their classmates look up to them. The students play at area nursing homes and restaurants. They're especially popular on holidays.
“I can take them anywhere in the community,” Martin said. “They're well-behaved. They're educated. They're talented. That's what I'm most proud of.”
Many of the Fillmore players have relatives who are musicians. Gustavo Morales, 10, was inspired to learn to play guitar by his older brother. Kevin Cortez, 11, plays the trumpet with his aunt, who plays guitar.
“I like music,” Kevin said. “I like playing it. I wanted to learn something.”
The band members work well together, said guitar player Edgar Macias, 12. They more they play, the easier the mariachi style becomes, said Hannah Geeslin, 11, who plays violin
“It was actually kind of hard at first,” Hannah said. “But once we got more and more into it, it got easier.”
Gaining confidence is part of what students learn through music, said Osborn.
“It teaches them life skills like responsibility, the importance of working together,” Osborn said. “It alters the way your brain works. It unites the right and left side of your brain. It helps with problem-solving skills.”