El Ballet Folklrico Estudiantil
, or EBFE, is a non-profit organization in Flint focused on preserving the Mexican culture and enriching childrens lives through dance, music and education.
EBFE collaborated with St. John Vianney Church of Flint to house the week-long camp from June 26-30 for about 20 students, ranging from fourth to eighth grade. Experience levels with mariachi music varied from beginning, intermediate to advanced.
Throughout the week, students participated in scheduled events including music rehearsal and cultural activities such as arts and crafts and dancing.
We made sure to try and put as much fun and learning in as possible and making sure the fun and learning parts are even kind of parts of Hispanic culture too, Michael Abbasspour, Mariachi Music Director of El Ballet Folklrico Estudiantil, said. So, its very immersive.
Students started each day in sectionals based on their experience level and instrument violin, guitar or trumpet before coming together to practice as a whole ensemble.
At the end of the week, students had the opportunity to perform the music they were working on for their families.
Sarah Graffe and Anala Tlahuel-Varela, 14, are high school students who volunteered to assist the instructors during the camp. The pair has been involved with El Ballet Folklrico Estudiantil for about seven years.
I think its been really fun, Graffe said. Weve been able to go through some songs and learn about the styles of music.
Tlahuel-Varela said her parents listened to Mexican music and older songs while she was growing up. As she got older, she said her appreciation for the style of music also grew.
We listen to the music now and its nice, now that we play too, Tlahuel-Varela said. Its part of our culture.
Graffe said learning about different cultures is important and mariachi camp gives her a chance to do so.
I think that (El Ballet Folklrico Estudiantil) really gives you an opportunity to learn new things like playing instruments and also through dancing as well, Graffe said. So, I would definitely say it would be a good opportunity for other kids to experience it.
Much like Graffe and Tlahuel-Varela, Abbasspour said many of the students involved with the camp and EBFE hear mariachi music at home with their parents and families.
Its just so ingrained in the culture, and this is a space for the kids to really dive into that and really connect to their culture and to feel that significance of their selves, Abbasspour said. And that gains a lot of confidence and a lot of artistry and craft and really just helps them open up into whats already there that they might not have known was so deep. And it helps bring some representation to the Hispanic community especially.
Trumpet instructor Amber Villalpando said she got involved with EBFE last year. Villalpando is a student at UM-Flint studying music education in trumpet.
Villalpando said seeing the kids want to learn more about mariachi music is awesome. She added music education is important because mariachi is not taught everywhere.
We dont want the culture to die, Villalpando said. Its so nice to see these other communities where they can go see it and to have access.
As for mariachi, Villalpando said each instrument plays its own role in the ensemble.
The guitars keep the beat steady, and violins and trumpets just go together and play melody over top, Villalpando said. It really makes it whole so were not getting lost or off track. And its just one big team.
Villalpando said she loves passing musical knowledge onto her students through teaching and watching them grasp new concepts.
Just seeing the kids brighten up when they get something right or they just play something so well and I just want to keep encouraging, Villalpando said. I really enjoy just having them have a great experience, especially here at the camp, and just seeing their faces every day and just being happy and its really awesome to see.
Abbasspour said EBFE, located inside the Latinx Technology and Community Center, 2101 Lewis St., teaches mariachi music and folkloric dance both in-person and virtually. Classes and private lessons are available on a semesterly basis.
The Michigan Arts and Culture Council and a community partner grant helped fund and make the camp possible. Abbasspour said organizers hope to make the camp an annual event.
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