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A Passion for Mariachi: Alumna Leaves Her Mark as Musician and Teacher

Lauryn Salazar '98'94, who joined Convent as a kindergartener, grew up surrounded by mariachi music at home and has dedicated her life to safeguarding and celebrating it.

Lauryn Salazar'98'94, who joined Convent as a kindergartner, grew up surrounded by mariachi music at home and has dedicated her life to safeguarding and celebrating it, both as a musician and educator. At UCLA, she was a part of the first academic mariachi program in the world and director of a Grammy Award-winning group. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Musicology at Texas Tech University. Lauryn's research has taken her to the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Morocco, Turkey and, most recently, Kazakhstan; driven by empathy and passion she developed while a student at Convent, she is now developing a program based on the use of music as a means of social empowerment.

What do you remember most about your time at Convent?
Small class sizes afforded the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with teachers. More than anything else, I remember special moments with individual teachers. In particular, these are the teachers I remember most: Mrs. Cling (2nd grade), Ms. Münsterman (grades 4-8), Mrs. Gallegos (grades 4-8), and Ms. Charm, (grades 4-8), Ms. Murphy (high school), and Dr. Moriarty (high school). These were the teachers who were always supportive of my creative ways and I know that none of them are surprised by the path my life has taken. Both Ms. Münsterman and Ms. Murphy passed away and I continue to be inspired by their teachings and grateful for their mentorship, which continued long after I graduated.

Can you briefly describe a few milestone events in your career journey?
After graduating from Convent, I went to Carleton College where I majored in music. It was there that I discovered the field of ethnomusicology. Under the aegis of what was then called the Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellowship, I received funding to pursue a long-term research project on mariachi music the summer before my junior year. It was frustrating to discover that there is a paucity of materials pertaining to such a popular musical genre with the little scholarly work mostly written during the 1940s and 1950s being racist and derogatory. My grandfather was a mariachi musician and I grew up listening and dancing to the genre. Steeped within the tradition, I knew I could make a difference and engage in responsible research studying the genre from an insider perspective within its cultural context.

With a passion for my research topic, I knew I had to continue my studies at the doctoral level. I was accepted into the ethnomusicology graduate program at UCLA, which is one of the oldest and most well respected programs in the field. Additionally, UCLA started the very first academic mariachi program in the world in 1961 effectively launching a movement. I wanted to be a part of this legacy. During my time at UCLA, I worked with Jesus "Chuy" Guzman the director of the Grammy Award-winning Mariachi group Los Camperos de Nati Cano. Additionally, I had the opportunity participate in other ensembles such as the Near Eastern Ensemble and the Balinese Gamalan ensemble. My advisor, Dr. Tara Browner, is a specialist on Native American Powwow music and under her mentorship and guidance, I learned how to engage in both archival and field-based research ultimately earning my Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology in 2011.

What sparked your interest in mariachi music?
I grew up surrounded by mariachi music as my grandfather and cousins are mariachi musicians. Additionally, like my mother, I danced in a Mexican Ballet Folklórico the entire time I was a Convent student and throughout college. My academic interest in mariachi was sparked while I was an undergraduate student at Carleton. For the past 10 years, I have been fascinated by the American Academic Mariachi movement, which has the potential to transform some of the key problems facing the Mexican-Heritage population in the United States. Mariachi programs in schools help curb absenteeism, aid in recruitment, retention and academic success. From a social justice perspective, the positive effects of mariachi programs, especially at the K-12 levels, are incredibly important and have an impact far beyond music.

Why did you decide to focus much of your research on the role of mariachi music as a symbol of Mexican culture in the United States?
In the fields of music, musicology, and ethnomusicology, Mexican music has largely been ignored. While there is a multitude of reasons for why much of this music has been overlooked, I knew that as a Latina of Mexican heritage this was an area where I could make a real difference. With a focus for social justice and empowerment, I see mariachi music as a solution with the potential to make a positive difference within my community in terms of education. I have seen lives of students change through their participation in mariachi programs. Where traditional retention programs are unsuccessful, mariachi programs can make a meaningful impact. Through my research, I am able to show how and why these programs are successful. Cultural context is everything – especially when working with traditionally marginalized communities. Now as an assistant professor of ethnomusicology at Texas Tech University, I am creating a program based on the use of music as a means of social empowerment.

What was the focus of your recent trip to Kazakhstan?
I recently gave an academic paper titled "Mariachi Competitions in the United States" for the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM) in Astana, Kazakhstan. ICTM holds their conference in different locations around the world and attracts scholars from around the world in various fields related to traditional musics. Many of the scholars attending the paper had never heard mariachi music before and I received beneficial feedback. This paper will be expanded for publication later this year.

What do you think that you have carried with you from your Convent days while traveling the world?
Compassion, empathy, and a passion for learning are character traits of mine that were nurtured while I was at Convent and continue to be very important in my life. As a professor, compassion and empathy for my students is an important factor in being able to mentor and teach. Additionally, I love to learn and I'm grateful to have a profession where lifelong learning is the most important part of my career.