La Rondala Alisal
Salinas performance group builds confidence and pride through music.
Thursday, July 30, 1998
At an evening rehearsal, half a dozen students gather eagerly around the table in St. Mary''s Elementary School in East Salinas, intent on deciphering the music of a popular Mexican band, Man . Their teacher picks up the general melody and with guitar in hand, slowly explains the chords to the leading older musicians in the folk music troupe La Rondala Alisal.
The next day, a larger group of younger children are strumming away at a traditional Mexican folk song, "Jalisco," their voices and fingers straining to describe "La muchacha bonita, la perla mas rara de todo Jalisco, es mi Guadalajara..." Their attention span is considerably shorter than the older students but the enthusiasm is evident.
With music and arts programs being slashed out of school budgets, and especially the schools in low-income areas like East Salinas, La Rondala Alisal offers an opportunity for some kids who may never have picked up a guitar before.
"The majority of the kids are from field worker families," says Raul Ramirez, the organizer of the 7-year-old musical group and a former teacher in the Alisal School District. "The first year, we had about 10 students, now we''ve got about 50, so there''s definitely a need and an interest." Highlights in the group''s past include a five-day trip to Southern California, where they performed at Disneyland, and a performance in the State Capitol building last year.
While these trips may be the highlights in La Rondala''s history, it''s clear when talking to students that music is the most important part of the program.
Richard has been in La Rondala for almost four years. "I had a guitar at home, old, no strings," he says, "At first, I didn''t want to play, but my mom wanted me to learn. Now I like it." He explains the difference of being in La Rondala is "we can learn some music in school but then you can only play in school concerts."
"I thought it would be good instead of being in the streets," says Gabriela, who has been in the group for three years while maintaining a 4.0 GPA in school. She says she now wants to be a musician in concert, like her favorite musician, Soraya, who plays mandolin and guitar.
The main focus of the group is to give the kids, ages 7 to 16 years old, a chance to do something they normally wouldn''t. "If they want to join, they must be willing to work, that''s the only requirement," explains Ramirez. "They work hard because they enjoy it, it''s so much exposure to things they don''t have. I tell them, ''This is not my program, it''s yours.'' If you want to do something different, tell us and we''ll work together. I''m just the roadie."
Two naturally gifted instructors, Norma Leticia Padilla and Faustino Orejel, are teaching the kids guitar, mandolin and singing with little formal training.
La Rondala Alisal receives very little funding from the usual arts councils or government groups. Parents donate time and money when they can. "That''s the main help, parents and a community who believe in helping kids, that''s how we keep going," says Ramirez. A music store in Berkeley offers wholesale instruments. "Western Stage at Hartnell is also a great partnership. We need community support and partnerships like those."
With help from families and community groups, La Rondala is doing more than making music, it''s creating a sense of pride and confidence in the young musicians.
A few years ago, Elva, who is going into 11th grade, won a talent contest with the skills she learned in the group and donated her prize back to La Rondala. She says her parents'' reaction to La Rondala is "they see people [other bands] on TV and ask us ''why don''t you play like that?'' But they''re joking, they''re really proud." cw
La Rondala Alisal will be playing this Tuesday at 6pm in Natividad Creek Park in Salinas, at San Jose State and Stanford universities this month, and at the Carmel Performing Arts Festival in October.