Julissa Martinez, left, and Rachelle Wentworth practice without instruments during a mariachi band class Thursday at South Medford High School. To fill the need for instruments, students have spread the word around campus and have posted the project on, a fundraising website for school projects and supplies. - Julia Moore

Music in the Air

It's known as "the music class with no instruments to play," but that doesn't dampen the enthusiasm of a group of South Medford High School students learning how to play mariachi music.

During a recent class, senior Rachelle Wentworth and sophomore Julissa Martinez rocked out with air violins as they listened to a recorded disc and worked with band director Yoko Kan to learn techniques for the upbeat Mexican folk music.

"Great job on the guitars and trumpet," said Kan. "And especially those air violins, ladies."

Kan believes the newly launched mariachi class is a first for the Rogue Valley and says it has attracted a diverse group of students.

The class has five guitars — three on loan and two provided by students — and a single trumpet, but it needs at least one each of the primary mariachi stringed instruments, the guitarron and vihuela, and some violins to capture the true mariachi sound. Kan and her students have taken to the Internet to raise the money through

It isn't that the students can't make due with what they've got, but it's pretty clear what they're missing during the long measures of silence in certain songs.

"Guitars I can try to find for like 50 bucks on Craigslist, but for this to really even be a mariachi class we need the two main instruments, which are super expensive," Kan said.

To that end, students and Kan are spreading the word around campus and have posted the project on, a fundraising website for school projects and supplies.

The guitarron, which plays the deeper tones in mariachi tunes, costs $390, while the smaller vihuela is available for $250.

By Friday afternoon, students were $350 away from their fundraising goal of $800.

Emanual Alvarez, 17, a senior, plays an old trumpet given to him by one of his favorite teachers. He said he tried starting his own group last year but couldn't figure out how to get the instruments he needed.

"I'm excited because I think we're going to be able to do it," he said. "It's a lot harder than I thought to play but it's really fun.

"I can't wait for us to play for people. I think I'm going to for real need some classes to play better."

Nery Aguilar, 16, is already a competent guitar player but said he welcomed the shift to the cultural music.

"I honestly wasn't sure at first and I thought about dropping it, but then it got interesting and it's a really fun class," he said.

Casually resting her imaginary violin on her shoulder, sophomore Julissa Martinez was slightly discouraged — though undaunted — by her lack of a stringed instrument.

"I've always wanted to learn to play violin and I was excited about this because it's mariachi. I feel like with this it's going to get me more in touch with my Mexican roots," she said.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at

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