It’s spring quarter of 2013 and the school year is almost over, but we have to deliver one last performance as a Mariachi ensemble. I’m waiting backstage at the University Theater along with my classmates for our turn in the spotlight as an ensemble. Everyone is wearing their formal, white button-up shirts and black plants in the tightly packed room, with some wearing their elegant all-black Mariachi attire topped with a radiant bowtie.

Instruments are being finely tuned, hair is being neatly groomed and hearts are racing because of the nerve-racking experience of performing. It was show time. Our beginning Mariachi ensemble exited the backstage room, instruments in hand, and headed out to the stage and formed a half-circle. In front of us, dozens of friends and family members have come to watch and support the joint effort of The Mariachi Mexicatl and Ballet Folklorico Mexicatl. The leader of UCR’s Mariachi Mexicatl, who is also the instructor, lecturer, performer, artist and “Mariachi Queen,” Laura Sobrino, took center stage.

Backtrack now to the summer of 2012 when I had graduated high school and had to concentrate on what I would want to do for my future. I didn’t know what I was expecting entering a university but I hoped for the best, still nervous, just as any other incoming freshman would be. Music having become a big part of my life, I decided to become a music major entering UCR. I’d been playing guitar, bass and piano for about three years at the time and was eager to further educate myself in the field.

A requirement for all music majors is that  students need to be enrolled in a music ensemble class every quarter, which can range from a jazz ensemble to concert band, or in my case, a mariachi ensemble. I come from a Mexican family and identify as Hispanic. Growing up, I was used to the rowdy sounds of Mariachi music all the time and became pretty familiar with the genre. Except, I didn’t like it. Mariachi was just not my type of music.

Being a Hispanic that’s more “Americanized,” it just didn’t resonate with me, unlike others of the same background. So you could guess my feelings when I had to enroll for beginning Mariachi ensemble. I was honestly not looking forward to it — but I’m glad I did, because little did I know, it would become one of the best classes I’ve ever taken at not just UCR, but in my entire career as a student.

Within the span of my freshman year, I would meet new people, make new friends, perform in front of dozens and break out of my shell. It was all thanks to the dedication and workmanship that Ms. Sobrino put into the Mariachi program. Being in her class was fun and the one class I looked forward to every week. She was an accessible instructor and easy to talk to. Her enthusiasm for teaching the subject and her knowledge of Mariachi music radiated and seeped into all of us.

She helped any student having trouble with their instrument and would even teach people who never touched an instrument to be pretty decent at it by the end of the quarter. I saw in her the dedication and hard work that laid the foundation for aspiring musicians such as myself. We were students first, but by the end of the quarter, our small, intimate class would become friends.

Each week we would learn and play songs that would be performed at the end of the quarter. I would gain a new understanding and appreciation for a music genre that did not initially resonate with me. I learned new ways of playing the guitar and understood music in a whole new light by being in her class. And it wasn’t just the class — it was her, Laura Sobrino, that taught everyone the pride of being in a Mariachi ensemble.

 I fondly remember the last day I was in Ms. Sobrino’s class for the 2012-2013 school year. Class was practically over and I stayed a little after with two of my good friends while I was putting my instrument away. We sat in three chairs and talked for a while. We’d been debating on whether or not we should begin singing for the ensemble, since one of my friends was a very talented singer. Ms. Sobrino came over and I asked whether or not some people were born with the ability to sing while others were not. She said that she could teach anyone to sing. Échale ganas!” she proclaimed. That means give it your all.

We all love her and always will. Her students, friends, family and colleagues will sorely miss her and the Mariachi community will treasure her forever.