Mónica Fogelquist spent her undergraduate years splitting time between being a college student and a professional mariachi musician. It was no easy feat.
As a violinist and singer with the prestigious all-female mariachi group, Mariachi Reyna de Los Ángeles, she regularly juggled traveling to mariachi performances and making it to class, fulfilling mariachi social obligations and staying on top of her assigned readings.
“I guess in retrospect, I don’t know if I would try to become a professional mariachi musician and a full-time college student at the same time,” Fogelquist says with a chuckle. “But that’s just what happened.”
That was in the early 2000s. Now, Fogelquist is a professor of mariachi and ethnomusicology at The University of Texas, journal editor and the director of UT’s mariachi ensemble, Mariachi Paredes. A longtime listener and performer of mariachi music, she shares her knowledge with students and educators both familiar and new to the traditional Mexican music genre.
Mariachi music first appeared in the central western region of Mexico in the late 18th or early 19th century. It incorporates rhythms from African and Indigenous populations and utilizes the musical system and Spanish language that were brought to Mexico by the conquistadors.
Today, mariachi is the ultimate representative of Mexican music all over the world, Fogelquist says. A standard mariachi includes six to seven violins, two to three trumpets and one standard guitar. It also includes two instruments specific to the genre: the guitarron, a large bass guitar, and the vihuela, a smaller, higher-pitched rhythmic guitar. A harp is optional and considered a luxury instrument in a group.
A lifelong musician
Fogelquist’s introduction to mariachi music started when she was born. Her father, Mark Fogelquist, a mariachi musician, ran a restaurant in Orange, California, that featured his professional mariachi ensemble. Every Sunday morning, a young Mónica and her mother would visit the restaurant and listen to the group perform.
“Almost immediately from birth, my mom and I were there every Sunday,” Fogelquist says. “Most people go to church — we went to Sunday brunch to listen to mariachi.”
Fogelquist wasn’t immediately interested in playing mariachi music herself, but that desire changed several years later when she moved with her family to Wenatchee, Washington. Now a middle schooler, she had been practicing classical violin for a few years, and when her father formed a mariachi student group at a local high school, he asked her to help out.
“He said, ‘You’re the only other violinist that I know in town who has any experience, so you have to help me,’” Fogelquist says. “So, when I was 11, I started playing mariachi music. And I think part of my enthusiasm and excitement for the music was that I was this little girl among all these high school kids. … It became a social thing, and I was surrounded by my peers who were excited about the music.”
During the seven years she was a part of the student group, Fogelquist performed hundreds of times, traveled across the Pacific Northwest and took part in workshops with renowned professional mariachi musicians. By the time she graduated from high school, Fogelquist had decided that she wanted to become a professional mariachi musician.
She started her undergraduate studies at Whittier College in California and joined Mariachi Reyna. Though it was difficult to balance school and mariachi, Fogelquist says her time spent learning from the group’s leader, famed musician José Hernández, was one of the greatest musical experiences she’s ever had.
When she graduated from Whittier, Fogelquist began teaching mariachi at a local middle and high school. Motivated by many factors, including her affinity for teaching and the additional job security teaching could provide, she says she decided to set professional mariachi playing aside and focus solely on her teaching career.
Fogelquist taught at different public schools while she obtained a teaching degree from San Diego State University and a master’s degree in ethnomusicology at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. At UTRGV, she played with the school’s Mariachi Aztlan, an experience that meshed well with her studies.
Fogelquist taught mariachi music for two years at a high school in Las Vegas before applying to her current position at UT. She started teaching in Austin in the fall of 2018.