Banda Atrakadero: Mexican Banda and Instrumental Music Education

By Bergland, Don | The Canadian Music Educator, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Banda Atrakadero: Mexican Banda and Instrumental Music Education


Bergland, Don, The Canadian Music Educator


Banda is a brass-based form of traditional music which has flourished in Mexico for well over a century. As a form of authentic popular folk music, it has been practised by young and old musicians occupying all walks of life. Every Mexican town seems to have one or more bandas which traditionally provide musical services for most of the festivals, parades, rituals, and ceremonies taking place within the community. Banda now seems to be experiencing a renaissance in Mexico and has become a very popular form of activity for young people. Towns may support two or even three independent bandas, each in competition with the other. It is a vigorous and dynamic form of popular community music that is much loved and appreciated by the Mexican people.

I have long been interested in banda and in the methods of music education used to bring it about. My investigations, however, not been successful in locating detailed information. The techniques and procedures used by banda to organize, learn, rehearse, and transmit knowledge are difficult to uncover. Actual written resources appear to be very rare. I did discover enough to learn that the forms of education used to train banda musicians are somewhat different from those practised in Canadian schools and culture. This left me some questions about the whole banda experience. I certainly wanted to know how bandas are organized and managed. But most of all, I wanted to know how their methods of instrumental and musical training differed from those used in Canada.

To find answers to these questions, I decided to journey to San Pancho, Nayarit, Mexico to work with a popular banda group named Banda Atrakadero. A prominent community member with whom I stayed while in the town, Hugo Chaves, introduced me to Isabel Cienfuegos Polanco, a local resident who acts as manager of Banda Atrakadero. Isabel generously invited me to attend performances, rehearsals, and to conduct interviews with both her and the band members. She and the banda also allowed me to record, video, and document all my proceedings. Isabel comes from a musical family and has nurtured and supported this banda since its inception a little over two years ago. The methods of organization, training, and management she employs with the group of musicians reflect a strong family-based cultural approach to music education. Although each banda in Mexico has its own unique history, things such as training methods, a strong family atmosphere, the connection with the pueblo, and the love and intensity to perform, may be commonalities they all share. The story of Banda Atrakadero will provide a basic example of the kind of methods and procedures used in authentic music education in Mexico and may help to provide some answers to the questions I had.

The story of Banda Atrakadero unfolds in the quiet town of San Pancho. In June, 2009, Isabel's son came to her and said he wanted to start a banda. Since the traditional Mexican banda has a standard complement of approximately 14 instruments, she told him that if he wanted this to happen, he would need some friends. The next day, her son returned with 17 boys, all of whom were interested in forming a banda. At this time, the boys ranged in ages from 12 to 18. As a wise and experienced parent, Isabel knew that this might just be a passing interest, but she decided to take a chance and assume that the boys were serious. She realized that they first needed someone to teach them, so she called her family in Zapotanito and asked her nephew, an experienced banda teacher, to come out and help the boys get started. He decided to implement a two-week trial period to determine whether the boys were serious and whether they really wanted to undergo the rigorous training required for this type of activity. For the next two weeks, the group worked through some rudimentary banda training. Within the backyard compound that Isabel had donated to the banda and beneath the hot Mexican sky, the boys sat in chairs while the teacher taught them to sing songs and melodic lines. …

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