Above and Beyond: A master of mariachi

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By Don Pace

Wherever Martin Sena teaches he makes his students shine, partly because he makes learning fun.

But mostly when they listen to this master of mariachi, they find themselves at ease on stage because they’re confident in their skills.

“This is something easy for me to do because the kids like it so much,” Sena said. 

Sena has been honored for his teaching abilities many times. He has been selected twice as Mariachi Director of the Year at the National Mariachi Spectacular Conference in Albuquerque. His students have been recognized with blue-ribbon performances and are always in demand locally and around the state.

“I don’t focus on competition because I like to look at music, especially mariachi as a family affair. If I can help you, and you can help someone else, we become united, it’s not an atmosphere of people thinking, ‘I’m better than you, or we’re better than they are,’ that type of a mentality. So I like to promote the idea of encouragement instead of competition, especially if it’s mean spirited,” Sena said.

Sena said healthy competition is fine, and winning awards is great, but while his students do their best, they should also have fun.     

Sena laughs when he brags about his students. He says they are even listening to mariachi music on their IPods and listen to it even more than they do contemporary tunes.  

“They are passionate about it. A lot of kids tell me they would rather listen to mariachi than today’s music like rap, R&B and hip hop,” Sena said.

“I’m pretty proud that they are absorbing the music of a beautiful culture and taking to heart all the traditions and joy that are captured in mariachi music,” Sena said.

For Sena, part of that tradition includes welcoming the help of a few colleagues. Retired West Las Vegas music director Don Romero and Robertson High School music director Wallace “Wally” Sanchez are often assisting the program and at many of their functions.

Sena got his feet wet as a band and mariachi teacher at Peñasco Independent Schools for five years. He also taught stage band, choir, guitar and elementary music.

Sena moved to Valley Middle School, where he taught for a decade. He is now in his third year at Memorial Middle School.

If that sounds like a hop, skip and a jump in a career, there have been  plenty of accomplishments along the way for Sena and his student musicians. He was instrumental in forming Mariachi Pantera, Mariachi Paisano del Valle, Mariachi los Pollitos del Valle, and currently Mariachi Cardenal. 

Mariachi Cardenal hosted a big-time mariachi conference last week that was originally slated to be held in Santa Fe. Sena was given two weeks to make it happen in Las Vegas.  He said with Las Vegas City Schools employee Maricela Hidalgo’s help, they were able to pull it off.

The afternoon of the concert Sena said, “Given two weeks, it was difficult to get everyone involved and to spread the word. But it’s been a real success in the classroom, and lots of businesses and music lovers got involved and helped us.” 

Sena said renowned Mariachi Tenampa were leaving more than 300 beginning and advanced students with a wealth of knowledge, from hands-on learning. 

“We’re forming a family bond between musicians who share this beautiful genre of music. It doesn’t matter whose beginning, intermediate or advanced; for me, it’s a matter of getting these kids together to share this culture and this music,” Sena said.  

Sena said Mariachi Cardenal has began recording an album, and a CD would be out this summer.