Pasco strings program seeks help getting grant

PASCO -- Mariachi music and Spanish lyrics floated down a Pasco High School hallway as the school's mariachi performance group practiced recently.

The music is among the changes created when the Pasco School District revived a string music program for fifth through 12th grades two years ago and included the Mariachi band.

For more than 35 years, Pasco students didn't have the option of playing stringed instruments as part of their studies. A double levy failure in 1972 killed the district's strings program.

Now, the district is hoping to win a national Clorox Power a Bright Future grant to improve the mariachi and springs program. But the district needs the public to help.

The national grant, which could be up to $50,000, will be awarded based on online votes cast before Nov. 1. The district has a link to the voting on its website's main page.

"You can actually cast a vote daily," said Leslee Caul, district director of public affairs.

Clorox is offering the $50,000 grand prize and three $20,000 grants, one for each category of education, sports and arts programs to districts that submitted an application.

Pasco's Mariachi and Music Education proposal was ranked 231 of 451 proposals late Friday with 462 votes. You can vote at www.powerabrightfuture.com or www.psd1.org.

The grant would help the district's instrument loan program, which helps children whose families can't afford instruments, said Russ Newbury, district visual and performing arts facilitator.

In Pasco, where more than 70 percent of the students come from low-income families, the loan program is important, he said.

The district could use the grant to purchase instruments, which would improve the quality of what the district can offer students, Newbury said.

When the district revived its strings program, it decided to include mariachi, fiddle and guitar along with orchestra. Newbury said the district wants to create an authentic string experience, and part of that is offering a variety of music.

Matthew Polk, Pasco High music teacher, said it's important to offer music that represents the cultures of the school's students.

Mariachi has Mexican and Latin American roots and is centered around the guitar, Polk said.

Instruments include the violin; trompeta, or trumpet; vihuela, a round guitar; and a requinto, a small guitar that serves as the lead guitar in mariachi.

Students in the program learn the instruments specific to mariachi, Polk said. And they learn to step in with other instruments when someone is absent. For example, when the group was missing its guitarron player Tuesday, other students played the bass instrument.

About 50 students are in the mariachi program at Pasco High, with a dozen of them in the performance group, Polk said. When the program started at the beginning of last school year, only four students were in the program.

Senior Brandon Joslin, who is the performance group's section leader for vihuelas, said he uses a school instrument since part of mariachi is the more classical, rather than steel string, sound.

Joslin, 17, said he decided to take the mariachi class because he intends to study music education after high school and teach music.

"Any music education is important because it teaches discipline and practice, which is the basis for most accomplishments," Joslin said.