When their eyes met, they immediately knew. Nothing was said. Instead, they sang to each other.
Javier was performing with Mariachi La Fuente, at the old popular restaurant on North Miracle Mile, when he saw Stephanie, who had come with some friends to enjoy the music. Javier serenaded Stephanie with “La Barca,” a classic Mexican bolero, a song about distant love.
“Our eyes were just locked,” he said.
A couple of songs later, Stephanie, a mariachi herself, got up on the stage and responded to Javier with her serenade of “Entrega Total,” another enduring Mexican classic about being with the one you love forever.
“It was captivating,” she said.
Within a couple of months, Javier, who had been working as a mariachi in Los Angeles, returned to pursue the beautiful woman who lured him back home that summer night. It was mariachi love, through and true.
Since that memorable night in August 2005 when they captured each other, the Molinas have become well-known instructors of youth mariachis, inspiring their students with the same passion that they have for the music that is embedded in Tucson’s culture.
“Mariachi brings us together,” said Stephanie after a recent rehearsal of Mariachi Sensacional, in preparation for the group’s participation in next week’s 35th annual Tucson International Mariachi Conference, April 26-29 at Casino del Sol Resort.
Sensacional, which the Molinas formed in 2009, is composed of 15 middle- and high-school students from Tucson, Sahuarita and Three Points. The Molinas also are the instructors/directors of White Elementary School’s Mariachi Los Toritos on the city’s southwest side, and are instructors/directors of mariachi at Viva Performing Arts Dance Studio on South Park Avenue. They also perform professionally with Mariachi Quinto Sol.
Theirs is a mariachi marriage, to each other, to their students and to the music.
The Molinas think of the kids as their family, said Celeste Salomon, a mariachi mom from Sahuarita, describing Javier and Stephanie as “caring, warm and generous.” Salomon, whose 14-year-old daughter Jordan Holland plays violin, admires the Molinas’ focus on details of musical instruction.
But like all other good mariachi instructors, the Molinas are “teaching more than music,” said Salomon, who comes from a musical family that included her grandfather, Lalo Robles, a post-World War II Tucson orchestra leader. The students learn discipline, commitment, preparation and focus. It’s no surprise then that mariachi students excel in the classroom.
“They foster a single-group mentality,” Salomon said.
Javier, a graduate of Pueblo Magnet High School, and Stephanie, who went to Cholla High Magnet School, have followed in the footsteps of Tucson’s rich mariachi legacy. It’s not a stretch to claim Tucson as the birthplace of youth mariachi groups and the springboard for mariachis across the country.
Javier began his path reluctantly while in the eighth grade. His two older mariachi brothers, Miguel and Israel Molina, both of whom today perform with Tucson-born Mariachi Cobre in Florida, encouraged Javier to join Mariachi Changuitos Feos de Tucson, the mother of Tucson’s youth groups. His doubt turned into determination. He eventually performed occasionally with Mariachi Cobre and worked with several mariachi groups in Los Angeles.
Stephanie took a slightly different route. As a child she studied classical piano. She eventually learned the violin while a student at White Elementary School and began her mariachi lessons while in middle school. At Cholla, she performed with the school’s Mariachi Los Potrillos and with professional groups.
Today, in addition to their mariachi work, Javier and Stephanie study and perform opera. They recently performed with the UA Opera Theater’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites.”
While some married couples might sag under the burden of working together, the Molinas, who have a 6-year-old son, feel little pressure.
“I actually think the music calms us. We’re not uptight. We’re not jealous,” Stephanie said.
It’s this calmness, their commitment to their craft and each other, that the young mariachis pick up on. They feed off the Molinas’ mutual love and respect.
The young musicians realize there is more to music and mariachis.