In June of this year, twenty-two young people, ages 10-17, gathered to participate in the first Ojai Mariachi Camp. The camp was the brainchild of Ojai Women's Fund member, Annika Forester, who emailed Matilija Junior High music teacher, Thomas Fredrickson, with the idea of starting a music program that would reach out to Spanish speaking students.
Thomas thought it was a fantastic idea, but wasn't sure what it would look like. What would he teach? Mariachi music became the top contender as he realized that many kids already had exposure to it and universally found it appealing. Next, when would these classes be held? He could see that the school year was too busy for students with afterschool activities and too difficult for some who had no transportation, so he began to consider the summer. Quickly the idea of a summer camp, lasting two weeks and at no cost to the students formed in his mind.
Lastly, the question of how to pay for this camp that would be free to its participants. Thus began Thomas's grant proposal to the OWF, requesting $8,550.00 to set up the Mariachi Camp at Matilija Junior High. The program would last for two weeks, be offered every weekday morning and last three hours each day. In addition expert Mariachi instructors would be hired and some instruments would be purchased.
OWF members agreed that Thomas had a great program in mind and voted to fund his proposal in full. Then the work began in earnest.
First he started by publicizing it well in advance of the summer. Sign-ups were slow initially and by the time the sign-up date had come and gone, he had some fleeting doubts, but he got on the phone to students and parents and by the first day of the camp, twenty two participants were in class!
Each student was required to have a certain level of musical proficiency. Some were skilled on the guitar, others in voice and others in violin, trumpet, vihuela, guitarrón and double bass. At the start, Thomas had hoped to hire instrument- specific coaches, but since the initial response was weak, he hesitated. By the time the enrollment was a hearty twenty two, there was no time to hire the additional teachers.
However, he found the perfect Artistic Director in Dominic Rivera of Mariachi Camarillo. Dominic was an enthusiastic instructor and leader. He and his Mariachi Camarillo group not only provided a Mariachi concert for the kids on their first day of school, but he also provided essential guidance in the purchase of a guitarrón and a vihuela.
Thomas feels everyone got excellent instruction and by not hiring the extra staff, he saved enough money to hold the camp again in 2019. In this coming year, Thomas is expecting some of the students from this year to provide peer-to-peer teaching! So not only continuing to learn their instrument and the music, but passing it on to others. An unexpected bonus.
A final concert and lunch was held at Matilija Auditorium in late June. Two of the attendees from the OWF were Judy Norris with two of her grandaughters, as well as Janet Owens. Everyone agreed that the program was a rousing success! The students seemed to have fun, played and sang well and their parents were proud. Judy's oldest granddaughter, Maya, said " My friend did the camp and she enjoyed playing the violin in the band. I appreciated the joyful enthusiasm of the band and how they learned to play in such short amount of time. Thank you Ojai Women's Fund for choosing to donate to this great program."