Chapter 2: The Start of My Musical Life(1988-1994)
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And a Violin Plays...
Junior High and other Disasters
Premont Jr. High, in the late 1980’s, was a place of stark contrasts. We were on the verge of the information age, but we had not even reached the threshold. The Apple II-e Computers were the latest things and every child would be asked to take a computer literacy class.
Junior High was where one was first introduced to football games and organized sports. Band now played a roll in the school propaganda, called SCHOOL SPIRIT. We were children no more, we began to get involved in relationships and made awkward attempts at social interaction.
The Premont Junior High School building was located in the same general area as the Central Elementary. Often, both schools shared a principal. This building, in the distant past, had once served as the high school. The Old Junior High had been located in a school complex that included a block in Premont’s downtown. This original building (the downtown one) had been raised many years before I was born and is now the location of the First State Bank (later Norwest and still later Wells-Fargo).
Seventh grade is not really a milestone. While the eighth grade is a stepping-stone to high school and one’s freshman year is a gateway, the Seventh grade is a form of limbo. As it began, the group of students ahead of us, who had been taunting 1st graders, now unleashed a steady barrage of insults, tricks and other antics the likes of which would have challenged even the Bible’s Job.
Classes, for the first time since the fourth grade, were again enclosed in a single building connected by a hallway. The gym was no longer a distant walk, although the cafeteria certainly was.
We would arrive in the early morning and gather in various places. Since band students had 1st period, many band students congregated around the band hall. Others held out in the corridor between the gym and the school. The back of the school, where there was a courtyard that separated the school from the science building, was desolate in the mornings.
In those days no one worried about terrorist attacks or school shootings. The bell would ring and it was off to class. Seventh and eighth graders had band together. This made for strange combinations. The section leader of the trombone section was a guy named Rocky Barrera. Danny Munoz, Jose “Pepe” Chapa and Mike Smith in the trombone section joined me. Victor Amaro and several others made up the baritone section.
I rose to a command of the section after a long time. I didn’t want to seem arrogant, but I did take music more seriously than my colleagues seemed to. In those days most people were in band. It would not be until later that other interests (athletics, academics or lechery) caused people to drop out.
As the day went on as we went to our various classes. At lunch we would walk back to the courtyard and play various games or talk. One popular game was called “butts-up.”
“Butts up” was a cross between traditional dodge ball and tennis. The rules were simple; the game was played with a tennis ball and a flat surface, often times the wall of the Science Building that faced the tennis courts. A group of boys, and sometimes girls, would gather near the wall and someone would start the game by throwing the ball, as hard as they could, against the wall. It would ricochet off the wall and one of two things would happen. First, someone would catch it and throw it back against the all for another ricochet or, second, it would hit someone. If the second would occur, then the fun would begin. Everyone would try to catch the ball, which was now wild, and throw it up against the wall before the person who was hit could reach the wall. If the person beat the ball, all was forgiven and the game would continue.
However, if the ball beat the person back to the wall, that person had to “go up.” This meant that they would have to face the wall with their hands extended, much like the police do to a suspect. The person who threw the ball would then get a free hit at the person who had not been so swift. If you missed the wall or overthrew the wall you two would share this fate.
If the “executioner” missed legitimately, the game would continue; if the victim moved, the “executioner” would get another chance. It is strange that these rules were enforced with integrity. If you missed the ball, you automatically ran up to the wall in hopes of saving yourself. This gave an opponent a fair chance to get you. If you were slow, you let yourself pay the price by “going-up.” There was no points system or winner; the game was just pure fun.
This is not to say, as the year went by, that new rules were not added. Several practices could be banned, however these rules had to be made before each game started.
One such rule was made regarding the practice known as “pegging.” Pegging was when you purposely threw the ball at another person to try to get them up to the wall. The “peg” was often more painful than the execution, this was so because the peg came without warning and often hit the more tender areas (i.e. the head, the chest or the…eh…groin!”).
Fast runners could only do pegging. If you pegged someone and the ball beat you back to the wall. All the players, not just your victim, would get a shot at you.
This was done to add a bit of 7th grade chivalry to a dastardly act. Peggers would, occasionally, get it in the end. Therefore, a Pegger had to be bold, daring or stupid!
If you didn’t want pegging to occur at all, all you had to say was “no pegging” at the start of the game. Most times, people would readily agree, but if larger students did not, pegging was allowed.
The big guys loved pegging, but many were compassionate. If a weak little guy went up, they would sometimes miss purposely. In return for mercy, the little guys would give up their right to execute someone they got (for example like a pegger.) It was here, on the peggers, the big guys did their best work. You see, peggers were, without exception, the most annoying kids in the school. These were the wise guys that annoyed everyone, big or small.
The game was played until the second semester of our eighth grade year when liberal administrators that were afraid of lawsuits outlawed it.
As a side note to history, the playing of “butts-up” never once caused any serious casualty or trip to the nurse. Vandalism, which had not been a problem, returned soon after that prohibition.
No Blues…pick up the Violin…
When you flip on a light switch the electricity flows down a path that is quite swift. I often compare my musical talents to electricity. Over the years I have played to brighten the lives of many, warm the hearts of others and burn even others that were arrogant enough to underestimate a non-classical "back woods" South Texas Violinist. I pursue my music with a humility that was passed down from my ancestors. There will always be someone better than you at what ever you do. If there is not, just wait. No one is best forever.
My Grandfather, Ely Carrales, taught me to play the Violin when I was in my early teens. It was back in that 7th grade that I began a long association with the world of Mariachi music. I have been a violinist for many years. That first year of my string music career is what I refer to as my “dead cat” year. That first year all violinists go through where each note one plays has the same harmonics as a cat about to end its life in a horrible manner. Maybe it was my love for cats or just constant practice, but I improved.
I remember well the night before I got my first violin lesson with my Grandfather. My mother told me that I should try to "learn as much as I can, as quickly as I could." She told me that my Grandfather would "hit me over the head with the bow if I didn't learn fast enough." My Grandparents had been by the night before and they had left a book. I studied it as much as I could, flipping through the old-yellowed pages. I memorized the names of the open strings, "G," "D," "A," and "E." I made up a little saying that I was sure would help me remember it. Thus, "Good Dogs Always Eat" was born. I would use that saying years later to teach beginner violinists the open string notes.
The next day I went out to my Grandfather's Ranch and we went through the book together. Additionally, my mother had bought me another book from South Texas Music Mart in Corpus Christi, Texas. We decided to give that book a try later since it was more advanced. This went on for several months in 1987. We played through the first book and began working out of the second book. Each day I would try to get more notes, to make it sound better. Everyday in band I would tell Mr. Soliz of my accomplishments on the violin. I would let him know about all the new notes and songs I was learning. At about that time my Grandfather began to introduce me to Mariachi Music. The first song I read was "Las Mananitas" from purple copies made by My Grandmother Viola Carrales. Then " Mananitas Tapatias, " the more common version sung at every gig, at least once. The second is often used as a birthday song.
The big test would be yet to come. I still had to learn a wide variety of Mariachi music. My Grandfather began me with the standards of the day; Volver Volver , El Rey,Ella , and La Ley Del Mont e. Mostly Rancheras, My Grandfather made sure that I knew how the songs went so, no matter what arrangement, I could at least follow. My Grandfather had a special theme song he would play that he had learned from his father. He began to teach it to me note by note over the course of what had to be a long time. That song was Jesucita en Chihuahua .