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  • Writer's pictureGabriel San Roman

Maestro Gabriel Zavala's Mariachi Academy Changes Kids' Lives

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

"Maestro, can you fix my violin?" a young girl asks Gabriel Zavala during mariachi rehearsals in Anaheim. The 71-year-old instructor takes her instrument, turns the pegs and tunes by ear. "Maestro! Maestro! Maestro!" another girl pleads to get his attention. "My teacher wants to know if you can play at our school." Just then, a nylon string pops out of place to everyone's surprise.

The young, mostly Mexican students at Zavala's Rhythmo Mariachi Academy are taking a break from Wednesday-night rehearsals in a small warehouse space near Disneyland. Their big festival at Pearson Park Amphitheatre in Anaheim is just 10 days away and everything has to be practiced to perfection. Oliver Zavala, the maestro's son, gathers the kids together in the hallway, where sequined mariachi sombreros hang over a row of giant harps. "You'll be backstage, and you'll be nervous," he says, teaching the kids to listen for cues. "You are the show; you can't watch the show."

Read more on my latest OC Weekly Music feature out on newsstands tomorrow but online now:

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