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Music learning and teaching grad brings mariachi music into school curriculum

Angie Stephanie Valencia

December 09, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2021 graduates.

Angie Stephanie Valencia, who graduates this December with a Bachelor of Music in music learning and teaching, and a minor in transborder Chicana/o and Latina/o studies, is passionate about creating and implementing mariachi curriculum in Arizona K–12 schools and in higher education.

Valencia said when she discovered there was a lack of music education for mariachi educators, she decided to study music to learn more about how to fill that gap.

“Most of the mariachi teachers that are in classrooms are amazing musicians who have many years of experience performing mariachi, and some may have even studied music, but most do not study education and learn how to teach,” Valencia said.

Valencia also believes that music education should be accessible to all, independent of socioeconomic status.

Every summer since she graduated high school, Valencia has taught at Davis Elementary School’s mariachi camp in Tucson, Arizona. She currently plays violin in the local Mariachi Tierra Azteca.

Valencia studies violin at ASU under Danwen Jiang, professor of violin in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre

She said one of her proudest accomplishments during her time at ASU is being a recipient of the Creative Constellation Grant from the Herberger Institute. The funding allowed her to collaborate on “La Raza: The Music of Our People,” her senior project recital highlighting Latino musicians and composers. Valencia and her co-creator and friend Jesus Lopez said when they applied for the grant, they did not know the event would be virtual due to the pandemic. They worked throughout the semester on the recital and were able to make modifications to share their music through a live streamed performance.

In addition to the Creative Constellation Grant, she was a recipient of the New American University scholarship for four years and the Margaret T. Morris scholarship for two years.

During her studies at ASU, Valencia has been a violin instructor with the School of Music, Dance and Theatre’s String Project, a program that offers low-cost, high-quality instruction on orchestral stringed instruments to K–12 students. She also dedicates her Saturday mornings to student teaching classes in hopes of bettering herself as a future educator.

“Angie’s desire to share her music with others was the reason she was nominated as an Outstanding Graduate for Community Engagement in the Herberger Institute for Design in the Arts,” said Margaret Schmidt, professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre and founding director of the ASU String Project. “She has been teaching in the ASU String Project since her freshman year, and her students are always inspired by her enthusiasm to help them share her love of playing string instruments. I know she will continue as a creative mentor and role model for the students in her new position.”

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study music education?

Answer: When I was in high school, I was lucky enough to go to Tucson High Magnet School, which had an amazing fine arts program. I was enrolled in four music classes in my senior year: orchestra, chamber ensemble, mariachi and AP music theory. When I enrolled for those classes, I decided that I would study music. I know now that even if I hadn’t studied music, what I learned in those classes and the experiences it provided me with were so valuable. They shaped who I was as a person and created memories that would last my lifetime.

Another defining moment was when I joined Mariachi Rayos Del Sol my junior year of high school. I had a small leadership position in the group and would run violin sectionals. I really enjoyed being able to help my fellow violinists learn our parts.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I learned to be curious and that there is so much possibility and creativity in the world. There is no one way that music education looks like. I also learned how beautiful the arts are. Being a part of the Herberger Institute allowed me the opportunity to see different art mediums and other artists at work. It was insightful to hear others talk about their triumphs and struggles within their own creative field. 

QWhy did you choose ASU?

A: Choosing ASU was the easiest and most difficult decision I had probably ever made up to that point in my life. After auditioning and being admitted into all three state universities, there were a few things that led up to my decision to study at ASU. When I was in high school, I had two opportunities to visit ASU’s School of Music (prior to it becoming the School of Music, Dance and Theatre). One was with the Tetra String Quartet residency when my quartet was able to do a workshop/masterclass with them. The other was Violin 360 when I attended a workshop with Professor Danwen Jiang, who I ended up studying with. Those experiences were both fun and valuable as a musician. But my main inspiration for choosing ASU was my high school orchestra teacher Cayce Miners, who is an alumna of ASU and spoke very highly of the music education program.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Professor Matthew Fiorentino, who I was taking Art of Teaching Advanced Instrumentalists with during spring 2020, during the beginning of the pandemic, taught me that no matter what else is happening there is always time to stop and check in with your students. We started the semester by always doing morning stretches, and when things moved online, we continued with that routine. I think that during those unprecedented times and maybe even without knowing, he taught me through example how to be resilient and willing to adapt as an educator, all the while still working to inspire students.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: The best advice I would give to current students is the advice Professor Danwen Jiang gave to me: While you are a student, take advantage of the resources ASU offers. When you are a student, the campus and ASU are there to serve you. Learn and explore what interests you can and invest your time and effort there. Once you graduate in education, then it is your turn to give back. But when you are a student, it is your time to be selfish and take in as much as you can. 

QWhat was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?  

A: My favorite place on campus has to be the Music Building courtyard. I like to sit there after morning classes and let my brain absorb the discussions we just had in class. The ambiance of the courtyard is so calming with the pretty trees, rose bushes and sound of the fountain. It also comes alive during Tunes at Noon, and it's nice to see everyone smiling and enjoying music and each other’s company. The folks that gather in the courtyard are a lovely supportive group of people.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: In January I will be going back to my alma mater, Tucson High Magnet School, as a co-director of the orchestra program alongside Cayce Miners. It really is the dream job I never thought would happen right out of school.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I have always said that education is a lottery, much like life. Some of us are lucky either by circumstance of where we are and what we are born into. I think there is so much room for equity and inclusion in education, but also for consistent and constant improvement.

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