Nearly one in every five East Moline residents is Hispanic or Latino, so it makes sense there is a solid Mariachi band program at Glenview Middle School, 3100 7th St., East Moline.
Formed in 2015 by Richard Clark, who retired last year, the Mexican music program is under the new direction of Monike Hill of Davenport, who has a bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Western Illinois University and a master’s degree in Instrumental Conducting and Pedagogy from Sam Houston State University in Texas. She has 21 years of experience teaching elementary, middle, and high school ensembles in Illinois, Michigan, and Iowa.
Hill had played in different musical ensembles with Clark, is good friends with him, and has followed the Glenview Mariachi Band since it was launched. Clark was the one who encouraged her to apply to take over his position. Percussion is her principal instrument.
While East Moline’s total population is over 19 percent Hispanic, the Glenview Middle School has a Latino population of approximately 32 percent. The GMS Mariachi Band Program began to meet the musical and cultural needs of this population of students, as nearly half of the students in the band are from Latino families.
Clark had taught 5th and 6th-grade music and the mariachi band, but they split that in two this year with another teacher for 5th and 6th general music. Hill and the other teacher co-lead the 7th and 8th-grade choir. Hill teaches regular band as well.
“I’m always trying to expose all my students to all kinds of cultures and music,” Hill said. “I think that’s one thing we’ve learned in the pandemic is, music helps everyone, most definitely.”
While student mariachi bands are unique in the Midwest, down in Texas and the Southwest, they’re much more widespread, she said.
“In Arizona and Las Vegas, it’s huge,” Hill said. “They have a convention in Las Vegas for mariachi. Here it is unique, but I did hear in West Liberty, Iowa, they did just start a mariachi group. Most of those kids already play an instrument.”
“Other than that, we’re the closest to Chicago,” Hill said.
The LULAC chapter has been very supportive of Glenview’s mariachi band. In May, the school‘s 6th-8th graders will go to Six Flags amusement park (Gurnee, Ill.) and play there.
“They’re all excited and gonna tell their friends, so I hope that will help recruitment, too,” Hill said. “The administration is also super supportive.”
Rebecca Nung, a Glenview 7th grader, plays violin in the mariachi band and has been performing just this school year. Emma Noah, an 8th grader, plays violin at Glenview and for the Quad City Symphony’s Youth Symphony Ensemble and also plays flute in band.
Rebecca is in the intermediate mariachi band, and Emma is in the advanced group (in the mariachi program since 5th grade). This year, there is a new mariachi group for 5th graders, and after school, the other groups practice twice a week.
“It’s fun to play for people,” said Rebecca. “I love playing with different people, with my friends and stuff. I like the different music.”
In December, they had a winter concert at Glenview, the first time a lot of the kids played a public concert in a year and a half, Hill said. “That was really good,” she said.
“I already had been in person my 7th-grade year,” Emma said. “It wasn’t that different since I was doing live stuff throughout my 7th-grade year.”
She has played the flute for three years, but that’s not part of a traditional mariachi band. The mariachi band is comprised of violin, trumpet, and three kinds of guitars.
“I like folk music, and it reminds me of bluegrass, kind of, because of how it is,” Emma said. “Classical music can get really, really boring. Mariachi is kind of like the Mexican version of bluegrass.”
“We’ve been taking beginners and new people all year,” Hill said. The guitars include a small vihuela, like a big ukulele with a rounded back, and the large guitarrón, also with a curved back.
When Hill started, she began the 5th-grade mariachi group. “We were trying to get all these new kids,” she said.
The Glenview mariachi bands include 45 students altogether.
“That’s pretty amazing, considering Covid was pretty hard on all music,” Hill said. “It’s hard to make music on the computer. We don’t have the technology yet to play music at the same time. There’s a lot of call and response, so there’s a lot of kids who quit because of that fact last year. This year has been a big rebuilding year.”
This school year, they’ve been all back in person. “Now we’re getting all kinds of calls from people wanting us to play,” Hill said.
The more advanced group played for a multicultural fest at Davenport’s McKinley School.
The 6th through 8th graders are going on a tour in April and May to elementary schools to recruit and play in the area. The mariachi spring concert will be at United Township High School on May 12, and the mariachi band will perform May 18 at the St. Paul’s School Multicultural Festival in Davenport.
Hill’s Musical Background
She was born in a military family – her father was Peruvian — and grew up in Davenport. “My mom Dolores Craff is a retired music teacher, and I have fond memories of my parents playing guitars and singing around the campfire. When I started college, I was going to be an ethnomusicologist because I love music from around the world.”
Her father moved from Peru to the U.S. at 18 and joined the Navy as an aviator. Hill graduated from Davenport Central in 1993. She taught band at 6-8 grades in Illinois and high school in Michigan. For her master’s (finished in 2015), she studied three summers and got to work with famous musicians like Doc Severinsen.
Growing up, she listened to many styles of music. “Being a percussionist, you play all different kinds of music from around the world,” Hill said. “I am definitely all about world music and other cultures, and how they treat music. It’s not just you go to a concert and sit and listen. You immerse yourself in it.”
Hill has taught music in Walcott, Blue Grass, Buffalo, Davenport Central, and Adams Elementary in Davenport. She played with Rich Clark in the Quad City Wind Ensemble and the Big River Brass Band.
Hill also has a steel drum band combo called Mystery Island. Her son, 19, is a music education and performance major at the University of Iowa, and sometimes he plays with them. Her daughter, 14, is a student at Central and plays percussion and string bass.
Hill was a band teacher at Davenport’s Adams Elementary for five years before starting at Glenview. “My mom is a retired music teacher, and I always said I’d never teach elementary,” she said. “My mom is way nicer than I am, so please. Elementary teachers are amazing. So really, I was at Adams longer than I planned to be – everybody’s nice there, the teachers are great.”
During the pandemic, Hill dealt a lot with technology and helped many teachers do remote learning.
“I felt for the older teachers. Luckily, my basement is a music room; we did a lot of things from my music room. I made videos of different styles. That’s what I did love about elementary – lots of multicultural stuff I could do. I made sure they knew about steel drums, Caribbean music, and reggae. And in Davenport, I helped start the steel drum program.”
She had a group at Walcott that played steel drums at Ya Maka My Weekend in downtown Rock Island. “They loved it; they felt like super big stars,” Hill said.
“I think we did an amazing job of keeping everybody healthy and wiping things off,” she said of returning in person during Covid.
Hill’s dad passed away three years ago, so he never got to see her in the new job, but she said he’s here in spirit.
“When I was little, I would get in trouble in school for not talking English, and then my dad stopped talking to me in Spanish,” she recalled. “I’m trying to make it come back now, so I can talk to the students and their families. My desk I have over there, they didn’t have a teacher desk for me because they’ve only had one band room, and they never had two band directors before.”
Hill said her desk was from her father’s room at Senior Star in Davenport.
To learn more, visit the Glenview Mariachi Band on Facebook.