Juan Morales

Mexican mariachi

Master mariachi harpist Juan MoralesFollowing a family tradition, Juan Morales began playing the guitar at an early age.  His interest in the harp was sparked later when he began learning about his heritage from his father, who is from the port of Veracruz, Mexico.  While studying music at the Universidad de Guadalajara, Juan took his first lessons on the arpa mariachera (mariachi harp) from a blind street musician, who used to play outside the Degollado Theater.  After transferring to the Arizona State University School of Music in 1986, Juan had the opportunity to study with Señor Arturo Mendoza, arpero (harpist) for the popular ensemble Mariachi Vargas.  When he became a professional vihuela player for mariachi Sol de Mexico, Morales continued to learn the harp with fellow member Julio Martinez, who was then a harpist with the same group.  Morales then played the harp for seven years with the renowned mariachi ensemble Los Camperos de Nati Cano, with which he still maintains a strong relationship.  He is now dedicating his talents to passing on the musical tradition to the next generation by teaching mariachi music at public schools in Kern and Tulare Counties.  Additionally, he directs four youth mariachi ensembles and coaches exceptionally talented young musicians in the Honors Mariachi Program of the Central California Alliance for the Preservation of Mariachi.  Juan is also a skilled vocalist and has received training from renowned professors in Arizona, California, and Mexico, among them Kari Windingstadt at UCLA and Peggy Sears at CSU, Bakersfield.  He regularly performs with CSUB’s Opera Workshop and Chamber Singers.

According to mariachi historians, the arpa was a key instrument in the early mariachi ensembles of rural Mexico.  Traditionally, the mariachi harpist uses his left hand to double the guitarrón (bass guitar) line, while his right plays the melody or harmonic accompaniment.  As mariachi music became urbanized in the early twentieth century and the music started to become harmonically more complex, the arpa, being a diatonic instrument, began to be replaced by the guitarrón, which was more adaptable to the changes in the music.  Today, while some of the most recognized mariachi ensembles include an arpero, there are relatively few skilled practitioners of this art form in Mexico or the United States.

In 2005, Juan was a master artist in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program with apprentice Tim Mireles, and in 2007 with apprentice Erasmo Villareal.

Select Performances

Sang the role of Don Sebastián in La Verbena de la Paloma (zarzuela), with the CSUB Opera Workshop and Orchestra
Bakersfield, California. January, 2006

Belcanto Recital El Cantar de un Tenor Dinner & Song Fundraiser, Kings Symphony Orchestra
Hanford, California, June 2005

Performance with CSUB Chamber Singers, Carnegie Hall
New York, New York, June 2005

Guest Artist for the Vocal Department of Porterville High School
Porterville, California, May 2004

Harp soloist with Mariachi Los Camperos and the Guadalajara Philharmonic at the 10th Encuentro del Mariachi y la Charrería
Guadalajara, Mexico, September 2003

Harp soloist with Mariachi Los Camperos on Univision/DisneyWorld’s First Mariachi Festival, Televised Nationally
Orlando, Florida, December 2003

Guest Artist at CSU Fresno’s “Summer Arts” program, singing zarzuela scenes
Fresno, California, July 2002


Recipient of the American Composer Forum’s grant for a commissioned work for Mariachi and Symphony Orchestra

Composition Son de San Joaquin by composer Joseph Julian Gonzalez was premiered on October 19, 2004
Performed by CCAPM Honor Mariachi Ensemble and the Tulare County Symphony under Maestro David Andre’s baton at the Fox Theatre
Visalia, California

ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program Master Artist, 2005

Fund for Folk Culture’s Artist Support Program Grant, Creative Opportunities for Traditional Artists in California
Santa Fe, New Mexico, February 2004

Students’ youth group Mariachi Mestizo wins 2nd place at Batalla de Mariachis youth mariachi competition
Alpine, California, June 2004

First place at Corrido Competition at the San Jose Mariachi Conference
Students’ youth group Mariachi Mestizo performed El Corrido de las Heladas, about the 1999 freeze/snow storm in the San Joaquin Valley
San Jose, California, July 2002

Kern County Youth Mariachi Foundation Award “for outstanding contributions as founding musical director”
Bakersfield, California, May 1999

Mariachi Heritage Foundation Award “for hard work and dedication as teacher, role model and mentor of our youth”
Visalia, California, August 1998

Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife Programs and Cultural Studies Award “for exceptional contributions to the increase and diffusion of knowledge about the cultures and traditions which enrich our nation”
Washington, D.C., February 1994

Teaching Experience

Mariachi clinician at University of Texas’ second annual Mariachi Summer Institute, Presented workshops“Arranging for the High School Mariachi Ensemble and Pedagogy of the Mariachi Instruments: Vihuela, Guitarrón y Arpa Abajeña
San Antonio, Texas, July 2005

Mariachi Instructor, Richgrove School (K-8)
Richgrove, California, 1998-2006

Mariachi Consultant, Mariachi Heritage Foundation
Visalia, California, 2004-2005

Mariachi Instructor, Delano High School
Delano, California, 2001-2006

Private Mariachi Instructor, Director of four youth mariachi organizations in the
Bakersfield-Wasco-Delano area, Central California, 1998-2006

Voice instructor/Mariachi music arranger for beginner-level workshops
Radio Bilingüe’s “Viva el Mariachi” Festival
Fresno, California, 2003-2011

Musical Director of award-winning youth Mariachi Juvenil “Alma de México”
Porterville, California, 1998-2002

Professional Services

Teaching and mentorship
Creates commissioned mariachi works (arrangements, recordings)
Demonstrations, lectures, and educational presentations
Offers mariachi music for sale
Performs as mariachi/opera singer
Designs and coordinates music events
Cultural consultancies
Coordinates performances of students’ youth mariachi ensembles:
     Mariachi Mestizo
     Mariachi Real de la Viña
     Mariachi Los Embajadores
     Female Mariachi Las Rosas del Valle