When students join mariachi programs they make a commitment to a heavy schedule of practices and performances.
There’s also a strong commitment to each other as teammates, North Side High School senior Lizbeth Valdez said.
“We’re always together, practicing our vocals, our violins,” Valdez told NBC 5.
The varsity team at North Side High School is 18 members strong and they’re busy preparing for performances and competitions. This includes the inaugural Texas Invitational Mariachi Competition at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo and a state level competition in February.
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But this year, the team is missing one member.
“The thing about Benjamin, he was just full of life. When you saw him on stage, you can just tell he just loved performing and so it was very contagious,” North Side mariachi director Ramon Niño said. “He was a talented singer, a talented player, but really — his stage performance and stage presence was unmatched by many.”
Benjamin Castaneda, 17, was killed Thanksgiving morning. Police said a car driven by a drunken driver traveling the wrong direction struck Castaneda’s car.
“The charismatic person that you saw on stage was the way he was in real life,” Niño went on to say. “We miss that a lot, because it’s just a piece that is missing so much.”
North Side’s varsity mariachi group performed Friday evening at the stock show and rodeo. Like any performance, Castaneda wasn’t far from their minds.
Valdez has known him since they were in pre-kindergarten.
“My family actually nicknamed him, 'The Singer.' They were like, ‘Oh, is the singer going to sing today?’ Whatever song it was, he would own it. Like it was his song. All these movements. All the girls would be like...‘Oh my god, he’s singing to me!’ she recalled. “He’s always in my heart. Always someone I’m going to be like, ‘This is for you. We’re doing this for you in your honor.’”
Annabel Gonzalez, a sophomore, said some competitions have been hard without Castaneda.
“He’s always wanted to be in varsity. Ever since his freshman year, he would tell me…‘I always wanted to be in varsity’ and this year, he was finally in varsity,” Gonzalez said.
With the young singer on their minds and hearts, Niño said the students are always playing for something bigger than themselves.
“The thing that they don’t forget when it comes to Ben, or anything else, is that they’re doing it for the culture, they’re doing it for the community and the city of Fort Worth so we want to have that pride regardless of who’s here or who’s not here,” he said.
Saturday’s competition begins at 9 a.m. at the Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth. The Texas Association of Mariachi Educators state competition will be Feb. 7 and 8 in Seguin.