UNT doctoral music student receives Fulbright-Hays fellowship to research mariachi in Mexico

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- José R. Torres-Ramos, University of North Texas College of Music doctoral student, has received a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship to study mariachi in Mexico for a year. He is the first UNT Ph.D. student in ethnomusicology to earn this honor.  

“I told myself that if I were to win this award, I’d just start crying because it’s probably one of the most prestigious awards somebody in ethnomusicology can win,” Torres-Ramos said. “I’m very humbled, I’m very honored and it’s also empowering. It gives you validation on what you’re doing, that I chose the right path.”

Since the relationship between mariachi music combined with body language and lyric text has not been studied, he wants to dig deep into the culture to determine how they’re connected and how masculinity figures into performance.

“Mariachi has been a male-dominated tradition with many themes,” Torres-Ramos said. “So, I looked at all aspects of the performance including the way the body is held and how performers stand. I studied the instrument’s timbres because classically trained musicians would say, ‘that trumpet is being played really heavy and really harsh and really out of tune.’ And, I started to realize it’s a performance of masculinity. He’s playing the trumpet to dominate and assert himself in the ensemble – not to be smooth and refined like within an orchestra. There’s this embedded masculine sociology in the performance”

Torres-Ramos received enough funding to cover expenses to live in Mexico this year while he completes his research with institutions in Mexico City and Guadalajara. When he finishes his dissertation and earns his doctorate, he hopes to become an ethnomusicology professor.

“I left a public school teacher position and another institution where I was studying music education when I found this calling,” Torres-Ramos said. “Now, I want to share my love of exploring the music of different cultures through a career in academia.”