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    Texas | Columns | "Wandering"

    La Tipica

    by Wanda Orton
    Wanda Orton

    La Tipica -- an all-girl orchestra composed of talented and well-trained students from Baytown’s Mexican community -- played an important role in local musical entertainment from here to California.

    In 1946 the young musicians, directed by Tipica founder Dr. Antonio Banuelos, went on a concert tour from Texas to New Mexico, Arizona and California. Generally regarded as a musical genius, Banuelos – known as “The Professor” -- was a native of Spain, graduate of German conservatory and a member of the Houston Symphony. He also was the man who put Baytown on the map of Latin American music.

    In addition to Tipica, Banuelos directed the Mexican Boys Band, another product of the music program that began in the Goose Creek school system in the middle of the Depression.

    Elvira Renteria Martinez, who played the marimba in Tipica, recalled that Banuelos wrote all of the musical scores by hand.

    Baytown TX - La Tipica Ladies
    Photo courtesy Eugenia Rios.
    La Tipica Orchestra played for countless community-wide and school programs far and near and were much in demand for special occasions such as Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day Sept. 16. This photo was taken on the stage of a school auditorium in the 1940s. On the front row, from left, are Eva Rentería Barajas, Margaret Martinez DeLeon, Aurora Hinojosa Rentería and Alice Salinas DeHoyos. Second row, from left: Socorro Juarez Barajas, Pura García Muñoz, Mary Ellen Rincon Muñoz, Soledad Marron, Alice Lopez Araujo and Rachel Torres Lara. Third row, from left: Carrie Salazar Martinez, Lucy Alvarado Zamora, Amada Vazquez Quijano, Amalia Vazquez, Carmen Piña Contreras, Gloria García Hinojosa, Elvera Rentería Martinez, director Dr. Antonio Bañuelos, Antonia Lopez Loredo, Flora Martinez Ramirez and Janie Salinas Bricker.

    “I am fortunate to have some of them,” she said. “He also composed music, which the orchestra played. When we were in Los Angeles during our tour, we were asked to audition in Hollywood.”

    This was during the golden era of Latin American music with such names as Carmen Miranda, Xavier Cugat and Carmen Caballero in the limelight. The audition offer to go professional was a dream come true, Martinez said, but the older girls started thinking about their boyfriends back home and refused to consider the possibility of remaining in California. “It became an issue, and we did not audition.”

    Meanwhile, the Gulf Coast was destined to lose Bañuelos to the West Coast. He received an offer he could not turn down and, after the tour, returned to California. Some of the Tipica members kept in contact with him until his death during the Sixties.

    Through the years Tipica performed in Baytown and Houston and throughout Texas, playing for Cinco de Mayo, Mexican Independence Day (Sept. 16) and other events. In recent years the orchestra played for the unveiling of the old De Zavala School cornerstone and dedication of the current De Zavala School. At the new school, for sentimental reasons, they featured the serenade "Las Mañanitas.”

    Tipica members treasure the serenade because it traditionally was played for their mothers before every Mother’s Day.

    Martinez explains:

    “There was always a community dance on the Saturday night before Mother’s Day. We would go to the dance and from there, proceed to De Zavala, tune our instruments and board a truck that had a huge bed … We would then go to the home of each of the orchestra members and sing and play ‘Las Mañanitas’ for each mother.

    “We did this for many years and it never ceased to be a very touching time.” In addition to ‘Las Mañanitas’ each girl would select a song that she knew her mother liked, and they would play that song before proceeding to the next home.

    At the last home on their schedule, the girls always were served Mexican hot chocolate and pastries.

    Martinez remembered Banuelos as “a hard taskmaster, a perfectionist, very exacting. He loved us, though, and when one of the members died from a ruptured appendix in about 1940, he took it very hard. We were asked to play ‘La Golondrina’ (The Swallow), a Mexican farewell song, at her gravesite and he never asked us to play it again.”

    All of the girls were thrilled and proud to be members of Tipica. “Being selected to play in the orchestra reflected a lot of work, as well as considerable musical knowledge and skill,” Martinez said. “In addition to this, we were required to maintain an A average, inasmuch as this was an extra- curricular activity that at times required our leaving school early or missing school to play out of town.”

    Initially Humble Oil & Refining Co. paid Banuelos’ salary, and the parents also paid a portion. The school district eventually began paying his salary in full.

    Martinez said, “The parents’ contribution was truly a sacrifice, because they also paid for their children’s instruments. Some had more than one child in the music program. My parents, for instance, had six children in the music program. Fortunately, I played the marimba and one of my brothers (in the Mexican Boys Band) played the bass horn, so that helped.”

    During World War II, Tipica members did their part for the war effort, playing for war bond rallies. The girls would leave school early – from elementary, junior high or high school – and tune their instruments and change into their costumes at De Zavala.

    From there they’d go to the refinery gate and play a concert as refinery employees were changing shifts. The workers would stop and listen and then buy war bonds on the spot. The bond drives proved to be a big success and the Tipica musicians continued the concerts as long as the bond drives went on. They also played at veterans’ hospitals in Temple and Houston and at a military camp.

    A feast for the eyes, their colorful costumes were purchased in Mexico.

    Martinez said, “We consider ourselves more like family, rather than friends, and this is also true of the boys’ band. We often attended each other’s rehearsals and bonded from our youth. On Sundays, we would routinely get together after church and go somewhere. We often went to Morgan’s Point or to the beach in Galveston -- Tipica and band members. At times, it was an even number of boys and girls, but these were not dates, just close friends enjoying time together.”

    Baytown TX - La Tipica Ladies
    Photo courtesy Eugenia Rios
    La Tipica Day was proclaimed by then-Mayor Pete Alfaro in 2002 in honor of the 65th anniversary of the orchestra. On the front row, from left, are Socorro Juarez Barajas, Aurora Hinojosa Rentería, Alice Lopez Araujo and Margaret Martinez DeLeon. Second row, from left: Lucy Hinojosa De Palma, Rose Marie Avelar, Gracieka Pantoja Capetillo, Elvera Rentería Martinez, Gloria García Hinojosa and Mayor Alfaro.

    Today, the remaining members of Tipica continue to have a strong bond, still getting together to play their music and have fun. Since the marimba is hard to carry, they meet in Martinez’s home. “The last time we played was a few months ago for a visitation when our original pianist died,” she said.

    The orchestra had no official theme song but chose “La Jesusita en Chihuahua” to open a concert at the Baytown Historical Museum for the unveiling of the Hispanic Heritage Exhibit. Jesusita is translated to mean Jesse or Jessie, and the orchestra played the song to honor their beloved De Zavala principal, Jessie Lee Pumphrey.

    Remembering The Professor, the members closed the concert with a march called “Zacatecas.” When Banuelos family members left Spain, they came to Zacatecas, Mexico.

    A funny thing happened on their way to California in ’46. When the Tipica members arrived at the first city on the tour, they learned they were being billed as being from Mexico and therefore did not speak English.

    “We could not believe it,” Martinez said. “We were to speak only Spanish while we were in public. The problem was that our PTA and our teachers had agreed that no Spanish was to be spoken on campus in order that all may master the English language. Consequently, English had become our primary language over the years.

    “We were truly feeling the stress this brought on, and some were just not coping well with the problem. We were in the hotel lobby prior to leaving for a concert one day when people became really intrigued at the sight of such young girls wearing these strange (to them) costumes, etc. They came to us and asked us questions. We just stood there and did not answer. They became bewildered at our silence, as this was way before the influx of non-English speaking Hispanics. They kept on pressing the issue, and finally asked the question again: ‘Don’t you speak English?’ One of the girls replied, speaking perfect English: ‘No, we don’t.’ We all broke into laughter.”

    Both La Tipica and the Mexican Boys Band had their inception in about 1935 when Humble Oil & Refining Co. hired Banuelos to teach music to the children of Humble employees. Some of the instruments came from the company band that had disbanded. The music students met at the community hall owned by the company – the same location where they attended school before the original De Zavala was built.

    After the school building opened, children of non-refinery workers entered the music program.

    Martinez said, “Our music lessons began immediately following the close of the school day, and the program was rigid. We were first taught the rudiments of music, and once we mastered the basics, solfeo followed. This required our beating the scales to the tempo each one called for, and we simultaneously sang the scales. Each scale was in a different key, as well as a different tempo and those of us who could beat the scales to tempo, while simultaneously singing them to pitch, were selected to participate in the orchestra.”

    © Wanda Orton

    Baytown Sun Columnist
    "Wandering" October 1, 2012 columns

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