La Orquesta Tipica De Chapala

La Orquesta Tipica De Chapala

By Margaret Van Every


mexican-orchestraTraditional Mexican music is suffering a serious crisis, says Javier Raygoza, founder and director of the Orquesta Típica de Chapala. It is being displaced by “the noisy, horrible band music (narcocorridos y onda grupera) of the drug culture. Raygoza observes that the mariachi band no longer represents Mexican music in the eyes of the world. Saving Mexico’s rich musical heritage was thus the impetus for his founding the Typical Orchestra of Chapala—“to show the audience that there exists a music of quality with inspirational words; music not about bullets and death that sings the praises of criminals.” 

The traditional music of Mexico is amazingly colorful, varied, and complex in its rhythms. La Orquesta Típica plays only music by Mexican composers and uses typical instruments, either from Raygoza’s personal collection or that musicians bring in the door. Whatever is on hand is integrated into arrangements made by Raygoza.  Instruments include ten violins, a cello, a stand-up bass, a harp, three mandolins, two psalters, a marimba donated by the city of Chapala, three charangos, a clarinet, a transverse flute, three quenas, a vihuela, a jarana, two tololoches, two autoharps, a Cuban laúd, a ukelele, a banjo, a Peruvian cajón, an accordion, and about ten guitars.

The orchestra of 40 to 50 participants is made up of “musicians of the heart,” which is to say, those who love to play. Explains Raygoza, “We have whole families among us and an intermingling of relatives, godparents, and buddies, somehow all related. We have people who play guitar for a living on Scorpion Island. We have professionals, visual artists, photographers, sculptors, school teachers, housewives, attorneys, architects, and children in primary, secondary, and preparatoria. I myself am a newspaper editor (Página).”

He goes on to say that the musicians come from a range of socio-economic circumstances, from those having scarcely enough to eat to those who are very well off, but they all unite in their love of the music and their desire to learn new things and teach each other. The youngest player is 8 and the oldest probably an octogenarian, but who knows for sure?

Scarcely 10% of the musicians read music, although it really doesn’t matter since most play by ear. All are currently taking classes at the Chapala Cultural Center to learn to read music. The 10% who already read music must learn to play by ear, for the music as played often departs radically from the score.

The orchestra is fulfilling its mission, not only as far as the music and musicians are concerned, but also in delighting villages around Jalisco with the nostalgic sounds cherished by the older generation. Many of the great Mexican composers of the traditional repertoire did their work during the 20s and 30s. Americans are familiar with many of these tunes, but know them by different names and lyrics. Most gringos have no idea these tunes came from Mexico, among them “Bésame Mucho” and “Enamorada” (by Consuelo Velázquez, a woman), “Vereda tropical” by Gonzalo Curiel, “Solamente una Vez” and “Granada” by Agustín Lara, “Negra consentida” by Joaquín Pardave, “Mi querido capitán” by José Palacios.” We applaud Javier Raygoza and the Orquesta Típica de Chapala for keeping this great legacy alive. 

Their next local concert is projected as a first anniversary celebration in November. Watch for announcements.

For more information about Lake Chapala visit:

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