Because I love music, a lot of musicians end up in my novels. In MARIACHI MURDER, Andy Veracruz is a band leader in Southern California… until he really gets into trouble!

Posts tagged ‘tucson’

Rossini and Verdi Rock the Opera Festival in Oaxaca, Mexico

Last weekend I had the immense pleasure of playing for the opera festival in Oaxaca, Mexico. It came about because orchestra conductor Linus Lerner, Maribel Sánchez, and their cohorts had the grand idea to bring young singers to Oaxaca. Linus and Maribel collected soloists, chorus members, orchestra members, and even dancers to put on a supreme show. Sponsors from SASO helped fund the gala event.

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The soloists were from all over Mexico. They included Jorge Jiménez from Guadalajara singing Ponchielli’s “Cielo y mar” and Gabriel Navarro from Mexico City singing Wagner’s “Abendstern.” We performed 32 pieces altogether, starting with an overture from “La forza del destino.”


We had a wonderful combination of pieces written by composers ranging from Vivaldi to Verdi. Hits included Donizetti’s “Quel guardo il cavaliere” and the Anvil song (Gypsy song) from Il Trovatore. The singers performed in Italian, French, and German. Many of the pieces were solos. Others were duets. In the case of “Si ritrovarla io giuro” the soloist claimed he would find Cinderella while his attendants swore to help him!


We performed our first concert in the Teatro Macedonio Alcalá. The event was free, but seating was limited. When we arrived, there was a line that stretched all the way around the block! We performed for an exceedingly attentive audience who didn’t seem to mind that we had such a long program! Instead they wanted more. After we played the “Brindisi” from La Traviata, they wouldn’t let us go home! We had to perform it again.


We had a chance to perform the concert on Sunday as well, this time at Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de las Nieves. (The priests kindly let us use their church at the last minute.) This was a smaller venue, so it was more intimate. Because the church had wonderful acoustics, opera music went sailing through the streets.


The festival came after a week of long rehearsals for the musicians from the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra from Tucson combined with local musicians. Saturday we had a six-hour rehearsal! But our efforts were well rewarded. We’re already happy about the prospects of coming back again next year.


Naturally, the parties afterwards were pretty good too!


Photos compliments of Jorge Jimenez and Maribel Sanchez

D.R. Ransdell is a Tucson-based novelist. To read about her series featuring a totally different kind of musician, mariachi violinist Andy Veracruz, please see

Andy’s first adventure is titled MARIACHI MURDER.


Savoring the Unexpected with Michael Cavanaugh

I’m busy. I have a day job, a night job (writing), and various music jobs. I have a house and cats to take care of, etc., etc. Thus there are many times when I buy tickets for something way in advance. Instead of savoring the experience by anticipating it, I usually show up at the theatre five minutes before the production is supposed to start. Usually by that time I’ve forgotten the name of the play I’m seeing or the name of any performers who are guest artists.

Thus last January when Cookie and I headed out for the evening, I couldn’t tell her anything about the tickets we had for the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. “Why did we want to come to this concert?” she asked a couple of times. “I don’t remember,” I told her. “It’s some guy. I think he sings Billy Joel songs.”

That was all I remembered. We had an enjoyable dinner together, but since I had no information, we didn’t discuss the concert we were about to see.

The TSO has a series of concerts they do with pop artists. This makes for a pleasant combination of pop culture and classically trained musicians. The year before I’d gone to a performance that included dancers from Dancing with the Stars, for example. The orchestra has been proactive in offering audiences the best of both worlds. Yet most of the groups they’d performed with were groups I had never heard of. I hadn’t heard of the evening’s singer; I’d simply focused on the words in the promo that included “Billy Joel.”

I don’t know a lot about American music. I grew up listening to Beethoven and Mahler, but in college I discovered Billy Joel when a friend dragged me to a concert and I was wowed by the piano solos in “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” I’d been a fan ever since. Even though my record collection only included some twenty titles, I faithfully purchased each new Billy Joel album. I’d listened to The Stranger and 52nd Street so many times that after one song ended, I already knew which song would come next.

Imagine my delight, then, when TSO started in with a medley of Billy Joel songs. When the invited artist popped onto the stage, he sat down and started hammering away at the piano Billy Joel style. The performer was mesmerizing. He was thrilling. He was Michael Cavanaugh.


Within moments he’d captivated the whole audience. By the second song, I was tapping my feet. By the second half I was wishing the concert would never, ever end.

The question is this: did I enjoy the performance more because I hadn’t anticipated it? Because I didn’t realize I’d seen Cavanaugh perform Movin’ Out on Broadway a few years earlier until he started explaining about some of his musical experiences?


My friends have accused me of being too busy. They are undoubtedly right. But there are a series of things I’m going to keep right on doing: buying tickets ahead of time to performances I think I might like, showing up for them without knowing much if anything about them, and preparing to be delighted by something unexpected and wonderful.

That’s what life is all about, isn’t it?

To read about my musical murder mysteries (Mariachi Murder, Island Casualty), please see


Since Mariachi Murder came out, a lot of readers have asked just what a mariachi is. That’s a good question, especially in the current economical climate. What a mariachi should include are the following instruments: guitarron (like a string bass except that it’s easier to carry), vihuela (looks like a mandolin), violin (3), trumpet (2). A big group might also have a guitar and a harp.

No matter what the cheap restaurant owner tells you, if the group doesn’t have four musicians, it’s not really a mariachi. Both rhythm instruments are crucial because one has the downbeat and one has the upbeat. Both violin and trumpet are crucial as well. On many songs, the two instruments answer one another. Other times they play harmonies.

Lately I haven’t gotten to play many gigs in Tucson because the restaurant owners don’t have enough money to pay a group on a steady basis. Sometimes we get calls for house parties, but people want the smallest group possible. I realize music is a luxury, but it’s an important one. There’s nothing like a mariachi group to liven up a party. Whether the customers ask for dance music or sweet love songs, they’ll get a real treat–that is, as long as they’ve hired a real mariachi!

Are you ready to hire a mariachi for your next party? You’ll have an unforgettable evening… and so will your neighbors!