Alfonso Reyes looked a bit nervous as he blew the first notes on his trumpet for the audition.
"Don't worry, be calm, relax," trumpet teacher Federico Torres told Reyes after he got the beat wrong. "Softly now. One, two, three, four..." With the maestro's gentle prodding, the 28-year-old found his groove.
Reyes had reason to be a little anxious during the audition. After all, if he hit the right notes, he would be among the first students to attend Mexico City's first mariachi school.
For generations, Mexico's mariachis have passed their passion down to their children, teaching them how to play classics like "El Rey" or "Cielito Lindo," which they had learned by ear from their fathers and mothers before them.
But the new school in Mexico City wants to change that by awarding professional degrees, hoping to breathe new life into the folk bands known for their giant sombreros and "charro" suits adorned with silver buttons.
"The school would remove this stigma of the mariachi only being good for fiestas or only being known for their clothes," Reyes said. "It would make mariachis more professional, and perfect the music."
He was among 113 aspiring students, from 12 to 70 years old, who competed for 75 to 85 spots at the school, where they will be learn the right way to play the guitar, acoustic bass, violin, trumpet, harp and the guitar-like vihuela.
And of course, they will all learn to sing the mariachi way -- getting that "ay, ay, ay, ay!" cry just right.
"We will refine the music, but we will not take away its flavor and spirit, otherwise we would lose the best part of Mexican music," said violin instructor Aaron Jimenez.
While mariachi music dates back to the 19th century, Mexico counts few schools solely dedicated to the genre. A municipal school opened last year in Guadalajara, in the western state of Jalisco, the cradle of mariachi music.
Mexico City's Ollin Yoliztli Mariachi School in Garibaldi will open on October 8 with a three-year program capped by a "professional technician degree." It also plans to offer the country's first university-level mariachi diploma.
"Many musicians seek to improve their technique," said school director Leticia Soto Flores. "We will do this through Mexican music."
The school is housed in a former nightclub in the rowdy Plaza Garibaldi, the home of Mexico City's mariachis, who sing for tipsy revelers at bars or wait for a Romeo to hire them to serenade their Julieta.
A few mariachis wearing black charro suits were already waiting for customers on a recent weekday morning as potential students arrived for their auditions.
Antonio Covarrubias, the secretary general of the Mexican Mariachi Union, hopes the school can help to open new avenues for mariachis, who are struggling to find work in an overcrowded business.
A mariachi ensemble can have as many as a dozen musicians and may charge around 4,000 pesos ($310) an hour for a full band, or less when fewer musicians are involved.
"It's harder to find work because of Mexico's economic situation," Covarrubias said. "Many young people who can't go to school want to become mariachis because they can make more money than in a factory."
The music history and marketing classes offered at the school could give mariachis a solid base to work as studio musicians or in other genres, moving them away from the street performances, he said.
He also hopes it can bring more creativity in a type of music whose repertoire dates back decades.
"Rock or jazz musicians also play concerts but most of them spend time creating their own music," Covarrubias said.
Mariachi music has evolved since the first bands emerged two centuries ago, beginning with string instruments only before the trumpet was added in the 1930s.
Sotos Flores said the school would offer mariachi history classes, hoping to delve deeper into a Mexican cultural icon whose past has been mostly told through oral history.
Even the origin of the name is disputed. Some believe it comes from the French word "mariage," from the time of the French presence in the 1860s. But others say it probably derives from an indigenous word.
Claudia Guadalupe, 22, who auditioned for a spot as a violin player, said she wanted to learn the history of the music she learned from her father.
The school can help "to save and elevate our culture, because we are losing it," said Guadalupe, who already plays in a mariachi band called "Los Potrillos" ("The Colts") in the village of Cuautitlan Izcalli.
"I want to be able to teach it to the children where I live so that we don't lose it."