Since fourth grade, Ezekiel “Zeke” Castro, 78, had a passion for music, but it was not until age 30 that his love for mariachi music took center stage.
Castro, now the director of UT’s Mariachi Ensemble, began playing violin in 1948 through UT’s Junior String Project.
“UT started a string program shortly after World War II because there was a dire shortage of string players for symphony orchestras,” Castro said. “The idea was to start us young.”
When Castro began his studies at UT in 1948, he transitioned to viola, something he said was akin to learning a foreign language. He joined the UT Viola Ensemble, and the group traveled the country, performing at Yale and Carnegie Hall in 1958.
After graduating, Castro spent 20 years teaching and playing in symphonies in Georgia and California.
In 1980, the principal of Travis High School asked Castro if he would be interested in creating a marimba program for the district but meant to say mariachi. Castro laughed and said, “Now that I can do.”
Castro built the mariachi program from scratch and earned the opportunity to take his students to play in the 4th of July parade in Washington D.C.
“My career took off like a rocket,” Castro said. “And I have been up in the clouds ever since.”
This year, Castro will retire after joining the faculty of the Butler School of Music as the director of the Mariachi Ensemble 7 years ago. Castro said he loves working with talented students, but it’s time for them to take the lead.
“I have actually retired twice before, but I could never sit still,” Castro said. “My students tell me that I have a 2-year guarantee to play with them following my retirement because last time I lasted two months.”