Alumnus Wins Fulbright to Research and Develop Mariachi Curriculum in Mexico City

Tenor Josaphat Contreras ’22 MM has won a 2024-25 Fulbright-García Robles grant to study mariachi at the National Mariachi Conservatory in Mexico City. Contreras graduated from New England Conservatory with a Master of Music in Vocal Pedagogy, where he was chosen as the commencement speaker for his graduating class of 2022. 

Josaphat Contreras

During his Fulbright, Contreras will research the history, style, and interpretation of mariachi music and use his findings to develop a curriculum that can be taken back to the United States and applied to middle schools, high schools, and colleges looking for more information on the subject. “There’s a gap in the field because there is not a lot of concrete research, so I’m hoping this will start a movement,” he said. 

In February, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs recognized NEC as one of the colleges and universities with the highest number of students selected for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Contreras is the second individual in history to receive a Fulbright scholarship to research a Latin American singing genre. The first, Angela K. Glass ’01, is another NEC alumna. Glass traveled to Peru for her Fulbright to study Afro-Peruvian singing in 2002. 

A highly accomplished performer and educator, Contreras’ recent awards and artistic feats include a National Opera Association first prize win for his Mariachi research, international debut as Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni at the historic Teatro Ángela Peralta in Mazatlán, Mexico, solo debut with the Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra, and a sold-out run of On Site Opera’s production of Bach’s Coffee Cantata as the narrator cover and closing night performer. 

Other recent highlights include his Mariachi research presentation at the Pan-American Vocology Association in Miami and an eight-show run with the Boston Pops Orchestra as one of the eight Holiday Pop singers at Symphony Hall. This spring, he will serve as Mariachi artist-in-residence at Arizona State University. He will travel to Portland, Oregon, to serve as a lecturer and recitalist at Portland State University. Contreras also serves as a professor of voice and director of the A cappella Ensemble at Ocean County College in New Jersey and an associate voice instructor at the Eleonor England NYC Voice studio in midtown Manhattan. 

Contreras credits his NEC experience, particularly former faculty member and alumnus Dr. Ian Howell ’16 DMA, for reinvigorating his interest in mariachi, a musical style he fell in love with as a child. "It's really been a 180 that I've come back to it because it was like — that's all I did. I did Latin American music growing up, Mexican music, mariachi music," he explained. "During my two years at NEC, I did a bunch of mariachi vocal projects. Dr. Howell was the catalyst that helped me start these ideas and figure out how to research and get going with it."

Contreras will travel to Mexico City in September with his partner, their daughter, and two dogs to begin his Fulbright research. Throughout the Fulbright, from September to May, he will contribute a monthly blog to Classical Singer Magazine documenting his experience. 

Since 1946, the Fulbright Program has provided over 400,000 talented and accomplished students, scholars, teachers, artists, and professionals of all backgrounds with the opportunity to study, teach, and conduct research abroad. Fulbrighters exchange ideas, build people-to-people connections, and work to address complex global challenges. Notable Fulbrighters include 62 Nobel Laureates, 89 Pulitzer Prize winners, 80 MacArthur Fellows, 41 heads of state or government, and thousands of leaders across the private, public, and non-profit sectors.

For more information about the Fulbright Program, visit