Encouraging Creativity through Music & Storytelling

Our very own Audience Engagement Artist in Residence, Joseph Palmer, has been touring the city of Austin visiting Elementary Schools, Middle Schools, and High Schools as well as places like the Thinkery Children’s Museum, the Young Women’s Leadership Academy, and Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. Joseph has developed a program to engage children and young adults in the arts by integrating music and the story telling process. His emphasis on learning the listening process to influence the emotions, aids students in imagining a story based on the sounds they are hearing.

After explaining how a composer took inspiration from a folk tale and was able to creatively transform it into a piece of music (Pedro y Diablo – Joe Williams), the kids then did this process in reverse; taking three short pieces of music and constructing their own three part story in response to what they heard in the music (Caprice Variations 1, 16, & 35 – Rochberg).

At one of the schools Joseph most recently visited, he describes this transformation process-

Here’s a synopsis of the story created by the students at Perez Elementary in response to the Rochberg-

Caprice No. 1: A man named Pablo is on a quest to look for his lost love but is challenged to a duel by the infamous villain Jacques. Despite his odds, Pablo is able to defeat Jacques.

Caprice No. 16: Pablo continues on his lonely journey through the desert to look for his love but soon catches word that Jacques’ spirit has somehow returned and is chasing off everyone in Pablo’s hometown to seek revenge.

Caprice No. 35: A very intense chase ensues. Pablo finally reunites with his lover and together they try to escape from the wrath of Jacques. At the peak of tension, they find shelter inside a transparent forcefield which prevents the evil spirit from reaching them. The spirit becomes increasingly enraged until suddenly reaching the point of complete self-destruction.

If you’ve heard the 35th Rochberg Caprice, this ending totally makes sense.

This is just one example of a story that a group of children have come up with after listening to these pieces being played for them. Another one of Joseph’s recent visits was to Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center which he described as a more “up-close, interactive performance.”

One moment that particularly stood out to me was when I played a piece without revealing the title, composer, or any background info and simply asked them to “listen closely and imagine what you think the composer is trying to express through this music just from the sounds you hear.” Afterwards, I heard a number of thoughtful comments from them. Though there was one kid who said “It sounds like you’ve lost someone that you love.” I then revealed that the piece was entitled “Farewell” by Sergio Assad and that the composer wrote the piece as a farewell to his wife who he had just lost to terminal illness. We went on to discuss how amazing it is that music can express such emotions so profoundly and with such precision that another human being can truly feel and understand what is being communicated without any words being exchanged or ever having even met the person – just by listening and feeling into sounds they put together.

After the students had listened to Joseph’s performances and built the stories to fit them, they were asked a few questions about how the demonstration affected their overall experiences as listeners and audience members. One student put it simply, “For a while I forgot I was in this place and just imagined a story about a boy walking by himself & realizing the hardships in life.” Comments like these go to show the incredible potential that music has to transport an individual into another reality.

The goal of this program is to give students the opportunity to become more in touch with their creative sides and develop their perceptive listening skills in order to encourage them to use their imagination through a multi-sensory experience. We encourage students to develop their own interpretations and create something new in hopes that they will be inspired to continue to do so.

In the words of Albert Einstein, “Creativity is contagious,” and we are on a mission to spread it.


Joseph at Perez Elementary, playing for a group of children.


Joseph’s visit to the Young Women’s Leadership Academy


Girls in a class at the Young Women’s Leadership Academy eager to add their perspective of a piece Joseph played for them into the story they built to match the music.

ACG Celebrates 25 Years


As we open our 25th season this upcoming Saturday with world renowned classical guitarists Kazuhito Yamashita, we can’t help but look back on how far we have come. Our Executive Director, Matt Hinsley, has written a few words to give us a little insight on his history with the organization:

“Austin Classical Guitar was founded in 1990. I joined the organization in 1996, after arriving in Austin to start my master’s degree. At that time ACG was looking for new leadership. I had run a student guitar club during my undergraduate studies, so I got the job!

We launched our first International Series soon after, and in 1998 added the free Community Concert Series. In 1999 we formed our Community Guitar Ensembles, and in 2001 established our Educational Outreach program. 2003 marked the first time we presented the legendary Pepe Romero in concert, and in the years that followed came John Williams, Christopher Parkening, Eliot Fisk and so many more amazing artists.

In 2004 we began developing a curriculum and teacher resource for classroom guitar. GuitarCurriculum.com launched online in October of 2008, and soon became the backbone of our educational services, enabling us to reach more students than we ever had before. This fall we are supporting 55 school programs locally, and many hundreds more around the world, serving thousands of students.

By 2005, Austin Classical Guitar had become the largest nonprofit classical guitar organization in the United States, and we’ve continued to grow by about 30% every year since! For me, it all began as a dream of a future where classical guitar could meaningfully impact the lives of diverse individuals in our communities, and guitarists could be paid fairly for delivering their vital and uplifting services. Twenty-five years later, together with our uniquely vibrant community, we pause to reflect on how much we have accomplished. But only for a moment – there’s so much more to do, and the dream is shining within us more brightly than ever.

Here’s to another twenty-five glorious years of sharing and celebrating humanity through music.”

We never would have made it this far without the support of our sponsors and our community, and for that we thank you.

Jorge Caballero on Yamashita

With an impressive background in transcribing symphonies and orchestral arrangements into solo classical guitar pieces and a long list of awards from international competitions, Kazuhito Yamashita has been an inspiration since the beginning of his career.

Known by many as one of the most brilliant and influential musicianskazuhitooct3 of our time, he are honored to host him for the second time here in Austin. Yamashita’s concert, and the opening of our 25th  season, is one week from Saturday.

Tickets and information are online here, or call 512-300-2247

One of our favorite guitarists of all time is Jorge Caballero.  We knew Yamashita was a huge influence on him, and we asked him to share a few words with us.

This is what he had to say:

“It is difficult to describe the fascination and astonishment I felt the morning I heard Yamashitas Pictures at an Exhibition for the first time. My teacher pulled out from his vast collection of guitar records a black cassette case, opened it with the familiarity of constant use, and after rewinding it, we listened. A myriad of sounds unfamiliar to my ears ensued. “I know people who quit playing the guitar after hearing this,” he said, between breaks and stops to fast forward through the tape. “And why not? This recording is like a crossroads.”

The genesis of the guitar version of Pictures dates back to the end of the 1970s, when the now legendary Japanese guitarist Kazuhito Yamashita first devised, interpreted, and published it. Historically speaking, this arrangement is— along with Yamashita’s subsequent performances of it, similar to the Pioneer anomaly in astrophysics: the paradox it created between the theoretically possible and the hypothetical forcibly exposed the limits of our knowledge.

In my twelve-year-old mind I could see this paradox, hanging on a delicate balance of simple definitions: “What is the guitar?” This question spun in my head as I heard my teacher’s remarks on Yamashita’s playing in the background. My own mind was busy. “Is it the instrument of Segovia, the one I more or less knew? Or, is it really something else? Can it be ultimately defined?” These questions took on the form of a persistent puzzle, one that my greatest imaginative effort could not resolve.

After the lesson was over, I asked my teacher if I could borrow the music, a spiral bound photocopy of forty-plus pages. Once I got home, I opened it to the first Promenade, guitar in hand, and began reading. Although even the opening phrase, its odd time signature and its fingerings seemed already illogical, I hoped that someday my curiosity would reward me the benefit of understanding it, and that is how I began learning Pictures, slowly, taking a page here and there and trying to play it, without responsibility beyond my self imposed obligation, but moreover, I sought to understand its meaning in order to quench a desire for knowledge, so as to resolve a riddle, to learn.”



A World Class Introduction for our International Series

As soon as we heard Kazuhito was going to conclude his concert with one of the greatest musical works of all time, Bach’s Chaconne in d minor from his Second Violin Partita we knew we wanted to do something special.  We have found something special indeed!

We are very excited to announce that special guest Jessica Mathaes, Concert Master of the Au
stin Symphony Orchestra, will be giving a brief talk and demonstration about the Chaconne beginning at 7pm before Kazuhito’s concert which will begin at 8pm.

What is a Chaconne, you ask?

“A chaconne (/ʃəˈkɒn/French: [ʃakɔn]; Spanish: chacona; Italian: ciacconapronounced [tʃakˈkoːna]) is a type of musical composition popular in the baroque era when it was much used as a vehicle for variation on a repeated short harmonic progression, often involving a fairly short repetitive bass-line (ground bass) which offered a compositional outline for variation, decoration, figuration and melodic invention. In this it closely resembles the passacaglia.” Wikipedia

Not only is Jessica an award-winning violinist, she has traveled the
world to perform with multiple orchestras and served as a Musical Ambassador for the U.S. on a solo and masterclass tour through Singapore. She became the youngest and first female Concert Master of the Austin Symphony in 2005 and has maintained the title since then.

In the words of our Executive Director Matthew Hinsley, “If you have not seen Jessica perform before, you are in for an incredible treat.  She’s a marvelous musician, and I cannot wait to hear everything she has to say about Bach’s seminal solo violin piece – one of the most influential of all time.”

How Learning to Play an Instrument Can Improve Your Life

In the past month we’ve had the privilege of being featured in both a KUT Public Radio story as well as on the PBS NewsHour national broadcast, both highlighting our five year old program with the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice System. The PBS piece, which can be viewed in the video below, followed one of our own instructors, Jeremy Osborne, along with three students involved in the program, Demetrius, Peter and Israel. The goal of the program is to transform students’ lives by giving them the opportunity to focus and excel in learning to play Classical Guitar.

Not only do we believe this program helps develop skills that students can turn into a career if they choose, but that will help them in the long run to learn to cope with their behavioral issues and focus that energy into something positive- making beautiful music.

Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern University’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory stated in an interview with TIME, which was published in an article called This Is How Music Can Change Your Brain, that “… it is only through the active generation and manipulation of sound that music can rewire the brain.”

“We don’t see these kinds of biological changes in people who are just listening to music, who are not playing an instrument,” said Kraus. “I like to give the analogy that you’re not going to become physically fit just by watching sports.” It’s important to engage with the sound in order to reap the benefits and see changes in the central nervous system.”

Scientific studies have shown how much classical music can impact activity in the brain and lead to a calmer temperament, but further studies have shown that actually engaging in the musical process and learning to play an instrument can refine an individual’s attention to detail and ability to focus in other areas as well. Developing these auditory physiological functions leads to a higher potential for literacy which directly affects academic abilities and the potential to be more successful in the long run.

We partner with Gardner Betts to provide students there with an arts-enriched educational environment in which they can recognize their abilities and potential.  In partnership with AISD we are able to allow students to earn Fine Arts credit toward graduation.  As we engage students in the arts through classical guitar, we contribute to the development of self-esteem and to the improvement of attitudes toward school in general. The progress made has been recently highlighted in a letter we received from Kim Anderson, AISD Alternative Education Guidance Counselor:

“I have seen the positive effect the Austin Classical Guitar program has had on the incarcerated youth here at Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. The performances in the courthouse for the CASA ceremonies, the more casual sessions at family visit potluck dinners, the formal appearances at the graduation ceremonies, and other impromptu performances have all been very well received by those in attendance. But more importantly, the way the kids carry themselves after a performance and the eagerness they approach practice sessions [with] have made it quite obvious to me that this is one of the more valuable programs the kids are a part of.”

She also mentions the importance of the Austin Classical Guitar program in promoting the confidence of the kids through challenging them with learning a difficult skill and providing them with the means to do so; instruments, lessons, student-instructor relationships that motivate them to get better.

Although the focus of our partnership with Gardner Betts has been to influence the lives of the students, it has indirectly had a positive impact on others as well. Jim Gobin, Director of Residential Services recently wrote:

“The performances of the young men and women at the CASA courthouse ceremonies and in our in-house graduation ceremonies have been an inspiration to our staff and residents…Artistic expression isn’t commonly found inside correction facilities and we are proud that it is offered in ours and feel it makes a difference when combined with our developmental programming.”

We are so proud of our team, and of these kids who have worked so hard to try something new and  had the courage to perform in public. It elates all of us here at ACG to see this positivity brought about by the implementation of our programs, and we look forward to developing it even further in the future.

We are profoundly grateful to our many supporters who make this project, and all of our work, possible.



Brasil Duo Returns!

We are thrilled to welcome back the Brasil Duo to Austin on Saturday, August 1st, for the final concert of our 2015 Brasil! Summer Series. Since their last visit, this dynamic duo has done many incredible things, including perform with cello icon Yo Yo Ma!

Get tickets online here, or call 512-300-2247.

We are particularly excited to hear Joao Luiz’s arrangements of Rameau and Gismonti again.

The second half begins with a magnificent large work by Leo Brouwer that the duo performed in Havana, Cuba, with the composer present, on the same concert in which they premiered a new work with Yo Yo Ma and Carlos Prieto!

Brasil Duo and Yo Yo MaThe Brasil Duo with cellists Carlos Prieto & Yo Yo Ma.

The duo’s August 1st program is:

Les Cyclopes by Jean Philippe Rameau
Prelude and Fugue by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
Zita by Astor Piazzolla (watch this on video!)
A Fala da Paixao by Egberto Gismonti
Sete Aneis by Gismonti (video)


Sonata de Los Viajeros by Leo Brouwer (video)
Bate-Coxa by Marco Pereira

Concert Details

Brasil Duo
Saturday, August 1st
Austin ISD Performing Arts Center
1500 Barbara Jordan Boulevard (78723)
6:30: Boteco Brazilian Food Truck
6:45: Gabriel Santiago (Eight-string Brazilian Jazz Guitar)
7:30: Brasil Duo
Tickets online here or 512-300-2247

Boteco will serve Yuca Fries with Chimmichurri Dipping Sauce, Ground Beef or Gourmet Cheese Pastels, Pão de Queijo, Brigadeiro, and Churros de Doce de Leite.

Our deepest thanks go to our sponsors Catherine and David Wildermuth, Joseph M. Bennett Architects and Oliver Custom Homes.

Tastes of Brazil

There’s only a few days until the first concert of our Brasil! Summer Series. We are thrilled to bring Quaternalgia to the AISD Performing Arts Center on Saturday, June 20, 2015. If you still haven’t purchased your tickets you can do so here, or simply call us at 512-300-2247.


On top of an exciting main event we also have great pre-show activities lined up beginning at 6:30 right outside the venue. Tesoros Trading Company is bringing different arts and crafts and local musician Susanna Sharpe will serenade us with traditional Brazilian songs. The food for the evening, served both during the pre-show and intermission, will be provided by Edis Chocolates. Their menu includes treats like Lemon and Lavender Cookies and multiple gluten-free items such as Homemade Chocolate Truffles and two different types of Cheese Puffs.



We are so excited to share in the sights and sounds of Brazil with our wonderful Austin audience!

My First Semester at Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center

 2013-08-02-6505Photo by Arlen Nydam

In December Travis Marcum, our Director of Education, asked me to take the reigns on the guitar program at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. This program was founded by us in 2010 and, until this point, was offered after school in classes that met 2 to 3 times per week. It is unique in the context of juvenile justice because it serves as a means for students in lock down to earn a fine arts credit. If you have followed ACG you know that this program has been as successful as it is ground breaking.

This year the Austin Independent School District administration at Gardner Betts wanted to offer guitar to the longer term residents, so it was decided to make it part of the curricular day, essentially making it an official class. Being asked to consider doing this filled me with some trepidation regarding the potential difficulties of a program like this, as well as the fact that I would have some huge shoes to fill. A true challenge indeed! The opportunity for personal and professional growth greatly outweighed any fear I had about this change, so I charged full steam into this new chapter.

Gardner Betts is a high-security detention facility, so it goes without saying that there have been some intense moments. However, the greatest challenges I faced did not deal with behavior and classroom management, as one might expect. Instead they dealt primarily student motivation. I had to completely re-tool my pacing and sequencing, as well as integrate new elements into my daily instruction.

Another challenge is the facility itself. Every door has a code or a lock and the hallways are designed to make you feel slightly disoriented. There is very specific protocol for the staff, teachers, and students when on the campus, which takes some time getting used to.  The school schedule can change at a moment’s notice, making consistency feel like quite a luxury. Lastly, because it is a partnership between Travis County Corrections and the Austin school district, there are significant bureaucratic procedures to navigate.

The class is now in two sections meeting five times per week for an hour. One section consists of medium to short term residents, which is the population we have worked with in earlier classes. The other section consists of long-term residents, who are currently serving 1 to 2 year terms. It goes without saying that working with these students requires great patience, but they have given me new insight that has lifted me to another level in my teaching.

These students are smart, they are creative, and are incredibly insightful once they let you in. In fact, they have gotten further in a semester than any class I have ever taught. Most importantly they have acquired enough skill to have a lasting relationship with music.

This past May, we performed for a packed house at a swearing-in ceremony for volunteers with the Travis County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) program, a volunteer service for system-involved youth in need of advocates. My students didn’t miss a note or a crescendo, and they presented themselves with pride and professionalism. They received two standing ovations and were grinning ear to ear!

After the concert we sat in the cafeteria where I had brought them pizza and Hostess cupcakes. Before we ate, the students came up to me one by one, hugged me then thanked me. Both the staff and myself were speechless. This performance gave them an experience that not only contextualized five months of hard work, it gave them 45 minutes where they clearly forgot about the situation they were currently in, where they easily rose above it through hard work and dedication, where they held instruments and presented expressive, polished, beautiful music before an enthusiastic audience for the very first time.

A Talk with Tesoros Trading Company

Art provides communities the opportunity to come together and appreciate a new viewpoint and, hopefully, gain a new perspective.
– Jonathan Williams & Kisla Jimenez, Tesoros Trading Company


Tesoros Trading Company is one of Austin’s cultural treasures not only for the amazing arts and crafts they bring to Austin from twenty different countries, but also for their deep commitment to supporting our community.

Tesoros is a sponsor and partner for this summer’s Brasil! series. Not only are they supporting our artists, but they have also donated twelve gorgeous and evocative prints by iconic Brazilian printmaker Jose Francisco Borges that will be available in the lobby of our shows as a benefit for ACG Education.

I spoke with Jonathan Williams and Kisla Jimenez about their relationship to Brazil, to Austin Classical Guitar, and the importance of international arts in our community.

Matthew Hinsley: What is your relationship with Brazil, what do you love the most?

Jonathan Williams:  I was given a grant to study Portuguese at UT in the early 1980’s. Brazil in general is fascinating mix of European-Portuguese, African, and Indigenous traditions that has shaped its visual arts and music. The Folk Art traditions also reflect this unique blend. And of course the music is among the most beautiful in the world. We appreciate it all: from forro, to choro, to samba.

MH: You have generously donated prints by J. Borges for us to display and sell as a benefit at our summer series. Tell me about his work, and your relationship with the artist?

JW:  On my first trip to Brazil I was most interested in meeting Jose Francisco Borges. The curator of the San Antonio Museum of Art- Latin American collection had introduced me to his work, and I went specifically to visit him in his small town, Bezerros, about two hours outside of Recife.

Jose Francisco Borges represents a centuries-old tradition of chapbook writing, illustrating, and performance.  Since medieval times in the Iberian Peninsula writers have created short folk stories that were self published in small pamphlet size booklets called “Literartura de Cordel” or “Stories on a String.” The stories were hung on small cords in the weekly markets, and sold by their authors. They are normally written as poetry using the regional dialect of the author. Frequently they were sung out loud in the market place by the author to attract attention and sales of his latest creations. The topics could be humorous political satire, children’s folk tales, or even risqué dreams of the writers. J. Borges regards himself primarily as a poet/author.

However, he became internationally know for his self-taught talent of creating woodcuts to illustrate the covers of these small stories. Originally the size of his woodcuts were very small, about 3 by 5 inches, the size of the stories on a string.  He is credited with being the first artist to expand the size beyond this small limit.  His international fame came from his large woodblock prints that illustrate many folk traditions, animals, and legends of Northeast Brazil. He has created thousands of different woodcut images over the last 60 years.

Tesoros has sponsored several trips for him to visit Austin and Santa Fe. Approaching 80 years of age now, he is considered a national treasure in Brazil, and is the nation’s most well known folk artist.

MH: You are long time supporters of Austin Classical Guitar, you’ve even hosted us in your home for a Salon Concert. What do you wish everyone knew about ACG?

Jonathan & Kisla: The one thing that impresses us the most about ACG is the fact that thousands of kids have been impacted by the guitar lessons offered by ACG throughout the Austin public school system. We know first hand as parents that learning music benefits children in so many ways: improved self esteem, increased academic success, genuine appreciation for the arts, just to name a few.

Offering guitar lessons to kids from all walks of life undoubtedly opens doors to kids who may have not have the opportunity otherwise. Learning an instrument like the guitar, considering it’s popularity in all types of music, hopefully provides a gateway to pursuing other instruments or other art forms. We love the professional performances that ACG organizes but more importantly, we think the educational component is extraordinary.

MH: You have traveled extensively, worked with artists, and heard music form around the world. From your perspective, what is the importance of art in our communities?

J&K: For us, art is vital in helping all of us understand and interpret our own daily struggles and joys. Looking at beautiful colors in an art piece or listening to the melodic notes of an engaging musical score provides a balance to this fast-paced, information-overloaded world we live in.

Art provides communities the opportunity to come together and appreciate a new viewpoint and, hopefully, gain a new perspective.


Exploring the many moods of music…. Reflections on my journey with outreach performance

Joseph Palmer is an extraordinary guitarist who has developed a passion for outreach performance and the study of communication through music.  This spring we have asked him to perform fifty concerts in our schools programs.  He wrote this reflection on his experience so far.

What a remarkable journey it has been – and it’s only the beginning!

It is so fascinating to me how unique the listening experience is to each individual. When you listen to music, connect with it, and generate your own meaning with it that is a creative process in itself. Each person connects with the music in a way that is personal to them and their experiences in life

The week before I arrived at each of the schools, I sent a recorded excerpt from one of my personal favorite works on the program “Invocation y Danza” by Joaquin Rodrigo along with a creative listening activity that I designed for the students.

In class, the teacher leads the activity and plays the two-minute recorded excerpt for the class several times without revealing any info about the music as they listen deeply and reflect. Among the listening activities, the students were asked to choose several words to any aspect of what they hear.

One student felt that the music was “exotic, smooth, calm, and exciting”. Another stated that it was “suspenseful, lively, creepy, and emotional”. In contrast, another student found the music to be “peaceful, celebratory, unique, and soothing.”

It’s amazing how the same music can make people respond in in so many different ways! And this was just a warm-up…

In the actual performances, the students had opportunities to…

Discover the music for themselves, converse with one another about their impressions from the music, and share their thoughts. (Listening in on their animated conversations is quite fascinating!)

  • “I really like how I was involved in the performance as well. I felt important and more in the music than just listening.” ~ Akins High School

To learn about how music could be arranged for the guitar, and the kinds of musical decisions performers have to make…

  • “I really enjoyed the piece you translated that was originally for harpsichord! It was interesting to hear about the problems you faced and how you solved them, and you have made me want to learn how to play guitar! Great job!” ~ Lamar Middle School


To connect with a composer’s grieving process as expressed through his music while others reflected on experiences in their own life where they had to say ‘farewell’…

  • My favorite piece was the farewell because it reminded me of someone that I lost a couple of years ago and it perfectly described how I was feeling.” ~ Travis High School

To make requests to hear me perform the solos that they had been working on in class from Matt Hinsley’s Classical Guitar for Young People…

  • “The most memorable part was when he played Light and Dark”
  • “My favorite part of the presentation was when he played the solos and we saw how the solos are supposed to sound.” ~ Paredes Middle School

They also heard wild stories behind the music, imagined what it might sound like, and experienced how vividly music can depict a story purely through sound…

  • “I liked Pedro and Diablo because there was a story behind it that I could see through the music. It was creative and it made me see it in a different way.” ~ St. Gabriels Middle School

St. Gabriels

Having the opportunity to perform for and interact with all of these students has been an incredibly rewarding experience so far! I’ve had a blast. They have too.