A Conversation with Brent Baldwin

When we realized our director of Austin Classical Guitar Youth Orchestra, Joseph Williams II, would be unable to conduct them at this Saturday’s performance (on account that he also needed to perform in the concert as a member of the Texas Guitar Quartet!), our first choice to lead our elite youth guitar orchestra was conductor extraordinaire Brent Baldwin.

Brent, as you’ll find out below, is a truly astonishing talent, one of the most creative and dynamic cultural forces in Austin.

He’s done a tremendous job with the talented young players of ACGYO, and he shares conducting duties on Saturday night with Conspirare’s Nina Revering as they lead our youth orchestra, and Conspirare’s Youth Choir, in a breathtaking opening half.

Still need tickets? Information is online here.

We asked Brent a few questions about everything from working with the young talents in ACGYO to playing for tens of thousands on his recent tour in Asia with a rock band.

Greg Coleman/LensPortraits Photography

Greg Coleman/LensPortraits Photography

Matthew Hinsley: What has it been like working with ACGYO?

Brent Baldwin: It’s been an absolute treat to work with such exceptional young talent. I think it’s a testament to ACG’s impact on the arts world. Austin is truly a classical guitar hub thanks to this organization.

It’s really inspiring to see intelligent and immensely talented young people work together toward a common goal. The world needs more of this! If I had a single regret about working with ACGYO, it reminds me that I didn’t have an opportunity to play in such a group when I was younger!

MH: What is most exciting to you about this project?

BB: I can’t narrow it to just one! This project combines three specific passions of mine—guitar music, choral music, and contemporary music.

The guitar is where my journey into music began. My initial focus was punk and noise rock, and while I never lost my love for the electric guitar, I stumbled upon an excellent classical guitar teacher (Christopher Kane) while at college in New Hampshire. The result was a change of major (from visual art to music performance) and a brand new outlook on what guitar music—and music itself—could be.

Choral music was likewise something I stumbled into by chance. There’s really something about the communal sharing of sound—sans instruments—that electrifies the air. I’m not remotely religious, but there are times when the harmonics of certain sonorities lock in just so, and it really does become a spiritual kind of moment for me.

In my twenty plus years of conducting, contemporary music has been a huge focus of mine. There’s so much emphasis on the masterworks of the past, and while they’re all wonderful works, we’re doing a great disservice to future generations of listeners and musicians if we fail to also make room for contemporary composers like Nico Muhly and Graham Reynolds. If people take the time to seek out and embrace the Beethovens and Mozarts of our time (after all, these guys were the contemporary weirdo composers of their time), there’s so much richness to be discovered. How exciting is that!

MH: You’re working with friends and colleagues like Graham Reynolds and Craig Hella Johnson in this project. How significant is it to make music with friends?

BB: SO very significant. These beautiful friends contribute so much to the Austin musical world, and any arts scene is going to benefit when artists gather forces for a common cause. Graham and I witnessed this last year when we worked together with Texas Performing Arts and Fusebox Festival to create Mozart Requiem Undead, which would have been far less successful than it would have been if any of us had tried to produce it alone. Texas Choral Consort’s most recent event, Indie Orchestra Night, brought together a chorus, an orchestra, and independent rock/pop figures like Dana Falconberry, Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg, the Rocketboys and Hip-Hop artist Zeale. All this in the spirit of making something exciting happen that we couldn’t easily pull off ourselves.

In my book, artistic collaboration trumps artistic competition any day. It’s a lot more work, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun!

MH: You’re a busy guy, from leading Texas Choral Consort, one of the most critically acclaimed Austin arts organizations in 2014, to touring Taiwan and Japan in a rock band and playing for tens of thousands. What else are you up to, what do you wish everyone knew about?

BB: In the wake of a pretty big year, Texas Choral Consort is gearing up to premiere a new large-scale work by Austin composer Russell Reed alongside the Ralph Vaughan Williams masterpiece Dona Nobis Pacem (August 16th at the Austin ISD Performing Arts Center). We’ve also got a number of terrific collaborations in the works with Line Upon Line percussion ensemble, Convergence and many, many others.

I’m in final negotiations regarding some upcoming domestic and international tours… things are still being worked out, so I won’t jinx things by spilling too many beans! Traveling to other parts of the world to share music with people is one of my very favorite things.

I’m also finalizing details on a number of world-premiere works which I’ll be conducting in the coming year or two. There are a number of recording projects in the works as well, including a brand new symphony by Austin composer Nathan Felix and a number of indie band orchestral collaborations. I’m keeping pretty busy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love what I do!

A Conversation with Kathy Panoff

I am fascinated by how things get done in the arts.

How do great series develop? How do thriving service-based programs grow? How are new works imagined and created and supported?

Kathy Panoff, after 13 years running the Modlin Center for the Arts at the University of Virginia, became Director and Associate Dean of the University of Texas at Austin Performing Arts Center (now Texas Performing Arts) in 2009. Since her arrival, Texas Performing Arts has been an extraordinary force in the development of bold and exciting programming, collaboration and vision in the arts in our community.

Our upcoming collaboration with Texas Performing Arts and Conspirare on April 18th was her original concept. The new work our organizations will premiere was commissioned by Texas Performing Arts with the help of the Mellon Foundation.

If you want to go, information and tickets are online here!

I asked Kathy a few questions about this project and about her vision and leadership in the arts. Enjoy!

Kathy Panoff resMatt Hinsley: You made this. I’ll never forget the lunch when you first pitched the idea to Craig Hella Johnson and me. Why us? What led you to this bold and unprecedented collaborative vision?

Kathy Panoff: This particular commission provided the perfect opportunity for Texas Performing Arts to demonstrate our commitment to cultural leadership, one of the three key pillars of our mission-based work on the UT campus and in the community. As the largest arts organization in the region, Texas Performing Arts has an implied responsibility to both steward and elevate our cultural resources, including classical music, so that they may continue to grow, thrive and retain relevance in today’s rapidly changing world. I wanted to do something collaborative since we are known for that kind of programming with our faculty, and ACG and Conspirare seemed ideal partners since I wanted a work for voices and guitars, and since the guitar is essentially embedded in our culture in Austin.

MH: From your perspective, presenting some of the most important performing artists in the world as you do, and commissioning new material of great significance with regularity, what does it mean to have Nico Muhly creating this work for Austin?

KP: Presenting world class performing artists is a critical component of the teaching mission of the College of Fine Arts and The University of Texas at Austin at large. The commission of new work functions as the research and development arm of the various arts disciplines. It really is not unlike other types of research which, through trial, error and discovery, researchers aspire to move a particular area of study and/or research forward. In the arts the creation of new work is one of the most important ways to help advance the art form and ensure relevance in perpetuity.

MH: Tell me about your vision of community engagement in the arts. How does this project, and your broad efforts at Texas Performing Arts, feed that vision?

KP: For me, it goes back to cultural leadership and Texas Performing Arts’ belief that leadership is best demonstrated by example. Competition for the arts and entertainment dollar is incredibly challenging. I believe we can best compete by developing collaborative projects like this, that will, by design, attract a broader range of constituents than doing something on our own. Honestly, I think it’s a great way for all the participants to distinguish themselves. TPA has had great success with this collaborative approach with major projects that involve the elite student ensembles from the Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music performing alongside professional touring artists, like the centennial performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring with the UT Symphony and the Joffrey Ballet, and projects like How Little You Are.

A Conversation with Nico Muhly

Several years ago I got the kind of invitation that people in my line of work dream about. Kathy Panoff, Director of Texas Performing Arts, asked me to join her for lunch with Conspirare’s Craig Hella Johnson to discuss the possibility of a large-scale collaboration.

What Kathy envisioned, however, was much more than I could have imagined. She was in the process of applying for a grant from the Mellon Foundation—a grant with an enormous vision for community arts engagement in Austin. Part of her vision was to bring Austin Classical Guitar and Conspirare together with the commission of a new work, the scope of which would enable us to engage nearly any composer in the world.

Nearly any composer in the world.

We chose Nico Muhly.

A stunning talent with prolific and wide-ranging creations, Nico has composed for some of the most important performing arts groups in the world including the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet, New York Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, American Ballet Theater, Paris Opéra Ballet, Barbican Centre and Wigmore Hall, along with several film scores including a 2008 Best Picture nominee.

The result of that vision and commission is How Little You Are for voices and guitars. The premiere of this work, commissioned by Texas Performing Arts with support from the Mellon Foundation and performed by Conspirare, the Dublin Guitar Quartet, LA Guitar Quartet, and Texas Guitar Quartet, will take place on Saturday, April 18th at 8pm in Bass Concert Hall. Tickets and information are online here.

Here’s how Nico describes the work:

How Little You Are is a large piece, for twelve guitars and choir. I found a sequence of texts written by pioneer women in Texas and in other places in the 19th century expansion to the west. Their concerns range from the agricultural to the spiritual, and from the wonder of the open spaces to the horrors of infant mortality. The camera moves away from the woman in the final section of the piece, towards the cowboys and wranglers working in the far distance.”

Intrigued yet? I think I speak for all of us when I say I was overwhelmed with Nico’s dramatic vision for the piece, and so I asked him to share some of his thoughts on the project as a whole.

Nico MuhlyMatthew Hinsley: What excites you the most about this project?

Nico Muhly: This piece is exciting for a few really specific and nerdy reasons. First and foremost, this is my first exploration of a totally homophonic texture: twelve identical instruments creating a large blanket of sound. This allowed me to really have fun with patterns and rhythms.

MH: What led you to the subject matter of this work: texts written by pioneer women in Texas and in other places in the 19th century expansion to the west?

NM: It seemed like I needed an excuse to use the multiple guitars, and I thought about the old sense of portable instruments: fiddles, guitars, things that could be thrown into the back of a wagon and brought across the country. Also, I’ve worked with American folk music as source material for a large range of compositions, but have never worked with cowboy music, which felt like a noticeable oversight. This piece ends with two old cowboy songs sung in a highly stylized fashion.

MH: Is there anything you wish everyone listening to this piece for the first time knew, or started thinking about, in advance?

NM: I would say to listen to how the guitars interface with another—they are divided up into three equal quartets, but sometimes information bounces between the groups and between individual players. Sometimes the guitars create a romantic environment and other times an austere, shrub-dotted landscape. I would also call attention to how the choir functions—sometimes as a collection of individuals and elsewhere as a giant mass.

A Conversation with Craig Hella Johnson

Craig Hella Johnson is the Artistic Director and visionary leader of one of the greatest choral organizations in the United States. With an astounding six nominations, only a few weeks ago Conspirare won their first Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance.

It’s been a longtime dream of mine to collaborate with Craig and Conspirare, and that’s why it was such a thrill when Kathy Panoff, Director of Texas Performing Arts, invited us to lunch a few years ago to discuss a vision she had for an ambitious and totally unique collaborative project.

That project’s world premiere is now just a few weeks away. On April 18th at Bass Concert Hall, we bring together the Dublin Guitar Quartet, Texas Guitar Quartet and LA Guitar Quartet (also Grammy winners) to perform with Conspirare the premiere of a new work by superstar composer Nico Muhly. The work was commissioned by Texas Performing Arts for this occasion.

Tickets and information are online here.

I asked Craig a few questions about the project and wanted to share our conversation with you:

Craig Hella JohnsonMatthew Hinsley (MH): We’ve talked about working together for a long time. What do you think is magical about Austin Classical Guitar and Conspirare coming together in this project with Texas Performing Arts?

Craig Hella Johnson (CHJ): Well, magical is indeed the right word! Wow. For so long now, I’ve been inspired by ACG and the incredible range of things you all do. The broad range of opportunities is extraordinary—from the amazing professional concerts with world class artists to the dynamic programs you have for beginning guitarists from all walks of life. I feel that Conspirare shares these values with you—holding really high musical expectations for everyone involved and, at the same time, wanting to make the experience available to as many people as possible. You all have such a fresh and fun perspective, and this makes it a joy to collaborate.

So to combine the talents and vision of these organizations and to have it presented and curated by the incredible Texas Performing Arts series is truly special. It really took this essential partner—Kathy Panoff and Texas Performing Arts—to make the project possible. I am so grateful for her bold vision of creating new music for a choir of guitars and a choir of voices. This had been a long-time interest of mine—to explore this kind of texture play with the sounds of multiple guitars and voices, and it is exciting to see this come to fruition through such a significant commission.

MH: What excites you about Nico Muhly as a composer? What should we all know about this magnificent talent?

CHJ: Nico is just the bomb! Such an outrageously gifted composer, incredible craftsman, so intelligent. Although his urban, modern, fresh and bold voice is what so many people are responding passionately to these days, his music, for me, also feels deeply rooted in ancient traditions and gestures in a way that is compelling and can feel delightfully modern.

MH: You’ve had a chance to study the score. What can you tell us about what we might expect? Did anything surprise you?

CHJ: I really love it—it is an amazing score. I have already told him that I think it is a masterpiece, and I am not being hyperbolic when I say that. The textures and colors he has envisioned with these twelve guitars create a truly unique sound realm—like something we have not heard before. The vocal writing is first rate and carries such emotion. I feel that this will be a lasting piece in the repertoire. Beyond the fascinating compositional elements, I was surprised by how much the piece moved me, even just seeing it on paper. It really touched me.

Music and Love: an International Action Adventure

They wanted to know how long I’ve played, how many guitars I’ve played, what other instruments I’ve played, and how long it takes to “play guitar perfectly.” They were curious how much money one can make with the guitar, and if you can learn guitar in college. One girl was curious about our programs in the foster care system, and wanted to know if we had any programs in Ohio (the teacher introducing me had mentioned we work in foster homes).

One boy said he’d brought his guitar and wanted to know if I could stay and teach him something over recess. Another girl asked if I would pray for her grandmother who is ill. That caused another girl to remember being held in a sling by her grandmother, who is no longer living, when she was very small while her “gran” would play guitar for her. Another girl wanted to know if playing the guitar is soothing when you’re upset, because she’d heard that it is.

I had just finished performing for Cedar Elementary School in Canton, Ohio as part of the String Festival here. I knew I’d be playing for a group of fourth and fifth graders, and I woke up this morning wondering what I might play for them. These days I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of storytelling in music, and it occurred to me that it might be fun to play them a series of pieces and have them make up a story as we went along. I started with Evocación by Jose Luis Merlin—a slow, beautiful, and brief piece—and then I asked them who would like to start our story. Five hands went up, and one boy said it sounded sad, and another boy said it sounded like a guy had lost his true love, that she had left, and that he was sad.

And we were off! After each new part of the story, I asked them to tell me if the next section should be fast or slow, happy or sad, and I did my best to come up with selections matching their requests. Sometimes in the middle of a piece, when the students’ enthusiastically wiggling hands reached critical mass, I would pause to collect more parts of the emerging story.

Here is my best compilation of the story these students came up with. Along the way we got many divergent ideas, many of which I’m sure I won’t recall. But here’s my version!

Music and Love: an International Action Adventure
By the students of Cedar Elementary School in Canton, Ohio.

[Evocación, by Jose Luis Merlin]
They met and fell in love. Everything was great. But then she left. He didn’t know why, but he knew he was sad, and he knew he had to find her.

[Joropo, by Jose Luis Merlin]
He got the in car and started driving. He couldn’t find her anywhere. He asked people in town where she might be, and they were super helpful! They had seen her, and they pointed him in the right direction.

[Tango en Skai, by Roland Dyens]
Driving down a side street, he just got “one of those feelings,” and decided to stop. Before getting out of the car, he remembered he had her cell phone number! So he tried calling her up, but she didn’t’ answer. So instead he went to the door and found her waiting inside.

He was so excited! Until he learned that he’d found her twin sister instead. His twin sister explained that her sister, his girlfriend, had gone to Italy.

[Etude No. 1, by Giulio Regondi]
He and his girlfriend’s twin sister went to Italy. They were able to arrange this easily because he was, in fact, a secret agent with crazy skills and important connections. Ah Italy! In their search for his girlfriend, the beauty and romance of Italy almost caused a little spark between he and the twin. But that just didn’t seem right. Eventually, they found his girlfriend.

[Sunburst, by Andrew York]
He was reunited with his true love! But just as they were approaching one another, she was kidnapped. This was such a traumatic experience that the manner in which she was actually kidnapped became the source of quite a debate between he and the twin in later years. They cannot agree to this day if she was snatched and placed on a jet, if a helicopter came by and whisked her away from him, or if some nasty guy swung by on a vine like Tarzan and carried her away.

Their memory is totally unified, however, about other key details. There was definitely an evil mastermind behind the whole thing. She definitely ended up in a speeding car that flew over the edge of a cliff, and our hero most assuredly saved her from certain death in an airplane flying by at precisely the right time.

[Fantasia, by Silvius Leopold Weiss]
Bandits! Just when they thought they were out of the woods, they were accosted by evil bandits. He was fighting them off valiantly when he was surprised to learn that his girlfriend (we think the twin lingered back in Italy) had some mad fighting skills too. Together they were able to eliminate the enemy and decided to fly to…Texas!  That’s right, Texas!

[Julia Florida, Agustín Barrios Mangoré]
Some baddies were still hanging around in Texas. As they continued to fight for their safety and their future together, it was revealed that she, too, was a secret agent.

They fell in love all over again, got married, and moved to an island where they admired the beautiful sunset every night happily ever after.

The End

###

My deepest thanks to the organizers of String, the incredible staff at Cedar Elementary School, and the amazing, brilliant, creative kids I met who took this wild journey with me for an hour or so this morning.

Cedar Elementary Cropped

Deep in our creative brainstorming session.

 

Guitars Under the Stars – What to Expect

Guitars Under the Stars, presented by H-E-B, is sold out. If you have a ticket already, though, here is a little more information about this year’s exciting gala!

If you don’t have a ticket but believe in our work of education and would like to help us reach our goal of raising $100,000, or if you are coming but would prefer to give or pledge in advance, please donate or pledge online here.

What You are Supporting

We received this amazing letter from one of our graduates last week. A perfect example of the kind of impact you help us make on thousands of diverse young central Texans each day in over fifty schools!

How and When to Get There

Our gala takes place at One World Theatre, at 7701 Bee Caves Road (78746) west of Loop 360. Find directions online here.

Arrive around 6:30pm—find our valet stand right next to a beautiful Mercedes-Benz on display from our exclusive automobile Platinum Sponsor for the evening, Mercedes-Benz of Austin, and our bars inside will be serving beer, wine, cocktails, and soft drinks.

Some of the Fun Things to Check Out

Grab a drink, peruse our mystery gift boxes and the beautiful mosaic guitars created just for this occasion by Texas artist Amy Voss, and get your complimentary Guitars Under the Stars portrait taken by photographer David Tietz of Editorial Image. Photographer Richard Childress will be getting great cameos all night long as well!

Dinner by Word of Mouth Catering will be served shortly after your arrival, and you’ll have ample time to visit with your party, meet new friends, and pick up some fun mystery gifts or enter our raffle for one of three grand prizes.

Shortly before 8pm, we will head up to the theatre to enjoy a brief program where we’ll hear from some students and teachers, followed by a student performance, and then we’ll welcome Sergio and Odair Assad and Romero Lubambo to the stage.

The world’s preeminent classical guitar duo, the Assads have toured and recorded with Yo-Yo Ma, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, and Dawn Upshaw. For this special concert, they team up with Brazilian jazz guitar legend Romero Lubambo for a musical evening you won’t forget.

… the best two-guitar team in existence, maybe even in history… no amount of anticipation could have prepared me for the Brazilian brothers’ daringly flexible, eerily unanimous ensemble playing. – The Washington Post

Thank You

Our work is made possible day after day thanks to the support of our many members, our donors, and our generous sponsors.

Our Guitars under the Stars presenting sponsor is H-E-B. Mercedes-Benz of Austin, Silicon Labs, and Louise Epstein & John Henry McDonald are our Platinum Sponsors.

As a special thanks, our team taught a group of Silicon Labs engineers a beginning guitar lesson last fall, so they’d better understand what they help us achieve in schools every day. Want to see how they did?

Watch their end of class performance online here!

These remarkable supporters, along with our Gold Sponsors Kendal & Ken Gladish, Joan & Thomas Kobayashi, and Oliver Custom Homes, continue years of ongoing support for our education efforts—without which we simply would not be the organization we are today.

Special thanks also to our media and hotel sponsors AW Media and Radisson Hotel and Suites Austin – Downtown, along with our design partner of over ten years who contributes her work for this event each season, Claudia Roeschmann of ROESCHMANNdesign.

What’s in the Mystery Gift Boxes

Delicious and generous gift cards to fabulous restaurants like Fonda San Miguel, Gusto Italian Kitchen, Driskill Grill, Corazon at Castle Hill, Kneaded Pleasures, La Mancha, and the newly opened 416 on Burnet Road, with cheese from Antonelli’s Cheese Shop and a catering package from Paellas, Tapas & More!

Tickets from Austin’s premiere performing arts organizations including Ballet Austin (dance lessons from the Butler Community School too!), Conspirare, Texas Performing Arts, One World Theatre, The Austin Symphony, Austin Chamber Music Center and, of course, Austin Classical Guitar, along with movie and food passes from our friends at Alamo Drafthouse.

Treasures from Tesoro’s Trading Company and Karen Landrigan Design (jewelry), incredible art from Patti Troth Black and photography by Lindsay Lee. VIP tour passes to the Blanton Museum of Art donated by Laraine Lasdon, premium wines from King Liquor, and even a gift from Crystal Creek Moonshine!

Board members Kendal Gladish, Patty Valadka and David Lastrapes donated gift cards, wines, and more. The boxes have CDs ranging from Austin’s jazz icon Suzi Stern to the Assad Duo.

Get fit with Ready to Run, get musical with Fiddler’s Green, relax with Massage Envy (Mopac/2222), and get hip with a consultation from Harriett Saikin Interior Design.

You may even get a racing ride in a Ferrari from LR Academy, or enjoy one of our grand prizes including a night in downtown and a stay at the Radisson Hotel.

Huge thanks to Patty Valadka and all of our volunteers who helped make this possible!

We look forward to celebrating all that you have helped make possible in music education through Austin Classical Guitar. Thank you, and we’ll see you soon.

A Letter from College

Susana Diaz-Lopez graduated last spring from Travis High School and is attending Del Mar College on a full scholarship.  Travis High School, a four year old program directed by Susan Rosanc, is one of the only schools to receive all “Outstanding” ratings at least year’s Austin Concert and Sight Reading Assessment event.  We were delighted to receive this reflection from Susana about Travis High, about Ms. Rosanc, about the lessons ACG provided her with Brent Ferguson, and about her future plans.

Guitar meant a lot to me in high school because, when I was little, my dad used to play and sing for my brothers and I.  That’s where my passion for music started. I always wanted to be a singer, but when I grew up I drifted away and became interested in other things. When I got to Travis High School Ms. Susan Rozanc persuaded me to join the guitar class.  I was also immediately curious, but what really grabbed me was the first time I actually played a piece.  It made me feel strong, unstoppable. It’s hard to describe, but it was an amazing feeling.

Ms. Rozanc was an great teacher.  I think that she is a big part of the reason I feel like nothing is impossible. She always believed that we could get Outstanding Ratings at UIL, and we did.  Even though others didn’t believe in us, she pushed us and got us there.  Mr. Ferguson believed that I had potential. I remember him telling me that he used me as an example to motivate my best friend to practice!  His belief motivated me also. Both Ms.Rozanc and Mr. Ferguson have kept up with my progress in school and still give me advice to help build my composition portfolio, even though I am not their student any more.  They are still there for me.

I’m now studying Music Theory and Composition at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi.  I was offered a full ride to come here.  Senior year Dr. Abel Ramirez from Del Mar College gave a band clinic at Travis High School before UIL.  At a break he called me over and asked me about my plans after high school.  I told him I wanted to compose, and eventually own my own studio. He offered me a deal that made it possible for me to attend Del Mar.  My goal ultimately is to transfer to UCLA.

Looking ahead I want to write film scores.  I want people to feel what I feel when I hear movie soundtracks. I want people to know the power of music. I also hope to make my own albums, and I still have a goal of owning my own recording studio.  I want to be a great composer, and I want to help the people in need. I want people to have the same opportunities that I have had.

Most importantly I want my mom to be proud of me.  I want to prove to everyone who told us that we couldn’t achieve our goals, that we could. And I promise that I will make my dreams come true, no matter what.

Snapchat-20140227013602

2015 Education Progress Report

ACG Education now serves fifty Austin elementary, middle and high schools, including the Travis County Juvenile Justice Center and the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. We are providing service in more local schools than ever before, with over 3,000 students enrolled, and with the highest level of consistency in student outcomes.

Our primary job is to make these programs work well. Once a school or the district decides they want to start a guitar program or improve an existing one, they contact our organization. Our team becomes extensively engaged in every aspect of the program—from curriculum and lesson planning to teacher training, getting guitars into student hands, creating performance opportunities, guest artist experiences, and much more.

None of this would be possible without the support of friends in the community like you. Thank you!

In this report we have tried to give a snapshot of the status of the various areas of our education services. We hope you enjoy reading about this work, and we welcome your feedback.

Local Service

We appear to have reached a “tipping point” in the Austin school-based teaching community with regard to classical guitar education quality.

To explain this statement, we offer a brief and simplified chronological history of our program since it began in 2001. For the first three years, until 2004, we identified and defined our primary needs to elevate school-based guitar teaching quality to the same levels as established programs like choir, orchestra, and band. From 2004 to 2008 we articulated and published our solution to meet those needs in the form of GuitarCurriculum.com. From 2008 to 2014, we expanded our programs, school by school, working to establish teaching standards, student expectations, and a culture of excellence among the Austin teachers with whom we work. This year, as we serve more schools, teachers, and students than ever before, we are seeing a new level of commitment from our teachers—as active participants in creating that culture of excellence we have sought for so many years. Although the demands for our services are greater than ever, the results, in terms of student performance outcomes, are more consistent than they’ve ever been.

A big success factor beyond our training, curriculum, and daily intervention, is district-wide evaluation and performance. For three years our team has worked extensively to develop and administer an annual Concert and Sight-Reading Contest modeled after University Interscholastic League (UIL) contests for band and orchestra. This year, UIL has voted to add our contest as an official pilot event (April 22nd and 23rd, all day). Our team also establishes standards and repertoire, holds auditions for, and directs All City Guitar Event, designed to bring together exemplary students from each of the district’s middle and high schools for a showcase performance experience (Tuesday, February 3rd at 7pm).

We began our individual lessons program for low-income students in 2001. Since then, many of our most striking personal success stories have been a direct result of these significant commitments to individuals who exhibit need and a drive to make the most of individual instruction. Students in this program receive free weekly instruction throughout the year on an ongoing basis until they graduate, provided they make satisfactory progress.

Last May, six of our students receiving individual lessons at Travis High School graduated and were accepted to college with significant scholarships. One was the first in her family ever to attend college. We have continued our commitment to Travis High School, and have added Mendez Middle School this past fall. This month we will also begin significant individual lesson programs at KIPP Austin charter school and Crockett High School.

Our greatest area of expansion is in elementary schools, where we currently provide service in 20 locations. One of our newest teachers, Hilary Adamson from Cunningham Elementary, recently wrote:

I have worked with many organizations throughout my 17 years of teaching, and Austin Classical Guitar stands out above the rest by leaps and bounds. Austin Classical Guitar has been with us every step of the way.

One of our veteran middle school teachers, Dixie Yoder, decided to begin teaching elementary school guitar this year. In December she asked her students to write about guitar class. Here are some of our favorite responses:

What I love playing about guitar is that you get to feel free. I like hearing the silence at the end of the song…it’s magical. -Paty, 5th grade

When I play the guitar with others I feel like a team. We could be the best group ever and people will like watching our group when we grow up. -Leilani, 5th grade

What I love about playing the guitar is that it calms me down when I am angry, sad, or embarrassed. -Marco, 5th grade

At first I didn’t think that just playing one string at a time would make a good sound, but it turned into a wonderful sound. I recommend that everyone try it. -Andrea, 5th grade

When I started playing the guitar I wasn’t good…but nobody is perfect. Now I’m playing it right. -Marcos, 5th grade

Playing guitars is my favorite part of the day. -Zade, 5th grade

National Service

2014 saw a large jump forward in our national and international service as well. Most significantly, our team traveled to Atlanta, St. Louis, and Houston for formal training sessions in addition to our nationally-attended training held in Austin.

Now that we are in January, we can see significant results of our trainings, especially in Houston and St. Louis. Our Houston affiliates added eight new elementary and middle school programs this month, after following a strategy we devised together in August wherein local veteran teachers gave weekly tutorials for prospective teachers throughout the fall. Our St. Louis trainees established four new programs this month as well, including two in the Ferguson School District. They are hoping to achieve a far greater presence in the near future, and we are in constant and direct communication on a range of topics from advocacy to strategic planning.

The lead teacher from St. Louis, Courtney James, spent three days with our team in early December and wrote:

Most impressive is the dedication to the students in their programs and to their constant goal of delivering the highest quality music education for classical guitar. …They model lessons in the classrooms, they attend concerts, advocate for best teaching practices and assist by directing, mentoring teachers, and working with individual students. It is clear what a positive impact this has on the quality of the guitar programs. While I was observing, I was of course thinking of how I could apply what I witnessed in Austin to the St Louis public schools….

William Ash, Director of St. Louis Classical Guitar Society, wrote this last summer:

We have been studying and following [Austin Classical Guitar’s] educational program since 2010. We’ve used their GuitarCurriculum.com in a pilot program here at Grand Center Arts Academy, a program that we have funded, with great results. The students love the repertoire, and were able to do a convincing ensemble performance at the end of three different semesters…. Austin Classical Guitar is providing the model of success in Austin for the guitar community throughout the United States, and we want to emulate it here.

In assisting other communities we have identified a new type of need: Leadership Training. In communities across the United States, including New York, Cleveland, Santa Fe, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco, we are recognizing two types of community servants—teachers and community leaders. Our training sessions and curriculum have advanced as powerful tools for developing teachers, but we have yet to articulate a training approach for leaders. The two quotations above exemplify these two types of community servants, the former, Courtney James, is a teacher who will benefit from Teacher Training, while the latter, William Ash, is a community leader who will benefit from Leadership Training.

To meet this need, we will offer our first Leadership Seminar, March 1st through 3rd in Austin, for about ten leaders from around the US who are currently seeking guidance.

Conferences and Publications

Our team is increasingly called upon to contribute written material for the nation’s education and trade journals. We are also regularly invited to give presentations and workshops at state and national music education conferences. Travis Marcum and Eric Pearson presented a three-hour workshop in October (2014) for the National Association for Music Education in Nashville, Tennessee—this was our second year to present at this conference. In March (2015) Jeremy Osborne and Eric Pearson will present for American String Teacher Association in Salt Lake City. Texas Music Educators Association has asked our team to give an entire day of presentations on Saturday, February 14th (2015) including the state’s first Texas Guitar Directors Summit.

Travis Marcum published “Artistry in Lockdown: Transformative Music Experiences for Students in Juvenile Detention,” in the December 2014 issue of the peer-reviewed Music Education Journal (MEJ, available on request). The March 2015 issue of Classical Guitar Magazine plans a feature on Austin Classical Guitar and our work in education.

Special Programs

In 2014 our Composer in Residence, Joseph V. Williams II, wrote several concert works and also created a composition project for students at Crockett High School. One student, Ike Katula, wrote a work for guitar orchestra that was premiered by Austin Classical Guitar Youth Orchestra. The work is called Argetilean Dance, and the premiere performance can be viewed on Austin Classical Guitar’s YouTube channel.

In 2014, our work at Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center continued to thrive—so much so that we were asked to double our service there in January 2015. Our first audio recording of students in that facility was made in December 2014 (available on request), and Travis Marcum’s work at Gardner Betts formed the research basis of his December 2014 MEJ article.

In spring 2014 we carried out our first collaboration with Carnegie Hall, through which we implemented their Lullaby Project intervention, designed for at-risk young women experiencing unplanned pregnancy. The project involved pairing each young woman with a teaching artist, who then engaged each mother in writing a lullaby for her child, recording the lullaby, and sharing the recorded product with her family or friends. We carried out the project in collaboration with Austin’s Any Baby Can.

This spring we have established a new collaboration with Annunciation Maternity Home, a nonprofit residential facility providing free long-term housing and services for at risk young women experiencing unplanned pregnancy. In our work at Annunciation, we are combining our long-term educational model with the Lullaby Project, and we will work on an ongoing basis with the clients there. Our instructor, Dr. Janet Grohovac, began the program this month with eleven young women.

Austin Classical Guitar Youth Orchestra began its second full year in September 2014. This auditioned, community-wide orchestra for young people premiered its third new work to an audience of over 400 in November. This spring, ACGYO will collaborate with Conspirare Youth Choir to perform in the 3,000-seat Bass Concert Hall as featured artists on the April 18th finale of our International Series.

Our Austin Community College scholarship recipient is Eric McKeefer. Eric is a graduate of our guitar program at Austin High School. He wrote us a wonderful letter of thanks after receiving his full scholarship to ACC:

Your wonderful gift truly gives me hope in fulfilling my dreams as a musician and opens many doorways for my future as a guitarist. You, Austin Classical Guitar, are the people who make it possible for guitarists like me to succeed after high school and beyond, but more importantly you help make our dreams come true.

Looking Ahead

We eagerly anticipate the launch of our new GuitarCurriculum.com website, planned for February 2015. The new site will have many capabilities and enhanced functionality, and we foresee a tool that will connect our international users in a dynamic forum—establishing a higher degree of collaboration. Our goal is to foster an international “culture of excellence,” similar to what has been established locally.

As of the writing of this report, we have not scheduled 2015 summer training sessions beyond the Austin session planned for July 30th through August 1st. Broadly speaking, our goal is to empower other communities to develop teaching excellence through a combination of teacher training, leadership development, resource development, advocacy, and benchmark modeling.

The “special programs” detailed in this report reflect our larger organizational strategy that we serve best when we serve with specificity. We anticipate continuing and improving each of our special programs, and we plan to reinvigorate our work in Braille adaptation of our curriculum—as our program at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired grows.

Our highest objective is to continue to achieve deep and positive impact on the diverse young people we directly serve in Central Texas each and every day. We know that this objective is never complete but, rather, is the result of continued dedication, innovation, and refinement.

On behalf of all of us at Austin Classical Guitar, we would like to share how deeply grateful we are for your continued support. Our work would simply not be possible without our dedicated community, and we marvel at the generosity that has enabled our service since the 2001 beginning of our work in education.

Please to do not hesitate to ask if you would like any additional information or clarification about this report or our programs in general.

Making Music, a reflection from Matt Hinsley

Dear Austin Classical Guitar Fans,

Paty, a fifth grader in one of our guitar programs wrote in December:

What I love about playing guitar is that you get to feel free. I like hearing the silence at the end of the song…it’s magical.

As we approach our annual gala fundraiser for education, I thought I would take some time to reflect on the power of making music.

Paty’s classmate, Leilani, also wrote:

When I play the guitar with others I feel like a team. We could be the best group ever and people will like watching our group when we grow up.

Freedom, joy in silence, magic, belonging, hope. How is it that making music inspires such wide-ranging and wondrous emotions and imaginings?

What I love about playing the guitar is that it calms me down when I am angry, sad, or embarrassed.

When I play the guitar with others I feel comforted. Even if I make a mistake it’s okay…and we all keep playing together.

Calm and comfort, from making music? According to Marco and Dayron, also in fifth grade, making music on the guitar creates both of these things.

Tomorrow at 7pm is All City Guitar in the new Austin Independent School District Performing Arts Center (1500 Barbara Jordan Boulevard). 55 middle school students and 35 high school students, representing about 20 of our school programs, will take the stage conducted by Travis Marcum and Jeremy Osborne, our Director and Assistant Director of Education.

The students rehearse together for the first time later today-for five hours, from 2pm to 7pm. In these moments before the kids arrive, I’m thinking about how rare and special and unforgettable this experience is-the freedom, carefully rendered silences, calm, comfort, joy, hope, and magic of making beautiful music with each other.

And I reflect now, as I do almost every day, on how fortunate we are to live in a community that values the arts, and arts education, as we do here in Austin.

Thank you for helping us make music with so many,

Matt

Play! Program

We are excited to have the first performance in our new Play! series, this Friday, January 30th at 8pm. The evening features guitarist Isaac Bustos and artist Fidencio Duran. Duran’s works are featured in public and private collections throughout the US and abroad. You can learn more about Duran’s work here.

Tickets for this show are no longer available, but for those interested, here is Isaac Bustos’s program for the evening! Bustos will also be performing on our Classical Cactus series on Thursday, January 29th–the show begins at 8pm with guitarist Chad Ibison, and Bustos takes the stage at 9pm.

Concert Program

Two Latin American Pieces

Verano Porteño (Argentina)                                      Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)

Guajira a mi Madre (Cuba)                                        Antonio “Ñico” Rojas (1921-2008)

From Prelude, Fugue and Allegro BWV 998            Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

            Prelude

            Allegro

From Suite Española Op. 47                                                            Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909)

          Cádiz                          

         Asturias

Un Tiempo fue Itálica Famosa                                          Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999)

Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios                                     Agustin Barrios (1885-1944)

La Catedral