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.

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.