A Conversation with New President of ACG’s Board of Directors, Alyce Zawacki

This fall we’re thrilled to return to in-person concerts, and introduce you to KMFA’s breathtaking new Draylen Mason Music Studio. We can’t wait to share two more international virtuosos of guitar in this new jewel of the Austin music landscape. Learn more here.

There are so many astounding things coming to ACG this season and we couldn't be more grateful! One of these amazing things being our newest President of ACG’s Board of Directors, Alyce Zawacki. 

Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Alyce is an Austin-based attorney for creatives and owner of Alyce Zawacki Law. Alyce shared a little bit about her work and what led her down that path,

“I work primarily with artists and creative industry businesses. I have worked with a wide range of clients, including musicians, filmmakers, visual artists, content creators, graphic design studios, interior designers, and creative-based start-up companies. 

Growing up, I participated in theatre, film production, journalism, and photography and was constantly surrounded by various music, thanks to my dad, who worked as a DJ for many years. At some point, I started exploring other ways to still be involved in working with people in creative fields. I went to university studying media communications and law and from there, I was able to find a niche passion for the law as it relates to the entertainment, media, and art industries (in particular copyright, trademark, right of publicity and contracts).”

We first connected with Alyce in 2018 when a past ACG staff member invited her to one of our UpClose events with Brazilian guitarist Marcus Tardelli. Alyce shared a little bit about this introduction, 

“I was first formally introduced to ACG while attending an LGBT Chamber of Commerce event. A past ACG staff member was also there and invited me to attend a special ACG event at a beautiful mansion with Brazilian guitarist Marcus Tardelli performing. While this performance was absolutely spectacular, as I learned about the educational programming of ACG, this was what really captured me.”

We are so grateful to be able to build deep connections through one of our greatest passions here, ACG Education. This year is our education program’s 20th anniversary! We have so many wonderful stories to share about the past year in ACG Education. Read our 2021 Education Report here.

Our mission here at ACG is to inspire individuals in the communities we serve through musical experiences of deep personal significance. As the new President of ACG’s Board of Directors, Alyce shared what this mission means to her. 

“To me, our mission means using music as a tool to communicate, celebrate and heal. Music is so incredibly powerful and is a means of catharsis for so many, including myself. I was lucky to grow up in a family that encouraged listening to music and valued its importance, but not everyone has access to music in the same way that I did. I love that ACG is able to fill a void in so many people's lives by providing musical joy.”

We are so excited to begin our 31st season in our new home in the Baker Center in Hyde Park! We also have started building a new venue space, The Rosette, in partnership with The Alamo Drafthouse. With all these new and exciting things happening at ACG we have so many future plans and goals! Alyce shared some goals she has being part of ACG Board of Directors, 

“With ACG's new home at the Baker Center, I think the biggest goal for the next two years is to ensure that we have a turn-key production plan and utilize the amazing space in creative ways that allow us to continue growing and spreading our mission. The Baker Center is such an exciting step for ACG, and I can't wait to see what Matt and the ACG staff have in store for us all!”

Fall 2021 ACG Education Report: Our 20th Anniversary

 Dear Friends,

Fall 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of ACG Education.

Two decades ago, we were given an opportunity to work with students in a guitar class at McCallum High School here in Austin. In the years since, ACG has become a driving force in the field of classroom-based guitar education, partnering with hundreds of teachers serving thousands of students in schools around the world. As we reflect on the countless stories of challenge and beauty from the past twenty years, we are reminded of the passion, purpose, and inspiration at the core of our service mission.

We’d like to begin this report with a reminder of the Five Elements we consider essential to the impact of our work in education. These elements, which we first shared publicly in our 2017 Education Report, are: 1) Safety, Trust & Belonging 2) Individual Importance 3) Adversity & Perseverance 4) Performance & Success 5) Celebration.

We promote the Five Elements in the microcosm (every class, every interaction), and the macrocosm (semester, school year, training summit). As you are reading this report, we hope it will show the degree to which our team, particularly during this pandemic, has worked to keep the Five Elements at the heart of everything we do in education.

As you’ll see in this report, despite the challenges we all faced in this past year and a half, ACG Education continues to grow in impact, sharing and connecting in new and deeper ways with more people than ever before. We hope what you find in this report will make you proud.


Travis Marcum, Director of Education and Music & Healing


ACG Education: Service during the Pandemic 

Early in the pandemic we realized our highest goal was to combat isolation, separation from friends and colleagues, by creating opportunities for safety and belonging via deep personal expression in the music we make together. Using technology, personal narrative, and multi-modal participation options, we created an array of new tools and approaches for our students and teachers. We built virtual spaces for young artists to commune, create, and describe their world. 

This included the commissioning of an astonishing (to us!) ninety new works, an array of mass-participation events, and a new level of community-based projects. 

Community-based Projects

In spring 2020 Travis Marcum wrote Everything Changes at Once. This piece included 13 multi-level repeating musical patterns, and opportunities for performers to participate through guitar, spoken voice, photo, and video. More than 750 files were submitted by students in 23 cities across the US. ECAO formed the basis for many of our projects since.

In October 2020 we invited our community to create musical offerings, called Ofrendas, in celebration of loved ones who had passed away. This is in the Latin American tradition of Día de Muertos, and we partnered with Austin’s Mexic-Arte Museum for the educational and cultural framework of the project. Here is a playlist with 68 of the moving creations: Ofrendas.

In March 2021 we had a similar community-wide call for submissions of performances and compositions created as gifts for loved ones who could use something warm and supportive in their lives. Here is a playlist with 48 such performances: GIVE.


Local Services & Campus-Specific Special Projects 

We enter the 2021-2022 school year with 51 local partner schools. Established programs need minimal day-to-day support beyond performance engagement and special opportunities, but many of our programs are new, have new teachers, or special challenges requiring significant assistance ranging from planning and consultation, to school visits, private instruction, and recruiting.

We are continually amazed by the resourcefulness and resilience displayed by our partner teachers and their students. Here is a particularly inspiring video of a collaboration between the guitar and dance programs at KIPP Academy in Austin performing Chris Lee’s arrangement of Izika Zumba from our GuitarCurriculum.com library.

While every school and community faced unprecedented challenges, we identified several campus communities where we wished to focus additional resources in an effort to use group expression and creation as a unifying and healing force for good. These were all student led projects that provided a creative space for our young musicians to generate ideas and contribute their individual voice to a larger endeavor. Students met and overcame creative challenges involving composition, performance, video and audio recording and engineering and more. And they ultimately were able to celebrate the birth of a work of art made specifically by and for their school community. 

Six Feet Together was composed by Justice Phillips and performed by Lively Middle School guitar, orchestra, and dance programs. ACG supported the production elements as well as the composition and some preparation. This project was extra special because Justice, ACG’s Director of Customer Experience, is also a graduate of the Lively Middle School guitar program. The stage recording of this project marked the first time that Lively Fine Arts students were able to be together after more than one year apart. 

Hope was created and performed by Northeast High School students and Director Dallas Shreve with guest artists-in-residence Daniel Fears and Tony Mariano. This is an excellent example of personal narrative combined with music and multimedia production. 

San Marcos High School students led this project with Travis Marcum to write, record, and engineer several pieces as a way of processing community grief. One movement is linked here. 

Individual Free Lessons and Alumni Stories

ACG has provided free lessons, primarily in Title 1 Schools, for much of the past twenty years. Many of our most remarkable stories of personal transformation, and transcendent musical success relate to this deep service that pairs expert teachers with individual students on a weekly basis. These mentor relationships often last for years. In this report we’ll focus on one current scholarship recipient and share four brief updates from alumni. 

Elijah Flores just graduated from Crockett High School. As the winner of our Javier Niño Scholarship, Elijah had weekly lessons with ACG’s Tony Mariano, was awarded a concert-quality guitar, had multiple performance opportunities, and assistance in his college application and audition process. Elijah was accepted on scholarship to UT San Antonio where he now studies with Dr. Isaac Bustos, and was given a first-ever six-year scholarship award from The D’Addario Foundation for the Performing Arts. 

Will Flores, graduated from our McCallum program in 2008 and joined the US Army Band. Now exiting the Army after 12 years in service, with a BA in Psychology, Will is planning his next stages in life, and called ACG to ask about volunteering. Will has just been confirmed as a new member of the ACG Board of Directors, becoming our first former student to serve on the board. 

Susana Diaz Lopez, a graduate of Travis High School, is now a full-time guitar and mariachi teacher at Akins High School. Susana, who was also an intern at ACG, and worked as a teacher in our juvenile justice system programs, becomes our fourth graduate to come full circle and enter AISD as a full-time teacher. 

Lennox Kolics, a long-time member of ACG Youth Orchestra, and former intern, graduated high school, is attending college for music production, and became an indispensable part of our AV team in the past year. About his experience in ACGYO with director Joe Williams, Lennox wrote: “Over the years, breathing life into the scores before us and making the pieces our own became instinctual — we didn’t just play songs anymore, we made them into stories. It wasn’t primarily about getting it right, but about creating beautiful things together; I came to see that that’s what life is about too.” 

Claire Puckett, graduated from our McCallum program and has had a prolific early career as a professional musician. After several years on our Music & Healing artist team, Claire now joins our Music & Healing administrative staff. Here she is introducing herself (video) and a song she wrote for the Music & Healing program called Oli Boy, as part of our GIVE project. 

Feature Performances

On March 27, 2021, ACG produced PLAY, an education showcase featuring 13 performances by individual students and ensembles from Austin and far beyond. This video may be the best single resource to experience the range of ACG Education pivots made during the pandemic. 

For our May 25, 2021 season finale, we partnered with guitarist collective Ex-Aqueo and the Virtual Guitar Orchestra with special support from the Augustine Foundation to assemble a statewide group of students for the premiere performance of Mason Bynes’ Broomsticks. For more insight into the project, here is an interview with Mason Bynes. This piece was commissioned and arranged in partnership with Ex-Aequo’s Changing the Canon project, highlighting 9 new works by Black American composers. 

Juvenile Justice 

We are pleased to report that the May 2020 expansion of our Juvenile Justice services to include Travis County’s Phoenix House, was successful and productive. Jim Lorenz, the Lead Teacher at Phoenix Academy, wrote: “The impact of these learning opportunities on Phoenix students have been profound. The Phoenix faculty has recognized marked growth in the self-esteem of students participating in guitar classes. Guitar students have taken ownership and pride in their new abilities, and have opened themselves up to modalities of expression few of them even knew existed. Students in guitar classes are eager to share newly learned abilities with peers, mentors, and loved ones. Moreover, students express extreme gratitude for the ACG teachers, and profess that they will be able to use their new found music skills as coping mechanisms that will support their sobriety.”

Phoenix House became our third juvenile justice center program, following our decade of service at Travis County’s Gardner Betts facility, and our four years of service at Williamson County’s Wilco facility. After months in preparation, we just opened our fourth juvenile justice service area in Dallas County’s Medlock facility in August 2021. This represents the first time we have started such a program outside of central Texas. 

In spring 2021, ACG Education received a Liberty Bell Award from the Austin Young Lawyers’  Association in recognition of more than ten years of service in the juvenile justice arena. 

While it is rare for us to be able to record our students in detention, we are particularly pleased to share this beautiful performance of John Legend’s All Of Me. One of our students in Williamson County wanted very much to learn this song. He worked hard, learned it, and carefully recorded the accompaniment track, displaying a variety of guitar skills, and remarkably steady rhythm for a lengthy single recording. The recording was then paired with ACG Music & Healing artist Claudia Chapa to make the moving video that is linked above.

Community Ensembles

We commissioned five new works for our youth and adult community ensembles. Forward by Michael Keplinger, is a four-movement work written in fall 2020 with one movement for each group: Guitar Choir, Guitar Ensemble, Youth Camerata, and Youth Orchestra. 

In the spring the ACG Guitar Choir performed Reassembled by Matthew Lyons. The ACG Youth Camerata performed Winter To Spring. The ACG Guitar Ensemble Performed Adelante by Alan Retamozo. The ACG Youth Orchestra performed Hello I Just Wanted to See How You Were Doing, by Cassie Shenkman.

This Conversation with Catalina Galvan, gives special insight into the new capability Zoom technology gave us in 2020-2021 to engage members from outside our driving distance. Catalina said: “My experience this Spring was one like no-other. I have never had the opportunity to collaborate with such a diverse group of people and work on a beautiful piece to make it our own, until I joined the ACGYO.”

This Letter from Edward Kimball: Guitar & Horses, is a beautiful testament to the impact of our adult ensembles on members of our community. 

Here is a playlist of Forward (4 movements):


GuitarCurriculum.com, Teacher Summit & National Services

During the 2020-2021 school year GuitarCurriculum.com had 681 active users. Our team continues to update and augment our teaching materials with special emphasis on increasing diverse representation in our teaching library. Recent additions include new arrangements by Mariette Stephens, a new work by Shuborno Biswas, and five arrangements of songs from Mexico by Celil Refik-Kaya. The site also now has a “Special Projects” page including processes for our new community-based projects like Everything Changes at Once, Ofrendas and GIVE. 

We frequently receive positive user feedback. One note that stood out was this one, from August 2021: “We'd like to give a big thank you to you and your team for creating such a great resource for our teachers and students. One area that we particularly appreciated is the scaffolding of performance materials in the music library and their accompanying video tutorials. As we know, the best way to learn is to do and it is often the case that one guitar class will have a wide range of skills. The various leveled pieces help maximize participation and will no doubt increase student learning and the joy for making music.”

A top goal of our July 2020 Teacher Summit was to prepare teachers for remote instruction online. Many teachers commented a year later, in our 2021 Teacher Summit, that the preparation--and specifically the direct experience building Canvas LMS course modules--gave them confidence and technical skills they needed to succeed during the 2020-2021 school year. We would like to say a special thanks to partner teacher Phil Swasey, who led in developing our Canvas LMS systems. 

Travis Marcum wrote a new piece for our teachers to study and perform during the July 2021 Teacher Summit called Open. It is beautiful, and represents another example of centering participant voices, and seeking to promote our Five Elements throughout all aspects of ACG Education. 

We’d like to end this section on national services with a special shout out to James Young of the Ferguson-Florissant School District, who was recent awarded Missouri State Teacher of the Year (article). We have been working with James for more than five years, and believe this award could not have been given to a nicer or more dedicated teacher. In response to our letter of congratulations, Mr. Young wrote: “My time spent with you and the staff at Austin Classical Guitar has certainly been an integral part of my journey and I am grateful. I look forward to the path ahead and continuing to work with you and St. Louis Classical Guitar!”

LetsPlay: Braille Lifelong Learning Resource

Our braille lifelong learning resource, LetsPlayGuitar.org, had 7,681 unique visitors in 2020 (compared to 3422 in 2019) with 1,721 downloads of our music teaching packet (1,299 in 2019). Perhaps our biggest news has been the fall 2019 launch of our sister site, Svirajmo Gitaru in a full translation for use in the Balkans. 

We continue to have wonderful conversations with users. We recently received a call from an 81 year old resident of rural Oregon who lost his sight four years ago. He does not have internet access, he does not read braille, and he lives in a remote part of the state. A friend of his was able to download the audio guides from Level 1 of LetsPlayGuitar.org, and while he had never played guitar before, he was able to learn all of the Level 1 material through the audio guides. He was calling us to ask what to do next. When we informed him that there are seven more levels, and about forty-five more pieces to learn, he became ecstatic and said, “I’m so excited right now. I wish you could see me. I’m so excited my knees are shaking.” We’ve since placed the audio guides from Levels 2 and 3 onto a flash drive for him to play using the audio player provided to him by the Braille Foundation. 

Looking Ahead

In the coming months, ACG Education is planning to fully celebrate our 20th Anniversary year with all kinds of special events and projects for students and teachers including hosting two artist residencies for students in Austin ISD with the amazing Brazilian composer and multi-instrumentalist Clarice Assad. As the community we serve grows, so does our talented education team. This Fall, we are thrilled to bring on Tony Mariano, ACG’s new Director of Community Education. Tony will be engaging with all of our local programs and will direct ACG’s youth and adult community ensemble programs. In addition to Claire Puckett, mentioned above, we have also hired another ACG Education alum, Rey Rodriguez, to teach in our free private lesson program for Austin ISD. Rey attended our partner programs at Bedichek Middle School and Crockett High School before attending the UT Austin Butler School of Music for guitar performance. He will be working with students at both campuses he attended in his youth. 

We are also particularly excited to announce a catalytic growth opportunity for Austin Classical Guitar in the creation and activation of our first-ever home. This fall we are renovating and opening a new venue and center for creative learning and collaboration we’re calling The Rosette in central Austin. With multiple indoor and outdoor performance and teaching spaces, along with state-of-the-art lighting, sound, recording, and broadcasting capabilities, we believe our opportunities for education, training, and community engagement will evolve to a whole new level. 

We are deeply grateful for the generosity of the many individuals and institutions whose support makes Austin Classical Guitar’s education programming possible, including: 

Augustine Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, City of Austin Cultural Arts Division, Kaman Foundation, Bill Wood Foundation, Cain Foundation, Webber Family Foundation, Still Water Foundation, Lucy & Bill Farland, Rea Charitable Trust, Texas Commission on the Arts, H-E-B Tournament of Champions Charitable Trust, Kodosky Foundation, Long Foundation, Wright Family Foundation, Shield-Ayres Foundation, the Skeel/Baldauf Family, Karrie & Tim League, Louise Epstein & John Henry McDonald, Bill Metz, MFS Foundation, University Area Rotary Club, Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation, Applied Materials Foundation, Sue L. Nguyen Management Trust, Dr. Michael Froehls, Sarah & Ernest Butler, Mercedes-Benz of Austin, United Way for Greater Austin, Carl Caricari & Margaret Murray Miller, Burdine Johnson Foundation, 3M Foundation, Whole Foods Market, D’Addario Foundation, Calido Guitars, Rick & Valeri Reeder, Dan Bullock & Annette Carlozzi, Dr. Lynne Boggs & Bill Cariker, The Ben and Nancy Sander Family, The Raley Family and many, many others.

ACG Education: Six Feet Together by Justice Phillips and Lively Middle School

2021 is the 20th anniversary of ACG Education. We’ll be celebrating all year long! Here is a beautiful story about one of our spring projects at Lively Middle School! Click here to learn more about ACG Education.


ACG Education is the heart of our organization. We highly value the life long connections we build through our programs! This spring we had the opportunity to see our very own Director of Customer Experience and Composer, Justice Phillips, make a full circle and collaborate with Lively Middle School, where he attended from 2009-2011!

Travis Marcum, our Director of Education, said,

“When we initially contacted the orchestra and guitar director Meredith McAlmon at Lively, she was interested in commissioning a piece specifically for her guitar, orchestra and dance programs to perform. In comes Justice Phillips who is a relatively new staff member here at ACG. Justice has a degree in composition, he is a fabulous musician, and Justice began his guitar studies at Lively Middle School in our ACG program there years ago. It was a perfect fit.” 

The beauty held and created by the connections made in ACG Education programs are some of our most treasured experiences. Travis shared the impact of these connections made at Lively, 

“As ACG Education Director, I have been serving guitar students in Austin for 16 years. I remember meeting Justice at Lively many years ago when he was a SUPER energetic 13 year old who wanted, above all else, to play fast! To see Justice work with his former teacher along with another ACG Education alum and Lively guitar teacher Javier Saucedo... that was a truly proud moment. The composition they created was inspiring and the perfect thing for all of the students involved. The dedication and musicianship of the young artists who recorded this project was so very impressive and a reminder that inspired young people become inspiring adult artists.”

This collaboration was extra special because of the difficulties the pandemic has placed on music education in general. Despite being unable to rehearse fully together until the recording date, the students and teachers involved fully embodied beauty and grace in their performance of Six Feet Together. Travis shared, 

“The three teachers, Justice, and myself all worked together to write a piece that was both beautiful and executable by all students involved. The result is a truly gorgeous piece for strings, guitar, and dance. And when the students arrived at the AISD Performing Arts Center in late May 2021 to record, it was the first time they had truly met in person as a group since the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic. They rehearsed and recorded together. There was a palpable joy in this experience. And the students decided to name the piece "Six Feet Together", a play on the social distancing rules of the day.”


ACG at 31: A Letter From Matt Hinsley

ACG turns thirty-one this year and there is so many amazing things coming. Here is a letter from our Executive Director, Matt Hinsley, expressing the gratitude we share for our community and exciting things happening in the next coming months. We could not be where we are today without the incredible support we receive from you, our community! Learn more about supporting ACG here. 

It was twenty-five years ago this week that I arrived in Austin. 

I could not have imagined at the time that in the next quarter-century this community, and this ACG team, would make an education system that would help create guitar programs in public schools across America, that we’d develop a braille lifelong learning resource that would be used internationally, that our team would pioneer supportive, caring, daily music education in the juvenile justice system, that we’d partner with dozens of care-providers to use music as a way to bring restorative healing to people facing isolation or trauma, or that over time we would grow to be one of the most prolific presenters of international artistry on the classical guitar of all time.

Last week I spent an hour on the phone with a gentleman in a rural retirement home who is learning to play guitar for the first time using our braille learning system. He’s eighty-one, he lost his sight four years ago, and he decided to learn guitar. He was calling because he had used the audio guides to learn our first level – about five pieces of music – and wanted to know what to do next. When I told him there were seven more levels, and about forty-five more pieces to learn he got so excited, I wish everyone in the world could have experienced the joy and anticipation in his voice.

This week school started. We’re helping programs near and far connect with qualified teachers in our network, we’re buying and loaning dozens of guitars for new and growing programs, and beginning instruction and training in four Texas juvenile justice centers. 

Next week we are releasing our fall season. With in person and online options we're so excited to share music and spectacular artistry with our local and international community. So much beauty is on the horizon.

I also have some really, really big news. 

Austin Classical Guitar is building our first home. In partnership with Alamo Drafthouse, we’re creating a guitar-inspired listening room in Hyde Park with multi-media recording and broadcast capabilities. Our new home will be a welcoming center for creativity, learning, and togetherness.

So adding to the list of things I could not have possibly imagined in August 1996, is that this fall, on the twentieth anniversary of the start of our Education program, we’ll be opening a central Austin concert venue and center for creative collaboration and learning inspired by classical guitar. In the weeks to come, we’ll share news of our new venue, and of our streaming and in-person concerts for the upcoming season. 

I am profoundly grateful to friends like you in our community, who have joined us on this journey of hope and inspiration, and I look forward to celebrating kindness and beauty with you in the months ahead.


Matt Hinsley, Executive Director

ACG Education: A Letter from Lennox Kolics

One of our favorite parts of ACG's mission is building deep connections and watching the beauty of them unfold. Here is a letter from one of our dearest connections from our ACGYO program, Lennox Kolics. Learn more about Youth and Community Ensembles here. 

My name is Lennox. I’m barely an adult, but I’ve ventured out on a lot of limbs trying to figure out what will propel my life. At the heart of it all, I’m a lover of stories, and this is mine so far. 

I began playing classical guitar when I was 5, and it was the only extracurricular I was able to stick to. In 6th grade, my private instructor Matt Hinsley recommended I audition for the ACG Youth Orchestra that Joe Williams was starting up, leading to the best decision I’ve ever made: joining the ensemble. It was invigorating and new, challenging and tiring, but rewarding above all. During the first few years, I was always the youngest member yet had been there the longest, so it feels like the ACGYO and I grew up together. Our repertoire expanded and became more advanced, we performed at increasing frequencies for crowds of all sizes, and we ventured further from home to share our music. As I evolved as a human and musician, so did ACGYO. Under the guidance of the nonpareil Dr. Joe, we developed the trusting give-and-take of ensemble music-making, and I came to understand the intricacies of the relationship between fellow ensemble members, the conductor, the music, and our instruments. Over the years, breathing life into the scores before us and making the pieces our own became instinctual -- we didn’t just play songs anymore, we made them into stories. It wasn’t primarily about getting it right, but about creating beautiful things together; I came to see that that’s what life is about too. 

As I tried to translate this into my future, ACG helped me explore the possibilities as an intern. There was no coffee-fetching, just guidance and trust as I worked alongside various teams. When I expressed interest in audio engineering, they immediately got me to a studio, and now I’m in college studying Music Technology and Film, continuing to do A/V work with ACG. Without ACG, I’m not sure I’d have all the answers that they gave me through music. I wouldn’t understand what beauty is or what gives me purpose -- I wouldn’t know who I am. I couldn’t be more grateful for the wonderful people in this organization who have gone out of their way to support me for the majority of my life now, and I look forward to knowing them for the rest of it. 


Lennox Kolics

Below is "Hello, I just wanted to see how you were doing" by Cassie Shankman, performed by the ACG Youth Orchestra. Watch more Youth and Community Ensembles here.


ACG Education: A Conversation with Susana Diaz-Lopez

2021 is the 20th anniversary of ACG Education. We’ll be celebrating all year long! Here is a beautiful story from one of our graduates who’s just returned to teach in the Austin ISD District. Click here to learn more about ACG Education.

Developing and keeping life-long connections with our community is something we at ACG are very passionate about and grateful for. These connections transform our world and are continuously inspiring. We’ve made connections in numerous ways, including through our ACG Education.

This week we had the opportunity to speak with Susana Diaz-Lopez, a young woman we first met years ago at Travis High School. Susana recently came full circle as an employee of Austin ISD, teaching guitar in the same district where she herself first learned to play. 

Susana joined guitar class in her junior year of high school under the direction of Susan Rosanc. There she also met ACG instructor Brent Ferguson. Later she became a member of ACG Youth Orchestra. 

Susana has worked with us in so many ways including speaking at our annual Guitar Under the Stars gala, interning with our production team, and last year teaching in our juvenile justice system programs as a contract member of our education team. 

“Being a part of ACGYO was an amazing experience! Having the opportunity to play with the group created new challenges for me and pushed me as a musician and it was so amazing to play next to such talented young musicians.” - Susana Diaz-Lopez

Susana continued her music education after high school with Brent Ferguson. She shared a little about her journey, 

“When I was in high school, ACG sponsored free private guitar lessons for students and I was set up with Brent Ferguson. I enjoyed the lessons so much that I continued them even after high school and later followed Professor Ferguson to Washburn University where I also took composition lessons with him! I worked with him with the Washburn Community Ensembles, as well as competed in his event for the 100th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin.” 

We were so ecstatic to have Susana join our Education team working with our Juvenile Justice Programs this past season: 

“At first I was nervous that I would have some trouble being able to connect with the students, but overall my experience has been so great! The students I have the pleasure of working with are learning so fast and are so excited for class everyday. I’m catching on to the unique ways each student learns and I’ve learned a lot from every single one of them. It makes me so proud to see each one improve.” -Susana Diaz-Lopez

We’re thrilled for Susana, and cannot wait to see the magic and beauty she produces in the future! 

Together: ACG Guitar Choir with Jaynee Welty

This month we’re sharing a series of beautiful stories about ACG community and education projects that happened in the spring! If you’re curious to see more of our past projects please check out our ACG Productions page and our previous Blogs! If you are interested in joining our Community Ensembles, learn more here!

ACG Community Ensembles are a welcoming environment for people of all ages and skill levels to come together and create something beautiful. We love having the opportunity to expand our reach, create new deep rooted connections, and explore music along the way! 

This week we had the privilege of speaking with one of our lovely ACG Guitar Choir members Jaynee Welty. 

Jaynee has an incredible musical background with a Bachelor of Arts in Vocal Music and a Masters in Education and Dance. She has taught music and guitar classes in public schools for twelve years! And to top it off she is an exceptionally talented singer/songwriter! 

Jaynee has been part of the Guitar Choir for three years. 

“I joined the ACG Guitar choir in 2018. I had retired in 2014, and really missed playing my guitar and playing with other people. I missed the guitar ensemble experience that I used to teach.” - Jaynee Welty

We feel so grateful that we have been able to continue these community ensembles even in the midst of the pandemic over the past year. We even expanded our reach to people in rural parts of the state or in completely different parts of the country from being virtual! We are so happy to have had these connections continue to thrive despite the disconnection the pandemic brought. Jaynee shared the significance of this experience for her, 

“I would say my experience in the ensemble during the pandemic saved my sanity! It helped with feeling accepted and valued. It filled the disconnect. It gave me a way to look forward and gave me hope that there is something to work toward tomorrow. The zoom connections were a gift. Tony Mariano became a leader with such kindness and sincere concern for all of us and made it more personal. It was a joy!”

Our community ensembles have done absolutely amazing things this year such as Assisted Living Concerts, ACG Fest, and be part of our Ofrendas and GIVE series! Jaynee shared, 

“Knowing that we were giving our gift of music to bring joy to others was touching for me and I know I was less nervous about being perfect. This past year I was one of the Ofrendas submissions that was used in the performance! It gave me a feeling of acceptance and a sense of confidence. I have found a purpose now in being part of something wonderful and bigger than myself. A big thank you to ACG for the opportunity to express myself through music.” 

We are so grateful for our beautiful community and we look forward to watching it flourish. 

To watch Jaynee’s Give submission click here. To watch her Ofrendas submission click here. 


Together: Izika Zumba with KIPP and Brian Klenzendorf

This month we’re sharing a series of beautiful stories about ACG community and education projects that happened in the spring! If you’re curious to see more of our past projects please check out our ACG Productions page and our previous Blogs!

This past year was interesting in education-land, with students learning mostly from home. We were amazed by the ingenuity and resilience showed by so many students and teachers throughout the year. One of our partner programs, that continually exceeds expectations, is Texas nonprofit charter school KIPP. Our partner teacher there, Brian Klenzendorf, leads a vibrant guitar program, and collaborated with others to create one of our favorite projects this year for KIPP’s spring Fine Arts showcase. 

We spoke with Brian about the project:

“I wanted to collaborate with other Fine Art teachers at the school to bring us together for the event!  Our fabulous dance teacher, Jamie Vallejo, teaches an African dance unit in the Spring so we decided to do Izika Zumba!”

How exciting! Brian created a path for his students to connect with their classmates in other performing art programs during a time in which connecting felt a little bit harder. Izika Zumba, by the way, is one of our popular teaching pieces from our ACG curriculum, arranged by our staff composer Chris Lee. Brain shared a little bit of the process behind this collaboration,  

“We learned and recorded our parts early to send a recording to the KIPP Dance teacher, so she could help choreograph the routine for her Dance 1 students. We wanted to come together as a Fine Art department for the Spring Showcase. The students were more engaged and motivated knowing that they were doing a collaborative project! 

The Fine Art Showcase was such a success that the other fine art teachers at KIPP want to make it an annual tradition.  During the Showcase, we also featured recordings from our band, steel drum, guitar, and music production classes during the Visual Art exhibit.  Doing a unified Fine Art Showcase also brought our entire school community together to celebrate the arts and we also later found out that it was a fantastic recruiting tool for our Middle Schools.  Students in 8th grade were able to see the full scope of our fine art offerings and make informed decisions about which fine art program they want to be a part of!”

 We were so delighted to watch this incredible student performance and hope it puts just as big of a smile on your face as it did on ours!

“I’m so proud of our students for their perseverance and grit from this past year!  I really enjoy seeing them play guitar or dance in their homes or outside!  They made it happen whenever and wherever they were!” -Brian Klenzendorf


Together: Northeast High School with Tony Mariano

This month we’re sharing a series of beautiful stories about ACG community and education projects that happened in the spring! If you’re curious to see more of our past projects please check out our ACG Productions page and our previous Blogs!

This spring we had the opportunity to connect with the students of Northeast Highschool’s guitar program in a spectacular way. Our Teaching Artist and Director of Ensembles, Tony Mariano connected with local singer/songwriter Daniel Fears, to guide the students of Dallas Shreve’s guitar and orchestra classes through composing and recording their own music. 

Daniel Fears visited several classes and walked students through his compositional process to inspire them to compose their own music. Dallas and Tony then worked with the students directly to create some outstanding pieces of music inspired by the theme of Hope. 

We had the opportunity to speak with Tony Mariano about the process and value of the project. Tony shared, 

“Helping students to be creative in a way that brings them out of their comfort zone is incredibly valuable. It's what musicians do all the time - create beautiful music from nothing. We started with an idea of Hope, and ran with it. And in doing so, the students had the opportunity to take their limited experience on their instruments and create something brand new that connected what they were playing and composing to a specific feeling and idea. This gave them an opportunity to create despite feeling unsure of what would come from it. It allowed them to feel vulnerable in a safe and positive space, and seeing the final product gave them a chance to feel proud, not just of a performance, but proud of what they created. It wasn't always easy, in fact, the composition process was incredibly difficult, and many students felt super hesitant and self-conscious. But in the end, everyone was able to contribute a little bit of something to the final product, whether it be an idea for a melody, thoughts on the form, a video clip, or some poetry.”

The students in Dallas’ class were given the freedom to create their piece of music in any style or genre and were not limited to only the classical guitar or orchestral instruments. 

“While each composition began with music notated and composed in the manner you'd find typical of a "classical" piece of music, we did not limit their creativity to a classical genre. In the final product, there are drums, electric guitar, spoken word, etc. We were less concerned with creating a piece of music that adhered to a specific genre, but rather we were more interested in providing the students with an opportunity to use their musical voice to create something beautiful, whatever that may be,” Tony shared. 

The process of creating something beautiful is different for every artist and musician. It can be so rewarding and intricate to be able to create what is in your mind into something tangible or audible. We asked Tony to share what a typical composition lesson looked like for the students and how their creative process began. He shared, 

“A typical composition started with a prompt - "pick one string, pick three notes that sound good together." From there, we built a melody. Then, we would ask the students to come up with a bass line that sounded good with whatever melody they created. Usually we'd help them out with this part by choosing certain notes for the students, and allowing them to improvise with those notes until they came up with something that felt right. We then added ostinatos, chords, middle voices, anything that added positively to the "mix" we were creating - all improvised and coming directly from the students. And with each step, we would try to tie in what they were doing with the idea of Hope - "does this sound hopeful" , "what chord would make this sound and feel more hopeful" etc. Once the mixes were finished, we turned some of the more advanced students loose to compose their own solo's, which turned out incredible. And we passed one song on to Daniel to add his special touch to the mix.”

We at ACG are constantly astounded by the fiery creativity and talent that surrounds us. And today, we are so excited to share the hard work of Dallas Shreve’s students with you. 

“Composing and recording can be so messy, even for the pros. So seeing all that hard work pay off in an incredibly beautiful video was heartwarming in a truly special way. Whenever you start on a journey like this, you never know what is going to come of it. The students don't know, the teachers don't know. So it is always a special surprise to see the final product. And passing that video on to the students so that they could take it and show it to a family member or friend to say "Hey, I made this" is so so powerful.” -Tony Mariano


Together: A Conversation with Justice Phillips

Over the next month we will be sharing a series of beautiful and inspirational stories about ACG community and education projects that happened in the spring! If you’re curious to see more of our past projects please check out our ACG Productions page and our previous Blogs!

This blog is part of a two part series on our youth and community ensembles. Read the first part here. 

This year brought us many unanticipated gifts! One being our ability to expand our community ensemble reach beyond Austin and another being our opportunity to connect with and commission local artists more consistently. 

We recently commissioned four local composers, Justice Phillips, Matthew Lyons, Cassie Shankman, and Alan Retamozo, to write a piece for the ACG Youth Camerata, the ACG Youth Orchestra and two community ensembles. 

We had the exciting opportunity to speak with Justice a little more about his composition Winter to Spring. Justice composed this beautiful piece for the ACG Youth Camerata during the Texas winter storm in February. Justice shared, 

“I remember walking my dog, Luna, during the storm, and the harmonies at the beginning really captured how I felt in that icy environment. The piece moves and transitions throughout until finally at the end, spring arrives. When I first heard the performance the ACGYC did of the piece, I was more blown away by the level at which they play than I was about the piece itself honestly. It's crazy to me to hear a virtual ensemble of young people playing that beautifully.”

Justice began his path as a composer during his Freshman year of college when he broke a finger playing basketball. He wasn’t able to play his guitar so he dove into composing and became the talented young composer he is today! Justice shared a little about his process in composing,  

“Typically when I am writing a new piece, I create a ‘skeleton’ of the piece initially, then I improvise based on the skeleton with the guitar and add/subtract things as I see fit. While I was improvising Winter to Spring, I had the icy weather in my mind.”

We are so grateful to have Justice on our team! He creates constant beauty and we are so thrilled to watch it unfold. Justice shared about more beautiful things he has done this year, 

“I had the fortune of writing a piece for my old middle school Lively. Their guitar program and Orchestra played a piece of mine together, and their dance program danced to it. It was gorgeous and I was very honored to be a part of it. I also was commissioned by the Sans Duo to write a piece for Guitar and Saxophone that I titled Luna after my dog. For our GIVE project, I wrote a guitar solo for my best friend Alex Lew titled "Soni Time" named after his dog Sonata, and I'm currently working on a commission for the Austin Guitar Quartet!”

The abundance of beauty and creativity in our world leaves us speechless at times. We are so grateful for our community and cannot wait to continue thriving together in our bounty of magnificence!