CALL AND RESPONSE: A Conversation with Invoke's Zach Matteson

Streamed live from KMFA’s new Draylen Mason Music Studio, the genre-blurring string quartet Invoke alongside wildly creative Thomas Echols will fashion a lush musical journey with guitar, strings, and electronics. Sunday, April 18th, 2021 at 5pm CT. Register Online Here. Free, Donations Welcome.


We are so excited to present our first Austin Now event of the Spring 2021 season, CALL AND RESPONSE with Invoke and Thomas Echols, presented in partnership with KMFA, on Sunday, April 18th at 5pm CDT. 

For the Austin Now series our Artistic Director, Joe Williams, has asked outstanding artists from our city to get together and create something beautiful using the collaboration of different mediums in whatever way they feel represents the times we are living in now.  

CALL AND RESPONSE is an exploration into memory, meaning, and the not-so-obvious threads that connect us all over Austin. It was developed in collaboration with members of the community and participants were asked questions about what music means to them. Their responses helped steer the program we will see Sunday.

We got the opportunity to connect with one of the incredible members of Invoke, Zach Matteson, and he shared some beautiful things about his journey as a musician and the journey of Invoke coming together.

“I started the violin at age 5. As I grew up, music was something that was always constant in my life: chamber music with siblings/friends, community choir with my dad in middle school, and eventually community orchestra in high school. In orchestra, I really fell in love with the rush of being completely surrounded by music, creating something together as a group. Maybe it was the “rush” that making music provided (or the fact that nothing else in school had interested me) but I decided to try and get a college degree in music. I went to University of Maryland to get my degree in music performance (for a variety of reasons) and it was there that I met the other members of Invoke during my Junior year.”

“At UMD, we worked with dance choreographer, Liz Lerman, to get the orchestra dancing while performing “Appalachian Spring,” among other things...there was a definite energy in the air of “what’s next?” and “what can we do to subvert expectations.” It was in this environment that Invoke (Nick, Geoff, Karl, and myself) came together. Initially, we started as a straight forward new music quartet, interested in performing works by living composers that we knew, but it quickly developed into the bluegrass crossover/composer collective/new music ensemble/string quartet group that you see today. That “rush” is still there, and I love the fact that it’s something I get to create with my best friends everyday.”

Music has the magical capability of bringing up deep rooted emotions or creating new sensations and feelings depending on the sound, situation, and mood of the piece. We asked Zach how performing music makes him feel when he is alone versus when he is with his colleagues. Zach shared,

“For me, “overwhelm” is the closest word I can think of when playing music. So much is happening on every level of your senses — it’s like a 20 ft. wave of pure feeling that you’re trying to harness into intelligible sounds that someone can comprehend. It can be really intimidating in that way when you’re by yourself (especially when you’re trying to start) but for me the challenge of trying to harness those feelings has been an extremely satisfying endeavor. I think it’s made much easier when you have people around you helping out. That’s probably the reason I enjoy playing chamber music so much, a shared struggle to create something really powerful that can speak to people on every level.”

Invoke’s musical style is described as “not classical but not not classical.” We have been so intrigued by what this means and cannot wait to hear this style in action! Zach addressed our curiosity and shared what that description means for Invoke, 

Everyone in Invoke comes from a “classical” background. We all went to school for western art music, studied western theory, etc...That being said, I think our musical interests extend far beyond that, ranging from Gamelan, to Hair Metal, to Bluegrass, and more. So when we’re writing music together, or individually, we really enjoy highlighting as much of those external influences as possible and we’re not afraid to break out of the traditional “string quartet” mold to do so. If the piece needs Nick to play gamelan for 20 minutes, we’ll do it. If we need all of us on fretted instruments like banjos and mandolins, we’ll do it. But, most of the time, you can see that thread leading back to the “classical” training that we all had so that’s where the “not classical but not not classical” comes from.”

We are so pumped to see this collaboration and deeply thought out creation come to life on April 18th! We hope you can join us and enjoy it just as much as we will! 

RSVP Online Here, Free, Donations Accepted.

PLAY: A Celebration of ACG Education

PLAY celebrates our partner teachers and students who created inspiring works of joy and friendship during a year like no other. We are so proud of this extraordinary concert! If you are inspired by what you see, and would like to contribute to ACG Education, you can Donate Here.

ACG Education turned 20 years old this year! It's hard to believe what started in one school in Austin, Texas in 2001 has turned into a movement reaching tens of thousands of young people across the nation and beyond.

We created PLAY to showcase some of the incredible young musicians and alumni from our local programs and several of our partner programs, and to celebrate the beauty and joy of their music-making. 

In a year marked by hardship and challenges, we have been so inspired by the ambition, dedication, and determination of the teachers and students we have the privilege to work with and support. It is a thrill to be able to share the results of their hard work and passion. We hope you enjoy it too!

PLAY: A Celebration of ACG Education originally aired on March 27th, 2021. 

PLAY features music of young artists from Austin (Elijah Melodic Flores, Sydney Piper, Northeast High School Ensemble, Bedichek Middle School, ACG Youth Orchestra and Gardner Betts Juvenile Center), Ohio (McKinley High School and Cleveland Classical Guitar Society), Arizona (Glendale Community College Guitar),  Mexico (Orquesta de Guitarras del Ciclo de Iniciación Musical), and Paraguay (Municipal “Agustín Pio Barrios” de San Juan Bautista de las Misiones) as well as 36 middle and high schools from U.S. and Canada. Also featured are special guests Berta Rojas, Devin Gutierrez, Daniel Fears, Montsho Thoth, Claire Puckett, Claudia Chapa and Arnold Yzaguirre.

I Am Who I Am by Michael Beranek with John Churchill

We feel so fortunate at ACG to share inspiration through music in many ways from concerts to classrooms. Some of our most profound personal connections are made through ACG Music & Healing. ACG Music & Healing utilizes a trauma-informed, strength-based approach to facilitate meaningful expression and personal narrative through music making for members of our community facing significant challenges. 

Today we’d love to celebrate the connection between Michael Beranek and John Churchill.

Composer John Churchill met Michael in early February of this year to create a piece of music together as Michael is recovering from intense chemo and radiation treatment for cancer at 71. 

Here is what John shared with us about the experience, 

“Even though Michael is in remission, the procedures have left him with a longer road of recovery. This included a dramatic change to his voice. We spent the first month together talking about where he was from and a plethora of memories from throughout his life. The man has had such a variety of experiences that it gave us so many interesting things to talk about. He even saw Elton John perform in a duck costume at the Iowa State Fair in the early 70s!

It became clear over the course of our first few meetings that the song we would write together should be a chronological story of some of his memories. At one point during one of our meetings Michael made the comment "I am who I am because of the experiences that I have had". This stuck out to me, and I mentioned that we may have our song's hook in that statement right there. With a minor tweak, the tag in the song became "I am who I am because of the life that I have lived". 

This project was a true collaboration in which Michael played such a key role in writing the lyrics. I was so impressed with how he and I worked together. He even sent me some last minute edits right before I was set to record the vocals, and his improvements made all the difference. It was such a pleasure to work with him, and I am truly excited to share his work with others.”

Learn more about our Music & Healing program here


Play: A conversation with Elijah Flores

ACG Education turned 20 this year. What started in one school in Austin, Texas, has grown into a movement impacting tens of thousands of young people across the nation and beyond. PLAY celebrates our partner teachers and students who created inspiring works of joy and friendship during a year like no other. We are so proud of this extraordinary concert! If you are inspired by what you see, and would like to contribute to ACG Education, you can Donate Here.

Here at ACG we have so much to be grateful for! One of the top contenders on that list is our ACG Education program. Sharing the beauty, joy, and passion of music with young people has been our greatest passion at ACG for the past twenty years. 

We started this magnificent journey in one school in 2001 and now we are in more than fifty local schools including Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and three Juvenile Justice Centers, and stretching all across the United States and beyond. 

This year has brought many challenges to the typical flow of guitar education but we are so inspired by the ambition, dedication, and determination of the teachers and students in these programs. 

We were so thrilled to be able to share the results of their hard work and passion in PLAY

We are sharing videos of local students and partner programs as well as students from Mexico City all the way to Cleveland, Ohio and many places in between! 

One of the students we have the opportunity to see is Elijah Flores.

Elijah joined our partner program at Bedichek Middle School with Phil Swasey and is now a senior at Crockett High School with Ron Hare. We got the opportunity to speak with Elijah about his experience in these programs and this is what he had to share. 

“I found an outlet for my energy. Over time I started to expand and use my voice along with trying new instruments. I gained inspiration from the people I was around, and the environment. I had a lot of encouragement and guidance through school, and my family, and being able to have a healthy environment to practice.”

Elijah is an incredibly successful young musician and is considering continuing his music education in college. He just accepted a scholarship with UTSA and is planning to attend fall 2021. 

We are so awed by the hard work put in by Elijah throughout his path as a young musician even during the difficulties brought to us by COVID-19. Elijah shared,  

“When the pandemic hit, life became very different. I became different.. Isolation changed me, and the way I adapted to learning overall. On the bright side of the pandemic I had so much time, so I acquired new hobbies, new routines, and did not dwell on the past. I was constantly working on my writing skills, vocal skills, instrumental skills and I realized I find so much joy from music overall. It has always been my outlet and a medium for expressing my emotions.” 

ACG Education is our pride and joy and we feel so fortunate to be surrounded by so many inspiring individuals everyday. We are so grateful for the teachers we work with, the students in our programs, the lessons we learn daily, and all the many connections we make. We hope you can celebrate these remarkable accomplishments and people with us in PLAY.

Grisha with Internal Creations

One of our all-time favorite musical geniuses returns to inspire us in ways we can only imagine. Presented in partnership with Internal Creations, we will be able to experience the musicianship of Grisha live from Brooklyn, New York. Saturday, March 13, 2021 at 8pm CST. Register Online Here. Free, Donations Welcome. 


At ACG we have experiences every day that show us the power of music to inspire. In fact, it’s our mission: to inspire individuals in our community through musical experiences of deep personal significance.

Grisha is an artist that shines with an unusually bright light in this regard. Not only has he dazzled us many times on the concert stage, but he has always been willing to visit as many schools as we could fit in his schedule, to share his talent with countless young people. We frequently hear adult audience members and young students alike tell us how much they love and admire Grisha.

This week, Grisha is performing for us from Brooklyn, New York. So we wanted to take the opportunity to connect him with our education partner at Internal Creations, Jahzeel Montes.

Jahzeel and his students were able to have an online conversation, masterclass, and short performance from Grisha yesterday evening.

The class began with Grisha sharing his introduction into classical guitar and his inspiration to teach himself flamenco guitar from a recording of Paco de Lucia. His story was followed by a flamenco performance that left awe in the students eyes. 

Before hearing each student play their solos for Grisha, he taught and walked them through a fundamental rasgueado technique for flamenco. 

“Start by pinching the third string with your index and thumb, then strum the thumb up, strum the middle finger out and open the palm, and then finally strum down with the thumb and bring the fingers in to come back into the starting position.”

For the rest of the class, Grisha shared wisdom on musicianship, self expression, technique, patience, and motivated the students in individually unique ways. 

We are so ecstatic to be able to connect with the artistry and musicality of this incredibly talented and inspiring musician, Grisha, this Saturday March 13, 2021. We are also jumping in excitement to hear a program that includes repertoire by the man who inspired Grisha to become the musician he is today, Paco de Lucia. 

If you would like to join us please RSVP Here.

Amplify Austin: Tony Mariano

It’s Amplify Austin week. Our Amplify campaign is supporting pandemic innovations in ACG Education, and three very special projects designed to engage young people during this challenging time. In honor of ACG Education, we’re sharing a few personal insights this week. We hope you enjoy them! You can support our Amplify Austin campaign online here.


The past year has brought us many challenges, new opportunities for growth, a broader community, and new inspirations. The world of music education had to drastically shift methods and focus to adapt to the life this past year brought us. Luckily, we have an incredible community of music educators who were able to take on this challenge and create beautiful experiences, connections, and opportunities with their students. This week we spoke with Teaching Artist Tony Mariano about his experience this past year. 

Tony works directly with students in our local guitar programs and works with teachers to build creative and engaging projects for their classes. Tony shared, 

“The pandemic has changed almost every facet of my teaching, from how I engage and communicate with my students to the things that we do day to day in classes and lessons. My focus has shifted from emphasizing things like technique and musicianship to fostering creativity and engagement in my students. The pandemic has drawn everyone apart from each other, and I want my lessons and classes to be a place where the students and teachers can come together and create beautiful and meaningful relationships.”

Tony continued to share the underlying beauty brought by remote learning,

“Nothing is going to be as effective as in-person learning. But, what remote learning has given me is the opportunity to be more flexible in my approach to teaching. Remote learning forces me to find new and creative ways to keep students engaged by doing things that inspire them to contribute in beautiful ways. And as a result, I find that I am learning a lot more about my student's interests and what inspires them. Personally, I'm finding a lot of joy in catering my teaching towards ways that keep the students pumped up to play music. I've learned so much more about who my students are as people during this process, and it has made for some fun and meaningful lessons throughout the year.”

In the midst of all the chaos of the past year there have been incredible things too from projects like Forward to Solace to Everything Changes at Once. We are grateful to witness the power of community through music. Tony is involved in something extra special happening this semester at one of our local programs: Northeast High School. 

“We set out to guide the students in Dallas Shreve's guitar and orchestra classes to compose and record their own music inspired by the idea of Hope and Renewal as we enter into the final stages of the pandemic,”  Tony shared. 

“Daniel Fears, an incredibly special songwriter here in Austin, has been working directly with the classes to walk them through his process of songwriting in order to inspire the students to do the same. The kids have written some beautiful and powerful music that they are currently recording remotely at home with their cell phones.”

Tony also shared with us that part of the intention of this project is to help students not only dig into their own creative side but to connect and collaborate with their peers.

“Our goal is to coordinate with English, Choir, and AV teachers at Northeast to identify other students at NE High to contribute video, singing, and poetry to create a beautiful digital project that will live on in these student's memories forever. This project is entirely student led and student driven, and I am inspired to see the magic that they are creating each and every day!”

We are so grateful for our teachers and our students for inspiring us each and every day. Beauty, connection, creativity, and community is endless. 

If you would like to support ACG Education please visit Amplify Austin. 

If you would like to dive into another personal insight, please meet Justice Phillips.

Amplify Austin: Justice Phillips

It’s Amplify Austin week. Our Amplify campaign is supporting pandemic innovations in ACG Education, and three very special projects designed to engage young people during this challenging time. In honor of ACG Education, we’re sharing a few personal insights this week. We hope you enjoy them! You can support our Amplify Austin campaign online here

ACG Education has brought us beautiful connections, friendships, experiences, and life lessons that we are so grateful to continuously grow into. 

One of these life-long friendships and beautiful connections we’ve had is with our Director of Customer Experience and Composer, Justice Phillips.

We met Justice when he was attending school at Lively Middle School (formerly Fulmore). 

Justice shared,

I started playing guitar in 6th grade at Fulmore through an after school guitar program that was happening there. It wasn't classical guitar, we just learned guitar basics like chords. I picked it up well though, and started venturing out from what the teacher was teaching. The program occurred in the orchestra room where I got to know Ms. McAlmon. She told me that there was going to be a guitar class the next year, where I met Jeremy Osborne and the story set off there.”

Jeremy Osborne has been ACG’s Assistant Director of Education since 2008. We are so amazed by the magic created between student and teacher and how that influences young people in their life journey. Justice shared his thoughts and experience,

“Guitar was something that I spent a lot of time doing and worked hard to get good at, so being known as the "really good" guitar player in Middle and High School did a lot for my overall confidence. Of course, playing music has always brought me joy, excitement, and sometimes frustration but at the end of it all it's given me something tangible to be proud of myself for.”

Justice attended UT Austin as a composition major, and joined the ACG Team as Director of Customer Experience upon graduation. This spring he’s made a full circle, getting back in touch with the orchestra director at Lively Middle School, Ms. McAlmon, for one of several special projects ACG is engaged with this spring.

“Ms. McAlmon approached me and asked if I would be interested in writing a piece for Lively's guitar ensemble and orchestra. What excites me the most about this opportunity, is being able to write a piece for kids who were in the position I was in, at the same school that I went to. Also, the combination of the guitar ensemble and orchestra sounds like it will be really beautiful.”

One of our greatest joys at ACG Education is growing with our students and teachers, as musicians and as human beings. Music will always bring connections, community, friends, and family. 

If you would like to support ACG Education please visit Amplify Austin

The Power of Friendship

In the aftermath of last week’s severe winter storms, we are grateful to our friends at Austin Chamber Music Center, Conspirare, and KMFA for joining with us to present a benefit concert Friday, February 26 at 8pm CT called The Power of Friendship with proceeds going to active relief efforts. 

Register Online Here. Free, Donations support relief efforts. 

Proceeds will be evenly divided between three organizations doing inspiring and needed relief work right now: Black Leaders Collective, Central Texas Food Bank, and Impact Now Dove Springs. 

Black Leaders Collective Founder Terry P. Mitchell told us,

The sun is finally shining, the snow is melted away, but the pain, impact and aftermath of this devastation is still very present. Now more than ever it is clear how important community is in times of disaster here in Travis and Williamson County.”

Derrick Chubbs, president & CEO of the Central Texas Food Bank added,

“Between the normal rates of food insecurity, the pandemic, and the supply chain issues caused by the winter storms, there’s an usually high number of people in need right now.”

And David Horning, Executive Director of Impact Now Dove Springs shared,

The extreme weather caused a lot of closures including our food sources. Two weeks in a row we were unable to pick up food to give to people. We are out of food and could use your donations to replenish. Thank you so much for helping make a difference in the community.”

Friday’s concert will present a live performance by Oliver Rajamani from the Draylen Mason Music Studio, and feature Craig Hella Johnson and Conspirare, Michelle Schumann, ACG artists, the Miro Quartet, Thomas Burritt, Devin Gutierrez, and more.

Oliver Rajamani shared these words with us,

"This concert of friendship carries so much truth since the storm brought Texans to help one another. I was able to help friends with shelter, food and water. We live in secluded worlds even more during these stressful times and the storm helped Texans to realize the beauty and power in love, care and friendship.”




If you would like to continue being involved in supporting the community here is a list of some volunteer opportunities we’ve found:

Help Action: Provide contactless service delivery of critical resources. Organizations like local food banks, pantries, and other agencies looking to distribute resources to clients access a pool of available volunteers looking to help their community members.

Austin Mutual Aid:  which has raised more than $800,000 to get people fed and sheltered, is still accepting donations.

Caritas of Austin: has multiple options to volunteer from home to help people experiencing homelessness, including making hygiene and snack kits, masks and frontline service PPE kits.




Introspection by Jennifer Kirby with John Churchill

At ACG we are so grateful to have opportunities to build connections, share love, heal, and inspire friends in our community through music. ACG Music & Healing utilizes a trauma-informed, strength-based approach to facilitate meaningful expression and personal narrative through music making for members of our community facing significant challenges.

Today we’d like to share a story of connection between Jennifer Kirby and John Churchill. 

Composer John Churchill connected with Jennifer in late October of 2020 to create a piece of music as she was approaching her final chemotherapy treatments for cancer. 

This is what John had to share from their experience:

“Working together was exciting from the beginning. Jennifer was very eager to take part in the program as well as open to whatever that might look like. Also, being fellow Mid-Westerners, we had a few things to relate on and reminisce about in regards to that part of the country. 

Though for the first few weeks we weren’t sure what direction we would go creatively speaking, we spent each meeting focusing on her life’s story in the past, present, and future while discussing what musicians and genres she enjoys. It became apparent to her that she wanted to have something describe her life’s stages through instrumental music. We had the idea of taking what we had discussed regarding her past, present and future and write about it in a letter to her young self. This letter would prove to be the inspiration for the composition. She wanted to have the major people in her life to be represented musically. The string sections represent both her parents and her grandparents supporting her at different stages within her life, and the guitar represents her husband, Chad. She would be represented by piano. Her and I are both so proud of how this turned out. 

With Jennifer being in the hospitality industry she has such a drive to help people. Though much of her experience during her treatment put her in a position to rely on others, she is excited at the prospect of this project bringing help, hope and comfort to those that are experiencing something similar to her. 

It was such a pleasure being able to take part in this with her. I feel honored to have heard her story in such detail and be able to have created something wonderful together.”

Learn more about our Music & Healing program here

30th Season: Spring Event Guide

We are thrilled to announce nine new ACG experiences honoring rebirth and hope with artists from around the world and over one hundred friends in our community. All events are online and free, with donations gratefully accepted.

30th Season: Spring Event Guide


For spring 2021, ACG Originals goes deep on our connection and the beauty we can make together; UpClose Online, we travel to Brooklyn, and invite you to join us in the front row to hear the extraordinary artists we’ll meet there; and in Austin Now, outstanding artists from our city collaborate through different mediums to create a statement of our time featuring live and filmed performances.


ACG Originals: HOPE

Saturday, February 6, 2021 at 8PM CST

Friends from all across the world have shared music and messages of hope for this heartfelt ACG Original.


UpClose Online: GRISHA

Presented in partnership with Internal Creations

Saturday, March 13, 2021 at 8PM CST

One of our all-time favorite musical geniuses returns to inspire us in ways we can only imagine.


ACG Originals: PLAY: A Celebration of ACG Education

Saturday, March 27, 2021 at 8PM CDT

ACG Education turns 20 this year. What started in one school in Austin, Texas, grew into a movement impacting tens of thousands across the nation and beyond.



Presented in partnership with Internal Creations

Saturday, April 10, 2021 at 8PM CDT

Magnificent virtuoso Gohar Vardanyan began playing guitar at the age of five in Armenia, and has since traveled the world dazzling audiences in some of the most storied venues.



with Thomas Echols & Invoke

Presented in partnership with KMFA Classical 89.5

Sunday, April 18, 2021 at 5PM CDT

CALL AND RESPONSE is an exploration into memory, meaning, and the not-so-obvious threads that connect us all over Austin.


ACG Originals: GIVE

Thursday, April 29, 2021 at 7PM CDT

Guided by the belief that music can be a powerful catalyst for acceptance, hope, and joy, GIVE is a community concert featuring commissions from local artists, creative projects from students and community members as well as powerful songs from ACG’s Music & Healing program.


UpClose Online: RUPERT & LAURA

Presented in partnership with Internal Creations

Thursday, May 6, 2021 at 7PM CDT

We start things off with husband and wife duo Rupert Boyd and Laura Metcalf sharing the divine sounds of cello and guitar.



with Gabriel Santiago & Andrea DeLong-Amaya

Presented in partnership with Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Thursday, May 13, 2021 at 7PM CDT

Inspired by the transformation of winter to spring at the Wildflower Center, composer and performer Gabriel Santiago collaborates with master horticulturalist Andrea DeLong-Amaya to celebrate the intersections of nature and music.


UpClose Online: 30th SEASON FINALE

with Texas Guitar Quartet, Virtual Guitar Orchestra, Ex-Aequo, & Young Guitarists from across Texas

created in collaboration with The Augustine Foundation.

Saturday, May 22, 2021 at 8PM CDT

Our 30th season finale is an energetic celebration of Spring. An orchestra of young guitarists from all over Texas will premiere new arrangements by living Black American composers, and the Texas Guitar Quartet, long-time collaborators on some of ACG’s most ambitious projects (Alfred Hitchcock’sThe LodgerPersona, i/we, dream and together), will be dazzling us live from the AISD Performing Arts Center.


We look forward to celebrating a new spring together with you!