Beijing Guitar Duo

We are delighted to partner with our friends at Austin Chamber Music Center to present the brilliant artists of the Beijing Guitar Duo, Meng Su and Yameng Wang, at UT-Austin's Bates Recital Hall on Saturday, July 20th. We recently had the chance to speak with Meng Su about the origin of the duo, her perspective on performing, and what she loves about the guitar and music in general.


The lives of Meng Su and Yameng Wang existed for 15 years on two parallel - but separate - paths, finally intertwining in the celebrated Beijing Guitar Duo.

Meng Su

Meng and Yameng both began playing guitar in the city of Qingdao, China, at the age of 5. The novelty of guitar appealed to Meng when her mother offered lessons in either that or violin: most people her age were playing violin or piano. Yameng began guitar because her father was an amateur guitarist, giving her little choice in the matter.

Yameng Wang

Guitar lessons easily flowed into a passion, and they both pursued music careers very young.

At age 9, Meng Su’s mother took her to Beijing to study with the renowned teacher Chen Zhi. Being surrounded by so many talented musicians increased her competitive nature, and three years later, she was accepted into the prestigious Central Conservatory of Beijing.

Yameng surpassed contenders three times her age by achieving the winning title of the Tokyo International Guitar Competition at age 12, becoming the youngest champion in its history. After winning a string of international competitions in Italy, France, and Spain before turning 15, Classical Guitar Magazine noted that Yameng already played like a professional.

Yameng Wang, 12 years old, performing Cataluna by Albeniz

She was several years older than Meng, who remembers idolizing Yameng from afar when they studied with the same teacher, Chen Zhi, at the Central Conservatory. (Meng Su, for her part, claimed the first prize title in the Tokyo International Competition as well, adding to her impressive list of international accolades.)

Although they always studied with the same teachers, it wasn’t until they were both studying at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore - Yameng pursuing a graduate degree and Meng working on her Bachelor’s - that their professor, Manuel Barrueco, introduced the idea of playing as a duo.

Meng Su told us, “Our musical ideas were similar when we first started. I think it was just meant to be ... It’s fun to play and travel with her because we’re very close friends. What we hear a lot from our audience is that we sound like one person.”

This uncanny ability to meld sound together as though playing one instrument is partially responsible for the international fame of the Beijing Guitar Duo.

 

In 2015, Classical Guitar Magazine's Guy Traviss said after their performance in Serbia, "I thought of the Beijing Guitar Duo as truly representing one voice, one sound, and ultimately, the concept of oneness."

The Duo made their international debut on the stage of Carnegie Hall in 2009. The same year, they released an album later nominated for a Latin Grammy for its title work, Maracaípe, dedicated to them by the legendary Brazilian guitarist Sergio Assad. They’ve performed in four continents and in distinguished halls around the world.


Meng Su remembers approaching music competitively from a young age.

“When I was growing up, I always wanted to show ‘I can play this fast. How much could I impress you?’”

Now, however, her approach is more subtle, more sophisticated.

“I’ve been playing guitar for about 25 years. I’m not really into speed now; I’ve been into more tone. You keep experiencing life, love, anger … Now it’s the feeling that I’m after. ‘How can I move people, how I can express my feelings, how I can bring out the composer's intentions?’ The most important [part] for me is to sing every note and express my feelings to move the audience. If they can be touched by any part of the music, then I’m happy. ”

Meng and Yameng have a special fondness for teaching, often conducting masterclasses in conservatories and visiting schools wherever they perform. Meng has some advice to impart upon students:

“Try to play and practice slowly. Playing really fast is not clean, and the rhythm is not accurate. We always want to play the right tempos slowly, and then you can get faster and faster and have a really impressive control of music.”

When asked about performance anxiety, Meng offered this recommendation:

“I do visualization: going through the music in your head, imagining where your left hand fingers would be on the fingerboard and which fingers to pluck on your right hand. You can do this whenever possible, like in the airport, or in the bank; any time. For flexible fingers, I developed this warm-up routine before I go on stage. I used to not warm up, I would just go cold. As a kid I thought that was ok for me, it was like excitement right away. But, I think with a little warm-up it’s better.”

Meng Su told us she appreciates all types of music, but she holds a certain regard for Baroque in particular.

“Every day I have to play a little bit of Baroque just to get that deep interpretation of feeling. Latin and Romantic music are easier to express, but Baroque - there’s more rules to it. It’s more of a subtle, deep, but still very expressive feeling."

She finds Impressionist music especially gratifying.

"Impressionist music works really well on guitar - two guitars even better - because we have so many different colors, tones; the ringing strings really bring out impressionistic feelings. I like Debussy. The Duo just recorded some of his music, and we’re going to release a new recording next year with French Repertoire."

She and Yameng are excited about their return to Austin.

“It’s really nice to be back in Austin. The guitar community is so welcoming, and we admire the guitar education you’ve been doing - it’s very inspiring. It’s great to see so many young people who are not exposed to music normally playing the guitar; the guitar can change them and change their lives. It’s really amazing: you can speak different languages, but you play the same music, and I think it’s a great way to connect people.”


Alex Wright: Rock n Roll Realtor

Alexandrea Wright, a member of our new Young Professionals Council, is a unique blend of passion and practicality: she’s a rock musician and a real estate agent. Her journeys into both were equally serendipitous.

Alex was raised in a home that acted as a landing place to help recovering addicts get back on their feet. She desperately wanted an electric bass, but there was no room in the budget for anything extraneous.

When she was 13, her family surprised her with one on Christmas morning.

“There’s a real embarrassing photo of me crying my eyes out over the bass. I’m just hugging it, because it meant the world to me. I would not let it out of my sight, I played it night and day.”

She became obsessed with music, and practiced constantly. At age 18 she met someone looking for a bassist, and on a whim she auditioned for his band. 11 years later, she’s still performing with them.

“I was planning to go to school for chemistry. Then, much to my dad’s chagrin, I said, ‘I’m going to join a band and tour the world!’ It was the best decision I ever made, I’m so grateful for it. I’ve gotten to go all around the world, and it really helped me feel more comfortable and confident in my own creativity.”

The band, a three-piece rock group called “Ringo Death Starr,” just returned from its ninth tour to Japan. Alex believes their success lies in the longevity of their time together. Other bands they played with at the beginning of their career have already dispersed or formed new groups, but her band is still solid.

Regarding their decade-long tenure, Alex is as amazed as anyone.

Ringo Death Starr

“It’s just me and two other guys. It’s our most extreme passion, we get along really well and enjoy making music with each other. Our ticket revenue mostly covers expenses, which allows us to keep traveling, and sometimes we get to take money home. But mostly it allows us to keep playing together, which is the best thing - I hope I’m 80 and still in this band.”

She said the biggest change in the band over the past eleven years was the birth of the guitarist’s baby. Although they did slow down on touring around that time, they’ve since picked up their old pace. The “Band Baby,” now two-years-old, is a beloved member of their community.

Her close relationship with music is the reason ACG appealed to her. Hearing about how ACG puts instruments in the hands of those who might not otherwise have access to musical instruction really struck a chord with her.

“I used to have issues with stress and anxiety, and playing bass helped me come out of my shell. Music is an amazing outlet. It’s a healing tool, and I think it’s so important to give kids and adults access to that.”

Alex wishes she could have enrolled in an ACG guitar class when she was in school. She always found guitar much more accessible than orchestra or band instruments.

“I think offering guitar opens [music education] up to a whole other realm of people who might have been intimidated by orchestra or band. I love what y’all are doing, and I’m really excited to be a part of it in any way I can.”

Alex had a side gig in retail for a long time before giving in to the advice of her mother and grandmother to enter their field: real estate.

“You know when your family does something, and you kinda put it off …  I put it off as long as I could. I thought, ‘No, I’m not an agent!’”

She explained that she’d always harbored a certain image of a realtor: “a ‘professional woman’ that wore a power suit and stuff.” Self-doubt cast a shadow over any thought of going into real estate, and the worry was always, ‘What if I can’t do that? Do I need to fit in this mold?’

Now, Alex is breaking into the field with determination to forge a new path. “As much as I would love to be that professional power suit person, I’m trying to make real estate feel like me. I’m trying to carve my own niche and find my vibe.”

She recognizes the intimidation many feel for the real estate industry and its inapproachable nature, and has made it her mission to put a friendlier face on it. She wants to share with people afraid of the process that it’s not as scary as they think, and that buying a house is not a luxury for the select few.

Alex got her license at the end of February, and sold her first two houses within the same week shortly after. To her surprise, the flexibility of a realtor’s schedule works perfectly with her role as a rock musician.

“Real estate has so far been really fun and stressful and exciting. It’s a lot of phone calls … and I’m learning how to be organized.”

Alex and her grandmother

When asked which part of her life she sees creeping more into the other side - whether she’s more of a realtor who does music, or a musician who does real estate - she had an immediate answer.

“I hope I will always think of myself as a musician who does real estate. Music has played such an important part in my life, not just with the band, but also with what music has done for me personally.”

 


Javier Niño

Javier Niño was an exceptional young man and talented guitarist from Austin, Texas whose life was cut tragically short in February, 2019. "Javi" brought joy through beauty and kindness to countless people during his lifetime. In his honor, ACG established the Javier Niño Memorial Scholarship Fund, which will provide promising young classical guitarists in Austin with free lessons, mentoring, and other support to help them advance in their studies and realize their potential.

To contribute to the fund, or learn more about it, please click here.


Jeremy Osborne grins when he recalls the first time he met Javier.

“Javier came into the guitar class at Eastside Memorial High School as an underclassman, wearing a leather jacket and Iron Maiden t-shirt. He had taken some lessons and already identified as an electric guitarist, which sometimes caused a bit of head-butting because we were teaching classical.”

Javier’s enthusiasm for guitar soon skyrocketed, and he became a sponge for everything the guitar community offered.

His initial skepticism quickly dissolved into “soaking up everything we were giving him. He became intrinsically motivated, and one of the best guitarists at Eastside.”

Along with Eastside's guitar director, Meghan Buchanan, Jeremy realized that Javier was progressing at a rate that would soon exceed what the school's guitar program could offer. They thought he should set his sights on a place where he’d be able to flourish, and encouraged him to audition for McCallum Fine Arts Academy.

Javier ended up winning that audition, and joined McCallum's award-winning guitar program. Under the direction of Andrew Clark, Javi thrived at his new school, quickly distinguishing himself among some of the most talented young guitarists in the city. But he never forgot those early teachers who saw his potential and helped him succeed. Jeremy has fond memories of running into Javier at district guitar functions over the next few years, where they'd catch up with each other and have long conversations about music.

Eventually, Javier began studying privately with Joseph Palmer, ACG’s Performance Engagement Artist and a highly accomplished soloist.

Joseph was amazed at the persistence with which Javi approached guitar. “His development as a musician was remarkable. As I began to witness his eagerness to learn and his quick rate of progression, we would set bigger and bigger goals. He would always rise to the challenge and push himself further.”

Joseph was also struck by Javi's unique and gentle spirit, his sincerity, and his great sense of humor.

“Even when he would struggle, it was met with laughter instead of frustration. I'll always remember how much we laughed in our lessons. He was such a joy to work with.”

A few months before he passed, as part of a writing assignment for school, Javier wrote a speech honoring the impact Joseph Palmer had on his life. The sincerity of his words and the affection he felt for his teacher are obvious, and especially poignant in retrospect.

“Have you ever seen anyone so good at what they do that you can’t blink once in case you miss something? I would like to present the "Best Classical Guitarist Player of the Century" award to Joseph Palmer. He was the one person in my teens that had as much influence on me as Beyonce or Kanye might to someone else.
Joseph Palmer with Javier (2nd row, second from right) and his Eastside guitar class
I remember the first time I saw Joseph play. I only came to his concert because I tagged along with a friend. I thought that guitar was pretty lame and old. When he started playing, I knew he was something special! I have never in my life seen someone as passionate about their craft. It has changed my expectation of the word passionate.
After seeing Joseph play, I was inspired to pick up the guitar. I decided to give it my all and be just as cool as him. I even started taking guitar classes in high school. I ended up coming in contact with Joseph later, and he took me under his wing as one of his students.
Becoming his student taught me how to be disciplined. It was hard, but I had so much enthusiasm to become a better guitarist that over time I was able to develop discipline. I also applied the strict discipline of practicing guitar to my schoolwork.
I always strived to be as good as him. I admired how amazing Joseph played and how easy he made it seem. It helped me understand what determination is and how to pursue it. Have you ever wanted something so badly that you are willing to set everything aside just to accomplish that goal? That’s exactly how much I wanted to become a great player, and I established my determination to do so. Being passionate, disciplined, and determined can go a long way, not just for me, but for anyone.”
Javier and his mother, Courtesy of Texas Standard

Javier’s positive attitude toward guitar reflected back to him in the form of more opportunities and space for success. Jeremy greatly admired the symbiotic relationship Javier established with his community.

“We were able to surround Javier with resources to unlock his potential. He gave himself over to the community of guitarists he was part of, and in turn, the community gave everything to him.”

Javier could have gone on to pursue a music degree in college, but instead entered St. Edward’s University to study computer science. “He took the legacy of his family up a notch, as far as economic opportunity, by pursuing such a practical field. That’s the tragedy of all this: it wasn’t just that he’d figured out his potential for guitar, it was like everything just clicked for him, and he became more adult than his peers, more willing to accept opportunities.”

Jeremy is proud of ACG for motivating students to achieve great things in any field, not just guitar. “We try to facilitate that - it’s part of our mission.”

“It doesn’t matter if students become professional concert guitarists or not, it’s the fact that they’re able to take the arts and create it at a deeper level for themselves.”

Javier’s absence has left a void in his community, and Jeremy has a final word regarding life going forward.

“A hopeful thought amidst the tragic loss of it all is that this gives you purpose in a way: it connects you with the people close to you. It’s tragic that he’s gone, but the people left are now so close-knit because of this. [His community] will live their lives with a sense of reverence for the friend they lost. Little daily triumphs will be dedicated to Javier.”


Gratitude for Jeremy Osborne's 10 Years with ACG

Jeremy Osborne has spent the last ten years at ACG making magic with music in classrooms. The following is a collection of thoughts and memories from the students, colleagues, teachers, and parents who have been touched by his compassion and spirit over the years.

If you would like to make a gift in Jeremy's honor, click here.


Kim Andersen, the AISD Alt Ed Satellite Campus School Counselor:

Jeremy with the paper guitar, a gift from one of his students at Gardner Betts

"ACG has been a wonderful part of Gardner Betts for about a decade now. What started with Travis passed to Jeremy and most recently to Javier. Jeremy represents everything I've seen in ACG: talent, persistence, respect, and honor. He does his job with a tenacious smile. I can tell you first hand that working with these boys isn't always pretty, but it is always worthwhile. I have never heard Jeremy complain. He always has praise for his boys. In my years at Gardner Betts, I have rarely worked with anyone more deserving of recognition than Jeremy. May we all enjoy what we do as much as he does."

Jack Wolfe, ACG Board Member:

I appreciate Jeremy’s talent, dedication, passion and compassion in his interactions with his students.   He is effective and he really embodies our mission at ACG every day.

Cathy Bennett, Former Director of Guitar Studies at Akins High School:

Cathy, Travis, and Jeremy

Celebrating the 10 years of Jeremy Osborne’s collaboration with ACG. What an amazing gift he is to so many people! His smile is infectious and so is his big heart. Jeremy Osborne is exactly the kind of role model young people need in their lives.

Some words that come into my mind when I think about Jeremy are: compassionate, humble, musician, teacher, friend, listener, patient, loyal, funny, creative, motivator, kind, genuine and the list goes on and on.

Thank you Jeremy, for sharing your love of music and of life with so many young people over the past 10 years. I am truly honored to call you my friend.

Travis Marcum, ACG Director of Education:

Jeremy inspires.

For ten years, Jeremy has (as he likes to say) made a 60-mile loop around the city of Austin, visiting guitar teachers and students, helping them grow. He puts his nose down and works tirelessly. From the very first day, Jeremy shows his students that he would do anything for them. At Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center, Jeremy builds trust with young men that have long decided never to risk trusting again. He shows thousands of students and teachers each year what it means to be an artist and a friend.

Jeremy loves the guitar, but more so ... he loves people. Kindness, integrity, and dedication are the words that come to mind when I think of Jeremy. He has been an invaluable cornerstone to the Austin music education community for 10 years. We are so proud of the teacher and person he is. Thank you my friend.

Some of Travis's favorite Jeremy photos from their two-decade friendship.

Justice Phillips, Music Composition Graduate of UT-Austin:

To say that Jeremy Osborne has had a profound impact impact on my life would be a gross understatement. Obviously Jeremy is an outstanding human being that is kind, intelligent, funny, and very personable. But, I want to focus on how he has impacted me as a musician because as I prepare to graduate college and begin my next chapter in life, I find myself asking how did I get here as a musician? Where did it all begin? Every time I find myself thinking those things, my mind takes me to one person, and that is Jeremy Osborne.

I honestly don’t know if I would even be a musician without Jeremy, and that is a scary thought to have considering a big part of how I identify myself as a human being is as a musician. I remember the moment where my true love of music started, and it was in 7th grade on the car ride to Brownsville, Texas for the Guitar Ensemble Festival and Competition that occurs there annually. I had the fortune of riding with Jeremy on the way to Brownsville, and he was listening to his metal CD’s he brought, particularly the bands Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer. I had never heard music like that before, but to say I fell in love wouldn’t tell the whole story. That car ride is actually one of the most vivid memories I have from that time period because how much it affected me. After the trip I started listening to tons of metal, and trying to learn a lot of the songs I listened to on guitar. Honestly, that was the first time I listened to music that I wanted to listen to, and not just music that my parents or brother played. When I think about that moment, I think to myself that Jeremy literally got the ball of my musical world rolling so to speak. I can’t express in words how much that meant, and still means to me to this day as I still love that music that I heard for the first time 10 years ago.

If that was the only way Jeremy had impacted my life, that would still be huge, but it’s not. Jeremy brought me into the classical guitar world when he started the guitar ensemble at Fulmore Middle. That’s a world where I met the best friend I’ve ever had, where I went to McCallum specifically to improve at the guitar, where I’ve gotten the opportunity to go to the university I wanted to attend since I was in middle school, and a world where I get to work with truly wonderful, kind, and intelligent people at ACG doing what I love to do. It’s crazy for me to think how if Jeremy hadn’t been around all those years ago, I truly don’t know what I would be doing. The way that I see it, Jeremy set me on this path that I’ve followed the last 10 years and words really can’t express how grateful I am.

Liz Cass, ACG Board Member & Armstrong Community Music School Executive Director:

I am beyond lucky to have Jeremy as my dear good long-time friend. He’s one of the most caring, compassionate, hilarious, fun, loving people I know.  He brings an incredible depth of integrity and artistry to everything he does from playing his guitar to teaching his beloved students to all of his interactions with the people in his life. I once heard him describe a friend as “God’s prototype”. I guess it takes one to know one, because the title fits for Jeremy too.

Alex Lew, Former Student:

Jeremy Osborne is an all around incredible person. If I had to choose a single word to describe him, it would hands down be "inspiring". Osborne single handedly steered me into a path that I have grown to love so much, and I feel privileged to have felt his influence in my upbringing; not only as a guitarist, but as a genuinely good person. Of course, Jeremy is a creative, and that should always be admired; but I have always loved the way the he isn't afraid of throwing himself into situations that others may fear, which has made me realize that we are not limited by anything but our own minds. The fact that he is able to touch other people's lives as he has touched mine is humbling, as we should all strive to be like Jeremy Osborne.

Honorable Judge Darlene Byrne, 126th Judicial District Court:

Jeremy has such a heart for kids that have come from very hard places.  In his work at Gardner Betts with our youth there, he provides a platform for kids to shine – maybe for the first time ever.  Through his amazing skill as a musician and teacher, he helps these young people see their potential for growth, helps them find a way to cope with their significant life stresses through music, and challenges them to strive ever harder to be their best selves.  Thank you Jeremy on behalf of the courts, the probation department, the children and their families that you have tirelessly served through ACG.

Elaine Kasper, ACG Board Member:

I am thrilled to write a note to celebrate Jeremy Osborne! I have had the joy of observing him teach several times. Each time, I was amazed to see his calm and confident presence connect with every student – whether it was during the summer working with students for the I/We project, students at Gardner Betts, or at Kealing Middle School.

Students and faculty are comfortable asking for his advice, direction, and suggestions with teaching and learning strategies. His skills are an asset to ACG and we are incredibly lucky to have him!!

Francisco de la Rosa, Former Student:

Mr. Osborne is an amazing person.  I have been very fortunate when it comes to role models in my life and I am proud to say that Mr. Osborne has been one of the most influential people who has inspired the music path I follow today.  

Mr. Osborne is also an inspiring educator, not only because he is passionate and dedicated to music, but because he invests in every student’s life. Not only does he have the outstanding ability to help students feel confident in their musical potential, but is also willing to help with other academic subjects when needed.

The most significant quality is his compassion.  His ability to genuinely sit down with individuals and simply listen to them during the difficult and best of times in their lives, is inspiring.

Francisco (left) and Jeremy dressed as Francisco (right)

One of the fondest memories out of many that I have from our Akins High School ensemble, was when Mr. Osborne surprised all of us at the Fall Festival concert dressed up as me.  It was a humorous and heartwarming experience that someone that I look up to took the time to dress up like me for Halloween.

I congratulate Mr. Osborne on his ten years with ACG, and I know my story is one of many of how inspiring Jeremy Osborne has been in that time frame.

Congratulations!

Kendal Gladish, ACG Board Member:

I think Jeremy is quietly fearless, in that he welcomes challenge and approaches large workloads, students at many levels, and teachers who need coaching with a persistent and cheerful determination that inspires confidence and comfort. I cannot imagine this talented man being daunted by difficulty--he believes in himself and ACG's mission--and will simply find ways to help his students succeed. We are all better for having Jeremy as a colleague and friend.

David & Karen Osborne, Jeremy's Parents:

Our dearest son, Jeremy,
So, so proud of you always, and this recognition is so deserved. From the time you were born, music has always been a part of your life. When the trumpet and middle school band didn't suit you (although you were amazing at it), you told us you wanted to try the guitar. So lessons, the Squares, your college experiences all made you into the musician you are today. And much more than that, you are such a kind, loving, talented wonderful person and we are so blessed to call you our son. We can't wait to see how much more the world has in store for you!! With our deepest love and affection, Mom and Dad

Dallas Shreve, Dobie Middle School Guitar:

Jeremy has been such an amazing mentor and friend. When I started the guitar program at Dobie four years ago, I had only taught private, one-on-one lessons.   When I took on the task of having 25 new 6th-grade guitarists at a time in a classroom, I had no clue what I was about to experience.  Jeremy mentored me for nearly two years and helped me take one of the “toughest” Title I schools in Austin to sweepstakes at concert and sight reading.  He is such a kind soul as well, always helping me find things to improve on and leaves me feeling encouraged and inspired, either by his playing or simply his presence in the room.  What a wonderful light he is!

Makena Smith, Former Student:

Mr. Osborne didn’t just teach us how to play guitar. He taught us to work hard for success, to believe in ourselves, how to work as an ensemble, and how to support each other. He gave us challenges and made us proud to be a part of our guitar program. Mr. Osborne is one of my greatest role models and  I will never forget the wisdom, opportunities, and experiences he gave my peers and I. There was not a day guitar rehearsal went by where we weren’t excited to see Mr. Osborne.

A student's depiction of Jeremy conducting Makena to a Villa-Lobos piece.

Miguel Rodriguez, Former Student:

I have known Mr. Osborne since my 6th grade year in middle school. And he had been in my life for those following years until I graduated high school. Through those years he taught me how to enjoy and understand music but he also taught me how to laugh at the small things and how to enjoy life through said music! He was my teacher yes, but he was also my mentor, and my friend who I enjoyed seeing everyday in class. I owe a part of who I am today to him! I will always remember and thank my friend who taught me how play.

 

Charles & Luz Bundick, ACG Supporters:

We first met Jeremy when we found out about his work with the young men at the Gardner Betts Center. We were so impressed by what he and these young men accomplished. We have continued to return to these concerts put on by his students there every chance we get. Thank you Jeremy for all you do for the young people whose lives you touch.

Bridgette Beinecke, ACG Supporter:

I witnessed Jeremy’s gift for teaching his students at Gardner Betts when I saw the eye contact between him and the student with whom he performed a duet. In the words of Dr. Mel Levine, “find a young person’s ‘ISLAND OF COMPETENCE’ and encourage it!” Jeremy does this with his students and it makes all the difference. Thank you, Jeremy, for 10 years of service to ACG and your students.

Charlotte Cawood, ACG Supporter:

The entirety of the Classical Guitar program is incredible, but the talent and dedication Jeremy contributes to these young people is awe-inspiring.

Tobin Quereau, ACG Supporter:

The work that Jeremy and ACG has done with Gardner-Betts Juvenile Detention Center and our many area schools is inspiring. Here's to another ten years of community service!

Anonymous ACG Supporter:

I respect anyone who can take a kiddo and help them achieve something as beautiful as playing the guitar. I know what Jeremy does gives meaning to the lives of lots of students. What a wonderful thing to be able to do! Ten years is a long time to be involved at that level. Congratulations to him!

Anonymous ACG Supporters:

For the last three years we have been living in Niamey, Niger, but in the time we were in Austin, ACG was one of the highlights of living there. After reading the letter from Matt we wanted to give a token of thanks, however small, to Jeremy to recognize what a gift he has given to his students. His example is a breath of fresh air. Thank you, Jeremy. We look forward to hearing your students on our return to Texas. Wishing you all the best. J & K


The Kupiński Guitar Duo

We're thrilled for the Kupiński Guitar Duo to close our 2018-19 International Series Season! This delightful Polish couple will be making their Austin debut on Saturday, April 27th, and we recently had the chance to speak with them about how they got into music, why they began performing together, and what they enjoy most about concerts.


Soloists Ewa Jabłczyńska and Dariusz Kupiński met at the Polish Academy of Music, and completed their post-graduate studies at the Universität der Künste in Berlin and the Hochschule für Musik in Weimar. They've performed across Europe, the US, Mexico, China and Japan, and they're frequently invited to give masterclasses.

Their paths into guitar performance were quite different. Ewa began music lessons at the age of 7, guitar being a natural choice as it was a less expensive option than piano. She told us there wasn't anything unusual about this, as most children in Poland learned a musical instrument from a young age.

Dariusz's father used to play guitar, accordion, and piano casually, but Dariusz didn't venture into music until much later in life; growing up, he was primarily focused on running. While on summer holiday when he was 17, one of his friends brought a guitar along, and Dariusz became intrigued with it when he and his friends were singing around the fireplace.

Ewa and Dariusz fell in love when they were studying at the Polish Academy, and three years after marrying they had a moment of inspiration.

"We had this idea: how about we play together?" And the Kupiński Duo was born.

Both individually praised and masters of the instrument in their own right, Ewa and Dariusz combine their talents and personal connection in a way that's an absolute joy to watch. You can feel their compassion for each other flowing through the music, their mutual understanding and trust always guiding them through passages of technical complexity with grace and ease.

At the core of their charm, though, is the pure fun they have while playing together: it radiates with a warmth that feels like they're sharing with you something special.

The Kupiński Duo will be giving their Austin debut on April 27th, and they're both greatly looking forward to sharing their passion for music with an audience of more than 1000 people.

"I love performing because the atmosphere, the emotions, everything about it - you can't find in a practice room," Ewa said. "Also, I love the interactions with people after the concert. Every time, you hear something surprising - whether good or bad."

 


Art From the Streets

We’re so fortunate to partner with local artists for our International Series, and for our Season Finale with the Kupiński Duo on Saturday, April 27th, we're especially delighted to have the work of Art From the Streets on display in the lobby. We recently had an opportunity to speak with the Board President, Samuel Pate, a longtime supporter of the arts and social service organizations in Austin. He’s served as President for the past five years, and he shared some insight into why he's so passionate about Art From the Streets.


Mission: "To provide a safe and encouraging environment in which the positive spirit and creativity of homeless and at-risk people are nurtured through their own artistic expression. These artistic endeavors form a pathway to self- determination by means of the sense of achievement, the social connections, and the income generated through the pursuit of their art."

Art From the Streets is a local non-profit dedicated to providing Austinites experiencing homelessness the space and materials to create art. Through selling their work, the participants gain both financial support and self-esteem. It was founded in the early 1990s by Bill Jeffers, a poet and sculptor, and Heloise Gold, a performing artist, dancer, and T’ai Chi instructor.

Every year, 40-50 artists create original works of art in the AFTS studio. Stocked with paper, paints, brushes, and plenty of volunteers to help, the studio is a safe space to explore creative outlets. The Trinity Center at downtown St. David’s Episcopal Church has kindly opened their doors to AFTS as a studio and storage space. It’s intentionally located just a block away from ARCH - Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. Most people hear of Art From the Streets via word of mouth, and three days out of the week, anywhere from 6-20 people stop in to use the materials for their creations.

 

“Many of our artists have been fortunate, through the sale of their artwork, to afford a place to live partially throughout the year … as some respite from being on the streets.”

There are many gallery events throughout the year for patrons to purchase the original artwork and to engage with the artists. In addition to events at Violet Crown, St. David’s, Trinity Church, and other churches around town, they participate in EAST and WEST, and also sell prints of the work online. 95% of the revenue sourced from sales goes directly to the artists, with only 5% held for production of the shows.

However, the intrinsic value of participation in these free studio opportunities is not the monetary gain.

“The greatest benefits I see are the sense of optimism, the confidence built, and the social connections. It’s the achievement, it’s doing something. I think we spend more time, energy, and resources creating this program than the artists make by the end of the year. If we just took that money and distributed it, it wouldn’t have the same effect.”

Art From the Streets is in the midst of running a Capitol Campaign with the goal of affording a new space of their own. That would offer them the possibility to have open doors five days of the week instead of only three, and the studio would ideally have art storage and a space for gallery events. They would also like to increase their paid staff in the future; currently, Art From the Streets has only one paid staff member.

"Three" by Bernardo 'Nayo' Martinez

On the cover of our program for Saturday night is the artwork of "Nayo" Martinez, an AFTS participant who passed away late last year. According to Samuel, "He was a great artist. He was extremely talented, very accessible, and now his paintings are being grabbed up as fast as they can."

Kelley Worden, the AFTS Executive Director, said they recently found out that Nayo worked in the circus for many years - perhaps explaining the faces he frequently depicted in his work.


Borders of Belonging

In this unstable climate of boundaries drawn, borders disputed, and identities forced to bridge the middle ground, we're often pressured into seeing concrete lines of distinction. We're told to see others' differences as discordant notes of tension rather than as the harmonious elements of an orchestra.

ACG was recently honored to perform at an event confronting these notions of division: ACC's 8th Annual Peace and Conflict Studies Spring Symposium on Friday, April 12. This year's theme was "The Borders of Belonging: Art, Conflict Transformation, and Peace." The event was a full day of art, music, and discussion focused on uniting discrete disciplines in a contemplation of how peace relates to borders.

Executive Director Matt Hinsley described the transformative nature of the arts in a speech to introduce our performers.

"Art is powerful. Its imprecision is where the power lies: the opportunity to interpret, to participate, is a space to feel belonging. Transformation occurs with a feeling of safety and connection.”

Tom Echols - experimental artist, Adjunct Professor of Music at ACC, and longtime friend of ACG - performed Barrios's Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios (Alms for the Love of God) and a variation of Leonard Cohen's theme on a French wartime folk song. He explained how music enables us to see the space between, allowing us to be more accepting of difference.

"Otherness is created to distract. In music, we need to see musical objects, like chords and phrases, in every perspective. We have to be comfortable with questions, with uncertainty. Art-making is inherently conducive to inclusivity.”

Travis Marcum, ACG's Director of Education, played some covers and some original compositions of 20-year-old vocalist Ta'tyana Jammer, a graduate of our McCallum High School guitar program who's carving a path into the music world. Travis shared how his perception of age changed during dream - ACG's community-based music project from last summer devoted to the voices, hopes, and dreams of young people in Austin.

"Dream sought to erode imaginary borders of age through music. Time and life can systematically desensitize us to the emotions, the urgent sense of purpose we had when we were young. When I hear young people like Ta'Tyana pour their heart into music they create, I am reminded of the fire and the passion. I feel those feelings again. I carry them with me." 

Oliver Rajamani, Austin guitarist notable for his Flamenco India project highlighting the Indian roots of flamenco, performed genre-bending music - such as a country song with an American accent - on both the oud and the guitar.

"I’ve worked a lot with the Romani, a people long misunderstood by others. People say my music breaks borders. I’m not sure it does, but my whole life I’ve been able to connect with people from all walks of life: all ages, races, religions. Music has been instrumental - it crosses borders in a non-violent way. It touches people and affects them very deeply."

The timing of ACC's Peace Symposium could not have been more serendipitous. A little more than 200 miles away, the "Bach Project" of world-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma brought him on April 13th to the Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge, a crossing point between Mexico and the US. The Bach Project has taken Ma all over the world exploring connections between cultures using the centuries-old music of Bach.

Before an audience with residents of both Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Yo-Yo Ma performed the beginning of Bach's Suite No. 1 for Unaccompanied Cello.

"As you all know, as you did and do and will do, in culture, we build bridges, not walls," he said. "I've lived my life at the borders. Between cultures. Between disciplines. Between musics. Between generations."

We're so fortunate to exist in the midst of such thoughtful, creative music-makers. Through experiences such as the Peace Symposium and Yo-Yo Ma's Bach Project performance, we're reminded of the complimentary aspects of identity, of the components of our beings that strive for connection. We're reminded that the arts offer an opportunity to communicate with others from different backgrounds, an opportunity to dissolve constructed boundaries and provide spaces for belonging.


ACG Youth Orchestra Tour and the Joy of Sharing Music

The Austin Classical Guitar Youth Orchestra, founded in 2013 under the direction of Dr. Joseph Williams, comprises the best young guitarists in the Austin area. They've performed before thousands in prestigious venues, premiered several new works, and this March, they embarked on their first-ever tour. The 12 guitarists, guided by Director Joseph Williams and Assistant Director Stephen Krishnan, spent four days in San Francisco performing concerts, exploring the city, and forming new friendships.


To play music together for a few hours a week is a chance to escape the stress of daily life, to engage with like-minded individuals, and to strive for a cohesive musical expression.

But to voyage on a shared adventure thousands of miles from home, performing familiar music for unfamiliar audiences in a different venue each day, is an unforgettable experience of transformation.

The evolution of an ensemble throughout the course of tour is striking.

As the members perform music in different settings for new audiences, familiar phrases and rhythms acquire new meaning and fresh interpretations. The melody of Ellis Island suddenly becomes infused with memories of their first conveyor-belt sushi Friday night. The repeated motif at the beginning of Gale seems different when performed in an impromptu hotel lobby rehearsal. And the intensity of Verano Porteño, when shared with guitarists from far away that they've only just met, assumes a new identity when rehearsed for the first time together.

One of the most significant experiences for a young ensemble is learning how to apply skills in new settings or under unusual circumstances. On tour, situations arise that require musicians to rehearse earlier in the morning than expected or in a different location than anticipated. Tour requires a certain flexibility of mind and body, a certain confidence in musical ability and muscle memory, to be able to spring into action even in abnormal circumstances.

The opportunity to play music in new venues holds particular importance for the ensemble members. Notes they're accustomed to playing in their own practice rooms undergo obvious changes when rehearsed with the entire group, but when performing these same harmonies and rhythms in magnificent spaces such as St. Mark's Church (right), the music goes through a beautiful metamorphosis. The students realize their musicality can soar into the rafters, it can envelop entire halls with its gorgeous tone; they realize the power and substance of their own creation can affect others.

A crucial element of the musical evolution, though, depends upon individuals coalescing into a unified ensemble. The young musicians, converging in the Youth Orchestra from diverse walks of life, spend every waking moment with each other. Stand-mates and part-sharers become bus-mates and meal-sharers; jokes and serious conversations build connections where before there were none; new shared experiences strengthen bonds; sooner or later, whether by choice or by proximity, these once-unfamiliar musicians become friends.

Aytahn Benavi, a 16-year-old member of ACGYO, shared the following:

"Of course, the little funny stuff will stick in my mind, like Joe throwing the baton during the concert at San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Stephen singing at the amphitheater in Golden Gate Park, and Max wearing a kimono to the Alamo. But the most memorable thing about the trip was being able to make good on months of work in the ensemble by making some very good music, and being able to enjoy the company of the group members in a completely different environment than rehearsals."

"It is rather rare that one gets to share a truly meaningful experience with people who share a passion and have worked towards the same goal." - Aytahn


Patti Troth Black: The Nurturing Beauty of Nature

An artist living both in Austin and Santa Fe, Patti Troth Black has been a dear friend of ACG for years, and has always been deeply appreciative of our work in the Lullaby Project. A few years back, she created a collection of paintings in honor of our work with mothers. At the Austin Tango! concert on March 2nd, an exhibit of her work was on display in the lobby before the Bandini-Chiacchiaretta Duo took the stage. We're so fortunate to have spoken with her recently about her artwork, her inspiration, and why she is so moved by the Lullaby Project.


Patti was born in the "wild and rugged beauty" of West Texas. Always in love with nature and possessing an innate aesthetic vision,  she has three degrees in subjects unrelated to art: a double major in English and Classics, a Master's of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, and an almost-completed Master's from the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest. An ongoing shoulder injury prevented her from completing the seminary degree, but she was still able to paint and write poetry.

"I have no training in art. I’ve simply been drawing and painting since I was five, and I’m in love with it."

Her artwork, ranging from prints to paintings to panels of gouache-painted photos, often depicts natural elements breathed to life with vibrant, intricate patterns.

"I am particularly drawn to rich floral and nature motifs on hand-painted furniture, which weave their way into all my tiny detail work. I use a lot of iridescent gold to represent touches of sunlight. Very often hidden in those patterns will be trees, leaves, tiny birds, all kinds of things that make up the concrete reality of life. That is the fabric upon which I build the final impression."

"It’s usually something very close to my heart - I love nature, birds, trees, and light - so those motifs repeat over and over again; they inspire everything."

Her admiration of the Lullaby Project, the program that pairs expectant or new mothers with artists to write a lullaby together, stems from memories of her childhood. Because of events beyond her control growing up, she recognizes the intense bond music can form between a parent and child.

"I was the first child, and my mother wasn't well - she didn’t want me when I was born. My father would come home and find me unchanged and unfed, and he would clean me up and feed me, and then he’d sing to me in both Spanish and English with his guitar. I think he saved my life."

"My first language was music; I thought music was language. I was singing the songs with my father before I could even talk.  In very difficult times of my life, if I can get a song going in my head, it takes me back to that place of a really gentle, sincere feeling of safety, warmth, and nourishment."

Over the past five years or so, her artistic vision has shifted focus toward photography. After falling in love with a 120 film camera she purchased from a friend, she began to print the photographs on heavy German etching paper. She was seeing certain aspects of the photographs stand out, and she wanted to paint directly on the photos.

"I don’t plan things out ahead of time. I can see it in my mind’s eye, but everything tells me what it wants to be."

She's been working for the past seven months on shadow, light, and reflection. The focus of these works is not on the objects themselves, but on their reflections. Similarly to noticing things within photographs that she would highlight through painting, Patti began to see elements leaping out of the reflections, and felt the need to bring them to life.

"There's a photo I did in Santa Fe - light there is different than light here - and I’m holding in my hand a dark, almost sapphire blue bowl. It was so opaque that the reflection didn’t show the blue. But it did get brilliant little suggestions of aqua and turquoise that presented an aura around the scalloped edge of the bulb. As I began to look at it, I saw a tree holding up a city, and it made me think of Austin. The title is 'Nature’s Graciousness,' and it’s about the value of our oaks. No matter how much the city gets built and built, there are still oak trees everywhere. Sometimes they struggle up through things, but they’re still there."

Lullaby, 2014 (first Lullaby Project painting)

Patti's work is an ode to nature and the soul. She believes us all to be incredibly fortunate to live within nature's embrace, and her work draws inspiration from the everyday beauty of her world.

"The earth is our mother: it nurtures us constantly, not only with its beauty, but with the fact that trees and plants exhale pure oxygen. In a city, the trees are constantly counteracting all the carbon dioxide from cars. Our spirits are immensely enriched by the birds. Right now, we have black-belly whistling ducks that come to my feeding area in the backyard - this is the third year in a row they’ve come back - and it’s so fun watching the ducks padding around on their duck feet in the backyard eating birdseed."

Her favorite piece among those she's gathered for the exhibit on March 2nd depicts a mother and child. There's a tree growing alongside them, a tiny city down on the right-hand corner, and two birds carrying in a guitar.

"That, to me, says it all."


"A Gift for My Daughter"

This story is part of our "Music and Healing Initiative", the program we're highlighting in this year's Amplify Austin campaign. To learn more about our Lullaby Project and new partnerships with Dell Children’s Medical Center and The Livestrong Cancer Institute, and about how you can support this initiative, click here.


Holly, a single mother, is searching for part-time work that fits the busy schedule of caring for her four-month old infant, Anna. Six months ago, faced with the prospect of raising her child alone and without close family in the area, she found Any Baby Can. It's an organization that provides counselling, classes, and in-home support to parents in difficult situations. Diane, her counselor through Any Baby Can, put her in touch with ACG and Arnold Yzaguirre, one of our Lullaby Artists.

Over four appointments with Arnold last September, they discussed her feelings about pregnancy and having a child, and about what message she'd want to convey to her baby. Mothers in our Lullaby Project have differing levels of ability and interest in the details of writing a lullaby. Holly has a background in music, so she came up with the melody, harmonies, and lyrics entirely on her own, and presented them to Arnold so that he could craft the lullaby on his guitar.

"I’ve been singing since I was five, it’s a natural passion of mine. My dad can sing and play the keyboard - music is in the family. I did choir in high school and college, wrote songs with a friend - more like a hobby - and learned how to record in a studio."

She is raising Anna in a musical manner as well, often singing to her infant at times when she is particularly fussy or bored.

"I call them 'jam sessions': I put music on, and sing and dance with her. I mostly put on lullabies, or anything I can sing to. Anytime I turn on the stereo, she’ll stare at it like 'What is that?' She’s very curious."

Holly's lullaby for Anna is inspired by love. She encourages Anna to be patient, kind, humble, and grateful, and to find a love that is true to guide her through life. The chorus is repeated phrases of "Oh love," and she wanted the title to be more unique.

"It's called 'Meraki Lullaby.' Meraki is a verb that means 'to do something with full creativity or love; to put something of yourself into your work.'”

Now when she sings to Anna, she can sing along to the song she created - Meraki Lullaby. Sometimes, Anna joins in with her own interpretation of singing (more like long held tones.)

"This is a gift for Anna. I want her to be able to grow up and sing this song, or listen to it forever. It means a lot to me. We can’t live in a world without music; it really is healing, it really is inspiring. It helps lift you up."

Holly enjoyed working with Arnold so much that she hopes to continue collaboration with him and other mothers to help them create songs of their own.

"I already had a passion for music, but this sparked something in me ... It reignited some of my creativity. I hope this is something I can continue to do forever. Being able to share their love through music would be great."