A’lante Flamenco

The Austin-based flamenco ensemble A’lante Flamenco has been dazzling Texas audiences since 2011. Their productions range from traditional flamenco performances to multimedia theater works that draw upon flamenco culture to address pressing social issues. Austin Classical Guitar is grateful to have partnered with A'lante Flamenco over the years, and we invite you to attend an upcoming performance of their latest original work, Juana: First (I) Dream. Here, A’lante Flamenco's Artistic Director and Choreographer, Oliva Chacón, talks about the inspiration behind Juana: First (I) Dream, as well as why she is so passionate about the flamenco art form.


What do wish everyone knew about flamenco?

Flamenco is not just a musical style—it’s an entire culture, with a long, complex history. Most people are familiar with flamenco as a dance form or guitar music, but the oldest and most important element of flamenco is the singing, known as cante. Both the guitar and dance developed in service to the cante. In flamenco, the guitar, singing, and dancing are all parts of a whole, each feeding off one another. The audience also plays an important role, encouraging the performers and adding energy to the experience.

Can you tell us a little bit about this show?

Photo by Estrella Chacón

Juana: First (I) Dream is a full-length flamenco music and dance work by A’lante Flamenco that tells the story of one woman’s passionate quest for knowledge. It's about Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a 17th-century poet, scholar, and nun who lived Nueva España. Today she is known as the first feminist of the Americas. Our production features seven dancers and three musicians from A’lante Flamenco, along with beautiful costuming and lighting design, as well as six singers from the Texas Early Music Project.

The show's music combines traditional flamenco, original compositions by guitarist Jose Manuel Tejeda, and Baroque choral music sung by members of the Texas Early Music Project. Their director, Daniel Johnson, and I worked closely to choose choral selections that would have been performed during Juana's life, including one piece sung in Nahuatl, the indigenous language of Central Mexico. Plus, dancing in front of a six-member choir is a total luxury!

I love the process of bringing a feminist hero like Juana to life. She was so passionate about learning, and through her writing earned herself a platform from which to be heard. She used her voice to defend the right of women to be educated and speak freely - both unheard of in the 1600's. She’s a historical figure whose life and work is relevant to the current political and social climate, and I’m so pleased to introduce her to audience members who may not know her story.

How does your art form relate to the current human condition?

In my view, flamenco is a raw product of our humanity, without the filters of polite society. It comes from a longing to express all the richness of the human experience—joy, pain, nostalgia, mortality, and more. That’s why I think everyone can identify with some aspect of flamenco, even if they may not understand the words. The chords of the guitar, the tone of the voice, or the movement of a dancer can elicit an emotional response that transcends generations and cultures.

That’s why flamenco is the perfect language in which to tell a story like Juana's. She lived in the 17th century, but, like flamenco, her story is timeless. Her passion for knowledge, her struggle, is all present in flamenco. It doesn’t have an expiration date. The drive to achieve something, to persevere despite forces that oppose you—that’s the essence of the human spirit, and it’s the essence of flamenco, too.

Juana: First (I) Dream runs January 5-7 & 12-14 (6 shows total) at the Rollins Theater, inside the Long Center for the Performing Arts (701 Riverside Dr.) Tickets and more information are available here

Top 10 Moments of 2017

 
Back by popular demand, it's our list of the Top 10 ACG Moments of the Year! It was an epic struggle to narrow this one down. We argued, we pleaded, we cajoled, and for a while even thought about making it a Top 11 list - but when the dust finally settled, we chose the 10 unforgettable moments listed below.

Was there something we left out? Let us know your most memorable ACG moments of 2017!

 


#10 - "Coco"
We couldn’t resist. As soon as we heard that Disney/Pixar would be releasing “Coco,” an animated musical about a young boy and his magical guitar, we called our friends at the Alamo Drafthouse and made plans for a kid-friendly, first-time guitar experience as part of the movie’s opening weekend in late November. We secured permission from Disney to create a simple arrangement of one of the songs from the film, came up with a fun lesson plan designed to get a roomful of kids from zero to performance-ready in less than an hour, gathered up 50 guitars, and headed to the theater hoping it would all work! Somehow, it did! And everyone had a blast. BONUS: Lots of adorable kiddos with guitars!


 


#9 - "The Fifolet"
What will happen to little Jolie when she encounters Percival, the mysterious pirate ghost, standing guard over his precious treasure? Find out in The Fifolet!

In August, ACG’s Performance Engagement Artist, Joseph Palmer, teamed up with storytellers from Austin Public Library for our first-ever musical puppet show collaboration! So much drama - so much fun! They gave six free shows in six different neighborhood libraries around the city.

Joseph recently shared some thoughts about connecting with audiences in this blog post.


 


#8 - Guitars Under the Stars
Guitars Under the Stars, our annual gala for ACG Education, is always a highlight of the season, and the 2017 edition was no exception. So many memorable moments – the heartfelt testimonial by Judge Darlene Byrne about ACG’s work with youth in juvenile detention... words of gratitude from ACG Scholarship recipient Santiago Esquivel... the Paper Guitar... Joseph Palmer's "Bold Fashioned" custom cocktail... the Akins High School guitar ensemble... and capping it all off, a performance by Grisha that led to long standing ovations (and swooning guitarists). But the part we loved the most? That we got to spend a magical night with so many friends and raised nearly $90,000 for ACG Education programs.


 


#7 - ACG Juvenile Justice Program featured in Teen Vogue
ACG’s work with youth in the juvenile justice system has attracted a lot of attention over the years – but we never expected to make it into Teen Vogue! Click here to read the article they published on their website in October.

We are so proud of the positive impact our guitar classes at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center have had on the young people we have the privilege of working with there. Check out this recent blog from Jeremy Osborne for a story about one of his students. BONUS: At the end of Jeremy's post you can watch the PBS NewsHour segment that led to the Teen Vogue story, which features an interview with the NewsHour reporter. Meta!


 


#6 - Matt gets an award!

We always knew our boss was pretty special. Matt Hinsley's leadership and vision have transformed Austin Classical Guitar from a humble guitar society into one of the most innovative and effective arts service organizations in the United States, so we were thrilled when the National Association of Social Workers named him as the 2017 “Public Citizen of the Year” for the state of Texas. Congratulations, Matt!


 

#5 - GuitarCurriculum.com: Changing lives from Austin to Kathmandu

The not-so-secret engine that powers ACG Education is GuitarCurriculum.com, our online instructional resource for classroom-based guitar that allows us to support hundreds of teachers and thousands of their students across the U.S. and beyond. We didn’t truly appreciate how “beyond” our reach extended until we heard from Daniel Linden, who uses our curriculum with his students in Kathmandu, Nepal! Behind the scenes, the big news happened this August with the long-awaited relaunch of GC.com on a new software platform. This upgrade has dramatically improved the usability of the site and will allow us to introduce some new features that we've been dreaming about for a while.


 

#4 - The Lullaby Project, and a Transformational Gift

The Lullaby Project brings us together with mothers in extremely challenging circumstances to help them write personal songs for their children. It's incredibly challenging and rewarding work, and the songs and stories that have emerged since we began in 2014 have touched us deeply. The lullaby above, "I Will Protect You," was created just a couple of weeks ago at Travis County Jail.

In October, an anonymous donor handed us a check for $75,000 to start a Lullaby Project fund within ACG’s Endowment. We were blown away by this incredible gift, which will help sustain this special program for years to come.


 

#3 - A trial run for our newest and coolest project

One of our most exciting projects at the moment is a web-based learning resource designed to empower lifelong learning on the classical guitar for people with visual impairments. Nothing like it exists, and with help from Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired, we're on track to launch in March, 2018! Back in August, though, we were just getting started and needed assurance it would all work. Seven members from the Austin chapter of the National Association for the Blind agreed to meet with us at TSBVI to try out the first few lessons. None of them played guitar, and as soon as we handed them instruments they had lots of questions! We told them they could only use the audio guides and braille scores we provided – because that's how people using the resource would do it. Not only did everyone sail through the lessons, they had so much fun they asked to keep going!


 

#2 - "Hope After Harvey"

Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast on Friday, August 25th. The devastation it left in its wake was unimaginable, and we were eager to do something – anything - to help those affected. Together with Austin Chamber Music Center, Conspirare, and the Miro Quartet, we formulated plans for a benefit concert to raise money for the relief effort. St. John’s United Methodist Church generously stepped in and offered to host, and with five days to prepare, we got busy!

As soon as “Hope After Harvey” was announced, the contributions began pouring in - and not just from local folks planning to attend the concert. There were contributions from all over Texas, as well as Florida, California – even Singapore and Switzerland!

And on the day of the concert, hundreds of you came. Every single seat in St. John’s large sanctuary was filled, with more people lining the aisles, and even more watching a video simulcast of the concert from two overflow rooms. We also collected two carloads of donated goods, and signed up volunteers for two trips to assist nearby affected communities.

In the end, the concert raised over $35,000, all of which went to Austin- and Houston-based disaster relief organizations. "Hope After Harvey" was a remarkable demonstration of what our community can accomplish when we come together to help our neighbors - and a powerful affirmation that music is a mysterious and gentle force that brings people together, and inspires and lifts us all.


 

#1 - i/we

i/we changed us.

For two evenings in late July, i/we invited us to gather, to contemplate, and to search for ourselves in the faces and stories of others. It was also one of the most unique, ambitious, and challenging projects we’ve ever attempted at ACG. Highlighted by Joe Williams’s stunning score and Travis Marcum's interviews with refugees recently settled in central Texas, i/we drew upon the combined efforts and talents of the entire staff, a small army volunteers, and an international ensemble of world-class musicians. Everyone poured their hearts into it. i/we also drew upon the willingness of our community to open themselves up to an experience that asked a lot from them. The result was a truly extraordinary night of music, art, and stories we will never forget. The video above captures some of the magic.

 

 

From every one of us at Austin Classical Guitar, thank you for your incredible support and friendship. We are so grateful for the generous spirit of this community. You inspire us every day. We can't wait to share more great moments together in 2018!


Nepal

In 2006, Pushpa Basnet created a special home in Nepal for children of incarcerated parents who - due to overcrowding in Nepal’s orphanages – were left to either live with their parents in the prison or on the streets. In recognition of her work, she was chosen as CNN’s Hero of the Year in 2012, and in 2016 she was declared the CNN Super Hero: Above and Beyond!

Last year, she decided to bring music to the home, and into the lives of the dozens of children living there. She partnered with the Gharana Music Foundation in Kathmandu, and together they approached us here at ACG for support starting a guitar class.

We were thrilled to provide full access to our curriculum, training, guidance - anything we could do to help. Also, as we always do with new friends around the world, we created new arrangements of Nepali folk songs to add to our curriculum music library, so that the kids could learn to play songs they recognize.

We were delighted to learn of this beautiful video about the music education happening in this very special place.

 


Spring 2017 Lullaby Project Update

We are so pleased to share the following update on our Lullaby Project with you. Thanks to the incredible support of hundreds of individuals in our community, along with the Cain Foundation, the Webber Family Foundation, Texas Commission on the Arts, the St. David's Foundation, and our partnership with Dr. Ted Held and his team at People's Community Clinic, we have been able to bring on new lullaby clinicians and offer this special opportunity to more women than ever before.

The Lullaby Project was also the central focus of a documentary about Austin Classical Guitar produced for KLRU's Arts in Context series by the Emmy award-winning filmmaker Mario Troncoso. You can view the episode online here.

We are so proud of the beautiful songs this project has produced, and the care and effort that has gone into creating them. Here is a small sampling of some recently completed lullabies, along with notes from the clinicians who worked on them. The names of the moms have been changed to protect their privacy.

 

"Memories With Navaeh" by Christine, with Joey Delahoussaye.
Created at the Travis County Correctional Complex in 2017.

Notes from Joey Delahoussaye:

For "Memories with Nevaeh" we tried to make a lyrical scrapbook of some of the more special memories shared by Christine and and her daughter Nevaeh. Visually evocative memories comprise most of the verse portions of the song. The refrain is inspired by a memory Christine shared about a common dialogue between the two: Whenever Christine would say "I love you," Nevaeh would respond, "I love you harder." This lullaby was supposed to have been performed by Christine herself, but she was transferred to a drug rehab facility the day before we were set to record her vocals. Fortunately, Tatyana, a wonderfully talented high school senior, offered to sing in her place - and I couldn't be happier with how it turned out.


 

"Tesoro Especial" by Carolina, with Arnold Yzaguirre.
Created at People's Community Clinic in 2017.

 

Notes from Arnold Yzaguirre:

Carolina was my first Lullaby Project mom, so she and her story will always hold a special place for me. During our sessions, Carolina was pretty soft spoken and said very little. She has gone through some unimaginably difficult and traumatic experiences, and was struggling to bond with her new baby. Carolina only speaks Spanish, and had been in the U.S. for just a few months, but when she heard the finished version of her lullaby for the first time she said “WOW!” As I mentioned earlier, Carolina didn't say much during our sessions - until she recorded the dedication you hear at the very end of her lullaby. In preparation she had written down a couple of sentences in her lullaby workbook, and when I asked her if she wanted to add anything else, she replied, “No, esta bien asi.” But when I pressed record, Carolina just opened up and spoke directly from her heart. Her words were so beautiful I had to keep it all, even though it was tricky fitting it in the song. Her baby was with us in the room for that last session, and I believe the child's presence is what inspired her outpouring of emotion. So awesome. Being my first time as a Lullaby Project clinician, this song was a great challenge for me, emotionally and creatively, but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything in the world. I am truly grateful and humbled to have been a part of it.


 

"I am Mommy" by Teresa, with Arnold Yzaguirre.
Created at People's Community Clinic in 2017.


Notes from Arnold Yzaguirre:

Teresa is also a very soft spoken, and had mannerisms that reminded me of my older brother. For example, when she spoke she would hang her head down. Like my brother, I believe Teresa did this to avoid eye to eye contact. It can be too much for some people. Teresa is a sensitive soul and expresses a lot with her eyes. In our first meeting, Teresa told me that she enjoys creating silly, fantasy-like stories for children. She would listen to music, mainly instrumental or classical music, and create stories out of thin air based on ideas inspired by the music. As soon as I heard this I knew that Teresa would be an amazing mother. Her baby will be so lucky to have a fun, imaginative mother like her. She wanted her lullaby to have a Spanish feel to it. I play a lot Spanish classical guitar music, so this was definitely in my wheelhouse. When Teresa heard the final version, she said, “WOW!”  Just like Carolina, my first lullaby mom! Two wows in a row! A member of the clinic staff who was with us told me told me afterwards that she was holding back tears when she heard the lullaby. I was so touched by their reactions. This is another moment in my life that I will never forget.

 


 
On behalf of all of us at Austin Classical Guitar, along with the mothers who shared their stories and their hopes and dreams for their children, thank you to everyone who has helped make the Lullaby Project possible.

 


Top 10 Moments of 2016

As 2016 comes to a close, we find ourselves thinking back to some of the unforgettable experiences we've had over these past 12 months at Austin Classical Guitar. There were so many, but 'tis the season for Top 10 lists - so we took a shot at narrowing them down to our favorites. We hope you enjoy reminiscing with us.

Have we left anything out? Let us know your most memorable ACG moments of 2016!

#10 - Guitars Under The Stars Gala

We loved this year's gala for a bunch of reasons: Our staff and volunteers were shining, the setting was beautiful, our student speakers and performers were inspiring, and we got to share this magical evening with our amazing and supportive community. It was a night that showed ACG at our very best.


#9 - State Department Delegation Visits ACG


We were surprised and thrilled in September when the US State Department asked us to meet and share our work with a delegation from Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Bahrain. It was our first experience with simul-translation! The visitors were artists and civil servants interested in our approach to community service and cultural exchange through the arts. They were especially interested in GuitarCurriculum.com, our online curriculum that forms the basis for all our educational work. So far, we’ve had follow up conversations about assisting with a new guitar program in Lebanon - we’ll see where it all leads!


#8 - ACG Youth Orchestra performs Fugata y Danza

We love this performance, not only because ACGYO is in peak form and director Joseph V. Williams II brings so much refinement and elegance to their work; we also love the music they're playing! Fugata y Danza by Carlos Rios was the winning entry in our 2016 Composition Competition. You may not have known this, but for more than 10 years ACG has encouraged Texas-based composers to write music for guitar ensembles through this statewide contest. What a great piece Carlos Rios gave us this time around.


#7 - Narratives Summer Series

Thomas Echols blew our minds this summer as our first-ever Guest Artistic Director, bringing to life his unique vision for a literature-inspired series of three concerts called Narratives. It was a magical ride, and one of the most daring and deep excursions we’ve ever taken at ACG. The centerpiece of the first concert was the premiere of "Persona," a song-cycle written by our Composer in Residence Joseph V. Williams II. Here's the fifth movement.


#6 - Teacher Training Sessions in St. Louis & Austin

We had two marvelous teacher training sessions this summer. The first was in St. Louis where our affiliates have established over a dozen high quality classroom guitar programs, including the one we visited at Adams Elementary School (pictured above). The second was here in Austin, where we were joined by music teachers from all over the US and beyond. Here’s a video featuring them in a finale performance.


#5 - Video project about Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

We're so grateful to Woody Harrison and his team at UPG Video for creating this remarkable piece about the guitar program at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. We have big dreams for this program, and some are already coming true!


#4 - Pepe Romero plays Vivaldi with 80 Students

During his October visit, Maestro Pepe Romero graciously agreed to rehearse and perform Vivaldi’s beloved Concerto in D Major with 80 kids from six local middle and high schools. The kids were so excited, so prepared, and had an experience they - and we - will never forget.


#3 - Sing Me a Lullaby, An ACG Documentary by KLRU’s Arts in Context

Watch now: Arts in Context | Sing Me A Lullaby | KLRU-TV, Austin PBS Video

We are so grateful to director Mario Troncoso and his whole award-winning team at KLRU for shining their bright lights on ACG and creating this lovely 27-minute documentary about our education and social services. The cameras follow us to St. Louis and New York City, with The Lullaby Project as the narrative through-line.


#2 - Trimonisha’s Lullaby

We’re incredibly thankful to Dr. Ted Held of People’s Community Clinic for helping us bring the Lullaby Project to PCC and Travis County Jail this year. This beautiful lullaby was written over the summer by Joey Delahoussaye and Trimonisha, and is one of the most touching songs we’ve ever heard.


#1 - The Paper Guitar

Now in its sixth year, our guitar program at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Detention Center provides the only for-credit fine arts course available to the young people incarcerated there. These daily classes, taught by Jeremy Osborne from our education team, have had a profound impact on the lives of the participants – so much so that Travis County has just asked us for a major expansion of the program. But that's another story.

Last year, we met a young man who, like many of his fellow residents, was struggling to keep up with his academic work and his rehabilitation plan. Then he joined the guitar class and something clicked. He had found his passion.

Our schedule at Gardner Betts slows over the summer. When daily classes resumed this fall, this young student presented Jeremy with a full size replica of a classical guitar – made entirely out of rolled strips of copy paper and tape, with yarn for strings. The level of care and craftsmanship he had invested in this work of art was astonishing (click on the image to enlarge).

For us, the paper guitar is a remarkable example of how perseverance, passion, and the power of art and mentorship can bring light to dark places. It represents everything our mission at Austin Classical Guitar is about, and motivates us to work harder than ever in the coming year to inspire our community with musical experiences of deep personal significance.

Thank you so much for supporting us in this effort. We couldn't do it without you.

Happy New Year!

 


Holiday Magic

Some photos from of our "Holiday Magic" Salon Concert at the lovely and festive home of Edwina Carrington, which featured our Performance Engagement Artist Joseph Palmer, along with homemade egg nog, great friends, and lots of good cheer.


The team at Gusto Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar provided an array of delectable - and beautifully arranged - culinary delights.
 


The talented Garet Gomez from Akins High School takes a bow after opening the concert.
 


Joseph Palmer deepened the audience's listening experience by introducing key elements of the pieces he was about to play.
 


To close the concert, Matt Hinsley joined Joseph to lead guests in singing a couple of holiday classics.
 


At the end of the night, ACG's crack team of staff and volunteers swooped in to restore Edwina's home to its pre-concert condition. Careful...that rug looks heavy!


Pepe Romero plays Vivaldi with 80 students

On Thursday night, October 13th, Pepe Romero joined 80 students from our high school guitar programs in Austin to perform Vivaldi's Concerto in D Major.
 


 
 
Experiences like this are possible because of people like you who share Austin Classical Guitar's belief that music can change lives. If you would like to support ACG please consider making a donation today.