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!

 

Spring 2016 Education Report

I am so pleased to present ACG’s Spring 2016 education progress report. While I’ve been preparing this we have been receiving registrations from music educators around the country for our summer teacher training sessions, which are taking place this July in Austin and St. Louis. One of the registrants, an elementary school teacher from Odessa, Texas named Tyra, included this note:

Last year I attended my first teacher training for classical guitar. What I learned helped me immensely. It restored my joy, answered questions I had about introducing elementary students to ensemble experiences…My kids loved what we did. I am coming back for more! I want to keep growing and learning and teaching.

I love what Tyra says here. I think it encapsulates both the beauty and the complexity of the leadership role we find ourselves in here at ACG Education. There is an inextricable connection between consistent, high quality measureable student performance outcomes and joy. Our goal is not only to provide the most effective classical guitar curriculum and teacher resources in the world, but also to inspire a teacher like Tyra to keep “growing, learning and teaching.” Because as long she does, her students will thrive.

Thank you for making ACG Education possible. I hope that what you find in this report will make you proud of your support.

Matt Hinsley

 

ACG Education Progress Report, Spring 2016

 
Special Needs: Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

With thousands of diverse students in our affiliated programs, our teachers are regularly called upon to address a variety of special needs. This fall we introduced Jeremy Coleman, a former ACG instructor now employed by Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, as a consultant available to instructors nationwide who seek assistance with adaptive strategies.

Our main focus in this arena continues to be the development of resources and techniques for teaching students with visual impairments. Having now developed a functioning system for teaching guitar and music literacy through a Braille adaptation of our curriculum, our next project is to publish a free online repository of graded self-study solo literature in Braille with accompanying audio guides, a resource that will empower our graduates to become lifelong learners.

 

Spotlight: Angelica and Oscar at Crockett High School

Three years ago, a music teacher named Ron Hare took over the guitar program Crockett High School, a Title I school located in south Austin. We have worked closely with Ron from the beginning, and his program at Crockett is now thriving. In an April 2016 letter Ron wrote:

Before I even taught my first class at Crockett the education staff at ACG met with me personally to discuss what to expect in the classroom, registered me for a free training, gave me access to their amazing curriculum, and provided me with a personal mentor who would work with me periodically over the course of the school year. This detailed and personal attention to the needs of my students has helped me tremendously.

This fall we learned about Angelica and Oscar, two promising seniors from Ron’s advanced class. They were both interested in pursuing music education degrees in college, but neither could afford private lessons or quality instruments in preparation for their auditions. We were able to provide both for each student, and are thrilled to report that, after months of hard work, Angelica and Oscar passed their auditions and were accepted into the highly-competitive Butler School of Music at the University of Texas at Austin. In honor of their commitment we decided they should keep the instruments we had loaned them. Angelica wrote to us:

I’d like to share my appreciation for Austin Classical Guitar, the program itself, supporters of the program, and everyone part of it. The hard work, dedication, and support put in by everyone involved has given me so many opportunities to achieve. Without this program I don’t believe I’d be headed down the road I am today. I’m so excited to share that I achieved my goal of being accepted to the Butler School of Music, but I couldn’t do it without the support given to me from all of you.

 

Lullaby Project: Shirdyn Sings to Izaeah

The Lullaby Project has become our fastest-growing area of constituent-specific service. In partnership with Carnegie Hall, our clinicians visit with new and expectant mothers in challenging circumstances, guide them through a series of introspective writing exercises, distill their writings into song lyrics, and collaborate to compose and record an original song as an expression of their hopes and dreams for themselves and their children. The following video captures the moment when Shirdyn, one of our teen moms at Annunciation Maternity Home, sang her lullaby to her son Izaeah for the first time.

 

Lullaby Project: Travis County Jail

Dr. Ted Held is Director of Reproductive Health at People’s Community Clinic (PCC). In January he asked us to offer the Lullaby Project to women incarcerated at Travis County Jail, and is supporting a further expansion this summer to include patients at PCC. In explaining his support for this program, Dr. Held wrote:

A lifetime of financial and emotion stressors is highly correlated with preterm birth, low birth weight babies, and poor maternal bonding…Through The Lullaby Project, Austin Classical Guitar provides a unique and powerful intervention for pregnant women in challenging circumstances to have positive and creative engagement creating original lullabies that express their love, hopes and dreams for their babies. These engagements can improve women’s social and emotional health which is an area of increasing concern for medical professionals…

Here’s a recording of a lullaby that one of our clients at Travis County Jail wrote for her daughter Miracle, and also for her son, who passed away soon after he was born.

 

Local Support: Program-Building, Student Engagement, and Job Creation

ACG Education created and actively supports over 50 local school programs like the one at Crockett High School. We have been asked to help develop new programs in the coming year in Dripping Springs and Del Valle. The level of support needed by each school varies, and in 2015-16 we are particularly proud of what we helped accomplish at Bowie High School.

In August 2015 the AISD Fine Arts Department decided to launch a pilot guitar program at Bowie, but with the start of the school year fast approaching they were struggling to find a qualified and certified teacher. Two days before classes began we decided to step in and provide one of our own staff members, Toby Rodriguez, to lead the program in its pilot year.

Toby taught 57 students in two sections this past year at Bowie. More than 150 students signed up for guitar next fall, enough to fill five sections, meaning many new students participating in Fine Arts, and a new job opportunity for a qualified professional teacher.

 

Addressing Economic Disadvantage: Garcia YMLA & Mendez Middle School

Progress and refinement are keys to student motivation. ACG frequently offers direct support to specific programs and individuals that show promise but face economic challenges that impede their progress. Our work at Travis High School—highlighted in past reports —and Crockett High School are examples of these targeted efforts.

Earlier this spring we received a request for special assistance from Eric Walz at Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy in east Austin. We sent Arnold Yzaguirre, one of our teaching artists, to work with Eric and his students twice a week for the remainder of the semester. Eric recently wrote:

Arnold came to support our young men in more advanced guitar techniques and skills that I am unfamiliar with, and help guide students toward precision music-making that would not have been possible without him. Arnold continually held high standards for the sound production and musicality of each student…they are unquestionably better off with his guidance. His ability to quickly give them the tools they need was an extremely important step to the growth of their musical minds and our program’s success.

We have also invested significantly in the program at Mendez Middle School. One of our teaching artists there is Colin Fullerton, an exceptional guitarist who just received his master’s degree in performance from UT–Austin. In a recent letter, Colin shared a different perspective on the impact of ACG Education:

Teaching at Mendez Middle School, I’ve come to understand the true breadth of the impact of ACG’s free lessons initiative. Beyond instruction on how to play the guitar, this program provides the opportunity to engage students on a level that only arts immersion can offer; they are exposed to elements of collaboration and modes of critical thinking that can influence their lives well beyond the context of school, and all through the intimate, enriching medium of music. ACG is providing a vital service to which, otherwise, students in these communities would never have access.

 

Juvenile Justice

On Sunday, April 22nd over 100 guests gathered in the Gardner Betts courtroom for the first public recital by our students at the Travis County Juvenile Justice Center. The students played 5 ensemble pieces and 4 solos, and received a standing ovation. After the concert, we invited guests to write a short note to the students. Here’s what one said:

Today you inspired me. You reminded me of how powerful music can be. As an ensemble, you presented a united front. As soloists, your attention to detail brought your pieces to life. Music unites us, it’s the universal language, and today that unification made me want to be a better guitarist. Thank you for that.

On the heels of a PBS NewsHour story and an appearance by our staff before the Texas State Board of Juvenile Justice, Travis County officials have requested a significant extension of our program to serve non-incarcerated court-involved youth as part of their case plans. This expansion is set to begin as soon as summer 2016.

 

Community Programs: Austin Classical Guitar Youth Orchestra

ACG offers a variety of other programs designed to meet the needs of people where they are. These include a workplace education initiative piloted at Silicon Labs, a program for adults living with mental health diagnoses at Austin Clubhouse, and audition-based youth and adult ensemble programs based on the civic orchestra model. Here is an excerpt from this spring’s final concert by the ACG Youth Orchestra.

 

Organization: Structure, System, Training and Evaluation

The highest administrative priority to emerge from our 2015 Strategic Planning process was to hire a full-time marketing staff person. We are pleased to announce that veteran communicator and social servant Carlos Femat joined the ACG team on June 1st as our first Director of Marketing and Communications.

Our online curriculum and teacher resource, GuitarCurriculum.com, has been undergoing a major overhaul for over a year. We have made significant progress in recent months, and look forward to launching the new and significantly improved site this summer.

Our national training sessions will take place in Austin and St. Louis this July. Our team led three sessions at the Texas Music Educators Association convention in February, including the first meeting of our statewide advocacy organization, Texas Guitar Directors Association. We are also presenting at this summer’s Guitar Foundation of America International Festival in Denver, CO.

As our programs expand our primary concern is quality control. We are addressing this through the creation and implementation of smart, systemic, and replicable evaluation procedures. In March, 49 guitar ensembles participated in the first official pilot for a UIL  concert and sight-reading assessment event. We assisted with similar events in Houston and Brownsville, and hosted guests from El Paso who are planning a similar event for their district next school year. Our team also contributed significantly to the new revisions of the UIL statewide Prescribed Music List for solo contests, and we will launch a new statewide video and guest artist outreach initiative to promote and improve solo guitar participation in the coming year.

 

Special Thanks

ACG Education would not be possible without the generosity of our many individual donors, along with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, City of Austin Cultural Arts Division, Augustine Foundation, Webber Family Foundation, Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation, Sarah & Ernest Butler, Kodosky Foundation, H-E-B, Shield-Ayres Foundation, Topfer Family Foundation, Mercedes-Benz of Austin, Silicon Labs, Texas Commission on the Arts, 3M Foundation, Kendal & Ken Gladish, Oliver Custom Homes, D’Addario Foundation, Louise Epstein & John Henry McDonald, David & Sheila Lastrapes, PricewaterhouseCoopers, 3Can Events, Savarez, Ameriprise Financial, Cain Foundation, Charles Schwab, Dr. Ted Held, MFS Foundation, William Metz, Bill & Marilyn Hartman, Ted Philippus & Carol Wratten, and Calido Guitars.

Volunteer Spotlight: Fred Springer

Fred Springer, a student at UT-Austin pursuing a Bachelor of Music in Guitar Performance, has been volunteering at ACG concerts since 2015. He has taken on a variety of responsibilities over that time, including usher, artist liaison, and stage manager. We recently sat down with Fred to ask about his reasons for becoming involved with ACG, and what his experiences as a volunteer have meant to him.

Interested in volunteering for ACG? Sign up here!


Q: Where are you from originally, and what brought you to Austin?

A: I was born and raised in Tallahassee, Florida. Eventually I ended up choosing UT-Austin, partly because of the strong program and the faculty, but also because of Austin Classical Guitar. ACG provided a great window of opportunity. When you look around as a student applying to schools, it’s rare to find an organization like this, one that is so symbiotic with the city. They do so much in terms of putting on performances and teaching, as well as all their community engagement.

Q: In what ways has music touched your life?

A: I started Kindermusik classes when I was four. I started guitar at eight, just learning simple pop songs on acoustic guitar, and then played bass guitar in a cover band with my friends. We played Cream songs, Metallica, Lynyrd SkynyrdThere’s a very rewarding cycle in studying music. You have an initial love for something, such as a guitar solo in a rock song, or a piece you hear at an ACG concert. You think, “Woah! That was awesome.” Then there’s an investigative time of getting into the details and learning. The reward comes at the end when you’ve brought it to a certain level and you can play it. I think studying music instills a sense of focus and work ethic. It directs attention and allows you to see what you can do. 


“I think studying music instills a sense of focus and work ethic. It directs attention and allows you to see what you can do.”

 

Q: Do you have a favorite memory with ACG?

A:  I still remember the first event I volunteered for, it was the second night of “The Lodger” at the Alamo Drafthouse. I love movies, I love Alfred Hitchcock, and obviously I love classical guitar, so that concert was almost other-worldly because it was a perfect package of Joe Williams’s original score and a classic Hitchcock movie – both happening at an Austin landmark. It was so cool, and from that moment I knew this was a unique organization. That first event, I fell in love with ACG – it’s a pride and joy of Austin.

Q: What do you appreciate about volunteering with ACG?

A: The level of insider access. Not only do you get to see artists perform, but you get to see how they work, because you can go backstage and see exactly what goes into a production. It’s incredible that a group of volunteers from the community and a few really dedicated people can put together these amazing shows.

Q: What does ACG provide to college students such as yourself?

A: The real downfall of music programs in higher education is how little they prepare you for the real world of professional music. People say once you have a college degree, you put that on your résumé, and then doors open. But you also have to make connections, get windows into organizations like ACG, build rapport with an employer or a community member. It’s been awesome for me to meet, talk with, learn from, and get to know the people and artists involved with ACG, and investigate what it takes to run an organization like this. It’s really been invaluable.

Q: Other than concerts, are there any other aspects of ACG’s work that interest you?

A: The program for incarcerated youth at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center really stands out for me. To see the young men there use music to its fullest potential, to see how playing guitar affects their individual growth, their process of maturity – that’s a real measurable impact. Music offers them an opportunity to think and to dream beyond themselves. It’s incredible to see their intent and good nature emerge. ACG provides a way for them to experience the diligence, the work ethic, the joy that comes from music.

Q: What is the one thing you wish more people knew about ACG?

A: I wish more people knew about the real reach of ACG’s community service. When people ask me about Austin, I point them to ACG, emphasizing that it’s not just an organization which presents classical guitar concerts. ACG’s intent and genuine nature sets it apart: it presents music as a celebration of life. The support, the money that goes into the organization, the love – it all comes back tenfold to the community.

A masterclass with Pepe Romero in October 2016. (Fred second from left)

 

Jorge Caballero: A symphony on six strings

From his transcriptions of mammoth piano works to capturing the essence of Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestral suite, Capriccio Espagnole, on solo guitar, it seems like Jorge Caballero is drawn to musical challenges many guitarists wouldn’t dare attempt. But what makes him such a remarkable guitarist is his ability to make everything he plays, no matter how difficult, look and sound effortless.

One of our most favorite artists, we could think of no one better to open our 17-18 International Concert Series! In honor of the occasion, he’s prepared a program for us that’s sure to dazzle.

Here’s a preview:

The first half of the concert features Jorge’s transcriptions of keyboard music by J.S. Bach and the great Spanish composer, Isaac Albéniz. Especially exciting will be Jorge’s performance of his landmark arrangement of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, a work originally written for organ.

Then, after the break, Jorge will tackle Kazuhito Yamashita’s fiendishly difficult arrangement of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 (“The New World Symphony”). Two hands, six strings, and 19 frets. I’m not sure how this beloved orchestral work can all fit on one guitar, but I bet Jorge will make it look easy – and sound stunning.

Join us for ACG’s Season Opening Concert!

Jorge Caballero, guitar
Saturday, October 7, 2017 at 8pm
AISD Performing Arts Center

Prelude and Fugue, BWV 849                                                                                     Johann Sebastian Bach
(from “The Well Tempered Clavier,” Book I)                                                                                (1685 – 1750)
Arr. J. Caballero
Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, BWV 903

Cantos de España, op. 232 Isaac Albéniz
I. Preludio (1860 – 1909)
II. Oriental
III. Bajo la palmera
IV. Córdoba
V. Seguidillas

Intermission

Symphony No. 9, op. 95 (“From the New World”) Antonín Dvořák
I. Adagio – Allegro molto (1841 – 1904)
II. Largo arr. K Yamashita
III. Scherzo: Molto vivace – Poco sostenuto
IV. Allegro con Fuoco

Volunteer Spotlight: Lloyd Pond

For over ten years, Lloyd Pond has been a dedicated volunteer for ACG. These days, he spends much of his time repairing guitars used in our school programs, often saving badly damaged instruments from the scrap heap and getting them back into the hands of students. We asked him to share a bit about his upbringing, love of music, and favorite moments with our organization.

Interested in volunteering for ACG? Sign up here!



Can you tell me about your family’s musical heritage?

My grandmother grew up playing piano in a small Texas town near Louisiana. She taught all of the grandchildren how to play, so that’s how we all got our musical influence.

We had a piano at home, and people would come in to take music lessons. Often people from the church would come to practice singing, and my grandmother would rehearse with them or provide music. Sometimes my family would gather around the piano and sing old songs she had on sheet music from the 20s and 30s.

In what ways has music touched your life?

When I was about 10 or 11, I said “I hate piano, I never want to play again.” My grandmother said, “If you don’t want to play piano, what instrument would you like to play?” I said,“I’d like to play the violin.”

There was a man who played violin at our church, and so it just came into my mind. We were a middle-income family. I really didn’t think there was any way I’d get a violin; I just wanted a way out of playing piano.

The next day I came home from school, and my grandmother had gone down to the Heights area – where there was a music store – and bought a violin. She showed me the rudiments of playing, which led to playing in the school orchestra – I always enjoyed that. Late in high school I started playing the guitar. Rock ‘n roll, Elvis Presley and all that stuff.

How did you get involved in woodworking and repairing instruments?

My father and his family were all constructors, builders, people who made things. He built our house, so every day he’d come home from work and start working on something. I was side-by-side with him, learning about tools and working with wood. Repairing instruments probably came when I had the chance to meet the man who adjusted my violin. He had a great workshop, and immediately set my mind to thinking about, “How do people make and repair instruments?”

“Musicians are always wild and crazy, and it’s fun to hear their experiences, to share that interest and joy of making music.”

How did you first get connected with ACG?
I came to Austin around 2004. I had attended guitar concerts here before, and I started playing with the classical guitar ensemble. A couple of years went by, and my wife and I bought a house in the Crestview neighborhood. One day, I noticed a sign nearby that said “Austin Classical Guitar Society” and I thought, “I could go by there and see if they need help.”

What have you enjoyed about your experience here?

It’s the people. The reason I wanted to play in the classical guitar ensemble was to meet people who were interested in music. Musicians are always wild and crazy, so that’s fun to hear their experiences, and share that interest and joy of making music. Of course the other major interest I had was the instrument repair: to repair the instruments, marvel at the ways middle and high school kids can manage to destroy and damage and otherwise misuse the instruments; I try to put them back together.

Are there some special memories, people, or events that stand out if you reflect on your years here?

Sometimes I would have the opportunity to meet with the concert artists or interact with them. That was always a fun thing for me. Sometimes we were surprised at their eccentricities.

We’d have some artists come and play at schools. I’d provide transportation, and one that most impressed me was going to the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Watching those students – wow, how incredibly inspirational! After hearing the performer play, listening to the response of the students – so interested and so captivated by the music, and asking very good questions.

“I wish that each one of those people could have some of the same experiences that I’ve had: of seeing how other parts of the community can benefit from the efforts of all of us put together.”

Pepe Romero, he’s part of a lot of beautiful memories. During the GFA convention, I was at the UT radio station that did the interview. To hear his stories about his family, and his father and his music- every time he tells these stories, it’s such an emotional event. He related a story of his father’s passing, and everybody, everybody was in tears. Even his wife, who I’m sure has heard that story a hundred, a million times.

What are your impressions overall of ACG as a non-profit organization and the service it provides?

It’s certainly an amazing success story. It’s grown and grown, now all kinds of wonderful things are happening. The idea that guitar and music is only a basis, a beginning, for contact with students, troubled individuals, people who need help, people who have special needs, that guitar and the music generated from it is only a tiny portion of that. It provides a connection into other areas of people’s lives, other needs they may have. That’s a fantastic concept to me, and it wasn’t one I ever imagined when I became involved with ACG. I looked at it as a feel-good thing for me to enjoy some music great performers can bring, but it’s certainly much much much much more than that.

What is the one thing you wish that more people knew about ACG?

It’s so much more than just going to a concert and listening to a great performer. 

Hope After Harvey Reflection

As the “Hope After Harvey” benefit concert this past Sunday came to an end, I rose to my feet with the hundreds of other people who had gathered at Saint John’s United Methodist Church. We had just finished listening to a marvelous and heartfelt performance by the Miró Quartet, and were all about to start singing Amazing Grace in unison. Every seat was filled, with more people lining the aisles along the sides of the church, and even more watching a video simulcast of the concert from two overflow rooms. In this moment, I was reminded of the power of being together.

Less than a week before, I was sitting down with our team to explore the possibility of creating an event to support Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. The days that followed now swirl together as I think about how enthusiastically our partners at Conspirare, Austin Chamber Music Center, the Miró Quartet, St. John’s United Methodist Church, KUTX’s John Aielli, and KMFA jumped on board, ready to lend a hand, and eager to make this event a reality. I think of how volunteers from each organization pledged their time and their energy to make this event run smoothly. I think of the donations we received from people in Texas, Florida, California, and even Switzerland and Singapore, all to help those displaced in the aftermath of the hurricane. We did this together, and all of us at Austin Classical Guitar are honored to have been a part of it.

Hope for Harvey raised $31,500, all of which will go to Austin- and Houston-based disaster relief organizations. We were also surprised and delighted to receive two carloads of donated food, personal hygiene, and cleaning supplies, one trunk load of diapers, one carload of clothes, a car seat and two large toddler toys, as well as an unexpected donation of two tickets to Six Flags which will be given to children affected by Hurricane Harvey.

What’s Next?

There is still much work to do. Many people and communities will be working to rebuild their lives and homes for a long time to come. ACG will be organizing group volunteer trips in the coming weeks and months to areas experiencing hardship in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. If you’re interested in joining us, please email Julie Stoakley and she’ll add you to the list.

Donor Spotlight: Ed and Mary Collins

Every Sunday for almost ten years, Ed Collins has made the two-hour round trip drive to his ACG Community Guitar Ensemble rehearsal. This passion for learning guitar led Ed and his wife Mary to become involved with ACG’s education and social service programs. We asked them to talk with us about their relationship with the organization, and the reasons behind their decision to include ACG in their planned giving.


How did you first pick up the guitar, and find out about ACG?

Ed: Years ago, when my son was very young, we went to see the great Spanish guitarist, Andrés Segovia, perform in Houston. From the first note, I fell in love with the instrument, and knew I wanted to learn classical guitar. At the time, I was too busy to do anything about it, but I always kept that love with me, and decided that when I had the time, I would learn classical guitar.

In 2008, I finally decided to buy a guitar and start learning, but couldn’t find a teacher. I eventually found Austin Classical Guitar on the internet, and signed up for the Community Guitar Ensemble. Playing in the group fulfills my passion for improving my guitar playing, but also for sharing music with others. I’ve been in the Community Guitar Ensemble for almost ten years, and it’s been amazing.

“ACG provides young people with experiences that make them feel engaged and important. This organization is about more than just pushing strings on a guitar. It’s about changing lives.”

– Ed Collins

What has kept you involved in the ensemble for so long?

Ed: I discovered a long time ago that if I have a place to go, a time to be there, and a group to be involved with, I won’t let them down. So for ACG, I’ll get my practice in, and be ready to play. Eric Pearson, who directs ACG’s Community Ensembles, has taught me so much. He can take a concept or a technique that seems complicated and present it in a digestible format. On the drive home every week, I think about everything we learned in rehearsal, and I just can’t wait to get back. It’s a two-hour round trip, but I wouldn’t miss it. We’ve got a great group of players in the ensemble, and we’re all there for the same reason: the friendship and the love of playing together. When we get the music down and perform it, everyone sounds great.

Mary, what has it been like to watch Ed pursue his passion for classical guitar?

Mary: It’s been amazing to watch this process unfold. I could tell right away he loved being in the ensemble, and he can’t wait for rehearsal each week. I’m just so glad he found guitar. We always encourage each other to do what we love.

You’ve both decided to include ACG in your planned giving. Can you talk a little bit about how that came about?

Mary: What interested me was how ACG’s education programs serve at-risk and low-income children. I think everyone deserves to learn music, and a positive activity like performing in an ensemble can build self-esteem for a young person. Once we discovered the depth of service at ACG, we knew we wanted to be involved long-term. We decided we wanted to make a difference in the places where we were personally involved. ACG is one of those places.

Ed: I initially joined ACG because I wanted to learn classical guitar and rehearse and perform in the Community Ensemble. But when Mary and I found out about ACG’s education and service programs in schools and the juvenile detention center, we knew we wanted to do more. We’ve increased our support each year, and now, most importantly, we’ve included ACG in our planned giving. ACG provides young people with experiences that make them feel engaged and important. This organization is about more than just pushing strings on a guitar. It’s about changing lives.

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.

 

The Artists of i/we

i/we brings together an international cast of world-class musicians and artists. Some are making their Austin-debut, while others are local talents, cherished the world over. We are so grateful for their commitment to this project, and for the unique artistry each one is contributing.

Grammy-winning Conspirare’s Craig Hella Johnson lends us his voice as both singer and narrator. He’s chosen the poetry that he’ll recite throughout the concert, as well as the very first thing we’ll hear: a stirring folk song from Norway called I Sing of Your Mercies.

Two spectacular touring and recording artists, Sweden’s Håkan Rosengren (clarinet) and French cellist Louis-Marie Fardet of the Houston Symphony, will join us for the very first time. After her stunning performance in last year’s summer series, New York-based violin virtuoso Jennifer Choi returns to share her prodigious talent. We also have two members of the acclaimed Texas Guitar Quartet—and former Austinites—Isaac Bustos and Alejandro Montiel.

Sometimes I fear that we lose sight of the human aspect of being a refugee. i/we gives a voice to people with diverse and often traumatic life experiences, and shines a light on what they have went through.” – Isaac Bustos

 

This project resonates strongly with Isaac, who was born in Nicaragua and came to the U.S. as a refugee at age 13. He told us, “i/we humanizes the refugee experience through music. I know what it’s like to have your entire life in limbo. As a child, being treated differently because of my refugee status was difficult. Sometimes I fear that we lose sight of the human aspect of being a refugee. i/we gives a voice to people with diverse and often traumatic life experiences, and shines a light on what they have went through.”

The music of i/we will begin at 8 p.m., but the lobby opens at 6:30 for an atrium exhibit that will include music boxes and paintings created by visual artist Yuliya Lanina. There will also be a selection of poems written by members of the Austin community, as well as a display of stories and quotes from the refugees interviewed for this project. Wine, beer, and other refreshments will be available for purchase.

In expressing her enthusiasm for this project, Yuliya Lanina told us, “I came as a refugee from Russia in 1990, fleeing anti-Semitism and constant threats. The U.S. welcomed me and my family, and we were given the freedom to build our lives, without being punished for who we are. I believe in the power of projects like i/we…because music and art have a way to communicate with people that transcends language and borders.”

Six months in the making, with many lifetimes of influences, we can’t wait to share i/we with you.

Purchase tickets here, or call us at 512-300-2247.
 
 

Spring 2017 Education Report

Donor Spotlight: John Henry McDonald

John Henry McDonald has led a remarkable life. After serving in Vietnam during the war, he spent time as a traveling musician, a ranch manager, and eventually founded Austin’s premiere asset management company. For over a decade, he has been a mentor to ACG’s Executive Director, Matt Hinsley, and currently serves as Vice-President of ACG’s Board of Directors. We asked John Henry to tell us why he believes music education can make a difference in the lives of children.


One of ACG’s primary goals is to positively impact the lives of young people through the guitar. This aspect of our mission seems to resonate with you quite a bit. Can you tell us why?

The story of ACG and the work it does with kids is the story of my life.

When I was a kid, and my home was shattered, and my family life was confusing, guitar was there. After Vietnam, when I was shattered, and everything was confusing, guitar was there. Music is what got me through those tough years. When I finally got back on my feet after the war, I grabbed my guitar, found a harmonica player, and pretty soon we were opening for Waylon Jennings, Johnny Hammond Jr., and Sonny Terry. Through guitar, I learned how to perform, how to communicate with an audience, and most importantly, how to tell a story.

When I came to Austin, I was determined to keep my life together. I was told by a mentor to put the guitar away, and that was seminal. At the time it was what needed to happen for me to transition to the next phase of my life. And that’s when I founded Austin Asset Management.

When I got involved with ACG, I was in another transition. This time, I was selling Austin Asset Management, the company I had built and been running for decades. Once I learned about ACG’s education programs, I was drawn to the organization. I know that for some kids, guitar won’t mean anything. But for some it will be extremely important, and for others – like myself – it will be everything. I remember being 13 years old, lying in bed with a guitar on my chest, and I would play it until I fell asleep. Guitar was central to my life and has been my companion ever since. I give to this organization because music changed my life, and I’ve seen it change the lives of the kids we work with.

“With ACG, I can see my money doing good things, and that makes me want to keep on giving. I trust that when I pass on, the money I have left to this organization will continue to make an impact.”

How did you decide to include the organization in your planned giving?

 An old friend once told me that the hardest part about making money isn’t earning it — the hardest part is giving it away. It’s not that I don’t want to give, I’m happy to. But it was hard for me to find an organization I trusted. With ACG, I know I’ve found an organization where I can see my money at work – see the funds actually getting to the beneficiaries, the people the organization says it’s helping. When I met Matt Hinsley, ACG’s Executive Director, I realized immediately that he had a vision for nonprofit arts organizations, and for changing lives through music. I trusted him because it was never about this organization. It was always about giving to the community, and helping young people. Giving to ACG is easy. With ACG, I can see my money doing good things, and that makes me want to keep giving. I trust that when I pass on, the money I have left to ACG will continue to make an impact.

Could you talk a little bit about your involvement with Austin Community College, and the connection it has to ACG?

I’m on the board of ACC as well, and I love the connection we have with them. Dr. Tom Echols is teaching guitar there, and we send kids to him from our high school programs at Travis High School, Akins High School, and others. I know they’re going to get a great education. I love blending my giving – kids in ACG’s high school programs earn college credit by studying guitar at ACC while they’re still in high school, and that keeps their education moving forward. It’s huge for kids who don’t come from a context that would be able to financially support a college education. For some, college may never have seemed like an option. Guitar can provide a pathway to a higher education, and ACG helps make that happen.

 

Donor Spotlight: April Long

April’s connection with Austin Classical Guitar began when she was hired as an administrative assistant in 2009. A few years later, she became the Director of Development and was an integral part of the fundraising initiatives that allowed ACG to expand its education programs. We caught up with April to see what she’s been up to since leaving ACG in 2015 to go back to school, and to ask her why she is still such an enthusiastic supporter of the organization.


Was there a particular moment or experience that connected you to ACG and its work?

My connection to ACG is the result of seeing the good it does in the community. This organization puts deep goodness out into the world, and I say that with no reservations. ACG uses guitar as a way to meet certain people who aren’t being met in other ways. For some people, classical guitar speaks to them when other things might not. I’ve heard so many stories from the education team about students using music as a way to express difficult emotions that they hadn’t found any other way to express.

ACG provides an opportunity for people to find beauty in their lives, or to define for themselves what they think is beautiful. Music can be a way to express or grapple with grief, trauma, and other difficult experiences. It’s not going to magically make everything better, but giving voice to that kind of emotion is very powerful. I love that beauty in music can be a complicated beauty. In the Lullaby Project, ACG works with young mothers who are facing extraordinary challenges to help them write a lullaby for their baby. In one sense there is a mother having a child, and there is all this joy around it, and yet these women might be incarcerated, or facing severe economic challenges. Music can express that joy and that complication at the same time.

“Beyond teaching guitar, ACG uses music to foster a community. ACG listens to people’s stories, and provides a safe space where people can share their feelings. It creates a space for everyone to feel comfortable being themselves, and that is something we should seek to do in all walks of life.”

Could you tell us about your history with ACG, and what have you been up to lately?

I actually worked at ACG for about 6 years, even though I didn’t have a background in music. I started off working in operations, and ended up as the Director of Development. It was an incredible place to work and an incredible service to be a part of.

I’m now a student at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and I hope to eventually serve as a church pastor or a chaplain, maybe in a hospital or a prison. I haven’t decided on the specifics, but that’s the general direction.

In some ways this new direction is a big shift from my work at ACG, but at the same time it’s not a shift at all. What I saw ACG doing, and the way the organization went about doing it, I remember thinking that I want to take those principles with me for the rest of my life. I first thought about becoming a pastor when I was in middle school, and then I put it away for a while. In a way, working at ACG reignited that passion for me. It’s not a religious organization, but there is a spirit in the work that is also present in my new path. ACG uses music to bring people together, and create meaningful connections, and that is what the best churches and the best organizations of any kind do, and so the transition has felt very natural for me.

Why did you decide to name ACG as a beneficiary in your will?

Beyond teaching guitar, ACG uses music to foster a community. ACG listens to people’s stories, and provides a safe space where people can share their feelings. It creates a space for everyone to feel comfortable being themselves, and that is something we should seek to do in all walks of life. Naming ACG as a beneficiary was all about how much I love what happens here. I still contribute to ACG every year, but as a student, it’s not as much as I would like. I believe in what this organization does and is, so this is a way I can still say “yes” to ACG.