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.

Pepe Romero Returns


Austin Classical Guitar opens its 2016/17 International Series with the legendary classical guitarist Pepe Romero on Saturday, October 15, 2016 at 8:00 p.m. at the Austin ISD Performing Arts Center, 1500 Barbara Jordan Blvd. Tickets here or at 512-300-2247

Arrive early! Matt Hinsley will speak about ACG services and vision for the new season from 7:00 – 7:30 in the Black Box Theater. Authentic Spanish tapas will be available after 6:30 in the lobby.

Maestro Romero’s all-Spanish program will include the following:


By Francisco Tárrega

Marieta (mazurca)
Mazurca en sol                                                     
Maria (gavota)
Las dos hermanitas (vals)
Rosita (polca)

Capricho árabe                                                          

Fantasía sobre motivos de La Traviata, op.8                

Gran jota


Arroyos de la Alhambra by Ángel Barrios

Selections from Suite Española, op.47 by Isaac Albéniz trans. by Pepe Romero

Suite Castellana by Federico M. Torroba

Fantasía Sevillana, op. 29 by Joaquín Turina

Selections from Suite Andaluza by Celedonio Romero

Program subject to change

MASTER CLASSES: During his Austin visit, maestro Romero will instruct students from guitar programs of several Austin-area schools on Wednesday, Oct. 12 and Thursday, Oct. 13 from 6:00 – 8:00 pm at the Austin ISD Performing Arts Center Dance Studio. On Friday, Oct. 14, he will conduct master classes with guitar students at the UT Butler School of Music Bates Recital Hall from 5:00 – 7:00 pm. All sessions are free and open to the public for observation only.

ON THE RADIO: Listen on Thursday morning Oct. 13 to hear Pepe Romero and Matt Hinsley on Eklektikos with John Aielli on KUTX 98.9 FM between 6:00 – 9:00 am. Then, at 10:00 am, tune to KMFA 89.5 FM with Dianne Donovan for more of Pepe and Matt.

PBS Arts in Context: ACG Education

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

The Paper Guitar

One of the things we’re most proud of here at ACG is our for-credit classical guitar program at the Travis County Juvenile Detention Center in partnership with Austin Independent School District. The program, now in its 6th year, has been featured on national television on the PBS NewsHour.

We hope you enjoy this story.

L: Gardner Betts guitar instructor Jeremy Osborne assists student with his nails in preparation for his first class. R: Guitar students return to their school day carrying the guitars provided to them by the ACG guitar program.

It’s a full-size guitar. It has frets, strings, a sound hole, bracing. The frets are straight, thin, it has the correct number of them. There is a decorated rosette. It even has its own display stand.

But this guitar is made of paper. Copy paper, specifically. Yarn and tape were used in the detailed, caring construction as well.

It was made by one of our students; let’s call him David. David is incarcerated at the Travis County Juvenile Justice Center where one of our staff educators, Jeremy Osborne, teaches two for-credit classes each day. David discovered the guitar, and discovered his ability to learn, practice, perform, and excel on it, in these classes. This past May he played a solo for over one hundred people in the courthouse and received a standing ovation—the first standing ovation of his life, for anything.

Like a lot of kids in detention, David has struggled with motivation, especially with the work he has to do for school and as part of the conditions of his sentence. Guitar changed all of that. Talk to any of his counselors and they’ll tell you – since he picked up the guitar, David’s attitude toward his work was transformed.

Jeremy did not visit the detention center as frequently over the summer, just once or twice a week to check in, give a lesson, make contact. When the new semester began, Jeremy was back to teaching two classes a day. During that first week one of the facility staff members pulled him aside. “You need to see something,” he said.

Jeremy was escorted to a room in another part of the secure facility, where the paper guitar was displayed on its stand. It was David’s guitar, the guitar he had spent the summer creating by carefully rolling and shaping and taping pieces of copy paper, while waiting for Jeremy to come back and for the guitar class to start up again.

We reach people through music education. Where other pursuits might fail, music can forge powerful connections that last a lifetime. Studying music can reveal a better path, and link an individual to themselves and to their community.

At Austin Classical Guitar we think about this a lot. Perhaps it is the absence of specific referential meaning in music—the inherent mystery of musical communication—that helps make a positive musical learning environment a safe, nurturing place to discover one’s identity.

As the number of students we serve grows, so does our responsibility as a teaching community to do the best job we can to discover and promote those attributes of instruction that fuel positive student experiences in arts education.

We need to do this so that the kids we serve will make the kinds of connections with music, with each other, with our community, and with themselves that high-quality arts education can deliver. We need to do this so that more kids like David, who have struggled, who have made bad decisions, who are alienated and at-risk of dropping out of school or worse, will have a safe and supportive place to make something special that they can build an identity around and be proud of.

Paper Guitar

Volunteering with ACG

Volunteers pix.wide&short

I wish I could adequately express how much being part of ACG means to me. – Bill, Office Volunteer


Volunteers are the heart and soul of Austin Classical Guitar.

Over the years, our generous volunteers have helped with legal and accounting services, ushering at events, transportation and housing for visiting artists, running errands, answering phones, stuffing envelopes, ticket sales, welcoming guests at events, and hosting concerts in their homes.

Join the team!

In return for your time, you’ll get to meet some wonderful, like-minded people, and enjoy beautiful music at our concerts. Our younger volunteers can accrue community service credits for college or other applications. And all of our volunteers gain the satisfaction of being a vital part of an organization that is entering its second quarter century of service to our community.

Sign up to be a volunteer online here, or call us 512/300-2247.


Travis Marcum on Passionate Teaching

Travis Marcum.croppedDear Friends,

The ACG Education team is honored to be a part of one of the most accomplished, dynamic, community-focused music education programs in the world. We believe that thoughtful and passionate teaching leads to meaningful connections with our students, connections that break down barriers across our community. Because when a young person finds a little success, it opens the door for fascination and the guitar becomes a vehicle to express, inspire, validate, and grow.

We believe that thoughtful and passionate teaching leads to meaningful connections with our students, connections that break down barriers across our community.

ACG’s core education staff and associate teaching artists are among the most experienced and accomplished classroom guitar educators and professional guitarists in the nation. Together, we work with over 50 schools and 3,000 students in the central Texas area each day. We are writing cutting-edge classroom curriculum for school programs worldwide. We are helping to create guitar resources for students with blindness and visual impairments. We are sitting down with teen mothers and incarcerated mothers to help them write personal lullabies for their children. We are teaching young men in detention at Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center that they can do great things regardless of their past.

Your support and energy through the years have helped build this guitar family. I could not be more excited for the coming year, and for the continued privilege of working with such a vibrant, inspiring community.

Thank you for everything,

travis sig

Travis Marcum
Director of Education & Outreach



Matt at Gala.croppedDear Friends,

This season we step forward into our second quarter-century. Our vision lives and breathes within every individual touched by ACG, and today I’d like to share a few of my own hopes as we forge our path onward.

We have learned that music is a deep and powerful connector. It flows like water into the spaces between us, creating reasons to come together, invitations to express our individuality, activities of identity uniting students and mentors and communities. At ACG we have begun to revolutionize music education in America. We have had a rare and special opportunity to add classical guitar to school curricula for tens of thousands of students. And this is significant because guitar draws new and different kids to the widely documented benefits of serious, school-based, fine arts engagement. Along this path we have discovered many new ways to focus our service for youth and adults in myriad circumstances.

At ACG we have begun to revolutionize music education in America.

Our work is just beginning. We have many miles to go in our effort to support rigorous credit-based guitar education across Texas, our nation, and beyond. But that’s not all. I believe we are in a unique position to begin studying and promoting new ways of community engagement through the arts.

Children hear a song completely differently if they are asked in advance to think of a story while they listen. Why is that? I would like to know, and I believe connected to the answer to that question is nothing less than a brighter future for the arts, and for our communities.

My focus this year, therefore, will be to advance the Austin Classical Guitar Endowment so that we may support research and development in education, in social service, in healthcare, and in performance now and for generations to come.

With deepest thanks,



How to open a door by Josep Rota

After attending Saturday’s performance of process at the Blanton Auditorium, ACG patron Josep Rota shared this: The music, so evocative of process, flow, life, mystery and the syncretism of so many traditions, and the text so beautifully read by Matt and Néstor, with notions like how to wind a watch …or the hidden images of the tropics and my experience of being in Oaxaca just last month, combined with the serendipitous opportunity of hearing music by Hildegard von Bingen on KMFA as I was driving back home, all of that inspired me to sit down in front of my computer as soon as I got home and write a poem.

Josep has graciously allowed us to share it here:

How to Open a Door

Josep Rota

The mystery hides behind the closed door.

Death may be waiting there. Or love.

Or magic. Or nothing but the mundane.

What if I open the door and I see

Hildegard von Bingen standing there?

I would ask her so many questions

but not in the lingua ignota she invented.

I would ask why in the millennium

since she was born women have been

subjugated, dominated, rejected. Or why

the pope who named her Doctor of the Church

was deaf to her message and blind to her sex.

I know Hildegard is not there with her blue shawl,

but if her Ordo Virtutum is playing on the radio,

is she not there? I can hear her melismatic music

and angelic voices singing verses she composed.

Still, I hesitate to open the door.

If it’s closed, I can imagine the impossible,

butterflies making love to unicorns,

hourglasses with a cork keeping the sand

forever stuck in my happiest moment,

not allowing time to flow wickedly.

The sense of smell brings me back to the now.

I know all I have to do is turn the doorknob,

release the hatch and push the door open,

but I linger. The fictional does not move me;

what does is the real life that I live today

and your acts of love that flatter me,

like the smell of bread in the oven

or the aroma of coffee you brew for me.

It is not coffee harvested in plantations,

sold and mixed in bulk for bucks.

It’s coffee brewed from beans picked one by one

by the worn, soil-stained hands of a Zapotec farmer

whose ancestors farmed the same lands

since before the Spanish conquistadors arrived

and destroyed the world they knew.

It’s coffee from Miahuatlán, field of corn flowers,

from a family farm on the slopes of Cerro de la Pluma,

Feather Hill, where eagles used to come to lay their eggs

and pluck their own feathers to build their nests.

It’s coffee with hints of vanilla, chocolate, ancho,

cilantro, hierba santa, papalo, pipicha;

images of dahlias, passion flowers and orchids,

and memories of a time when the Zapotec were kings.

I know how to open the door to the dreams,

the ideas, the thoughts that inspire me

so that I can live the present fully.

But the first thing I will do is hug you,

touch your lips, caress you softly,

eat your bread, drink your coffee

understanding that the now is all we have

Readings for “process”

Instructions on How to Wind a Watch By Julio Cortázar

Death stands there in the background, but don’t be afraid. Hold the watch down with one hand, take the stem in two fingers, and rotate it smoothly. Now another installment of time opens, trees spread their leaves, boats run races, like a fan time continues filling with itself, and from that burgeon the air, the breezes of earth, the shadow of a woman, the sweet smell of bread.

What did you expect, what more do you want? Quickly. Strap it to your wrist, let it tick away in freedom, imitate it greedily. Fear will rust all the rubies, everything that could happen to it and was forgotten is about to corrode the watch’s veins, cankering the cold blood and its tiny rubies. And death is there in the background, we must run to arrive beforehand and understand it’s already unimportant.


Argumentum Ornithologicum by Jorge Luis Borges

I close my eyes and see a flock of birds. The vision lasts a second or perhaps less; I don’t know how many birds I saw. Were they a definite or an indefinite number? This problem involves the question of the existence of God. If God exists, the number is definite, because how many birds I saw is known to God. If God does not exist, the number is indefinite, because nobody was able to take count. In this case, I saw fewer than ten birds (let’s say) and more than one; but I did not see nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, or two birds. I saw a number between ten and one, but not nine, eight, seven, six, five, etc. That number, as a whole number, is inconceivable; ergo, God exists.


Borges and I by Jorge Luis Borges

It’s to that other one, to Borges, that things happen. I walk through Buenos Aires and I pause, one could say mechanically, to gaze at a vestibule’s arch and its inner door; of Borges I receive news in the mail and I see his name in a list of professors or in some biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typefaces, etymologies, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; the other shares these preferences, but in a vain kind of way that turns them into an actor’s attributes. It would be an exaggeration to claim that our relationship is hostile; I live, I let myself live so that Borges may write his literature, and this literature justifies me. It poses no great difficulty for me to admit that he has put together some decent passages, yet these passages cannot save me, perhaps because whatsoever is good does not belong to anyone, not even to the other, but to language and tradition. In any case, I am destined to lose all that I am, definitively, and only fleeting moments of myself will be able to live on in the other. Little by little, I continue ceding to him everything, even though I am aware of his perverse tendency to falsify and magnify.

Spinoza understood that all things strive to persevere being; the stone wishes to be eternally a stone and the tiger a tiger. I will endure in Borges, not in myself (if it is that I am someone), but I recognise myself less in his books than in those of many others, or in the well-worn strum of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him by moving on from the mythologies of the slums to games with time and infinity, but those games are now Borges’ and I will have to conceive of other things. Thus my life is a running away and I lose everything and everything is turned over to oblivion, or to the other.

I do not know which of the two is writing this piece.


Chapter 7 Kissing from Hopscotch By Julio Cortázar

I touch your mouth, with one finger I touch the edge of your mouth, I draw it as it if it came out of my hand, as if your mouth was for the first time just barely open, and closing my eyes is enough to undo it and start over. Each time I create the mouth I desire, the mouth that my hand chooses and draws for you on your face, one mouth chosen from all, chosen by me with sovereign freedom to draw with my hand on your face, and for some random chance I seek not to understand, it perfectly matches your smiling mouth, beneath the one my hand draws for you.

You look at me, you look at me closely, each time closer and then we play cyclops, we look at each other closer each time and our eyes grow, they grow closer, they overlap and the cyclops look at each other, breathing confusion, their mouths find each other and fight warmly, biting with their lips, resting their tongues lightly on their teeth, playing in their caverns where the heavy air comes and goes with the scent of an old perfume and silence.

Then my hands want to hide in your hair, slowly stroke the depth of your hair while we kiss with mouths full of flowers or fish, of living movements, of dark fragrance. And if we bite each other, the pain is sweet, and if we drown in a short and terrible surge of breath, that instant death is beauty. And there is a single saliva and a single flavour of ripe fruit, and I can feel you shiver against me like a moon on the water.

Thomas Echols on “process”

Thomas EcholsI am so very excited to be continuing narratives with process [middle].  In an earlier post, I mentioned how this series emerged out of an exploration of the many ways that music conveys meaning.  This concert is about the game, the creative interplay of elements.

Of all three concerts, this is the one that really delves into the mode of musical discourse that is the least linguistic by nature: process. Here is what Steve Reich says about “Process Music”:

          “[It is not] the process of composition but rather pieces of music that

          are, literally, processes. The distinctive thing about musical processes

          is that they determine all the note-to-note (sound-to-sound) details and the overall form.”

If you’ve ever sung “Row, row, row your boat” in a round, where one person begins singing the first line just as another is beginning the second line, then you yourself have performed process music. Certain pieces by minimalist composers are quintessential Process pieces: beautiful, consonant sonorities are heard while a clearly discernible pattern unfolds creating a kind of narrative structure that really only exists in musical works. Also, certain pieces from the Baroque period, namely fugues (a kind of piece that can be thought of as a much more elaborate and artful round or canon as mentioned above), are also exemplary process pieces: an evocative tune with a clear identity is heard alone at first, and then is repeated along with various transformations of itself creating dense musical fabrics out of a very small amount of material. Process pieces are entrancing things. They speak volumes beyond the limits of the spoken word.

The texts chosen for this concert are from the Argentinian writers Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar, two authors whose writing often seems to be a commentary upon writing (and reading) itself. Literary labyrinths, games, circular, reductive logic seem fitting to the idea of process. The poems will be read in Spanish and English. Borges, who wrote fictions about fictions –creating authors so that he could write about their non-existent works, said once that he wrote in a Baroque style.  .  .  at two points in the concert, we will hear two fugues by Borges’ compatriot (and master of the tango) Astor Piazzolla that reveal how a piece can be fugal without being Baroque in any other sense. . .

The entire concert forms a kind of palindrome, with events mirroring each other across a central point in time. The cornerstone of the concert is Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres”, which has been arranged specially for this concert for violin and guitar. “Fratres” itself has a beautiful harmonic pattern that is palindromic in a way, making it the perfect centerpiece for this program.

Virtuosic unaccompanied violin, guitar duo, quartets for two guitars, violin and flute, violin with guitar accompaniment, experimental electronics and synthesizers all come together for this incredible night of music and text. Come enjoy refreshments in the atrium, where there will be “flash poets” at typewriters writing upon any given theme in the opening exhibit while Christopher Royal King gives a moving and hypnotic electronic performance based on Steve Reich’s “piano phase”. I hope to see you there!

Thomas Echols on “narratives”

Thomas EcholsOur literature-inspired summer series, narratives, explores the themes of beginning, middle, and end through three unique concert events taking place the evenings of June 25, July 9, and July 30 at the Blanton Museum Auditorium. We’ve asked Guest Artistic Director Thomas Echols to share some insights about his inspiration and vision.


Music is all around us and is present in all world cultures, yet it seems such a strange means of conveyance. How is it that something can be so meaningful and yet be so elusive at the same time? What is it that speaks in sound without speech?

There is this mystery in musical utterance. There is an otherness and a familiarity all at once. There is something at once universal and intimately personal. And there are narratives that unfold as we follow organized sound through time.

When Matthew Hinsley and Austin Classical Guitar asked me to direct this summer’s concert series, my mind exploded with possibilities. In the conversations that followed, it quickly became evident that we were conceiving something so rich in reference, solely through the performance itself, that there would be no need for program notes, a preconcert lecture, or other such devices. We hope to make something experiential; something that draws a person in – invites and emboldens a multitude of interpretations from the listener; something that revels in this truth: that everyone, regardless of how experienced they are in a particular musical tradition, hears music “correctly.”

We hope to make something that celebrates the musicality of the spoken word as well as the narrative capacity of music.

narratives is an exploration of the common ground shared between music and literature. It is also rumination on how meaning is established. narratives, an interdisciplinary forayfeaturing solo works, chamber music, literary readings, visual projections, and experimental electronic music, divides into three parts: persona [beginning], process [middle], and nocturne [end]. Each concert has its own theme that is explored through various paths, and each concert is part of a greater thematic whole. Rather than have these themes explicated in a written concert program, there will be an interconnectivity emerging from the patterns found within the concert itself. Imagine an immersion rather than an explanation.

Above all else, narratives is an exploration of this marvelous meta-language that is music.

Dr. Thomas Echols
Classical Guitarist