Guitar & Horses: A Letter from Edward Kimball

It’s our May Fund Drive, and during this time we love to share inspiring stories. This is one of our recent favorites, brought to us by ACG Community Ensemble member Edward Kimball. If you’d like to support our May Fund Drive, you can Donate Online Here

 

Every Tuesday morning I go out to a place called Healing With Horses Ranch in Manor, TX.  HWHR helps children and adults with a wide variety of physical and emotional afflictions.  Its services are free for military veterans like me, and the rest pay fees.  

Along with ACG, visiting HWHR is what I've been doing to cope with my chronic ankle pain & surgery recovery, hearing disability and struggles with major depressive disorder.  We all must figure out ways to compensate for the genetic hand we've been dealt.

Because of my previous experience with horses, my instructors steered me into more refined aspects of horsemanship. Sort of like the difference between the folk-song strumming most of us did "back in the day," and learning classical guitar. 

I've been kicked, bitten, bucked off and fallen with a horse. I’ve trained a few, and ended up being trained by them.  Obviously I love horses.  Most of them read human emotions better than humans.  

For some strange reason I don't understand, while at home working on solo pieces on guitar, thinking about phrasing, my mind will wander, sometimes reflecting on things instructors said to me that week about handling horses.  I guess what I'm trying to say is that the subtle details of classical guitar, and the nuances of horsemanship, have much in common.  

I’ve been going to Healing With Horses Ranch since 2017. I’ve been involved with Austin Classical Guitar since 2010. To cut to the chase, as they say, the experiences have begun to meld.  

From my two instructors at HWHR, Crystal & Libby, I’ve been taught "nuance," subtle positioning of body parts while riding, as well as connecting and communicating with the horse while on the ground. Meanwhile, as a member of ACG Community Guitarist Ensembles, I’ve been learning "nuance" from Carlos, Eric, and now Tony, as well as fellow members of our groups.  

This picture of “Mr. Dude” and me was taken at our last Vet's program of the fall season. I got to do what I’d wanted to do most: play guitar for the horse I'd been working with.  

Having had a hearing disability from birth, I envy horses' ears.  We may never know what a guitar sounds like to a horse, but I like to believe that something was going on in his mind as I was doing my best to play for him.  It’s quite possible he was totally bored and felt like just standing there…nothing else to do!

 - Edward Kimball

Thank you so much Edward! Since we received the marvelous letter and photograph above, Edward has continued his artistic connection to HWHR by creating the beautiful video below for his friend “Patience,” also a client at HWHR, as part of the ACG GIVE project in April. Enjoy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYGR0zihrGA

 


Flowers of Life: A Conversation with Gabriel Santiago

Inspired by the transformation of winter to spring at the Wildflower Center, composer and performer Gabriel Santiago collaborates with master horticulturist Andrea DeLong-Amaya to celebrate the intersections of nature and music. Thursday, May 13th at 7pm CDT. Register online here. Free, Donations welcome. 

 

We are so thrilled to share an incredibly special event called Flowers of Life on Thursday, May 13th, at 7pm CDT, presented in partnership with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. 

As part of the Austin Now series, ACG’s Artistic Director Joe Williams asked the talented composer and performer Gabriel Santiago to collaborate with master horticulturist Andrea DeLong-Amaya from the Wildflower Center to create a program inspired by the intersections of nature and music.

We have seen many transformations this year, including the infamous Texas Winter Storm that turned into this beautiful spring we are now experiencing. 

Nature's beauty and complexity has been a common inspiration for some of our Austin Now events such as Cycles from last fall. Joe Williams shared some of his inspiration for Flowers of Life, 

“The ACG Spring season has been centered around the themes of hope, rebirth & celebration. In many ways, these themes grew out of a conversation with Andrea DeLong-Amaya, the director of Horticulture at Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center.

We talked about the cycle of seasons and the process that plants go through every year: from winter to spring, from seed to bloom, from dirt to fields of flowers. And it occurred to me that that transformation - that process - in many ways reveals where we are.  We’ve been in a sort of winter since Covid hit and, starting with the new year, sparks of hope are igniting.  We can peak at a foreseeable end to the pandemic and the human spirit and our community is in the process of blooming.  But we aren't out of the woods yet - we need to nurture every last bit of hope in our community - and that's what we have been endeavoring to do.

I am so inspired by Andrea and Gabriel's collaboration and their work together.  In Flowers of Life, Gabriel Santiago's gorgeous music evokes the beauty of both wildflowers and our community and Andrea's voice offers poems and quotes gently urging us to take part in the wonder around us and ignite hope for our future.”

We also spoke with Gabriel about his creative process in this collaboration and what this event meant to him, 

“There was a lot of inspiration from photos and videos of birds, flowers, and nature, which inspired me to try to come up with a musical description of what I was seeing to enhance the imagery that was being presented to me. This made the creative process very fruitful for me.”

Gabriel shared how this inspiration is expressed in the music, 

“The music is made up of main themes and variations. The main theme is the transformation from winter to spring, of course. But here’s another example: I saw an image of a bumble bee, so in one of the pieces I created a small variation within the main theme about that bee! The process was very similar to scoring music for a movie, and that  was exciting for me.” 

During the planning of this event the title “Flowers of Life” was chosen through Gabriel and Andrea’s intentions of the event being an expression of the celebration of life. The Flower of Life is a geometric figure that represents the path of creation in sacred geometry. Gabriel composed a piece called Flowers of Life which we are so excited to hear premiered in the concert! Gabriel shared: 

“The piece Flowers of Life has to do with seasons and change and the cycles of nature. The world is constantly changing and the piece I composed was inspired during the winter storm. I was here at home with no electricity and no water but I had a little juice left on my phone, so I recorded this piece that was inspired by the scenery I was experiencing in this very odd time. It plays as my dialogue of my experience which touches on this sentiment of constant change, destruction, and growth in the cycles of nature.” 

We are so excited to see this collaboration come to life! Please join us.


ACG Originals: GIVE

Guided by the belief that music can be a powerful catalyst for acceptance, hope, and joy, GIVE is a community concert featuring commissions from local artists, creative projects from students and community members as well as powerful songs from ACG’s Music & Healing program. Thursday, April 29th, 2021 at 7pm CT. Register Online Here. Free, Donations Welcome. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNpKFZcEEpo&list=PL7wuzEY0eIyBn8FozIcwJr4BJOCbNYFxk&index=1

Music has the power to heal, allow emotions to flow freely, and to bring people together. We at ACG feel so grateful for the sincere and deep connections we have been able to make through this boundless medium. Some of our deepest connections have been made through ACG Music & Healing and ACG Education. 

Our final ACG Originals event of the spring season, GIVE, has been curated to present this magic that music can create. 

We have asked local artists, community members, and students to create a video composed of music or art for a loved one in their lives as a gift, a form of appreciation and love, and an expression of beauty. 

We will be featuring artists from ACG’s Music & Healing: Arnold Yzaguirre, Claudia Chapa, John Churchill, and Claire Puckett, as well as Michelle Schumann (piano), the Miró string quartet, Oliver Rajamani (oud), ARCOS (dance), Sunil Gadgil (saxophone), Stephen Krishnan (guitar), The Magnolia Kids, and members of the ACG youth and community ensembles.

We are so excited to see the beauty our community creates in this remarkable event. Please join us! 


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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RSVP Online Here, Free, Donations Accepted.


Grisha with Internal Creations

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you would like to join us please RSVP Here.


Amplify Austin: Tony Mariano

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Power of Friendship

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

Register Online Here. Free, Donations support relief efforts. 

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

Black Leaders Collective Founder Terry P. Mitchell told us,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oliver Rajamani shared these words with us,

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

 

 

VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES

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

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

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

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

 

PRESENTED BY

   


30th Season: Spring Event Guide

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

30th Season: Spring Event Guide

 

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

 

ACG Originals: HOPE

Saturday, February 6, 2021 at 8PM CST

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

 

UpClose Online: GRISHA

Presented in partnership with Internal Creations

Saturday, March 13, 2021 at 8PM CST

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

 

ACG Originals: PLAY: A Celebration of ACG Education

Saturday, March 27, 2021 at 8PM CDT

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

 

UpClose Online: GOHAR VARDANYAN

Presented in partnership with Internal Creations

Saturday, April 10, 2021 at 8PM CDT

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

 

Austin Now: CALL AND RESPONSE

with Thomas Echols & Invoke

Presented in partnership with KMFA Classical 89.5

Sunday, April 18, 2021 at 5PM CDT

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

 

ACG Originals: GIVE

Thursday, April 29, 2021 at 7PM CDT

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

 

UpClose Online: RUPERT & LAURA

Presented in partnership with Internal Creations

Thursday, May 6, 2021 at 7PM CDT

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

 

Austin Now: FLOWERS OF LIFE

with Gabriel Santiago & Andrea DeLong-Amaya

Presented in partnership with Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Thursday, May 13, 2021 at 7PM CDT

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

 

UpClose Online: 30th SEASON FINALE

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

created in collaboration with The Augustine Foundation.

Saturday, May 22, 2021 at 8PM CDT

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

 

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


ACG Top Ten of 2020

We are so pleased to share our ACG Top Ten of 2020. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed making it. You may also like to check out our 2020 ACG Education Report. If you would like to support our artists and services here at ACG, click here

We started out unsure if we’d even make a Top Ten list this year. We’ve always approached this annual retrospective in a spirit of celebration, fun, and even silliness, so at the end of a year filled with so many difficult challenges, we wondered if we ought to skip it this time. But once we got to reminiscing about some of the amazing and beautiful moments that happened over the past 12 months, we decided that maybe a little celebration, fun, and silliness could be just what we need right now. 

Of course, even in a more typical year, our process of deciding the Top Ten list is filled with haggling and negotiation. And we have no doubt you’ll have differing ideas than ours. We’d love to hear them! Was there something of significance at ACG we’ve forgotten to mention? Email us your thoughts.

So with those disclaimers, we are excited to present, in a modified chronological order, the ACG Top Ten of 2020:

#10 together

Whoa, this seems like a lifetime ago. But what a memory! together was our entire theme of 2019-2020. Read all about it here. We organized our concerts and services around the idea of togetherness. How especially ironic, then, that the season would bring with it the greatest existential threat to physical togetherness in our lifetimes? together the concert experience occurred in January. It was a deep work about isolation and connection, Joe WIlliams and Travis Marcum led this, the third installment of three community-based arts works that began with i/we (2017), progressed to dream (2018), and ended with together

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CIhC1D_D3U&feature=youtu.be

#9 dream The Movie

Also in January we premiered our first ever feature film. Holy cow! Director Alonso Lujan took the audio (mastered by Todd Waldron) from our 2019 community project dream and made cinematic magic. The film brings visual life to the hopes, dreams, and fears of Austin youth and the beautiful compositions and arrangements performed by world class artists. Make some popcorn, grab your favorite beverage, turn up the volume, and get lost in this one!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqlZ4aroclw

#8 Lively Middle School Dance & Guitar

Perhaps our favorite thing about music is that it goes all over the place. It goes with words and with images. You can do it by yourself or you can do it with others. You can listen to it and talk about it. David Russell played our last live event before the pandemic on March 7th. He and Maria came to Austin early and met with students, taught, and talked about their philanthropic work. He played with kids for a video we’ll be sharing in the new year! And right before his concert, Meredith McAlmon’s guitar students and Claire Barclay’s dance students from Lively Middle School presented a simply astonishing collaboration.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vj6O00UwKQE

#7 Svirajmo Gitaru! (Let’s Play!)

Our braille lifelong learning system launched in November in its first full translation for use throughout the Balkan Peninsula! You can check it out online here

We are super grateful to our whole team and to our partner in Montenegro, Rados Malidzan, for raising the funds and striking the alliances throughout the Balkans not only to make the extensive audio and text translations, but also arrange for free braille printing and distribution in multiple countries to maximize the resource’s utility.

#6 Eric Pearson, Virtual Concert Wizard

That’s right, Eric gets a whole slot all to himself! ACG’s Director of Curriculum by day,  when the pandemic hit in March he basically figured out how to make high-level concerts happen in real time using remote technology. Like, he literally hand-assembled tech rigs to be mailed across the country, set up, and then piloted by our team in Austin so we could hear, for example, Pepe Romero playing live from his living room in California. Wanna learn more? Read all about Eric and this system online here. Or just watch this Pepe Romero video and be amazed!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rlvxy0-e-q0&t=2513s

#5 i/we 2020

The original i/we changed us forever. Over the years there have been a few tectonic shifts at ACG, and this was one of them. It was January 2017, our nation had endured a tough political season with friends and families divided, and we were asking ourselves what might an arts organization do to offer help and healing? ACG’s Artistic Director Joe Williams and Education Director Travis Marcum joined spirits to envision a community-centered artwork, and the result was i/we, a multi-media chamber work built around Travis’ interviews with refugees newly settling in Austin. Fast-forward to pandemic life 2020, another contentious election cycle, and a world awakening to the realities of racial inequity and injustice. Once again, i/we emerged as particularly resonant and relevant to the time we were in.   

For our re-imagining of i/we 2020 in October we enlisted the partnership of ARCOS dance company. Director/choreographer Erica Gionfriddo paired 4 magnificent dancers, Bonnie Cox, Ginnifer Joe, Kaitlyn Jones, & Oddalys Salcido, with each of the four movements to be explored and reexamined  through the lens of each artist. Then ARCOS filmmaker Eliot Gray Fisher created cinematic magic in - and above - locations around Texas. 

Learn about our collaborators ARCOS dance and the creators online here. Enjoy this excerpt from the production.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gNuoR_cbbM&feature=youtu.be

#4 Ofrendas

We lost a lot in 2020. We said goodbye to our way of life in a lot of ways, and being together in a meaningful way became very challenging. There is a tradition in Mexico and Latin America where loved ones who have passed away are honored by placing their favorite foods, drink, or other significant objects on altars. These objects, called “ofrendas” or “offerings”, are believed to help guide and welcome the spirits of our departed loved ones back home to celebrate Día de Muertos. In collaboration with Mexic-Arte Museum, and led by our Director of Operations Salvador Garcia, who joined Joe Williams as the co-Artistic Director of this project, we commissioned 20 short music-video ofrendas from local artists, and received many dozens more from community members. We invite you to experience some of these captivating tributes in the playlist below, or read a story from one of our individual contributors online here.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7wuzEY0eIyBuByMq2EjqosfyoOA2hs_Q

#3 Music & Healing

At the very heart of ACG’s Music & Healing services is deep listening and caring through time spent, one on one, together. So when the pandemic made social distancing the new normal, we were relieved to discover that not only could our Music & Healing work continue by video conference, but in some ways it even added accessibility for our participants by taking away drive time and the challenges of coordinating on-location appointments in the hospitals, shelters, and clinics we partner with to offer our services. So, against all odds, ACG Music & Healing actually expanded its capacity this year, with an amazing roster of artist-clinicians, including Claudia Chapa, Arnold Yzaguirre, Daniel Fears, Claire Puckett, John Churchill, and Director Travis Marcum, serving more people than ever. 

In honor of Veterans Day we shared two special songs created with two veterans in partnership with The Georgetown Arts and Culture Program, Resilient Me Military Expressive Arts Programs, and country music artist Wynn Williams.

This video has two excerpts from the last zoom songwriting sessions with Wynn and Travis where John and Bobby heard their complete songs for the very first time. The first song is called A Prayer for the Living, and was written by John Hill with Travis Marcum and Wynn Williams. John was an Army medic in Afghanistan, and wanted to write a song for fellow service members struggling with the pain they hold onto after the experience of war. The second song is called When Blue Stars Turn Gold, written by Bobby Withrow with Wynn Williams and Travis Marcum. Bobby served in the Navy and now runs the Texas Fallen Project where he supports families all over the state who have lost loved ones in battle. A Gold Star Family is one that has lost a member in service. Bobby wanted to write a song that helps people understand the need to honor our fallen soldiers and to support their loved ones who are fighting their own battle every day.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qD04zETdFH4

#2 ACG Education: Everything Changes at Once

ACG’s education programs in schools are designed for classroom settings, with students learning and playing guitar together,  so you can imagine how urgent the need was to adapt and innovate this spring when schools closed their doors. The ACG Education team - Travis Marcum, Jeremy Osborne, Eric Pearson, Jess Griggs, Phil Swasey, and intern Cindy De Blas Castillo - sprang into action. We hosted weekly online discussions with partner teachers near and far, heard their struggles and needs, and worked to offer solutions as fast as possible. 

We purchased over 200 guitars for students who didn’t have instruments at home, pivoted to remote instruction for our programs in the juvenile justice system, and we hired additional teaching artists to expand our Free Lessons Initiative.

When summer hit, we shifted our annual Teacher Summits online - a monumental task! - and developed new approaches for Virtual Classrooms that teachers could learn from and deploy in the fall. 

The biggest challenge was to maintain a sense of connection through artistry of personal significance. Perhaps our proudest achievement from the spring was Everything Changes at Once, a collaborative performance piece created by Travis Marcum to engage guitar students at all levels, and encourage personal expression by incorporating their video, photo, and spoken word contributions. 

We’re incredibly grateful to the amazing teachers who hung in there, grew, learned, adapted, persevered, and all those amazing students who did the same. The beautiful results we’ve seen are a testament to courage and resilience, and to the power of music to bring us together even against the odds.

For a deep dive into our education work, we invite you to review our 2020 Education Report.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLbFBI5UChI

#1 Our Community!

We are overwhelmed with gratitude and amazed by everyone who made the choice to believe in beauty and togetherness with us this past year, and for all of ACG’s 30 years. For the last nine months we presented all of our concerts for free, and so many of you chose to donate. We moved our youth and community ensembles online, and so many of you took the leap with us. We embraced new approaches to making and sharing art, and so many incredibly talented artists innovated and collaborated with us. We needed partners and spaces to produce events, and friends from Big Medium, ARCOS, Mexic-Arte, One World Theatre, Austin ISD, and The Contemporary Austin answered the call. We needed support to buy guitars for kids who didn’t have them, to acquire the technology and personnel for high-quality streaming concerts, to sustain our vital programs, and our community stepped forward in a way we’ll never forget. Thank you.

 


Eric Pearson: Virtual Concert Wizard

“OK, we’re live in 5, 4, 3, _ , _ , _ .” 

Eric Pearson doesn’t say “2, 1, 0,” in order to avoid the possibility of broadcasting his voice right at the beginning of the live show. But everyone involved, from the emcee across town to the live performer across the country, have been trained and rehearsed in a minimum of four hours of tech rehearsals to know when to begin, to know which remote-controlled camera to look at, to understand when still slides and video assets will be played so they can take a break, tune, or blow dry their wet canvas so they can apply another layer of paint in the upcoming live segment.

The whole issue of audio bleed is a real one, because in spite of the amount of technology involved in these shows, it doesn’t always feel like an exact science. Eric has built high-powered custom computers that talk to a high-powered shippable on-site computer called a TriCaster, through which interfaces an array of cameras, microphones, audio gear, effects, and OBS software. That allows audio and video to be captured and mixed, more or less locally, piloted from another state, but also preserves the ability to “switch scenes” to Zoom where the emcee and other hosts appear, or to what is typically over a dozen premade videos, all before pushing the single stream out to YouTube where, nine to twenty-five seconds later, the audience sees and hears the result.

With so many systems talking to one another through the internet, which is variable in speed and stability, it’s best not to say “2, 1, 0,” at the end of your count down.

“Eric continually astounds me by what he brings to the table for each ACG production.”

Jess Griggs, ACG’s Director of Music and Community Engagement who has been on the production team for every show, commented.

“The quality of every performance is always better than the previous concert. I've worked in live sound, radio, television and in recording studios, and I can say with certainty Eric Pearson is the most hard-working and innovative person I've ever worked with for concert production. Without Eric our streams would not be possible.”

We wanted to dive deep. We wanted to learn a bit more about the technology and innovation that has made possible what will be, on December 12th, thirty live-stream experiences since the pandemic began. We also wanted to learn more about Eric Pearson, his story, and what led to the unique combination of skills, drive and resilience necessary to innovate and lead in a time of crisis.

The Technology

A great place to start is to watch Eric’s recent interview on GFAtv. He starts talking 35 minutes and 40 seconds in! In the video Eric sits at his “Command Center,” and discusses audio, video, lighting, and a range of other considerations in some pretty spectacular detail. He even controls the lighting temperature of the room from his cell phone. Pretty awesome. If you are considering creating your own live-stream concert events, this is the video for you!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTT2CDHxyBc

ACG Streaming Concert Technology

We asked Eric to share a bit about this whole experience, and the technology itself:

“The quarantine times surrounding this pandemic have required tremendous flexibility, we’ve had to pivot quickly. I recently asked Vern Graner, our Concert Technical Assistant, ‘Can you imagine another concert presenter being on the phone with an artist and their internet service provider at nine o’clock at night, guiding them through upgrading their service, because the show is teetering on the edge of not happening?’ There’s a lot of going beyond what most might consider reasonable expectations, but that’s the hallmark of creative innovation, especially now. It’s worth it to put in the extra effort to make our experiences magical.

“I wasn’t an expert in video or streaming production before February of this year. But I saw it was something I could do, because of my computer and recording background. When we needed to pivot to online productions I spent hours every week – and I still do – watching videos, tutorials, and reading e-books on everything from Open Broadcasting Software to changing aperture and iso settings on cameras. At the start of this interview I was switching over to the new computer I just built to better handle the streaming requirements for our shows. We’re doing things that no one else is doing. We’re pulling off shows—essentially with me and one other person in our homes—similar to much larger entities with production crews and trucks. People are trying to figure this out all over the country right now, and they’re really taking notice. I get emails at least twice a day asking for help.

“We have built two large flight cases. One is the Audio Network Box, and the other is the Video Box. The first box includes an MR-18 remote audio interface, Neumann KM-184 microphones, network gear, a Dell Optiplex micro-computer that runs the networking software, and has a virtual Windows Operating System so we can get in and deal with some of the networking and the audio patching. The second box has a NewTek video rig including a Pan-Tilt-Zoom Camera that’s totally remote-controlled, and a streaming box called a Tri-Caster. The Tri-Caster is industry-standard—ESPN, CNN, they all use Tri-Caster equipment—it allows us to control the cameras without being present. 

“The software is complicated, so I won’t get into all that detail, but Vern and I both have something called TailScale which is a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that basically creates a tunnel between us and the remote location and all our gear. For each show I also spin up a Custom Amazon Server (AWS) that acts as the mid-point for the stream. I pick up the “RTMP” stream at home using Open Broadcast Software (OBS) where I can add the other components like video and Zoom interviews. I’ve got a piece of hardware called a Stream Deck with 32 buttons, each of which takes me to a different pre-determined asset or video stream. So that allows for rapid switching between content. Finally, I stream the end-product out to YouTube for our audience to enjoy!

“What’s truly unique is that we have these mailable drop-boxes. Through a lengthy tech call with a local assistant, we can guide the set up. This solution has opened up new options in terms of what artists we can consider. We’re still limited to US locations, and people with high-quality and stable internet, but having this hardware means that we can work with anyone inside those parameters. And because we can control everything remotely, we don’t need to have a technical expert on hand – just someone who can plug some things in. We’ve been trying to make it as plug-n-play as possible, but if you look at the layout of cables in the Jiji picture, you can see it’s not quite as user-friendly as we’d like yet!

“I really don’t like things not working because we didn’t plan ahead. So we’ve got a second internet service, and we’ve got a person in another location who can pick up the stream in a couple of seconds and take over the show. He’s got the assets and the scenes, so we can finish a concert even if my power or internet goes down. I believe that if there’s something you can do, spend a little money, or prepare a little bit to prevent a foreseeable problem from happening, you should do it. In our case, it means we can preserve a beautiful experience for hundreds if not thousands of people."

https://youtu.be/_0AK4OgDZYI

 

Eric Pearson: The Early Years

At ACG Eric’s official title is Director of Curriculum. He’s a classical guitarist with a music education degree. A ten-year veteran of ACG Music Education, he has now stepped into this new role as our Virtual Concert Wizard. We wanted to learn more about Eric, and how he came to have such a unique ability to focus on minute detail while nurturing such a wide array of interests and abilities at exactly the same time. Here’s what we learned about his early years. 

“Both my parents were musical. My mother was an accomplished pianist, my father was really into the Beatles. He knew all the Beatles music, every Christmas was Beatles books or CDs or the next tell-all book by their limo driver! So I was aware of rock music, certainly the Beatles, and also Chopin’s piano music. A couple times my parents tried to get me to start guitar or piano, but I wasn’t interested until sometime in middle school. We had guitar in Ms. Curtain’s music class. Middle school is when you form your opinions on musical style, and everyone’s social clique starts to be defined by the music you listen to. I got really into the grunge and rock, so I started playing electric guitar. Sadly, Eddie Van Halen just passed away. I actually owned a guitar tab book for several Van Halen albums, before I even owned a guitar. So I was learning how to take that system of notation apart before I even had an instrument in my hands. When I got my first guitar at fourteen I learned Eruption right off the bat. 

“I added jazz guitar because I got interested in harmony and intricacy. Classical guitar actually came through Eddie Van Halen as well, because Spanish Fly and Cathedral feature nylon string guitar. So I was taking lessons with three teachers at the same time for a while. Then I figured that to continue studying music you probably had to do classical guitar, so I focused more on that. I was in a small town and it was hard to get people together for rehearsals, so classical guitar as a solo instrument was easier to practice anyway."

Eric Pearson: College

As we get into Eric’s college years it’s worth highlighting two aspects of the early story that seem to be predictive of the future. One is the mention of “taking apart” the system of tablature notation before owning a guitar, the other is the part about three lessons with three different teachers. Already, a voracious appetite for learning and the wherewithal to pursue it, were evident.

“I had been doing a lot of science, computer science, and engineering, and all the math available in high school, simultaneously. I remember when I went to community college program fair they had a folder for the Engineering Program and a folder for the Music Program. I picked up both. So I was in the physics laboratory at 6:30am everyday, doing my lab work – I made a special arrangement with the professor – because I couldn’t get there in the evenings when we had musical and band rehearsals. I was in six or more ensembles at that point. Because I was also the department assistant, I had keys to the facility. I was often there all night doing stuff in the recording studio. I was definitely into technology by then. I continued with physics, math, and sciences, and I was considering sound recording as a career pathway. But I was also interested in music education. I was really inspired by some of the teachers and mentors in my life, and I wanted to continue teaching.

“So it was all really up to scheduling! There was no way to do the recording major, and still make 8am music education classes. So I focused on education, and just spent a lot of time in the studios. I enjoyed helping out friends with their recordings, and we would check out the new gear at night in halls when no one else was around. 

“During all this I was also working for an organization called the Infinity Performing Arts program. I had been a student there in high school, and during community college and college, I taught 10-15 students and coached ensembles. My knowledge of Infinity spanned being a student, a private lesson teacher, an ensemble director, and eventually the Education Program Director. In 2008 our founder retired and I stepped in as interim Executive Director. It was wild for a year, learning how grants and budgeting and reporting works, but I knew every aspect of the program by then, so I was a logical person to step in.”

A Guitarist in a Non-Guitarist’s World

The intensity continued for Eric through graduate school. But a new important theme also emerges here, and that’s the relative lack of higher education pathways for guitar, especially with regard to music education. At the same time Eric was wrestling with this as a college student and prospective employee, ACG was publishing its classroom guitar curriculum online, GuitarCurriculum.com, and expanding the reach of its school programs. So the seeds were being planted for our pathways to converge.

“As a guitarist you’re not always a perfect fit in most music programs. They never knew what to do with me. Several weeks into my undergraduate degree they asked me what my primary instrument was. I told them “guitar,” and they replied, “Yes, but you need to have a teaching instrument, or direct choir.” I didn’t really have a band or orchestra background, but I had done a little bit of percussion, so I started taking lessons immediately to try and catch up on the years of experience that everyone else had. I don’t know how many classes and lessons I was taking at one time, but I think I had the most overloaded schedule at my undergrad, because I had to do like six percussion ensembles plus guitar, plus jazz, choir, and more. I was probably in twelve groups, with three to four hours of rehearsal a day. It was a lot, but it was a great experience. My point is that guitar is always the afterthought. So that makes it tough if you’re a guitarist, especially trying to do a music education degree. 

“There were no jobs in 2008 for a non-standard music school graduate in Western New York. There was no guitar in the state beyond a few individual programs. I’d see over a hundred applicants for a single teaching job. I had friends applying who were competing in the same pool with their own former music teachers.  It was obvious there wasn’t going to be a slot for me. 

“So I went to Ithaca College for graduate school. I had an intense graduate assistantship with a twelve-hour teaching course load. At the same time I was adjunct teaching at Cayuga Community College twice a week, and I was added to the roster to teach privately at Cornell.”

The Road to Austin

“In the summer of 2010, I had the good fortunate of going to Italy to study with Matteo Mela and Lorenzo Micheli in their summer festival. That was the same summer ACG hosted the Guitar Foundation of America in Austin. If I hadn’t gone to Italy, I probably would have been in Austin for GFA, since I had begun volunteering for GFA in 2009 for their Ithaca convention. Plus I wanted to visit Austin because people had told me by then that Austin had guitar teachers in public schools. That was a real eye-opening possibility for someone from the Northeast, because those programs with full-time guitar teachers just didn’t exist there. 

“A year later the GFA was in Columbus, Georgia. I was there helping out with stage direction, and I met Matt Hinsley. He was standing in line, waiting to register. I walked up and introduced myself. We had a conversation about guitar teaching and guitar in Texas, and he invited me to contact him if I wanted to learn more. So later that summer I reached out by email to see if there were any public school teaching positions in Texas, and his response was, ‘No, nothing we know of, but… we are looking for a part-time ensemble conductor for our adult groups. Would you be interested?’

“At the time, I was trying to put together several part-time jobs that would allow me to stay in Ithaca, so Matt’s offer got me thinking. I remember he asked, ‘How mobile are you? How quick could you get down to Texas?’ I told him I thought I could be on the road in three days. A friend helped me mount a hitch on my van, I loaded everything I needed, and started driving on August 10th, 2011.  

“I was in Oklahoma City getting gas when Matt called me and said, “Hey Eric, where are you?” And I told him. Then he asked, ‘How soon can you be in Austin?’ At that point we had not set a specific date. ‘Can you be here tomorrow morning?’ 

“I cut short the visit I’d planned with a friend in Dallas, left early the next morning for Austin, and drove straight to the ACG office where I met April Long, who was the Operations Director at the time. Everyone else, including Matt, was out of town, and a need had come up they hadn’t anticipated. So I just parked my van and trailer across several spots in the office parking lot, April drove me straight to my first teaching gig at St. Gabriel’s school, and I went to work!"

Austin Classical Guitar and Flexibility

Things happen fast at ACG, sometimes too fast! The organization has grown every year for twenty years. Creativity can be messy, showbiz is unpredictable, guitar education in public schools has been a bit like the wild west, and ACG has been on the frontier. So far in this story we’ve learned that Eric gets interested in things. When he gets fascinated by stuff he dives deep. He’s also no stranger to extremes and intensity. The messiness of ACG has provided endless opportunities for learning, innovation, and sometimes-wild extremes.

“Situations forcing flexibility, is definitely a theme in my life. I don’t know any other way to be. Because I’ve always been in situations where I’ve looked around, seen that something needed to be done, and noticed that no one else was jumping on it. I can think of many cases in school and in previous jobs where I’ve realized that—while I may not be the perfect person for a particular challenge—if I geared up and trained for it, then I could meet the need, be it grant writing, managing twenty-five teachers, or learning percussion. 

“You have a choice when you meet challenges. You can give up and do something else, or you can figure out what sort of training and self-learning you need in order to accomplish the thing. If I have any sort of pathology, it’s that I really don’t like giving up and failing. So if I have some resource to exchange for not failing, be it my sleep schedule, or time, or having to do ten different projects, or learn a new skill set, I tend to choose that exchange. Not since I worked in a restaurant in my teens, have I had a job where you just punch in, have people tell you what to do, and everything’s clear. It’s always been messy. I assume that’s often the case in the arts, and in education. The circles we’re in, and the career path we’re on, demands flexibility.”

Thank You Eric!

Thank you Eric! Austin Classical Guitar is a better organization for your knowledge, your flexibility, your innovation, your drive not to fail, and your insistence to deliver magical results. It’s safe to say we wouldn’t be the organization we are today without you.

And while this interview came about because of Eric’s heroic and singular work to develop our online streaming concert capabilities during this pandemic, we want to be sure and mention that—in addition to being a tremendous music educator—Eric is our Director of Curriculum and is primarily responsible for our two key online curriculum resources: GuitarCurriculum.com and our Braille lifelong learning resource LetsPlayGuitar.org.

We would like to take this opportunity also to say a special thanks to the Still Water Foundation, who gave an unexpected gift over the summer specifically to assist with our pivots to online concert presentation. Purchasing the gear Eric mentioned in this interview, along with hiring our support personnel, was made possible by that gift. 

Finally, we’d like to share our opening concert, from September, 26th, with maestro Pepe Romero. If you did not get to see the concert, or even if you did, we know you’ll love this magnificent experience, and be able to appreciate it even more, now that you know a bit about how it happened!

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rlvxy0-e-q0