Let's Listen: Grisha

We thought you might enjoy a little guided concert experience. ACG's major events through May 1st have been cancelled. But our next guest artist would have been the one and only flamenco sensation Grisha.

So here is a special playlist created by ACG Executive Director Matt Hinsley. When the time is right, we invite you to gather in your living room, pour a glass of wine or sparkling water with lime, and take a tour through some amazing music!

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7wuzEY0eIyDd77oe6vLTe3GBAXE90mNv


Interview: Clint Strait - Owner of Strait Music Company

Thanks to the generous support of our friends at Strait Music Company, we're thrilled to be able to offer FREE TICKETS to middle and high school students for all of our International Series concerts during the 2019-20 season.

On Saturday, we will be hosting International Acclaimed Guitarist, David Russell - and we will have a record number of students from Austin ISD and surrounding school districts in attendance. This is in large part due to Strait Music Company. 

Interested in the inspiration for the ticket program, ACG Development Associate, Ciyadh Wells, headed out into the field to talk with the owner of Strait Music Company, Clint Strait.


Ciyadh Wells: Since this business has been in your family for 3 generations, can you provide some background as to how this business started? 

Clint Strait: It’s actually crazy because we were at TMEA this past year and the theme of our booth was, “Set the Record Strait”. We did a 57 year museum-like timeline of Strait music company to tell the true story about this company. It was pretty cool. There were some instruments for instance, like this bugle on my desk that was my great grandfather's WW1 bugle. I never met my great grandfather, but he worked for a Lyons music company in Chicago.

My grandfather was in WW2 and when he came back he was living in Houston. I think he pestered this one guy enough to where he gave him a job selling pianos. So my grandfather was a pretty good salesman and back then the main piano franchises were Baldwin franchises. So he started selling those, and then he received the opportunity to open up his own franchise in Austin. Austin was a much smaller town back then - just a little college town. So he moved the family here and started Strait Piano and Organ. He had a bookkeeper, repair person, and he was the salesperson. That was it. That was pretty much the original staff. 

What happened is that the Beatles started playing Vox amps, and Baldwin Piano owned Vox amps. We were able to get them pretty easily. So we started selling amps and guitars, and that was pretty much our first expansion. Beatles exploded, guitars exploded along with it. Then we started getting into the band instrument business and then we just expanded over time. 

The 80’s happened and then we had big synths and keyboards and all that stuff. We really pride ourselves on being able to service everything that we sell in the store. So I have a full service repair shop . We’re really big into rock and roll stuff because this market supports that. The school, band, and orchestra side is a really big part of our business too. Rentals beginner rentals and yeah that is our music store. 

CW: Do you have a first memory or experience about Strait Music that you would like to share? 

CS: Oh man, definitely the store at 9th and Lamar. That’s the store I grew up at. So, honestly my first memories are of going to that store with my dad when the store was closed. We had an organ room, all those organs with all the buttons, and I would go back there and turn all the buttons on and just make noise. I was just banging on stuff to see what sounds they made and that’s kind of what I remember, the organ room. 

I spent a lot of time there with my dad when I was a little kid. Whether we were open or not open. I really liked it when we weren’t open because I could just go around the store and make noise on anything. Play the drums or whatever so that’s kind of my first memory. Also that store was next to the original Whole Foods and my dad gave me money and I would go next door to buy fruit leathers - that’s what I remember. 

CW: So you have some guitars on the wall in your office. Do you play guitar at all? 

CS: I do not. I am not a musician. There really aren’t a lot of musicians in my family. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing. It might not be a bad thing really and it’s been good for business I think. You know, I’m so passionate about music and I think even more so than a lot of people in my family. I am a crazy music nerd. I have an amazing record collection that I still add to on a weekly and monthly basis. 

Growing up I was super into music. I really identify with the different types of music that I listened to growing up. Like whatever music I was listening to at that time really defined that time in my life. Whether it was first when I got into Led Zeppelin, The Doors, The Dead and then going to college I was really into jam bands - so I would go on tour a lot and saw a lot of different bands in a lot of different places and now my musical taste is so wide open to hip-hop to jazz to whatever. 

So I’m really crazy passionate about music. I see it sometimes through a different lens as the owner of this store. I’ll see people on stage and think about what they’re playing and their gear set up. I've developed a good ear for sound quality and stuff. So it’s weird, I see it through a different lens. It’s a fun place to work and I get to see all these great musicians who come by the store. I definitely do not take it for granted that I get to work in an industry like this because it’s a really good industry to be a part of  and this is a fun place to work. 

CW: Where does music education and the Strait music tickets for kids start? Did you start lessons here? 

CS: So, we’ve never really provided lessons because the Austin School of Music has always been our partner. Dave started the school of music with one recital that was connected to our 9th and Lamar store. When we built out of the 5th Street store, we built out the school of music to be a part of us. So they have that entire side of our building - so Strait Music has never really provided lessons. For every iteration of this company and where we have been, the Austin School of Music has always been with us. 

From a music education standpoint, I have kids now and so I now have a much deeper understanding of what music can mean for children. Everything from confidence and cognitive abilities just everything, music helps them. I was into sports, and I had a lot of friends who were into music and went to college on music scholarships. I have friends that still play a lot of music now even though that’s not what they do now for a living. 

You know, music is a lifelong thing. It’s really amazing and just the impact it can have on a young child’s life, and through adolescence as well just for helping with everything and it’s really amazing. I’m on the board of directors of Kids in a New Groove. It’s an organization that provides mentorship through music to youth in foster care. So I get to see first hand what that impact is. So for the students, they have a dedicated music teacher that comes to them every week. Kids in that program have a 100% high school graduation rate compared to a much lower rate for kids who are not in these types of programs. So that alone, that stat to me, is mind blowing. I’ve really been subjected to the power of music through that organization. It’s amazing to see what those students can do. 

I also spent time on our industry the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) board of directors. I did a three year term as a board member of NAMM. Their motto is more to start, fewer to quit. And we feel that it is every child’s right to have access to music education. It’s our job to fight for that right. I grew up with great music programs, and there’s other parts of the world inside and outside this market where we just want to make sure that as a member of NAMM that those kids have access to a quality music education. And once again we know what that can do for children. So I’m very passionate about what music education can do for kids whether that be in the public education sector or privately. 

CW: How did you get involved with ACG? Where did that relationship begin? 

CS: I don’t remember where I got involved originally. Probably just meeting ACG’s Executive Director, Matthew Hinsley. As far as the Tickets for Kids program is concerned, it’s just a natural fit. To be able to provide the opportunity for these students to be able to go see these amazing performers is just amazing. I think Matt said the next show might have as many as 100 kids - that’s just amazing. Additionally, to be able to go see that quality of performer, to be inspired and to be able to take that inspiration back to your own life and your own practice, it can have an amazing effect. 

Even if only one of those kids is affected in a deeply positive way, whether it gets them to take that next step in their music playing journey is just awesome. So I am just really proud of that program, and that they thought it was really cool. I’m just so proud that we got to put our name behind it, because it’s going to give kids access to both directly through the Tickets for Kids program, but just being able to support ACG and being able to help to provide that access to kids is amazing. 

CW: What about Strait Music is uniquely Austin?

 CS: Well I think that Strait Music is the epitome of uniquely Austin. We’re a 3rd generation family owned business. We have been in Austin since it was so much smaller. My dad and I went to the same high school. When he went there, Westlake was finished being built and it was just a school far from everything. When I went there, I graduated with 600 people. Where houses exist now, there were just barb wire fences and ranches. And it's hard to imagine.

I think we’re helping keep Austin weird. We’ve always been a weird company. We have been forever. We’ve had to grow over time and we like to refer to ourselves as a professionally managed, family owned business. We’ve just grown so much that we’re not just a mom and pop shop anymore. We can’t run our business like that. Just alone in that 57 year business, Strait Music Company has bought out or absorbed 6 companies. Most recently, we bought Music Makers in 2013 and all of their employees are still here with the exception of 1 of them because he’s on tour with a grammy award winning band, but they're all still here. This past year we bought Violins Etc. and all their employees are still here. I have a brand new orchestral luthier shop with 2 luthiers. Their instrument manager is still here. 

So we’ve been able to grow and then also continue to support the musicians who are working at these companies that for one reason or another haven’t continued on. I identify myself as an Austinite and I can’t think of anything that is more uniquely Austin than Strait Music Company. I hear stories all the time of how someone’s family member or friend bought a piano from my grandfather. There’s a lot of history here. My grandfather's line, that we still use today, is where customers become friends. And we’ve been lucky enough to make a lot of friends and we hope to continue to make more with people from where and that move here. And we just do us really well. We have a deep rooted culture as a company that we will never lose sight of and that’s a culture that’s based on customer service. The customer always comes first. We’ve got the best and most knowledgeable people working for us. I think as an employer we take pretty good care of our employees and we’ve got people who’ve been here for 10, 20, 35 years.  We have just grown with this city, but we have kept our principles in tact.


Reflections on the Javier Niño Memorial Scholarship Fund

The Javier Niño Memorial Scholarship Fund at Austin Classical Guitar exists to honor the memory of a wonderful young man who brought joy through beauty and kindness to countless people during his lifetime, and to support young classical guitarists in Austin, Texas—through scholarship lessons and other means—who show great promise and who will benefit from access to expert instruction and mentorship.

As we come up on the first anniversary of Javier's passing, ACG is dedicating this year’s Amplify Austin campaign to this scholarship fund. We are hoping to raise the money necessary for the Javier Niño Memorial Scholarship Fund to become self-sustaining, ensuring that Javi's legacy will be carried forward by other talented young musicians in our community for years to come.

In this interview, Jess Griggs talks with Diane Skeel. The mother of one of Javier's friends and the amazing individual that started the Javier Niño Memorial Scholarship fund. 


Jess: How did you know Javier Niño? 

Diane: I met Javi because he and my son were both in the Classical Guitar program at McCallum High School. They met in English class as sophomores, when they were both new transfers into the Fine Arts Academy. Later, as they became better friends, my son would frequently talk about Javi at the dinner table.  I felt like I knew him, even though we had never met. During their senior year, I took their quartet to Mary Hardin-Baylor for a coaching session with Joe Williams. I had the opportunity to talk with Javi on that trip, and I instantly knew why Aaron thought so highly of him. I had one more chance to talk to him, in depth, later that year. We talked about the things he loved, like guitar, computers, and his friends. He  told me how happy he was for my son, having been accepted to the UT Classical Guitar program. I could hear, in his voice, how genuinely proud he was. 

Jess: What inspired you to start the scholarship in memory of Javier Niño?

Diane: Javi was an important friend of my son's, and they met because of their shared interest and talent in classical guitar. I was devastated by the news of his death, and I wanted to make something positive out of something so tragic. I couldn't imagine a better way than this scholarship.

Jess: Who do you hope to impact and help with the scholarship?

I want to honor Javi's memory by helping others, who like Javi, love classical guitar, and are interested in pursuing education beyond high school. Like Javi, they don't need to be interested in majoring in classical guitar. I want the recipients to reflect what made Javi a very special young man.

Jess: Why is the Javier Niño scholarship important to the Austin community?

Diane: It honors the memory of a remarkable young man, who, through classical guitar, hard work and determination, was able to make opportunities to create a better future for himself. And, by honoring his memory with this scholarship, we can help create opportunities for others like him.

Jess: What is your hope for the longevity of this scholarship?

Diane: I would love for this scholarship to outlive me, and to create opportunities for students for as long as  Austin Classical Guitar is part of our community.

Jess: Would you like to add anything?

Diane: I am so grateful that Austin Classical Guitar is dedicating the money raised during this year's Amplify Austin to the scholarship fund. If enough money is raised, I would love to be able to provide the recipients with a nice guitar, and maybe even some scholarship money for their future education pursuits.


If you would like to learn more about the Memorial Fund you can find that information here. Additionally, if you would like to contribute to the to the longevity of the scholarship, you can give via Austin Classical Guitar's Amplify Austin website

 


Sponsor Spotlight: Harlow Russell & Awesome 3D Cards

We’re super grateful to Harlow Russell of Awesome 3D Cards for his generous sponsorship of our UpClose Series concert featuring Mateusz Kowalski at the home of Chaya Rao on Sunday, February 2nd at 6pm (tickets). Guests will enjoy Chaya’s delicious homemade vegetarian Indian Food, and they'll also get to take home one of Harlow’s awesome cards! Harlow has a neat story, and we asked him to share some of it.


ACG: How did the idea of 3D cards come to you?

HR: I lived and worked in Asia for the last 25 years, most of my adult life. The last 4 years were in Vietnam. So, I was very familiar with the Vietnamese artform of "Kirigami". It’s like Japanese Origami, but distinctly different. Kirigami always takes the form of a pop-up gift or thank you card. It contains a 3D paper model inside the card that "folds." For many years I would always bring back the cool cards when I came home to visit my mother in Austin. In fact, she kept all those cards over the years and would frequently show guests at her house because they were so unique. Real paper art.

I moved back to the USA in 2018 and among other things I had to buy insurance. Once I finally settled on an agent he sent me a thank you card and said I was a VIP customer. The card was a plain white generic card. You know, the kind that come in a stack of 100 at the Dollar stores. I didn’t feel like a VIP with this card. Then it hit me!  What if he had a custom cool Kirigami card! That would be amazing and make me feel special. And I knew everyone always keeps these handmade Kirigami cards because they are totally unique. Hence...Awesome 3D Cards was born!

ACG: What is something you wish everyone knew about the artistry?

HR: The art and skill is the 3D model inside each card. It’s like a Jack in the Box. When people open any of my cards, they smile. They are amazed. They play with the cards. Gen Z or Boomer, male or female, CEO or house sitter, every single person who has received one of my Awesome 3D cards in the last 12 months has had a moment of joy and fun. That’s the special artistry of these custom handmade cards.

ACG: You make a lot of custom designs for people in Austin. Why is it important to you to make special things for our community?

HR: I first lived and work in Austin in the 1980's. Then I moved west to LA and west again until it became "East"...Jakarta Indonesia, 1992. I always remembered how wonderful Austin was as a young person. My mother retired from Philly to Austin in 1994. So for 25 years, I've been coming back "home" to Austin once or twice a year. In early 2018, I came back home to take care of her in her final chapter of life. I loved being back, to the Live Music Capitol of the World, to the BBQ scene, to the "keep Austin Weird" scene. 

When I decided to start my Custom 3D card business, I first produced two Austin-themed concept cards: our beloved, historic, State Capitol Building, and the “Bat Bridge” (Congress Ave. Bridge) - where people from all over the world come to watch our 2 million bats go out on the town every evening. These two cards also demonstrated the skill and fine detail of using Vietnamese Kirigami but in an "Austin" style. Now I create cards for companies and organizations in Austin and across the US and Canada. If you’d like to know more, email me anytime or call 512-571-1615.

 


'together' Artist Profile: Celil Refik Kaya - Composer

We are thrilled to be collaborating with some incredible artists for our January 24-26 season centerpiece together. Composer and guitarist Celil Refik Kaya has created a beautiful and moving new work for these shows: There Is Life In This Room. We asked Celil to tell us a bit about the process and a bit about himself. 


Austin Classical Guitar: Tell us about together? What has this project meant to you so far, has anything surprised you?

Celil Refik Kaya: I believe this project is very enlightening in an age that people are disconnected from each other. Today, we as a society are more disconnected than ever. When we think about a family, it is like the smallest country. Family members love, trust and support each other. We should achieve this as humanity as well. When I heard the interview with the young patient, it was one of the most touching things I have ever heard, and I dedicated “There is life in this Room” for her. The title is taken from her interview expressing her feelings and life in the hospital room. I believe the commissioned pieces that we will hear for this project will change the way people see each other, and will guide us to have superior empathy toward each other. 

ACG: What do you wish everyone knew about the process of creating, collaborating on, and sharing new music and new art?

CRK: Today new music and arts in general should be supported more. Performing, composing and sharing beautiful projects as artists are possible thanks to the support of people. People often don’t realize how important music is in our lives as a whole. It is everywhere—we almost don’t live a moment without it. New music and arts in general reflect our civilization, and people should realize how important this is not only for today but also for future generations. All the creation, collaboration and sharing process comes with a tremendous amount of work, practice and sacrifice just so we change people’s lives and touch people’s souls.

ACG: What’s it been like working with this team?

CRK: Working with the Austin Classical Guitar team is a wonderful experience. They are full of creative ideas and every project is meaningful and immortal in my opinion. I always think of an artist as a person of creativity rather than imitator or craftsman. Although we don’t create from nothing, the unique ideas come from an artist’s mind and this is what ACG is doing. Over the years, I enjoyed collaboration with Matthew Hinsley, Joe Williams and all my other friends in ACG team. I was able to express myself as composer and performer. 

ACG: Tell us a little about what else you have going on - how can people learn more about you?

CRK: I have a busy performing schedule while teaching classical guitar privately. For the future, I have 4 CD projects coming up with Naxos records. I will be continuing recording the works of Agustin Barrios Mangore, Jorge Morel and Carlo Domeniconi. Sometime around next year my 4th recording, the music of Joaquin Rodrigo, will be released. I am currently planning on publishing new works that I have written including Five Turkish Folk Dances for solo guitar, Dicle ve Fırat (Tigris and Euphrates) for trio and many others. My recordings are on Naxos Records and can be found on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify. Some of my compositions, recorded by me and my colleagues, are on Youtube. People can also visit my website for more information about concerts and other news.


If you would like to know more about the inspiration of 'together,' we invite you to read this article by Artistic Director, Joe Williams, and Education Director, Travis Marcum.


'together' Artist Profile: Isaac Bustos - Guitarist

We are thrilled to be collaborating with some incredible artists for our January 24-26 season centerpiece together. Guitarist Isaac Bustos has been with us since the beginning of this series playing in both i/we and dream, and many others. We asked Isaac to tell us a bit about this project and a bit about himself. 


Austin Classical Guitar: You’ve been part of this series from the beginning. i/we, dream, together. What’s it mean to you?

Issac Bustos: It has been a powerful experience to be part of each of these projects because of the profound impact each event has had on me as an artist and person. I/WE, in particular, hit so close to home because of how I related to the refugee experience expressed in the interviews. This short anecdote encapsulates how significant this concert was for me: I vividly remember that while working on the solo of "I am not afraid", I was overwhelmed by how perfectly Joe's music captured the message of the text! I remember how my own experience was guiding my phrasing, the way I breathed with the music, which colors to bring out, what kind of touch to use on the strings, how loud/soft to play. All these things, obviously, are always part of our interpretative process, but the fact that they were serving a greater purpose - at least from my perspective - made the whole experience much more meaningful. 

ACG: What do you wish everyone knew about the process of creating, collaborating on, and sharing new music and new art?

IB: The music, collaborative efforts, creation, and production of these new works of art reveal our humanity and how much we have in common. One of the most fascinating aspects of these events is the fact that most musicians involved in these concerts have never worked together! Somehow, however, the music brings us all together to serve a common purpose - which we in return share with audiences that have come to experience something new. This entire process takes open minds and hearts.

ACG: What’s it been like work with this team?

IB: Inspiring! The professionalism, dedication, and camaraderie are nothing short of exceptional. I have gotten to work with top-notch musicians in settings that allow the creative process to flourish. Plus, we get to share beautiful and impactful music. 

ACG: Tell us a little about what else you have going on - how can people learn more about you?

IB: This spring is full of exciting new adventures for me! I have concerts with the Texas Guitar Quartet in Feb, March, and April! In the summer, we are touring Mexico. Plus, I am hosting the Southwest Guitar Symposium and competition in March (13-15) as part of my new position as director of guitar studies at UT -San Antonio! Then, a solo show in Anaheim, California followed by a performance of the Concierto de Aranjuez with the Rapides Symphony in Alexandria, LA. Lots of music to be made and I can't wait to share it with people.

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If you would like to know more about the inspiration of 'together,' we invite you to read this article by Artistic Director, Joe Williams, and Education Director, Travis Marcum.


'together' Artist Profile: Alejandro Montiel - Guitarist

We are thrilled to be collaborating with some incredible artists for our January 24-26 season centerpiece together. Guitarist Alejandro Montiel has been with us since the beginning of this series playing in both i/we and dream, and many others. We asked Alejandro to tell us a bit about this project and a bit about himself. 


Austin Classical Guitar: You’ve been part of this series form the beginning. i/we, dream, together. What’s it mean to you?

Alejandro Montiel: I can’t believe this is the third and final one! It has all been building up to “together” - this idea that we are never alone. “i/we” dealt with the very real and terrifying act of uprooting your family to seek a better life for them. Through his harrowing story, our protagonist appealed to our shared sense of humanity. “dream”’s universal message of hopeful fear of the future in our youth successfully bridges across generations because we all share in the experience of growth, and we all remember how difficult it was (and in some cases still is). While I’m sad to see it end, “together” seems like the natural stopping point to the story Joe has been telling for the past three years. I’m so incredibly proud and fortunate to have played a small part.

ACG: What do you wish everyone knew about the process of creating, collaborating on, and sharing new music and new art?

AM: Birthing a new chamber work varies from one piece to the next. Sometimes the process is quite easy and will quickly comes together. Other times, it’s incredibly difficult and we’ll have to roll up our proverbial sleeves. Eventually, the piece reveals itself and the story begins to take shape. It’s during these “ah hah!” moments when I regain my sense of magic and wonder at the power of music - and it never gets old!

ACG: What’s it been like work with this team?

AM: It’s a bit like going to camp: I get to see old friends, make new ones, and then there’s a big performance at the end! For three years (four if you count “Persona”), the ACG team has had the difficult task of putting this production together and making it run smoothly. Their tireless professionalism never ceases to amaze and inspire me. 

Working with spectacular musicians is always a highlight of my year. In the past four years I’ve learned so much from Hakan Rosengren, Louis-Marie Fardet, Esteli Gomez, DaXun Zhang, Chris Lyzak, Ta’tyana Jammer, Travis Marcum, and Line upon line, but it’s two-thirds of the trio at the core of the pieces whom I’ve learned the most from. Jennifer Choi’s ability to do anything and everything on the violin is frightening, but so amazing to watch from five feet away. Isaac Bustos, my friend and Texas Guitar Quartet brother, is someone I always look forward to working with because he makes it ridiculously easy. Jenni and Isaac are two of a handful of people I’ve played with in the past 25 years who share in my musical sensibilities, and I’m incredibly lucky I get to perform with them. 

Of course, there’s Joe Williams. Every time he calls, I always say yes without asking what I’m doing. I know that whatever the project is, it will be beautiful, magical, and spiritually rewarding. It’s Joe’s vision we are bringing to life - his lead we are choosing to follow and believe in. I’m going to do my very best to help.

ACG: Tell us a little about what else you have going on - how can people learn more about you?

AM: This spring semester, I start my 11th year at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. In addition to being part of Conspirare’s world-premiere recording of Nico Muhly’s “How Little You Are”, the Texas Guitar Quartet has been hard at work on an album of new compositions which we hope to have ready by next year. I’ve been arranging a few pieces (one of which will be performed in “together”) which should yield some exciting new collaborations! I’m also traveling to Virginia, New Orleans, and Brownsville with the quartet as part of a few festivals and residencies, and we’re planning a multi-week summer tour of Mexico.

While I personally keep a very low online profile, people can learn a little bit more about my main project, the Texas Guitar Quartet via our website.

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If you would like to know more about the inspiration of 'together,' we invite you to read this article by Artistic Director, Joe Williams, and Education Director, Travis Marcum.