Interview: Matthew Lyons - Composer, Performer, Arranger

Matthew Lyons is an Austin based composer, performer, and arranger. Lyons was recently commission by the ACG Trio for their November 24th performance at Skyspace. In this interview, he discusses his compositions, and specific challenges and inspirations for the Skyspace piece. 


Earliest experiences in music? 

My earliest musical memory is listening to Beatles albums on cassette in the car - I had the albums memorized by color as opposed to name, so I’d say “Green one!” (perhaps that was Rubber Soul, for example).

I began studying guitar in 3rd grade. I took classical lessons, but wanted to be in a rock band. A pivotal moment was playing a song I wrote in the 5th grade talent show about my two Dachshunds, with my friend Chris playing rhythm guitar. When I ended the song by laying on the whammy bar (attached to the bridge of the guitar, moves the pitch up and down) all the other kids present thought that was just the coolest.

 

What led you into composition?

I’ve always written music, since I began taking guitar lessons. As my playing evolved, so did my compositional language. I chose to study classical guitar for my undergrad, but my teacher encouraged me to lean into composing more. After I developed a hand injury that made further classical guitar studies no longer an option, I decided to start studying composition at UT Austin, and quickly realized that I was on the right path.

Can you talk about some of the themes you explore in your music? Both as a composer and performer?

Each of my pieces tends to take on a different narrative - the only themes I can think of in my music are more abstract, such as a focus on colorful, jazz-inspired harmony, and themes and textures that both engage the audience while sometimes challenging them. It’s important to me that whatever might be interesting or engaging about my music is apparent on the surface. As a guitarist-composer, anything I write for guitar always has the intention of stretching the existing repertoire in some way. One thing I’ve experimented with recently is guitar and live electronics with a computer processing sound in real time.

What are some influences in your work? 

My favorite composers are J.S. Bach and Maurice Ravel, even though my music doesn’t sound at all like the former. Within the current climate of “classical music” (whatever that even means any more) I find myself gravitating towards composers and styles that are openly influenced by minimalism,”post-minimalism,” and/or popular styles. My favorite living musician is the jazz pianist Brad Mehldau - I listen to his music probably more than all other music combined. Something about it resonates with me - his integration of classical technique and form into original compositions and  jazz versions of popular songs (including Radiohead and The Beatles). The Beatles have always been my favorite band, and the charm of their music and personalities is something I can only try to emulate.

What are you hoping to accomplish with this composition in Skyspace? 

Just as the gazers’ focus in the installation shifts between the sky and the changing colors of the installation, I want the music to be on the threshold of attention, sometimes engaging the audience more and other times falling into the background of the overall experience.

How does the unusual venue inspire or shape your composition?

As I mentioned before, exploring colorful harmonies and the expressive relationship they create is one of my main compositional impulses. When I went to check out the space, experiencing the slowly shifting colors seemed to me like a great analog for slowly changing harmonic progressions. As someone who has music synesthesia, I associate certain colors with certain harmonies - not so much poetically as literally. The shifting colors of the sky - from brighter, to red, to dark blue - influenced the harmonic structure of the piece. 

What challenges does it present? 

Some practical issues include the fact that the piece is about a third the amount of time that the audience will be in the installation (although people can technically come and go as they please), and so when and how exactly to start and end will be unconventional for both audience and performers.


More information about SkySpace can be found on UT-Austin's website


ACG Global Services: Ravindra Paudyal - Kathmandu, Nepal

There’s no better way to describe Ravindra Paudyal than an absolute miracle worker. Internationally trained and accomplished, Ravindra began teaching at the Early Childhood Development Center in Nepal earlier this year and has already made a world of difference in the lives of his students.

In Nepal, resources are limited for children, especially those of incarcerated parents. According to UNICEF’s 2010 Nepal Child Poverty Report, over a third of Nepal’s 12.6 million children live below the national poverty line, and two in every five of them are severely deprived of at least two basic human needs. With life on the street as their only alternative, many Nepali children are forced to accompany their mothers to jail, since caretakers in the area are few and far between. Nepalese law permits children to stay in jail with their incarcerated mothers only until they reach the age of five, at which point relatives usually assume custody. Unfortunately, in many cases there are no relatives available to take care of these children, ultimately leaving them helpless and homeless. 

That’s where ECDC comes in. Their mission aims to ensure incarcerated mothers have more control over their children’s fate, working tirelessly to supply each and every child with the resources necessary to shape their ideal future. With the help of Ravindra and the rest of their team, ECDC offers these children something they could never get in prison: the chance to be a kid. Through the power of music, children who were once in a seemingly impossible position are given a fresh start, finally able to enjoy their childhood.

Ravindra leads classical guitar classes every week, using ACG’s resource GuitarCurriculum.com to teach his students how to play and perform. For them, music is more than entertainment, it’s a rare privilege that becomes a source of great pride when they learn how to create it themselves. 

Ravindra Paudyal

“They want to show their ability and enjoy themselves in the field of music, and as a result, they find their dreams here,” Ravindra explains. 

Much like the children he teaches, Ravindra’s own upbringing largely shaped his future in music. “My older brother was a very good musician, until all of a sudden he became very ill and his kidney stopped working. At the hospital, he held my hand and told me, ‘you must learn music, because I don’t think I’ll get the chance.’ It was very hard for me to hear those words. Then one day he passed away. Our house, once full of musical sound and melody, suddenly turned into grave silence. These circumstances are what inspired me to learn music.” 

Slowly but surely, Ravindra began practicing guitar by himself.  “I couldn’t help but feel like the soul of my brother was imbedded in me. I felt like his dream was leading me,” he recalls. “Since then, I’ve realized just how much my instrument means to me. My guitar became a friend that led me to celebrate in joy, counseled me and supported me during my sorrows.”

Teaching guitar allows Ravindra to do the same for his students. “My greatest wish is to produce brilliant classical musicians through ECDC, so that they can make a living on their own after they leave the program. Beyond that, I hope to produce future teachers through ECDC so that they can teach the next generation of musicians.” 

He insists that ACG has made it all possible. “Working with ACG is truly gratifying because of their heartfelt intentions and their prolific direction of creating skillful musicians by providing quality education purely based on non-profit social work. They provide countless opportunities to a lot of skilled classical musicians, which drives me to be truthful and dedicated in my work. Because of this, I’ve been fortunate enough to enhance the lives of so many children.”


From the Desk: Eric Pearson - Director of Curriculum

From the Desk is an Austin Classical Guitar (ACG) and GuitarCurriculum.com series that explores the organization through the eyes of the staff members. These articles focus on the staff’s thoughts and motivations, and hopefully provides a chance to get to know the people behind the scenes.

This week’s From the Desk is written by ACG and GuitarCurriculum.com’s Director of Curriculum, Eric Pearson.

A native of western New York, Eric had previously served as Executive Director of the Infinity Performing Arts Program, Inc. and taught at Ithaca College and Cayuga Community College. He is a frequent clinician at state and national meetings for music educators, including conferences hosted by the Texas Music Educators Association, the National Association for Music Educators, and the American String Teachers Association.
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It’s an exciting time for GuitarCurriculum.com!

This summer we made some major updates to the website, including a whole new look and layout. We also added over 20 new solos, 10 new recordings, and several pieces submitted by guest composers using our new share music page!

We are always looking for ways to make this resource more robust and easily accessible for your use in the classroom. Just this week, we have begun adding model performance videos to the score landing pages of our ensemble arrangements. Check out this one featuring an ensemble led by our frequent guest clinician, Chuck Hulihan. If you would like to share an outstanding performance of one of the GuitarCurriculum pieces, please reply to this email, or post to the forum with permission to use your clip!

We have also been hosting a series of live webinars on a variety of topics submitted by users and teachers around the world. If there’s a topic you’d like us to cover, or if you would like to join in on the conversation, please reach out and let us know!

In the coming weeks we will be releasing new arrangements of traditional music from Mexico, revised course packets, new elementary materials and even arrangements of Turkish music by our guest composer, Celil Refik Kaya.

Ultimately, this resource is a reflection of what teachers like you have expressed a need for over the years. We thank you for the opportunity to grow in this journey together, and to help serve the developing young musicians in your classroom.

Keep in touch and please share what cool projects are going on in your part of the world!

- Eric Pearson

P.S. We’ll be at the New York State School Music Association conference in Rochester, NY in December. Stop by our booth and say hello if you’re there!

 


Postcards: Jennings Junior High - Jennings, Missouri

Postcards is an Austin Classical Guitar (ACG) and GuitarCurriculum.com series that explores the guitar programs around the nation and strives to bring the guitar teacher community together. 

This week’s Postcards is written by James McKay, Music Educator at Jennings Junior High in Jennings Missouri. McKay discusses the expressive and therapeutic benefits of playing guitar in this Postcard.

 


Jennings Jr. High Postcard

James McKay

Here in a little town called Jennings Missouri, some really incredible things are happening. Tightly tucked away between St. Louis (Top 10 most dangerous U.S. cities) and Ferguson (known for the national attention it got from the Mike Brown incident), music has been used to impact the lives of youth who once have and continue to experience trauma.

Students playing guitar at Jennings Junior High. For a region of this size, the Jennings School District is fairly small. It's comprised of three elementary, one junior, and one high school. In 2014, I piloted a string program that has now blossomed to cover all five buildings. All students started on violin and later, when given a chance, moved on to viola, cello, or double bass. I began to notice that some of the students weren't taking music classes purely for the love of music. Some attended because of what the course did for them - relaxation. On several occasions, when asked about the class, students repeated responded,

"Playing music relaxes me, I feel calm."

Fast forward to 2017, my life was impacted by a visit to the workshop hosted by the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society. A wonderful gentlemen from Austin Classical Guitar introduced me to GuitarCurriculum.com, and immediately, I was SOLD ON the idea of a non-guitarist having the ability to teach classical guitar effectively. Three years later, we have 27 middle schoolers playing guitar and playing several performances throughout the school year. Thanks to the ongoing support from the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society, I can grow my program to scale.

The blessing in disguise here is, some of the students who signed up for the violin ended up falling in love with classical guitar. Our students now have expanded choices for music that helps them to not only express themselves but also enjoy the therapeutic benefits of playing music.


We’d love to hear about guitar in your part of the world next! Reach out to Jess Griggs anytime with your story and a photo or two.


Postcards: Internal Creations - New York City

Postcards is an Austin Classical Guitar (ACG) and GuitarCurriculum.com series that explores the guitar programs around the nation and strives to bring the guitar teacher community together. 

This week’s Postcards is written by Internal Creations’s (IC) Founder and Executive Director, Jahzeel Montes. IC is a New York-based “classical guitar program dedicated to empowering youth through music education while providing a safe, nurturing, family based learning environment centered on expanding the student’s knowledge in music and decision-making.” 

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Community Service Through Music

Jahzeel Montes

As a music organization, we must remember that all our work is to improve the quality of life for the communities and people we serve. In December, Internal Creations’ students performed Christmas songs for the residents, community members, local merchants and elected officials of East New York at Cypress Hills-Fulton Senior Center. This brought joy to the audience. Many of whom had never been exposed to a classical guitar ensemble. In return, the audience members and elected officials gave each student who performed citations for their community service!

That same month we performed at St. John's Bread and Life soup kitchen in Brooklyn. The performance took place while guests were waiting for their pantry order. Some of the audience members came up to learn how to play a song on the guitar! They loved the experience, and it bought smiles and confidence to their life in a matter of a few minutes. Later on, our students even helped prepare the food orders - working until near closing time. Through this experience, the young performers learned the beauty of giving back and how great it feels to help others who are in need.

Our students also performed an interactive concert at a Montessori School. We played children’s songs and the young audience was encouraged to sing along. The performance was followed by a Q&A, where the children asked the students about guitar, music, and their experiences. Our students then worked with the young children on educational games, and learned about what it takes to become a teacher in the pre-k settings. 

Lastly, when our students have gone into senior centers, it has not only been about the performance. It has been about the exchange of skills, ideas, and stories. Often, IC students take the initiative to teach the seniors how to play. Additionally, the students listen to the seniors’ stories and get inspired by their life experiences.

When students go into a soup kitchen, senior center, or a school to perform, it's not only about playing the guitar - it's about sharing and helping out with the work needed for their mission.

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Internal Creations approaches every community space trying to answer the question - how can we enhance our community through music? By creating meaningful performances, the organization inspires both the young musicians and the audience members. In turn, bringing people together through art, love, and respect. 


First Javier Niño Scholarship Awarded

Javier Niño

Javier Niño was wonderful young man who brought joy through beauty and kindness to countless people during his short lifetime. He was an excellent student, an inspiring musician, and a great friend to many. Javier graduated high school as a distinguished member of the McCallum Chamber Guitar Ensemble under the direction of Andrew Clark, and for years he worked closely with ACG team members Joseph Palmer and Jeremy Osborne. 

With the help of the Skeel/Baldauf family, Diane, Larry and Aaron, and many friends and supporters, we at Austin Classical Guitar honor Javier’s legacy through the Javier Niño Memorial Scholarship Fund. You can learn more about Javi’s fund, read comments from friends, and contribute, online here

 


Today we are pleased to announce that our first recipient of the Javier Niño Scholarship is Elijah Melodic Flores.  Elijah began studying guitar with Phil Swasey at Bedicheck Middle School. Currently, Elijah is a junior in the Crockett High School guitar program under the direction of Ron Hare. 

As a Javier Niño Scholarship award winner, Elijah will receive a new instrument, weekly lessons, and various performance and enrichment opportunities in the coming year.

We asked Elijah about his start with guitar.

Elijah Flores

“I started playing classical guitar when I was 11 years old at Bedichek Middle School. I was drawn to guitar after listening to my dad as a child. The main reason I wanted to join a music program was because of my dad. He wanted me to have a productive outlet for my energy.

Before I started Middle School, I struggled with focus and I was very hyper and uncontrolled. I would frustrate my teachers because I would never sit still or stop talking. I remember my very first day walking into guitar class feeling excited and a little scared when I met my first guitar teacher, Mr. Swasey. He was very nice and charismatic and helped me to feel comfortable along with the other students in a friendly environment.”

 

Phil Swasey had this to say when he heard the news. “Congratulations to Elijah on this amazing honor, I'm very proud! It was my pleasure to work with him for three years at Bedichek Middle School, and watching his musical development in that short span of time was inspiring. Every morning as a 6th grader he was in my room practicing with the 8th graders to learn their music, and every year after seemed to develop exponentially motivated by his thirst for music. I'm confident that Elijah will flourish with the resources granted to him through the Javier Niño Scholarship and conduct himself in the spirit of this generous opportunity.”

As for the future, Elijah had this to say. “My goal for my 6th year playing guitar is to try my best to perfect my technique, learn more challenging music, compete in more competitions, and build my auditioning repertoire for colleges. My dream with guitar is to create my own music and be able to record and edit it. This applies to any instrument; I want to learn it all.

Classical guitar has changed my life and will always be valuable to me. It takes a lot more effort and commitment to learn such a beautiful style of guitar than to just strum chords of play riffs, and I’m proud to call myself a classical guitarist.”


together

together is our guiding principle this year, it's what we're calling the whole season. together is also the name of our January concert -- the next step in our series of artistic explorations that began with i/we, and continued last year with dream.

We asked our Artistic Director Joseph Williams, and our Education Director Travis Marcum, to share their thoughts about together, and this is what they said:

One of the greatest challenges of our time is isolation. Whether we are cut off from one another by technology, addiction, health, or dogma, this separateness can make it difficult to see beyond the moment, beyond ourselves. 

As a theme for our season, together is about disrupting the pattern of isolation and fostering belonging. 

It is about meeting people where they are, and exercising the power of music to create a space for shared experience and beauty. It is a movement - a call to action to notice the distance between us, to dissolve social borders and build community.

together is a year long community effort spanning our upcoming season, and it is a new concert project that will be premiered January 2020.  Like our community-centered concert projects dream and i/we, we are asking people to share their experiences in their words so that we can all listen, bear witness, contribute our own voice, and learn.

Travis and I have been talking with people across the Austin community in hospitals, senior living facilities, shelters, and in homes. We have asked the questions: How are you alone? How do you belong? What are the times in your life that have pulled you to the fringes, resulting in isolation? What brings you closer to others? What are your experiences of unambiguous love and support that have made you feel one with your community, your world? 

The ACG Youth Orchestra.

Last Spring, Travis had the opportunity to work with a young woman at Dell Children's Hospital through ACG's Music & Healing Program as she was preparing for the latest of many major surgeries.  You can read about a very special day with her here.

When asked, how do you belong? She said: 

"There is life in this (hospital) room. I can see colors. I can hear my mom say I love you. I can taste, and I can hear laughter. I can hear the guitar. Even if I am stuck between these four walls and I can't move, there is life in this room. And I belong because I have a purpose. That purpose is gratitude. My purpose is to help people like they have helped me. As a person with a disability, I am an outcast. But I believe I can help people love themselves."

One of the songs from the Music & Healing program:

together is a collective celebration of our differences and an opportunity to marvel at our sameness.

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Do you have thoughts you might like to share about how you are alone, or how you belong? Join our discussion on FaceBook or email us!

Most of all, we invite you to be together with us, and we welcome your suggestions any time for how we can better include individuals in our community in meaningful ways -- especially individuals experiencing isolation.


Ryan Runcie: Studio Artist, Muralist, and Instructor

We are thrilled that Ryan Runcie will share an exhibit of his extraordinary artwork as part of our season opening concert with Xuefei Yang on Saturday, October 5th at the Austin ISD Performing Arts Center.

The lobby exhibit will open at 6:30pm. Beginning at 7pm, ACG’s Artistic Director Joseph Williams, and our Education Director Travis Marcum, will lead our Let’s Connect discussion in the Blackbox Theater, and Xuefei’s performance will begin at 8pm in the main hall. Also in the lobby will be delights from our Season Partner in Deliciousness, Edis Chocolates!

Information and tickets are online or call us any time at 512-300-2247.

Ryan Runcie is a busy guy.

He’s got 8 public murals around Texas—including two new ones in Austin at Penney Lane Bar and Blackshear Elementary School. We first met him in a discussion around a show he’ll present soon at Umlauf Sculpture Garden, and when we caught up with him to talk about working together, he was on his way back from installing an exhibit in Killeen.

Our theme at ACG this season is together. Joe Williams and Travis Marcum recently explained it like this:

“One of the greatest challenges of our time is isolation. Whether we are cut off from one another by technology, addiction, health, or dogma, this separateness can make it difficult to see beyond the moment, beyond ourselves. As a theme for our season, together is about disrupting the pattern of isolation and fostering belonging.”

Ryan Runcie’s art is captivating. When we learned more about why he makes the art he makes, it resonated even more deeply with us—with together—and we knew we wanted to work with him.

Jasmine's Purpose - Ryan Runcie

Runcie explains on his website: “My portraits revolve around my intention for social and racial reconciliation. To move past a mere tolerance of others, we must cultivate a higher sense of empathy for other cultures. A healthy self love allows us to see others and understand that we can be different and still exist together. By allowing this for each other, we may act more freely as our desire to judge and condemn fades, hopefully, allowing others to do the same.”

Resolve - Ryan Runcie

When we asked Ryan about the intersection of life and art he replied:

“For my personal art practice, I veer from the standard artist. I do not only create in one style because I do not only process one emotion, one concept. I am human. I change and grow with my work through what I would define as an honest pursuit.”

You can learn about Ryan Runcie and see more of his artwork on his website. We are so excited that he and his works will be present for Opening Night of our International Concert Series, be sure to come early, visit with him, and experience his beautiful artistic vision.


Javier Niño

Javier Niño was an exceptional young man and talented guitarist from Austin, Texas whose life was cut tragically short in February, 2019. "Javi" brought joy through beauty and kindness to countless people during his lifetime. In his honor, ACG established the Javier Niño Memorial Scholarship Fund, which will provide promising young classical guitarists in Austin with free lessons, mentoring, and other support to help them advance in their studies and realize their potential.

To contribute to the fund, or learn more about it, please click here.


Jeremy Osborne grins when he recalls the first time he met Javier.

“Javier came into the guitar class at Eastside Memorial High School as an underclassman, wearing a leather jacket and Iron Maiden t-shirt. He had taken some lessons and already identified as an electric guitarist, which sometimes caused a bit of head-butting because we were teaching classical.”

Javier’s enthusiasm for guitar soon skyrocketed, and he became a sponge for everything the guitar community offered.

His initial skepticism quickly dissolved into “soaking up everything we were giving him. He became intrinsically motivated, and one of the best guitarists at Eastside.”

Along with Eastside's guitar director, Meghan Buchanan, Jeremy realized that Javier was progressing at a rate that would soon exceed what the school's guitar program could offer. They thought he should set his sights on a place where he’d be able to flourish, and encouraged him to audition for McCallum Fine Arts Academy.

Javier ended up winning that audition, and joined McCallum's award-winning guitar program. Under the direction of Andrew Clark, Javi thrived at his new school, quickly distinguishing himself among some of the most talented young guitarists in the city. But he never forgot those early teachers who saw his potential and helped him succeed. Jeremy has fond memories of running into Javier at district guitar functions over the next few years, where they'd catch up with each other and have long conversations about music.

Eventually, Javier began studying privately with Joseph Palmer, ACG’s Performance Engagement Artist and a highly accomplished soloist.

Joseph was amazed at the persistence with which Javi approached guitar. “His development as a musician was remarkable. As I began to witness his eagerness to learn and his quick rate of progression, we would set bigger and bigger goals. He would always rise to the challenge and push himself further.”

Joseph was also struck by Javi's unique and gentle spirit, his sincerity, and his great sense of humor.

“Even when he would struggle, it was met with laughter instead of frustration. I'll always remember how much we laughed in our lessons. He was such a joy to work with.”

A few months before he passed, as part of a writing assignment for school, Javier wrote a speech honoring the impact Joseph Palmer had on his life. The sincerity of his words and the affection he felt for his teacher are obvious, and especially poignant in retrospect.

“Have you ever seen anyone so good at what they do that you can’t blink once in case you miss something? I would like to present the "Best Classical Guitarist Player of the Century" award to Joseph Palmer. He was the one person in my teens that had as much influence on me as Beyonce or Kanye might to someone else.
Joseph Palmer with Javier (2nd row, second from right) and his Eastside guitar class
I remember the first time I saw Joseph play. I only came to his concert because I tagged along with a friend. I thought that guitar was pretty lame and old. When he started playing, I knew he was something special! I have never in my life seen someone as passionate about their craft. It has changed my expectation of the word passionate.
After seeing Joseph play, I was inspired to pick up the guitar. I decided to give it my all and be just as cool as him. I even started taking guitar classes in high school. I ended up coming in contact with Joseph later, and he took me under his wing as one of his students.
Becoming his student taught me how to be disciplined. It was hard, but I had so much enthusiasm to become a better guitarist that over time I was able to develop discipline. I also applied the strict discipline of practicing guitar to my schoolwork.
I always strived to be as good as him. I admired how amazing Joseph played and how easy he made it seem. It helped me understand what determination is and how to pursue it. Have you ever wanted something so badly that you are willing to set everything aside just to accomplish that goal? That’s exactly how much I wanted to become a great player, and I established my determination to do so. Being passionate, disciplined, and determined can go a long way, not just for me, but for anyone.”
Javier and his mother, Courtesy of Texas Standard

Javier’s positive attitude toward guitar reflected back to him in the form of more opportunities and space for success. Jeremy greatly admired the symbiotic relationship Javier established with his community.

“We were able to surround Javier with resources to unlock his potential. He gave himself over to the community of guitarists he was part of, and in turn, the community gave everything to him.”

Javier could have gone on to pursue a music degree in college, but instead entered St. Edward’s University to study computer science. “He took the legacy of his family up a notch, as far as economic opportunity, by pursuing such a practical field. That’s the tragedy of all this: it wasn’t just that he’d figured out his potential for guitar, it was like everything just clicked for him, and he became more adult than his peers, more willing to accept opportunities.”

Jeremy is proud of ACG for motivating students to achieve great things in any field, not just guitar. “We try to facilitate that - it’s part of our mission.”

“It doesn’t matter if students become professional concert guitarists or not, it’s the fact that they’re able to take the arts and create it at a deeper level for themselves.”

Javier’s absence has left a void in his community, and Jeremy has a final word regarding life going forward.

“A hopeful thought amidst the tragic loss of it all is that this gives you purpose in a way: it connects you with the people close to you. It’s tragic that he’s gone, but the people left are now so close-knit because of this. [His community] will live their lives with a sense of reverence for the friend they lost. Little daily triumphs will be dedicated to Javier.”


Fall 2018 Education Report

Dear Friends,

2018 has been another remarkable year in ACG Education. We are grateful every day for the unique opportunities we have to connect with children and adults across the globe through music.

Before 2001, music education in U.S. schools was primarily focused on choir, orchestra, and band. Our work these last 17 years has been to build deep, thoughtful, and advanced systems, from curriculum, to training, to assessment, to direct and adaptive services, all to add guitar as a rigorous option for engaging in the arts.

Guitar is easily the most popular instrument in the world, and our classroom-based model for teaching it has enabled schools and teachers to joyfully engage tens of thousands of new and different students in meaningful fine arts study – not in one-time or short-term engagements, but in years-long, deeply enriching educational endeavors.

On behalf of everyone at Austin Classical Guitar, we thank you for your support of our services, and for your belief in the power of music to positively change lives.

I hope the updates you find in this report will make you proud.

 

 

Matt Hinsley, Executive Director
Austin Classical Guitar


1) Let's Play!

CURRENT: We began our services at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) in 2010. Our partner teacher, Jeremy Coleman, converted our core curriculum into braille in 2012, and began a literacy-based approach to music instruction on the guitar at TSBVI.

In 2016, we realized that while our program at TSBVI was providing their students quality guitar instruction with impressive results, there was a lack of resources to support lifelong learning on the guitar for our students at TSBVI and other members of the low-vision community around the world.

We began an 18-month, $75,000 project to create an online resource that would offer a collection of graded, sequential solo guitar pieces, each with its own complementary set of audio and braille literacy guides. The site, called Let’s Play!, launched in early July, and within weeks was accessed by over 4,000 users in 20 countries.

One of them, Hendrik, wrote to us:

“I am a blind adult with an interest in playing classical guitar. In South Africa, there are not many teachers willing to take on the challenge of such a task. I am writing to thank you from the bottom of my heart for creating this resource and making it available to people like me.”

Explore Let’s Play!
Watch a KVUE News Story & meet three of our TSBVI guitar students

FUTURE: Let’s Play! currently guides learners through five “levels” of study. In the months ahead, we will be adding content to support two additional levels of study. Our goal is that by the time students have mastered all seven levels, they will have acquired the skills and music literacy necessary to begin exploring a large body of parallel literature without further core technical instruction. From our standpoint, this will be a significant milestone towards our vision of a true lifelong learning resource. Future development phases will focus on advanced skills and expanding the music library.


2) Central Texas

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CURRENT: We have been very encouraged by the progress of our programs in three nearby districts. In Manor ISD, Decker Middle School just brought on Victor Longoria, one of our teaching artists, as a full time guitar instructor, and our curriculum is now being taught to students in general music classes at both Decker Elementary and Oak Meadows Elementary Schools. In Del Valle ISD, ACG’s Arnold Yzaguirre is teaching for-credit guitar classes after school. And in Dripping Springs ISD, we’re supporting a new high school program led by our partner teacher, Charles Cavanaugh.

All of these programs ended the semester with successful concerts this December.

FUTURE: We anticipate growth in all three of these districts, especially Manor. We also anticipate expanding our reach through new relationships in places like Hutto and San Marcos. The rising cost of housing in Austin is driving more and more families to outlying communities, which in turn is leading under-resourced school districts in those communities to seek our services.

Victor Longoria leads Decker Elementary School students in a performance of Jingle Bells, December 19.

3) Austin & District Infrastructure

CURRENT: Austin ISD is going through a volatile period, and with ACG-supported programs spread throughout the district, our services are widely impacted. At the heart of near-term and long-term challenges are well-publicized district funding decisions that affect all elements of AISD – including fine arts and guitar.

We are seeing challenges resulting from enormous class sizes, last-minute decisions to add or remove classes, unstable registration, and teacher assignments spread across two and sometime three campuses. Responding to these challenges has required new levels of support from our staff and teaching artists

Even in this environment of uncertainty, we have seen stability and notable growth in a number of programs. We are funding significant efforts at certain campuses where we believe there is unique need or opportunity, including LBJ/LASA High School, Travis High School, Martin Middle School, and Mendez Middle School.

We continue to focus on promoting district-wide standards and assessment. In April, ACG’s education team led the fifth annual District Concert and Sight-Reading Contest, which included 44 student ensembles with 608 total student participants. Other districts in Texas, such as El Paso, Houston, Odessa, Brownsville, and Killeen, are currently working toward piloting similar events with the help of ACG and our affiliates.

Our staff also assisted with the All-City and All-Region Ensemble concerts in November. These auditioned ensembles bring together top students from around the district to play together, help with setting standards, and celebrating achievement. ACG’s Matt Hinsley and Joe Williams conducted the Middle School and High School All-Region Ensembles at this year’s event.


4) Free Lessons Initiative

CURRENT: Six ACG teaching artists are currently providing free individual lessons for 34 students with financial need every week at Bedichek Middle School, and at Travis, McCallum, Akins, and Reagan High Schools.

We’re particularly proud that 16 of our free lessons recipients participated in this year’s All-City/All-Region Ensembles, including eight out of the 20 high school students selected for the top All-Region Ensemble.

FUTURE: We are currently developing a framework for a new kind of community presence we call Pro-Social Ecosystem. We aim to empower our students to serve their community with music, thereby benefiting both themselves and their community. Among other things, we expect our Free Lesson recipients to be involved in service projects ranging from performances in retirement homes to mentoring younger students.


5) Juvenile Justice

Jeremy and Javier after the Sunday, Dec. 9th concert

CURRENT: We’re very excited about our former student Javier Saucedo, who we met as a junior at Akins High School a few years ago. Javier received an ACG scholarship to attend Austin Community College, and then transferred to Texas State, where he earned an undergraduate degree in music. He’s now on our education team as the new guitar director at the Travis County Juvenile Justice Center. With support from ACG Assistant Director of Education Jeremy Osborne, Javier is doing a fantastic job, and just led his students’ first public recital on December 9th.

FUTURE: We’ve had several inquiries, from St. Louis to New York, about assisting other communities to build similar programs for incarcerated youth. Here in central Texas we are working toward two types of program expansion: the first is to build a new program in Williamson County, and the second is to launch services for court-involved youth who are not incarcerated as an intervention model to be included in their probation case plans.


6) Musical Wellness & The Lullaby Project

CURRENT: The Lullaby Project has continued to grow. Lullaby artist Claire Puckett has joined our existing team of Arnold Yzaguirre and Travis Marcum, and our institutional partners include Any Baby Can, Travis County Jail, and Dell Children’s Medical Center. In the video below, ACG Lullaby Artist Arnold Yzaguirre performs a lullaby with Jennifer, one of the moms he worked with through our partnership with Any Baby Can. You can learn more about Jennifer’s story here.

Our work at Dell Children’s Hospital is expanding beyond the Lullaby Project to include services individually tailored for children in long-term care scenarios.

The most significant new development is a formal partnership with the CALM Clinic of the Livestrong Cancer Institutes at the UT Dell Medical School, where Travis Marcum has been working to design music services for patients. One of the program’s components will be collaborative songwriting. To explore how this might work, Travis met over several months with Christina, a volunteer who serves on the Young Adult Advisory Council for the CALM Clinic.

Christina is a loving mother, wife, biologist, computer programmer, and athlete living in Austin. She’s also a seamstress extraordinaire, with a lifetime of experience knitting and quilting beautiful textiles for her friends and family. She received her cancer diagnosis 3 years ago, and has been undergoing treatment at MD Anderson in Houston ever since.

FUTURE: We anticipate services being available to patients at the CALM Clinic in spring 2019. We will continue to train and grow our Lullaby artist team, because demand far outweighs our capacity to provide these services.


7) National Programs

As of this writing our online curriculum resource has 773 active users across the United States. To provide insight into the kinds of things that are happening with our national partners, we asked several of them to share brief updates.

Cleveland, Ohio

CCGS students at Guitar Day at Cleveland Institute of Music in March 2018, where they took classes with CIM faculty and performed in CIM’s iconic Mixon Hall.

Cleveland Classical Guitar Society (CCGS) is dedicated to creating life-changing experiences for Cleveland’s kids. The city of Cleveland has the second highest child poverty rate for mid- to large-sized cities in the U.S., and combined with cuts to the arts in schools, it means many kids in Cleveland have no opportunity to learn to play an instrument. CCGS has built free guitar classes using Austin Classical Guitar’s GuitarCurriculum.com for 250 students each year and growing, and over 10% of these students also get individual lessons. One of these students, 10th grader Damian Goggans, was accepted into a fellowship at the prestigious Cleveland Institute of Music more than a year ago, and they will provide free instruction for him until he graduates from high school. Damian received a full scholarship to Interlochen this summer. CCGS also has been teaching Katie Stubblefield for over a year, the youngest face transplant recipient in the U.S., who made international news recently through a feature in National Geographic.

Eric Mann, Executive Director
Cleveland Classical Guitar Society

Cleveland students created this video with help from CCGS Director of Education, Brian Gaudino.

Canton, Ohio

“Guitar education has experienced tremendous growth in the Canton City Schools over the last 4 years. We have grown to about a 110 high school students and a growing middle school population taking guitar. There are currently 5 sections of guitar at McKinley High School and 4 other middle school classes taking place in our district. We have added an advanced guitar class in which students receive college credit from Kent State University.
As of December of this year we have performed at the Kent State Guitar Festival and our middle school and high school winter concerts in the Canton City Schools. Students at McKinley are preparing to take part in a guitar day festival at the University of Akron, spring concerts as well as other community performances. GuitarCurriculum.com and ACG are at the heart of our curriculum in the Canton City Schools and I believe the reason for our tremendous growth. I am excited about the future and the development of the program.”

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George E. Dean IV
Director of Guitar, McKinley Senior High School

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New York City

One of the most memorable community service projects this year took place when the students of Leaders High School performed for a community of people in need of food while they were waiting for their pantry order within the facility the St. John’s Bread and Life soup kitchen in Brooklyn. After the students performed and the audience (who did not expect music during this time) roared with applause, one of the audience members walked up to the kids and said, ” You know, I was having a really messed up day and I have been extremely angry all day, but listening to you just made me forget about all my problems and I feel happy again, thank you for this”. The students then volunteered to help prepare the food orders for the community and worked until near closing time as we lost track of time. The students learned the beauty of giving back and how great it feels to help others who are in need, making them aware of how much they have to be grateful for and the power music has to help other people at all times. To add, while the students were volunteering, we also had audience volunteers come up to learn how to play a song together on the guitar, which they loved and bought smiles and confidence to their life in a matter of a few minutes. On our way home from the soup kitchen, one of our students asked, “How can I volunteer again? I really enjoyed helping the people out”….. This is what we call a heart-melter!

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Jahzeel Montes, Executive Director
Internal Creations, New York City

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St. Louis, Missouri

Students from Bermuda Elementary, a new Guitar Horizons program, in Florissant, Missouri with guitars purchased through local Old Newsboys Grant.

The St. Louis Guitar Horizons program is going full “STEAM”! With major sponsorship from The Augustine Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, we now send one of our six teaching artists to co-teach in twenty locations in underserved neighborhoods in the St. Louis metro area: Ferguson-Florissant (14), St. Louis City (3), Hazelwood (1), and the Mathews-Dickey Boys’ and Girls’ Club. We now include the Clayton Detention Center, inspired by the Austin program at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Detention Center. There were 22 November-December public presentations, attended by 5,000+ parents and students. We are in preparation for our All Metro Guitar Day next April 2019. Last year’s performance had 100+ students on stage!

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William Ash, Education Director
St. Louis Classical Guitar

St. Louis All Metro Concert
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Jennings, Missouri

“This is my third year incorporating classical guitar into our string program. I started it as an after-school guitar club when I returned from ACG’s Teacher Training Workshop, and currently I teach it in my 7th grade string class.
Our semester of classical guitar started off with a bang! Fourteen first-timers were very eager to begin instruction. The class is comprised of orchestra students who double on other instruments (i.e. violin, viola, cello, double bass). Guitar is worked into our regular schedule – we have instruction on Tuesday and Thursday of each week.”

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James McKay, Music Teacher
Jennings Junior High


8) Teacher Training

CURRENT: ACG’s education team led two Teacher Training Summits this summer in St. Louis and Austin. These were the first training workshops dedicated to advancing the Five Elements we first detailed in our 2017 Education Report. Our staff was also hired to train teachers for Houston ISD in September, and a second visit is scheduled there for January 2019.

FUTURE: Our teacher training vision continues to focus on a path to certification. This must combine training and curriculum with work samples, assessment and feedback, and proof of mastery. This is a major goal we hope to realize in large part using the newly-enhanced technological capabilities of GuitarCurriculum.com (see #10 below).


9) International Partners

CURRENT: We are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to share ideas and resources with partners outside of the United States, from Mexico, to Nicaragua, to Nepal, and New Zealand. We currently have GuitarCurriculum subscribers in the United States, Thailand, Australia, the Federated States of Micronesia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Canada, Argentina, England, Nepal, India, Uruguay, Haiti, Tanzania, the Philippines, Portugal, Nicaragua, Ireland, and the Netherlands. We were thrilled when 18 delegates from Central and West Africa visited ACG in November, and we look forward to sustaining these relationships going forward.

Perhaps most promising at the moment is a new partnership developing with Mario Quintanilla Saucedo in Mexico. We have met several times about strategy, and more training visits are scheduled. The goal is to develop a widespread music education program serving youth in Mexico as an alternative to, and shelter from, the crime and violence that threatens many communities around the country. Read more about this initiative here.

FUTURE: As you’ll see in the next section, a lot is happening behind the scenes with GuitarCurriculum.com to enhance our services for our teaching partners. This is especially important for our international partners. In particular, the additions of an interactive Teacher Forum and monthly webinars are helping us to more effectively and more regularly reach our partners across the world.


10) Technology Upgrades

CURRENT: GuitarCurriculum.com was launched on a new platform in August 2017. This ushered in a new era in terms of our ability to address needs, track user data, and communicate with users. Since then we have added a score upload function so that teachers around the world can begin to contribute their own music to the resource. We believe this will greatly enhance the quality, diversity, and quantity of teaching material available. We also launched a Teacher Forum that includes jobs listings, a space for teachers to exchange ideas, and video contest opportunities. And this fall, with the help of Reality Based Group in Austin, we have shot more than a dozen next-generation student tutorial videos with Dr. Joseph Palmer that will be released in early 2019.

FUTURE: In the coming year look for a newly-designed GuitarCurriculum.com! Apart from a variety of curricular and functional updates, our primary technical focus in the coming years will be on leveraging the resource to gather better data about the teachers using the curriculum and their students, and develop the technological infrastructure to support rigorous online certification process.
Below you’ll see an example of the kind of data reports we are now able generate thanks to our technology upgrades. This is a current map of the 773 active curriculum users in the United States.

GuitarCurriculum.com active users in U.S. (December, 2018)


11) Leadership

CURRENT: Jeremy Osborne gave a talk at SXSW.edu on Music and Juvenile Justice in March.

Travis Marcum, Matt Hinsley, and ACG Board member Dr. Ted Held presented at a Humanities Institute Symposium at the UT Dell Medical School in May. This paved the way for ACG’s partnership with Livestrong Cancer Institute’s CALM Clinic.

In July, Jeremy Osborne and Travis Marcum were invited to participate in an Art for Justice forum in Houston as part of a national initiative led by California Lawyers for the Arts.

In September, Matt Hinsley led a day-long Organizational Development workshop in Baltimore for leaders of 35 North American arts organizations. A story about it appeared in the 2018 fall issue of Classical Guitar Magazine.

FUTURE: Matt will lecture on Organizational Development and Community Service in the Arts as part of the Glasscock Distinguished Speakers Series at Texas A&M University in March, 2019, and again at the Scuola Universitaria di Musica in Lugano, Switzerland for three days in May, 2019.

In September 2019, Travis will be leading a study of community-based music with funding from research grant awarded by the Humanities Institute at U.T. Austin.


Thank you!

In conclusion, while our services have grown and deepened in beautiful and sometimes surprising ways, our main strategic objectives this year surround refining our processes, building our human resources, and enhancing our technological capabilities. We believe these steps are the most crucial as we move toward our next significant growth phase.

On behalf of Austin Classical Guitar’s entire board and staff, I would like to thank everyone who has helped make our work possible in 2018, including these major institutional supporters and program sponsors:

City of Austin Cultural Arts Division, Augustine Foundation, Webber Family Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Sue L. Nguyen Trust, Texas Women for the Arts, Rea Charitable Trust, Cain Foundation, Texas Commission on the Arts, Still Water Foundation, Kaman Foundation, The Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation, Michael R. Levy, Sarah & Ernest Butler, Kodosky Foundation, H-E-B, Tingari-Silverton Foundation, Shield-Ayres Foundation, Applied Materials, Louise Epstein & John Henry McDonald, The Mitte Foundation, Long Foundation, Wright Family Foundation, Mercedes-Benz of Austin, Silicon Labs, 3M Foundation, Kendal & Ken Gladish, Bill & Lynne Cariker, the Benavi Family, Austin Radiological Association, D’Addario Foundation, PwC, Jeanette & Ernest Auerbach, Urban Betty, Charles Schwab & Co., MFS Foundation, Lucy Farland, Cindy Cook, William Metz, Karrie & Tim League, Austin Bar Foundation, Carl Caricari & Margaret Murray Miller, Rixen Law, Elaine & Michael Kasper, Marcia Raff, Ed Pierce, Josh Stern & Reality Based Group, Tesoros Trading Company, IBC Bank, Savarez, Calido Guitars, and Strait Music.