ACG Education: A Letter from Lennox Kolics

One of our favorite parts of ACG's mission is building deep connections and watching the beauty of them unfold. Here is a letter from one of our dearest connections from our ACGYO program, Lennox Kolics. Learn more about Youth and Community Ensembles here. 

My name is Lennox. I’m barely an adult, but I’ve ventured out on a lot of limbs trying to figure out what will propel my life. At the heart of it all, I’m a lover of stories, and this is mine so far. 

I began playing classical guitar when I was 5, and it was the only extracurricular I was able to stick to. In 6th grade, my private instructor Matt Hinsley recommended I audition for the ACG Youth Orchestra that Joe Williams was starting up, leading to the best decision I’ve ever made: joining the ensemble. It was invigorating and new, challenging and tiring, but rewarding above all. During the first few years, I was always the youngest member yet had been there the longest, so it feels like the ACGYO and I grew up together. Our repertoire expanded and became more advanced, we performed at increasing frequencies for crowds of all sizes, and we ventured further from home to share our music. As I evolved as a human and musician, so did ACGYO. Under the guidance of the nonpareil Dr. Joe, we developed the trusting give-and-take of ensemble music-making, and I came to understand the intricacies of the relationship between fellow ensemble members, the conductor, the music, and our instruments. Over the years, breathing life into the scores before us and making the pieces our own became instinctual -- we didn’t just play songs anymore, we made them into stories. It wasn’t primarily about getting it right, but about creating beautiful things together; I came to see that that’s what life is about too. 

As I tried to translate this into my future, ACG helped me explore the possibilities as an intern. There was no coffee-fetching, just guidance and trust as I worked alongside various teams. When I expressed interest in audio engineering, they immediately got me to a studio, and now I’m in college studying Music Technology and Film, continuing to do A/V work with ACG. Without ACG, I’m not sure I’d have all the answers that they gave me through music. I wouldn’t understand what beauty is or what gives me purpose -- I wouldn’t know who I am. I couldn’t be more grateful for the wonderful people in this organization who have gone out of their way to support me for the majority of my life now, and I look forward to knowing them for the rest of it. 


Lennox Kolics

Below is "Hello, I just wanted to see how you were doing" by Cassie Shankman, performed by the ACG Youth Orchestra. Watch more Youth and Community Ensembles here.

ACG Education: A Conversation with Susana Diaz-Lopez

2021 is the 20th anniversary of ACG Education. We’ll be celebrating all year long! Here is a beautiful story from one of our graduates who’s just returned to teach in the Austin ISD District. Click here to learn more about ACG Education.

Developing and keeping life-long connections with our community is something we at ACG are very passionate about and grateful for. These connections transform our world and are continuously inspiring. We’ve made connections in numerous ways, including through our ACG Education.

This week we had the opportunity to speak with Susana Diaz-Lopez, a young woman we first met years ago at Travis High School. Susana recently came full circle as an employee of Austin ISD, teaching guitar in the same district where she herself first learned to play. 

Susana joined guitar class in her junior year of high school under the direction of Susan Rosanc. There she also met ACG instructor Brent Ferguson. Later she became a member of ACG Youth Orchestra. 

Susana has worked with us in so many ways including speaking at our annual Guitar Under the Stars gala, interning with our production team, and last year teaching in our juvenile justice system programs as a contract member of our education team. 

“Being a part of ACGYO was an amazing experience! Having the opportunity to play with the group created new challenges for me and pushed me as a musician and it was so amazing to play next to such talented young musicians.” - Susana Diaz-Lopez

Susana continued her music education after high school with Brent Ferguson. She shared a little about her journey, 

“When I was in high school, ACG sponsored free private guitar lessons for students and I was set up with Brent Ferguson. I enjoyed the lessons so much that I continued them even after high school and later followed Professor Ferguson to Washburn University where I also took composition lessons with him! I worked with him with the Washburn Community Ensembles, as well as competed in his event for the 100th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin.” 

We were so ecstatic to have Susana join our Education team working with our Juvenile Justice Programs this past season: 

“At first I was nervous that I would have some trouble being able to connect with the students, but overall my experience has been so great! The students I have the pleasure of working with are learning so fast and are so excited for class everyday. I’m catching on to the unique ways each student learns and I’ve learned a lot from every single one of them. It makes me so proud to see each one improve.” -Susana Diaz-Lopez

We’re thrilled for Susana, and cannot wait to see the magic and beauty she produces in the future! 

Together: A Conversation with Catalina Galvan

Over the next month we will be sharing a series of beautiful and inspirational stories about ACG community and education projects that happened in the spring! If you’re curious to see more of our past projects please check out our ACG Productions page and our previous Blogs!

Being completely virtual this past year brought us unexpected things to be grateful for. Particularly special was our ability to expand our Youth and Community Ensembles to areas beyond Austin! 

ACG Youth and Community Ensembles are a place to experience the joy of making music with others. We are so grateful that we could still build connections with our community through music, despite the obstacles we faced this year.

We had the opportunity to speak with one of our ACG Youth Orchestra members, Catalina Galvan, about her experience being part of a virtual ensemble this spring. 

Catalina is from a rural part of Texas about five hours away from Austin! She learned about ACGYO online and was able to participate regardless of her distance! 

Catalina shared, 

“My experience this Spring was one like no-other. I have never had the opportunity to collaborate with such a diverse group of people and work on a beautiful piece to make it our own, until I joined the ACGYO. The pandemic actually impacted my experience favorably because the ACGYO going virtual gave me the ability to take advantage of all of the wonderful opportunities ACG has to offer.”

This semester the ACGYO took part in multiple projects including GIVE and Cassie Shankman’s “Hello, I just wanted to see how you are doing?”

Catalina shared,

“The GIVE project taught me a valuable lesson: that music, though seemingly small and simple, can have a huge impact on those around us and can be used as a way to give back to those in our life and tell them how meaningful they are to us when words can’t. It was truly phenomenal.

I made my GIVE project for my grandma. It was a performance of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. I made it to simply give back to all of the support and love she has given me in my study of music and basically every part of life. It’s her favorite song.” 

We asked Catalina to share her ‘behind the scenes’ experience in working with Cassie Shankman’s composition as a virtual ensemble. She shared, 

“Cassie Shankman’s “Hello, I just wanted to see how you are doing?” was my favorite piece in the repertoire because it accurately represented each one of our stories throughout the past year and allowed us to weave all of that together into one amazing work.

Working on Cassie’s composition was a great experience, not only for me but the whole group! Joe would consistently send us to small breakout rooms of two or three during rehearsals and we were able to use that time to share variations of Cassie’s piece that we came up with to be inspired and to collaborate with what we were sharing. We also discussed video ideas and were able to collaborate on how we could represent the visual aesthetic of the piece. We all had completely different interpretations and feelings for the piece and we worked hard to blend them all together into something amazing.”

We are so thrilled and thankful for the opportunity to expand our services in such a remarkable way! We are so excited to continue our online reach in the future, even as we begin to feel safer to connect in person, in order to continuously expand, inspire, and connect through music despite distance!

PLAY: A Celebration of ACG Education

PLAY celebrates our partner teachers and students who created inspiring works of joy and friendship during a year like no other. We are so proud of this extraordinary concert! If you are inspired by what you see, and would like to contribute to ACG Education, you can Donate Here.

ACG Education turned 20 years old this year! It's hard to believe what started in one school in Austin, Texas in 2001 has turned into a movement reaching tens of thousands of young people across the nation and beyond.

We created PLAY to showcase some of the incredible young musicians and alumni from our local programs and several of our partner programs, and to celebrate the beauty and joy of their music-making. 

In a year marked by hardship and challenges, we have been so inspired by the ambition, dedication, and determination of the teachers and students we have the privilege to work with and support. It is a thrill to be able to share the results of their hard work and passion. We hope you enjoy it too!

PLAY: A Celebration of ACG Education originally aired on March 27th, 2021. 

PLAY features music of young artists from Austin (Elijah Melodic Flores, Sydney Piper, Northeast High School Ensemble, Bedichek Middle School, ACG Youth Orchestra and Gardner Betts Juvenile Center), Ohio (McKinley High School and Cleveland Classical Guitar Society), Arizona (Glendale Community College Guitar),  Mexico (Orquesta de Guitarras del Ciclo de Iniciación Musical), and Paraguay (Municipal “Agustín Pio Barrios” de San Juan Bautista de las Misiones) as well as 36 middle and high schools from U.S. and Canada. Also featured are special guests Berta Rojas, Devin Gutierrez, Daniel Fears, Montsho Thoth, Claire Puckett, Claudia Chapa and Arnold Yzaguirre.

I Am Who I Am by Michael Beranek with John Churchill

We feel so fortunate at ACG to share inspiration through music in many ways from concerts to classrooms. Some of our most profound personal connections are made through ACG Music & Healing. ACG Music & Healing utilizes a trauma-informed, strength-based approach to facilitate meaningful expression and personal narrative through music making for members of our community facing significant challenges. 

Today we’d love to celebrate the connection between Michael Beranek and John Churchill.

Composer John Churchill met Michael in early February of this year to create a piece of music together as Michael is recovering from intense chemo and radiation treatment for cancer at 71. 

Here is what John shared with us about the experience, 

“Even though Michael is in remission, the procedures have left him with a longer road of recovery. This included a dramatic change to his voice. We spent the first month together talking about where he was from and a plethora of memories from throughout his life. The man has had such a variety of experiences that it gave us so many interesting things to talk about. He even saw Elton John perform in a duck costume at the Iowa State Fair in the early 70s!

It became clear over the course of our first few meetings that the song we would write together should be a chronological story of some of his memories. At one point during one of our meetings Michael made the comment "I am who I am because of the experiences that I have had". This stuck out to me, and I mentioned that we may have our song's hook in that statement right there. With a minor tweak, the tag in the song became "I am who I am because of the life that I have lived". 

This project was a true collaboration in which Michael played such a key role in writing the lyrics. I was so impressed with how he and I worked together. He even sent me some last minute edits right before I was set to record the vocals, and his improvements made all the difference. It was such a pleasure to work with him, and I am truly excited to share his work with others.”

Learn more about our Music & Healing program here


Play: A conversation with Elijah Flores

ACG Education turned 20 this year. What started in one school in Austin, Texas, has grown into a movement impacting tens of thousands of young people across the nation and beyond. PLAY celebrates our partner teachers and students who created inspiring works of joy and friendship during a year like no other. We are so proud of this extraordinary concert! If you are inspired by what you see, and would like to contribute to ACG Education, you can Donate Here.

Here at ACG we have so much to be grateful for! One of the top contenders on that list is our ACG Education program. Sharing the beauty, joy, and passion of music with young people has been our greatest passion at ACG for the past twenty years. 

We started this magnificent journey in one school in 2001 and now we are in more than fifty local schools including Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and three Juvenile Justice Centers, and stretching all across the United States and beyond. 

This year has brought many challenges to the typical flow of guitar education but we are so inspired by the ambition, dedication, and determination of the teachers and students in these programs. 

We were so thrilled to be able to share the results of their hard work and passion in PLAY

We are sharing videos of local students and partner programs as well as students from Mexico City all the way to Cleveland, Ohio and many places in between! 

One of the students we have the opportunity to see is Elijah Flores.

Elijah joined our partner program at Bedichek Middle School with Phil Swasey and is now a senior at Crockett High School with Ron Hare. We got the opportunity to speak with Elijah about his experience in these programs and this is what he had to share. 

“I found an outlet for my energy. Over time I started to expand and use my voice along with trying new instruments. I gained inspiration from the people I was around, and the environment. I had a lot of encouragement and guidance through school, and my family, and being able to have a healthy environment to practice.”

Elijah is an incredibly successful young musician and is considering continuing his music education in college. He just accepted a scholarship with UTSA and is planning to attend fall 2021. 

We are so awed by the hard work put in by Elijah throughout his path as a young musician even during the difficulties brought to us by COVID-19. Elijah shared,  

“When the pandemic hit, life became very different. I became different.. Isolation changed me, and the way I adapted to learning overall. On the bright side of the pandemic I had so much time, so I acquired new hobbies, new routines, and did not dwell on the past. I was constantly working on my writing skills, vocal skills, instrumental skills and I realized I find so much joy from music overall. It has always been my outlet and a medium for expressing my emotions.” 

ACG Education is our pride and joy and we feel so fortunate to be surrounded by so many inspiring individuals everyday. We are so grateful for the teachers we work with, the students in our programs, the lessons we learn daily, and all the many connections we make. We hope you can celebrate these remarkable accomplishments and people with us in PLAY.

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: Justice Phillips

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

ACG Education has brought us beautiful connections, friendships, experiences, and life lessons that we are so grateful to continuously grow into. 

One of these life-long friendships and beautiful connections we’ve had is with our Director of Customer Experience and Composer, Justice Phillips.

We met Justice when he was attending school at Lively Middle School (formerly Fulmore). 

Justice shared,

I started playing guitar in 6th grade at Fulmore through an after school guitar program that was happening there. It wasn't classical guitar, we just learned guitar basics like chords. I picked it up well though, and started venturing out from what the teacher was teaching. The program occurred in the orchestra room where I got to know Ms. McAlmon. She told me that there was going to be a guitar class the next year, where I met Jeremy Osborne and the story set off there.”

Jeremy Osborne has been ACG’s Assistant Director of Education since 2008. We are so amazed by the magic created between student and teacher and how that influences young people in their life journey. Justice shared his thoughts and experience,

“Guitar was something that I spent a lot of time doing and worked hard to get good at, so being known as the "really good" guitar player in Middle and High School did a lot for my overall confidence. Of course, playing music has always brought me joy, excitement, and sometimes frustration but at the end of it all it's given me something tangible to be proud of myself for.”

Justice attended UT Austin as a composition major, and joined the ACG Team as Director of Customer Experience upon graduation. This spring he’s made a full circle, getting back in touch with the orchestra director at Lively Middle School, Ms. McAlmon, for one of several special projects ACG is engaged with this spring.

“Ms. McAlmon approached me and asked if I would be interested in writing a piece for Lively's guitar ensemble and orchestra. What excites me the most about this opportunity, is being able to write a piece for kids who were in the position I was in, at the same school that I went to. Also, the combination of the guitar ensemble and orchestra sounds like it will be really beautiful.”

One of our greatest joys at ACG Education is growing with our students and teachers, as musicians and as human beings. Music will always bring connections, community, friends, and family. 

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

Introspection by Jennifer Kirby with John Churchill

At ACG we are so grateful to have opportunities to build connections, share love, heal, and inspire friends in our community through music. ACG Music & Healing utilizes a trauma-informed, strength-based approach to facilitate meaningful expression and personal narrative through music making for members of our community facing significant challenges.

Today we’d like to share a story of connection between Jennifer Kirby and John Churchill. 

Composer John Churchill connected with Jennifer in late October of 2020 to create a piece of music as she was approaching her final chemotherapy treatments for cancer. 

This is what John had to share from their experience:

“Working together was exciting from the beginning. Jennifer was very eager to take part in the program as well as open to whatever that might look like. Also, being fellow Mid-Westerners, we had a few things to relate on and reminisce about in regards to that part of the country. 

Though for the first few weeks we weren’t sure what direction we would go creatively speaking, we spent each meeting focusing on her life’s story in the past, present, and future while discussing what musicians and genres she enjoys. It became apparent to her that she wanted to have something describe her life’s stages through instrumental music. We had the idea of taking what we had discussed regarding her past, present and future and write about it in a letter to her young self. This letter would prove to be the inspiration for the composition. She wanted to have the major people in her life to be represented musically. The string sections represent both her parents and her grandparents supporting her at different stages within her life, and the guitar represents her husband, Chad. She would be represented by piano. Her and I are both so proud of how this turned out. 

With Jennifer being in the hospitality industry she has such a drive to help people. Though much of her experience during her treatment put her in a position to rely on others, she is excited at the prospect of this project bringing help, hope and comfort to those that are experiencing something similar to her. 

It was such a pleasure being able to take part in this with her. I feel honored to have heard her story in such detail and be able to have created something wonderful together.”

Learn more about our Music & Healing program here

ACG 2020 Holiday Special

We are so pleased to share magic with you this holiday season. We wish you an incredible holiday and a happy New Year. If you would like to support our artists and services here at ACG, click here

Celebrate the holidays with this 30-minute ACG special featuring special guests Claudia Chapa, Arnold Yzaguirre, Grisha, Pepe Romero, and young artists and dancers from all around Austin. 

We also invite you to dive into our ACG Top Ten of 2020 list featuring some of our favorite happenings during this wild year, as well as our 2020 Education Report featuring some of the magic happening in our school systems. 

Thank you for standing with us this year, and for your belief in the power of music to do good in the world.