Connections: Manor ISD Guitar

ACG turns 30 this year! In celebration, one of our generous supporters is matching every gift up to $50,000 between now and our opening concert with maestro Pepe Romero on September 26th! Make a gift today.

Connections are so vital for us to recognize during this current reality that, at times, can make us feel far apart. A beautiful facet of music is the ability to create deep connections between people even at a distance or through a screen. Manor ISD is a beautiful example of the fine arts community blossoming even through the current challenges.

Decker Middle School Fine Arts Academy in Manor has caught our eye with their impressive program growth and expansive community engagement.  We spoke with the Manor ISD Director of Fine Arts, Dr. Bethany Logan, who shared:

 “The impact of our programs has resulted in partners such as Austin Classical Guitar to not only invest in our talented scholars, but also help MISD provide opportunities to students. Our community recognizes the importance and necessity that the Fine Arts bring to our scholars’ education, and as a result our programs are thriving!”

We also spoke with the guitar program director of Decker Middle School, Victor Longoria, who was able to shed some light on his musical and cultural background that he says helps him to relate with his students and community.

“I started at a young age with Norteño music through my grandfather’s group ‘Los Leones del Norte.’ I then branched out to other genres and found myself wanting to study the guitar. I studied at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley where I focused on classical and flamenco guitar.”

Victor also shared his ability to connect with his students through their cultures and interests.

“The students and families in Manor have a special connection to the guitar because of the instrument’s connection to many cultures around the globe. I make connections with my students by asking them engaging questions about their interests, and try to implement that in class by playing them their favorite songs or movie sound-tracks on the guitar. I also speak Spanish fluently which helps comfort my Spanish speaking students.”

In light of COVID-19, Victor shared his adjustments to virtual music education.

“We are focusing on Social and Emotional learning since we are currently fully online. Thanks to the support of ACG and Manor ISD we got new guitars for each of the students to have in their homes. For repertoire and instruction, we use ACG’s Guitar Curriculum. We also teach our students music theory and use apps that are easy for the students to learn to tune their guitars for virtual guitar class.”

Decker Middle School currently has an astonishing 145 students enrolled in the guitar program. Manor ISD is also beginning their first high school program, and 90 students are already enrolled. The work being done to expand the fine arts community by Manor ISD is incredibly inspiring, and we are so grateful to be a part of it. 

Dr. Logan, Mr. Longoria, and the students and parents of Manor ISD show us that, despite the current pandemic situation, we can continue to grow and achieve as musicians, artists, and human beings. 

We are especially grateful to the Applied Materials Foundation, who for years has generously supported our work in Manor ISD.


Share your Ofrendas

This Fall, we are collaborating with Mexic-Arte Museum for a special project called Ofrendas and you are invited to get involved! 

As part of Día de Muertos, altars are created to honor the memories of loved ones who have passed. The altars are decorated with ofrendas, personal objects to encourage their spirits to return and join the celebration. 

We are creating an ACG Community Altar for Mexic-Arte’s virtual exhibit and we would be honored if you would share some memories with us. 

Just send a photograph and a short note about your loved one to ofrendas@austinclassicalguitar.orgThis is an opportunity for celebration. Think about the happiest times you shared, the happy memories you cherish, maybe music you shared or something else. 

Send your ofrendas by September 11 and we will include this in the ACG Community Altar. If you send it after September 11, we will feature it on our website and as part of the finale Ofrendas event on October 29. RSVP for the finale online here

Questions?  Email Thank you!

Ofrendas photography by Chris Caselli

National Teacher Summit: The "New Normal"

ACG turns 30 this year! In celebration, one of our generous supporters is matching every gift up to $50,000 between now and our opening concert with maestro Pepe Romero on September 26th! Make a gift today.

Adjusting to the “new normal” with COVID-19 has been a whirlwind as we navigate different approaches to exist and be productive in our new socially-distanced reality. As musicians and music educators, it’s tricky to grasp how to make a hands-on artistic and education process effective virtually. Our staff has collaborated with educators around the globe to share creative solutions to be successful despite these circumstances.

This summer we held our National Teacher Summit via Zoom and Canvas, online platforms that schools commonly use for interactive teaching. We held the Summit to introduce the technology, but also as a way of putting the participants in the seats of their students. Through these interactive lessons, they were able to experience first-hand how online music education could work in these unusual circumstances.

After the Summit, we had the opportunity to speak with some of the educators that participated. Michael Kagan, a high school teacher in Kentucky, expressed a sense of relief for the upcoming school year after attending.


“It’s important that I find meaningful ways for students to collaborate with one another. In the spring, I was happy that my students were able to focus on solo literature and etudes, but it was a little insular. Participating in the Summit affirmed my commitment to make ensemble playing work. Now I’m finding an opportunity to teach my kids how to use recording software: how to take someone else’s track, drop it in, and play along to contribute to a multi-track.”


Steven Sabet, a high school teacher from New Jersey, was grateful that the Summit was free.


“I imagine some teachers lost their jobs, so a free professional development opportunity would be needed. I signed up because it gave us resources to use during the pandemic, and showed us different techniques to make remote teaching and learning work. I learned a lot, and got to meet and share ideas with teachers from around the country.”


Many of the other teachers we spoke with had similar experiences and responses. The most common reaction was recognizing their position as a student during the training.

“The most helpful sessions were those in which the instructors used zoom as they would with their students. It was fabulous to see modeling, and very enlightening to take on the role of a student and complete assignments in the form of small tasks delivered in a personable video. Doing it myself gave me a better understanding of what I may ask my students to do, as well as building my confidence for providing personalized content during remote teaching.”


Despite the challenges presented to us by this pandemic, we are looking forward to making music with teachers and students near and far this fall. The courage, imagination and dedication we’ve seen both from young people, and from the professionals we’re working with, is truly inspiring. We can’t wait to share the results in the months to come!


“It was a truly beautiful experience to share and learn from one another. The ACG staff created a warm, inclusive culture for all the participants - there were orchestra and band teachers, guitar virtuosos, nationally acclaimed conductors, and everyone in between. We all came to grow and learn how to better serve our students.”

-Michael Kagan


Hopeful Things: Solace Project & Malagueña

The Solace Project

Last spring, as the world began to reckon with the implications of a global pandemic, here at ACG we faced a conundrum: Normally in April we would host “ACG Fest,” 100 guitarists from around the state and beyond gathering to make music together, attend workshops and masterclasses, and premiere the winning composition of our Annual Composition Competition. This challenge resulted in the inspiration for a collaborative project that guitarists from around the country could participate in from their homes.

Rather than a concert or performance video, this project was a portrait of us now, a way for us to be together and share beauty during this challenging time. Participants were asked to record parts of the winning composition, Solace by Brandon Carcamo, and capture videos of their surroundings to give us a glimpse of what brought them hope.

The result was The Solace Project, a beautiful multimedia work created by and for our community. It was a chance to acknowledge the moment we’re in collectively, to make something we’ll be able to return to years from now, to share music together even at a distance.

“It was a reminder that we can make music; we have all these barriers, but we’re still going to come together. There was a delay in experiencing this new piece that we would’ve premiered together on stage with 100 other people, but we still made it.” – Lennox Kolics, ACG Intern & ACGYO member


Days before our Youth Orchestra was about to embark on its New Mexico Tour in March, the pandemic hit in full force, and the trip was cancelled. As the group started to meet online to figure out its plan for the spring, an idea materialized: they could create a new ACGYO interpretation of a well-known piece by recording all the parts separately.

“It wasn’t the same as playing together in person, but it was still something we were working towards, and it was really great to sit on zoom and say ‘I have this idea for this variation.’ To see that come to fruition was really wonderful – without trying to replace something that couldn’t be replaced.” – Lennox Kolics

Lennox and Iris Renteria, another ACGYO member, engineered all 15 parts of the music that members had sent in and remixed them to create the ACGYO version of Malagueña. Zara Terrazas-Graham, a third member of the orchestra, made a time-lapse video of the creation of a painting and filmed footage from her community: people walking, laughing, dancing in the street.

“I explained to my closest friends, family, and neighbors that we’d all collaborated on this piece, and I asked them to dance and express how they felt when they listened to the song, and I got some really beautiful results. For the art piece, I wanted something really warm, happy, and light, and since the season theme was togetherness, I wanted to incorporate that too.” – Zara

“It was all led by the members, there’s so much incredible skill in these young people. They really ran with it.” – ACGYO Director, Joseph Williams

Hopeful Things: Teachers

In July, we had the privilege of sharing ideas and tools with guitar educators from around the world for our Annual (and first-ever online!) Teacher Summit.

Despite the uncertainty of this fall, we were so inspired by the teachers’ energy, hopefulness, and creativity.

Our Director of Education, Travis Marcum, created a multimedia collaborative project for all 120 educators to participate in. “Everything Changes at Once” was originally written for students this spring, which you can view here, but this version for educators allows us to hear from the other side of the classroom.

In the project, teachers had the opportunity to record short guitar phrases that were later woven into a complete musical piece. They also could take pictures or record ‘found sounds’ of their home environments, and answer questions such as ‘What would you like to say to your students? What are you afraid of? What are you hopeful for?’

The product is a piece of music unique to now, and is a message from our teaching community to each other, to their students, and to all of you.

Travis Marcum

We hope you enjoy this beautiful work from our educators around the globe.

Hopeful Things: Lullaby Artist Spotlight on Daniel Fears

Since 2014, Austin Classical Guitar has worked with young parents in challenging circumstances to help them write personal songs for their children. The Lullaby Project has brought us some of our most challenging and rewarding experiences. We’ve partnered with Any Baby Can, Annunciation Maternity Home, Austin Center for Women and Children, LifeWorks, Livestrong Cancer Clinics, People’s Community Clinic, Dell Children’s Hospital, and Travis County Jail.

Daniel Fears, a local Austin singer and songwriter, began working as a Lullaby Artist last spring. We recently had the chance to hear about his work and why he enjoys creating lullabies, and we’d love to share his interview with you.

The Lullaby Project

Daniel is intrigued by the moments we create through sharing music together. He’s inspired by the Lullaby Project because it allows him to build real connections with people he might otherwise have never met, and to collaborate on music with people who don’t consider themselves ‘musicians’ in the traditional sense.

Through Any Baby Can, Daniel connected with a couple who wanted to write a lullaby for their new baby. He and Claire Puckett, another one of our Lullaby and Healing Artists, met with them over the course of several weeks.

The mother hoped that the father would be able to open up about his feelings for his son, because according to her, he was “a man of action and few words.” Daniel and Claire asked about his musical tastes to find out what could influence the lullaby they’d help the couple to create. Although the father was initially reserved, gradually he was able to vocalize some emotions that had been concealed. As the two Lullaby Artists continued to meet with the couple, Daniel describes a transformation that took place when he began to experiment with some stylistic elements in the music the father shared.

“He showed us some 80s crooner rock and some Indian music with piano, guitars, traditional drums, strings, sitar, some interesting chord progressions – it was really cool music I’d never heard before. I was trying to figure out what the music was doing. I had an idea and tried to pluck it out on piano, and from that point, the father started to open up a bit more.”

“I think music is able to help people express whatever is on their minds, especially when it’s being made right there. We were giving him space to express that.”

After a few weeks of meeting with Claire and Daniel, the father had written a sweet and beautiful poem to his son. Daniel told us his favorite part of the Lullaby Project is the opportunity to make real connections, and to work with others who are trying to figure out their voice.

“Musicians tend to emphasize, ‘I’m a genius, I’m the best,’ and it becomes about the individual. We think vertically, moving toward a goal as if the only thing you can get from music is fame. What really excites me about the Lullaby Project is that you have an opportunity to get outside your comfort zone and meet someone you’d never run into in real life, an opportunity to create and learn together.”

“It’s great to use music as a tool for connection, as a tool to serve other people.”

This experience with the Lullaby Project speaks to Daniel’s philosophy that music holds inherent value for both the performer and the audience. Working with the couple allowed the lines between recipient and producer of music to blur, causing a mutual exchange of ideas not possible in a traditional concert setting. For Daniel, the value lies in the moments we share while listening to or creating music together, the moments “of capturing lightning in a bottle.” The Lullaby Project allows us to remember the roots of music: a method for communicating complex human emotions.

“I find that with folk music, it’s about the moment, the people there listening, as opposed to the people who are going to hear it out of popularity. I enjoy music that invites real connection and real understanding. This lullaby broadened my worldview, and I hope it broadened the worldview of those who listened to it as well.”

“It’s all interconnected. In America, we emphasize the individual; cause and effect are this isolated thing, but in reality all the things we’re doing are extremely connected. As soon as coronavirus hit, we found out how closely connected everything is.”

Daniel just released first single, ‘No Substitutions,’ in April, as his solo artist debut. It was recognized by KUTX as the Song of the Day. “Canopy,” his first EP, is set to launch this fall.

He’s been working on Canopy with a friend. “It feels like a dream project, I’m able to make things in the way I’ve always wanted to. He’s an awesome musician and friend and I think he just gets me, I’m excited to put that out into the world.”

Personal Work

Although Daniel holds two degrees in Trombone Performance and spent much of his music education playing others’ music, after moving to Austin he began to explore his own musical ideas and to figure out his own voice. Although music is all about connections to Daniel, he also views it as an intensely personal experience that is informed by, reflects, and responds to larger truths of existence.

“I think self-exploration and reflecting have been my inspiration these past few years. Most music is romantic – you write about love and heartbreak. But for me, it’s about getting to know myself, it’s about figuring out how what I’m going through is reflected in the world, and what my own place is in it.”

Hey Jay

What’s your smile trying to say
You’re up and about every day
Let’s get ready to play

Hey Jay
Seeing you brings us joy
As parents we evolve
As a family, grow in love

Learn and grow together

Hey Jay
Share the world every day
On the path that you find
There’s a million ways to be kind

Learn and grow together
It’s time for bed now, tomorrow will come more quickly.
Good night good night Mr.Reddy
close your eyes and sweetly dream

Ommmmmm Ommmmm

Goodnight  Goodnight, sweetheart, well it’s time to sleep,
My dear sleep well tonight
Sleep baby sleep all throught the night

Ommmmmm Ommmmm

An Interview with Composer and Guitarist Thomas Flippin

Our Artistic Director, Dr. Joseph V. Williams II, recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Thomas Flippin, the inventive composer and guitarist from the East Coast who will be performing a live-streamed concert with us Saturday, August 1st. We loved hearing about his first experience playing music, how he listens to a new piece, and the theme of unity in curating his program for Saturday.

In my program, I’m trying to imagine a concert for classical guitar that is really representative of everybody. There’s a unifying theme that we can all work together, and if we all work together, we can have an amazing sonic journey. That’s the underlying premise: to unite us all sonically.

Full Transcript:

ACG Artistic Director Joe Williams (JW): Well hello everyone, my name is Joe and I’m the Artistic Director for Austin Classical Guitar. I’m thrilled to be here with Thomas Flippin, a composer and guitarist who will be playing a concert for us on August 1st, Saturday night, for our Summer Series. Thank you for being with us Thomas, this is awesome!

Thomas Flippin (TF): Thank you very much for having me, Joe.

JW: So tell me – where are you coming from, and how are you doing?

TF: Well I’m doing alright, all things considered with the state of the world. I’m in Milford, Connecticut right now, close to the beach. My wife and I are here without our six-year-old daughter because the grandparents are taking care of her, so this is the first time in 130 days we’ve not been responsible for another human being 24 hours a day. So if you see me glowing a little bit ….

JW: (Laughs) Wow. Well, thanks for sitting down with us and sharing some ideas and thoughts about your work and what you’ve been doing. We’re excited to introduce you to our audience, and excited that this is a way to get to know you. Austin Classical Guitar spends a lot of time and energy using music as a medium to create good. We try very hard with our energy to make positive effects on our community and our environment. And I want to ask you a question we ask ourselves all the time: What good can music do? I know your work as a composer, and your work with Duo Noire … I’m curious if there’s anything in your world, or a story you’d like to share about what good music can do.

TF: Absolutely, there are so many obvious things that music does to better the world. At the most basic level, there’s teaching dexterity with the hands, the correlation between studying music and motor skills and doing better in school, thinking abstractly. But I think on a more fundamental level for me, just seeing some of the students I taught and schools I visited – the way it helps to develop a well-rounded human being who has to struggle with solving the problems with music, dealing with technical challenges, and being forced to see progress over time through hard work. I think it’s a good character-builder.

When you study music, you’re forced to think about beauty, and truth of the sound – which is such an abstract thing you don’t really get in other academic spaces. You just sit in a room with your teacher and think about – how can I make this sound wave the most beautiful thing, how can I use that to express myself and to move someone else who might be in a bad place, and that’s just incredible.

One story that comes to mind: When I was first starting out as a teacher, I had a student whose parent died. It was a really hard time in their life, they were only nine years old, and they dropped out of school. They started living with their grandparents and after that summer, they came back and kept studying music because it was such an important part of their life. And I’ve had several students like that – students whose parents separated, or were sent to jail – some really remarkable stories. And it’s the music that is the most profoundly important thing in their lives as adolescents, and I think that’s something to cherish.

And I’m really proud to be able to instill that music education through them and support organizations like yours that have such a profound impact on the communities they serve through music.

JW: Wow Thomas, I’m so curious: is there a moment for you, an early memory, when you got to participate in creating beauty? Was there something that you remember from your childhood that was like Woah that is a thing – and I want to be part of that thing.

TF: Absolutely, I think we all have these stories as professional musicians. Mine was one of my earliest music memories.

I was in second grade at school in New Jersey and a class visitor came in. We had this old ridiculous upright piano that was out of tune and neglected. So she came in and talked to us about piano and played something, explained how a piano worked, showed us the inside of it so we all got to take a peek and see it in action. Then she taught us how to play that famous Minuet in G that used to be attributed to Bach but is now recognized as being by Christian Petzold. She taught me how to play the first five notes of it. To see that I could manipulate the sound and do this thing with a little bit of practice, with a little bit of work at it over the course of a minute, was remarkable to me. I still remember that moment very vividly thinking Wow what is this thing in the world that I can participate in and do these awesome things?

JW: That’s a beautiful story, and I love that you said participate. I often think about people who are listening, who are part of the audience, the best experiences they might have in a concert is when they’re totally participating. I was wondering, is there something, some advice you can give an audience member who is maybe listening to a piece for the very first time, like we often do in classical guitar concerts.

TF: Ok I would go toward three things. The first thing I would say is don’t be afraid, when you hear a piece of music that is new, when you find out it’s new music, approach it with an open mind. On a more serious note, my mother told me when I was growing up that music should make you picture a story, it should make you see some sort of images, it should put you in a place. When I hear something, I’m imagining what it feels like. Where would I be if I were listening to this? If I were dreaming this, where would I be? What situation would I hear this music in? Would it be a wedding, a funeral, a war …

For example, I’m going to play a piece at the concert about being a commuter on the New York City subway system. It’s a very specific thing, but I want people to be able to feel a space and imagine something.

When I go to a concert these days, when I hear a piece of music, I’m trying to hear the performer’s essence or soul. What is their personality, what is their life experience, what are they trying to convey through their face and body movements, why are they playing the note that way?

That’s my favorite part of concerts: seeing a human being in their totality representing themselves and their life experience in a way no one else can, and trying to relate to them on a human level in an almost conversation. When I hear a piece of music for the first time, I want to be part of the conversation – the performer’s telling me something, and it’s up to me to see all the subtleties in that message they’re sending.

JW: How beautifully said, I couldn’t agree more. That’s wonderful. Is there anything else we should keep in mind, maybe a theme or ideas, a larger story, something that we should look forward to participating in?

TF: Well I’ll give the light answer and the heavier answer. The light answer – I think the thing that’s going to be the most fun is that I have this giant instrument behind me called the theorbo from the 1600s, but I’m going to be playing it with modern electronics and just doing some far-out, fun stuff. I’ll be playing in a way that’s not commonly done. I think that’ll be a fun moment to look forward to.

JW: Thomas, so people can imagine – how tall is it?

TF: It is taller than me, and I’m 6 ft 2 1/2″ …. this thing is 6 ft 4″. This thing is ridiculously tall, and that makes traveling with it a complete nightmare. And I’m looking forward to playing this and all its monstrous 14 strings. But more than that – the theme of this concert.

A few weeks ago the Guitar Foundation of America had its convention, and we had a discussion on the state of society in this country. There’s a lot of music organizations trying to figure out how to respond to the dearth of African-American composers and performers represented, and how we can re-imagine society. I feel like for me, when thinking of the concert and this program, I’m trying to imagine a world of a concert for classical guitar that is really inclusive of everyone.

There’s pieces by European composers, there’s pieces by people in Latin America, there’s a piece that I arranged by an African-American woman from the 50s named Lawrence Price, there’s my own music, there’s music by this gay American composer named Lou Harrison who wrote so much far-out music drawing from influences from the East.

It’s such a unifying theme. We can all work together, and if we all work together, we can make some amazing sounds, we can have this amazing sonic journey. That’s the underlying premise for some of the choices I made: to unite us all sonically.

JW: What a privilege, I’m so excited for this concert, thank you. I can’t wait to hear your music, and all the music that you’re going to present. It’s going to be beautiful. We’re recording this a couple days before, and we’ll air it a few minutes before –

TF: Hello future us!

JW: That’s wonderful! August 1st, Thomas Flippin presented by Austin Classical Guitar. Thank you so much, Thomas.

TF: Thank you for having me.

Hopeful Things: Red Oak Hope

A few years ago, we began an initiative called Music and Healing to partner with area organizations that help community members facing significant challenges or trauma.

As part of this initiative, we recently started to work with Red Oak Hope, an organization that provides housing, holistic healing methods, and life skills education to women recovering from human exploitation. We spoke with Haley Patterson, their US Director, about our work with the women in their Restore program.

Red Oak Hope began as a collaborative effort to help survivors of sexual exploitation across borders to return home safely and connect with organizations offering immediate help. It started in 2013 as a single response to one individual’s need, and has grown into an international organization for female empowerment, community development, and social justice.

The Red Oak Hope home in Austin offers a safe space for women to live and heal for up to 18 months. They help women who have experienced exploitation to establish a specific intervention plan with goals such as obtaining a GED, writing a resume, learning budget skills and computer literacy, and preparing to live on their own. These programs are based on partnerships with organizations offering an array of resources to provide the women a holistic experience of healing and restoration.

As part of their healing process, the women can participate in Restore, a program through these partnerships that offers creative opportunities for participants to discover new methods of self-expression. Haley Patterson explained the benefits of artistic outlets for individuals experiencing complex trauma.

“There’s a lot of heartache in mental health crises and trauma. Creative programs engage a different part of the brain, giving unstructured creative space for the women to get to see who they are, and what they’re like. Anytime the women we work with are able to express themselves in a way that feels different, it’s one step in their journey of building trust and rapport.”

We connected with Red Oak Hope last fall through our Music and Healing program at Dell Children’s Hospital. As part of Restore, one of our Healing Artists will meet with an individual in the program several times over the eight-week period. During their meetings, they get to know each other, talk about music tastes and styles, and craft unique lyrics that hold special meaning to that individual.

Arnold Yzaguirre, one of our Healing Artists, talked about the joy in sharing music with the woman he worked with recently at Red Oak Hope. “She was bouncy and ready to connect with someone. It turns out we have a lot of the same likes, so we started really vibing. I can’t wait to see where the song goes.”

Haley described the first woman we had the opportunity to work with as a person of few words. She explained that as the woman began to write her song with our Healing Artist, what emerged was “the most vulnerable thoughts outside her head that I’ve seen.” The woman created a poignant depiction of her feelings in a song she was excited to share with friends and family. It is a beautiful articulation of pride and strength, of embracing who she has become, of looking forward to the future.

Claire Puckett, one of our Healing Artists, told us, “Those themes of pride, of taking back your own narrative – often times we work with people who have had things happen to them, so this gives them a chance to take their voice back.”

We are so glad that the woman absolutely loved her song, “Angels All Around Me,” and we’d love to share it with you as part of our Hopeful Things Series.

No more waiting, it’s time to go.

I wanna live my life.

I am proud of the things I’ve done. I am proud.

I wanna go somewhere far away, no one can stop me, no I won’t stay.

I look out across the sea to clear my mind, it’s just me, proud and waiting.

With the past behind, I am free, I am free.

Angels all around me. Angels all around me protect me from the cold … 

Never know what tomorrow is.

Some people wanna kill your joy,

but keep on pushing, the time is yours.

Travis Marcum, our Director of Education and our Music and Healing program, said, “You can hear in the lyrics the pride in what she’s done and what she’s become, and how she’s creating a new world for herself.”

Haley Patterson hopes that Restore, and our work with the individuals in that program, will grow and morph over the coming months and years to reach more women who could benefit from creative opportunities. We’re so fortunate to know and work with such inspiring individuals in our community, and we look forward to our continued partnership with Red Oak Hope and the music we’ll share with the women there in the future.

Hopeful Things: Music Always on My Mind

A few months ago, we began a partnership with Resilient Me, a Georgetown nonprofit offering creative programming for veterans. During one of their Equestrian Therapy sessions, we were fortunate to meet William Childress, a veteran who has found solace in composing music. Notes and phrases constantly flow from his brain to the piano, but he had never seen his compositions on paper.

William recently told us that working with ACG to write out his music has been “a dream come true. I couldn’t express it any better.”

We’re delighted to share his story with you as part of our “Hopeful Things” series.

I was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, 1940. On the main street, vendors would park their trucks and sell merchandise. They would line up the street. My pop was a doctor, a pharmacist. Whenever he gave me an injection, he would pay me 50 cents. And for 50 cents I would go to two movies, five cents each, then go to the restaurant and buy a hamburger and french fries for 35 cents. What a life.

My mother was a concert pianist. She attended conservatory in the northeast. She was very strict when it came to teaching me piano. All my brothers were artists, musical. I started playing when I was three and a half, but my mother was so strict as a teacher that I eventually quit. But she didn’t mind me listening to jazz, rock and roll, rhythm and blues. She just let me do my thing. Because my mother also taught voice, the students would come by and sing in German, Italian, French, and Spanish. That’s where I picked up my desire to learn languages. At 11 years of age, I met one of my favorite French opera singers.

I joined the army in November, 1960. After basic training, I attended the school for medics and later was selected for the U.S. Army Medical Service School at Fort Sam Houston. Upon graduation, immediately we took off for Vietnam with the 12th Evacuation Hospital. I specialized in treating combat casualties. After Vietnam I got stationed in Germany and spent time with people from all over Europe.

Because of my experience in Vietnam, today I suffer from PTSD. I take equestrian therapy to help me deal with it. And I think to some degree, my music helps me.

Even though I know what I went through in Vietnam, if I could do it all over again, even now at my age, I would do it.

After spending over 13 years in the medical field, there were no wars going on. I did work with the flight surgeons taking care of pilots, but it got boring, and I thought, “It’s time for me to leave the army and go study art.” 

So it was at art school (CCSU in Corpus Christi, Texas) where I met my wife, and received my bachelor’s degree in studio arts, specializing in sculpturing.

No matter what I’m doing, music is in my mind, compositions come to my mind. How that music comes, I have no idea. It can just be a few notes at a time. I love sitting at the piano and bringing it to life.

For some reason, I know that every time I play the guitar or trumpet, compositions are going to come from it, and then I go to the piano and put it together. I can hear something, and if it catches my ear as I listen to intonations of a voice, it turns to music.

I start figuring out notes. What I love about my playing is the natural and unrestricted manner I approach the instrument. I feel that my compositions at times are inexhaustible, one right after the other. It boggles my mind how this happens.

I get emotional. Sometimes, as I listen to the chord changes, my eyes get teary. And I would love to convey this feeling to whoever is listening, though I do have moments when I get a little embarrassed that my eyes get teary. But I just feel that music so deep down. I can’t imagine my life without it, and I am thankful to God that my wife doesn’t mind when I’m trying to figure out changes and chords. I’m forever grateful to ACG’s Travis Marcum and John Churchill for spending time with me, encouraging me, and helping me gain the confidence as a piano player, because I used to think that my style of playing was pretty elementary.

At 79, this is a dream I’ve had all my life that’s finally coming true. I found two great musicians that have actually invested their precious time with me, and helped me to visualize what my compositions look like with notes. Written. It’s amazing to see that. These two have helped me realize that there’s nothing elementary about my playing. It’s just my style.


When I see the sun going up from the horizon in my backyard, I see the beautiful dark orange as it starts going above and lightens. I watch it rise, and then at noon it reaches the high point. In the evening, the sun is not as bright, and gradually loses its intensity as it goes below the horizon. It produces some radiant patterns in the clouds. Then nighttime falls.

I remember I was sitting at the piano, playing. I don’t even think I sat down immediately after seeing the sunrise. I just started playing, and as it developed, it reminded me of the dark orange sunrise and the sunset with its beautiful hues. What I wanted to replicate in that music was the colors. That’s where the art comes in.

I want to tell anyone who performs Sunrise to internalize it. Improvise. Play it with the feeling you’d feel as you would see a sunrise like this. Don’t play it identically each time. Improvise notes and expressions to suit the day. I would use the first few bars from the melody, then let it go off into a different path.

Hopeful Things: A Great Accident

We’ve been thinking a lot about togetherness, about how finding spaces of belonging and shared purpose allow us to make positive change. We believe music has a lot to teach us – in its gentle way – about coming together with intention. So we’re beginning a new series of Hopeful Things: stories and music centered around belonging and transformation. 

One of our summer interns, Cindy De Blas, began guitar as a freshman at KIPP Austin Collegiate. We’re so grateful to her for sharing the story of serendipitous circumstances surrounding her introduction to classical guitar, and the way in which it grew to be a significant part of her life.

When I moved into KIPP Austin Collegiate, my middle school mind interpreted this as the end of a perfect life. I had carefully planned my high school years with best friends and classes. However, what I didn’t know was that acceptance into KIPP would introduce me to my love of guitar and to the ACG program.

I suffered many emotional tolls my first year of high school: I was taken away from close friends, and I suffered an accident that left me in crutches. Then I was introduced to Mr. Klenzendorf’s classical guitar class, where I found a wonderful instrument that would eventually turn into my passion. I had always told myself that one day I would sit down and learn guitar – apparently, I just needed to injure my leg for that to happen.

To this day I believe that my foot injury was the greatest accident of my life, as it allowed me to sit down, reflect, and find my true happiness.

When starting to play the guitar, I was learning not only about the instrument, but also a lot more about myself. I saw that I was capable of creating beautiful things through an instrument, that though I may have been soft spoken, I was still able to let my feelings be heard through the strings of my guitar. Days where I would be frustrated from school, I would play music and wash my worries away.

By portraying my emotions through music, I was able to learn new techniques: I would show my anger with strong fortes and my sadness with light plucks of the string.

These strategies allowed me to give my all in every performance with my high school guitar ensemble. With every passing day, and year after year of playing, I fell in love with the instrument and began envisioning myself in a career with music. 

Mr. K would treat my class with field trips to concerts by famous guitarists at the AISD Performing Arts Center. I was given the opportunity to experience many performances of guitarists from different countries, and every single one of them left me in awe.

Ana Vidovic

One concert that will forever be engraved in my heart is the first female guitarist I ever saw, Ana Vidovic. I remember how excited I got when Mr. K showed us a video of her playing Asturias by Issac Albeniz – I could not get enough of it. That day I went home and listened to the song on repeat and tried to perform her technique. I tried and tried, and I got a glimpse of victory. I learned that day that too much practice really does tire you out, and while I may not be a phenomenal guitarist like her, I wanted to show others my love for guitar.

I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and placed myself as section leader to help a small section of younger students improve their performance and technique. Through this opportunity, I learned that I thoroughly enjoyed helping others in their performance, and I felt so much joy when seeing their improvement. That is when I knew I wanted to pursue a career in music education.


Every year since I began playing guitar, I have attended ACG concerts hosted at the AISD Performing Arts Center. During every concert I always learn something new about the guitar’s history or technique. Something that has always stuck with me is how guitarists use various parts of the guitar to mimic other instruments, such as how flamenco guitarists use “el golpeador” as percussion. Flamenco songs on guitar really do bring out the sensitivity and strength of the guitar. The speed and agility of these flamenco artists is impeccable.

After concerts I always listen to the musician’s songs nonstop, visualizing their special techniques, and learning the history of their work. It’s always a fun adventure to listen and learn from these guitarists, how they were introduced to the guitar and their culture’s specialty in guitar. There is so much more to the guitar than what I thought, and thanks to ACG I am learning more and more! Thanks to the many concerts I have attended, I’ve fallen in love with flamenco music – which is why I now own a flamenco guitar. 

I will forever be grateful to Mr. Klenzendorf and Austin Classical Guitar for allowing me to listen to the different sounds of the world, for expanding my knowledge of the guitar, and for allowing me to fall in love time and time again with the most wonderful instrument.