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.


Where are they now?

Our greatest joy at ACG Education is connecting with students and teachers over long periods of time. We make music together, but even more important are the powerful friendships that develop.

This summer Angelica Campbell, a former student of ours from Crockett High School who is now a junior at the University of Texas at Austin majoring in music, caught up with a few of our alumni and asked "Where are you now?”

We hope you enjoy reading their answers as much as we do!

2019-2020 budget for ACG Education: $593,141. Contact us for ways to get involved.

Rey Rodriguez Jr

Like many, music has always been a part of my life. It helped connect me to the ones I love. I remember growing up listening to jazz with my dad. I would love to see his face light up as Stan Getz or Wes Montgomery played on the radio. In a special kind of way, this is where I first fell in love with music. Even when signing up for classes in my first year of middle school, I wanted to become a jazz musician. Although that didn’t exactly pan out as planned, I still stumbled across an even better passion, Classical Guitar.

Although the Guitar hasn’t always been a part of my life like music has, It has brought me so many opportunities and even an entire new family. I have had amazing teachers, mentors, and made amazing friends. Music has given me so many happy experiences.It has even given me a future to look forward to. In August of this year I get to attend UT and study Classical Guitar. I am so grateful for what Music and Guitar has brought me, and I can’t wait to see where they will take me.

 

Saul Hernandez

I can say with a lot of certainty that music has shaped my life in a tremendously positive way. In my life, the act of creating music has been a very empowering process. During my teenage years when many aspects of my life were in disarray, I was able to enter a classroom and create harmony. During this time when I felt lost, I was able to find a home in the notes and rhythms of my instrument. Upon participating in guitar classes in high school, I was able to join an environment where I felt encouraged and supported. Music has allowed me to join an empowering culture where everyone is passionate about learning and growing together. 

This fall I will be entering my first year of teaching classical guitar in the classroom. As I reflect on all my past experiences, I only hope that I can positively influence the lives of my students in the same way that my mentors and teachers have influenced my own life. I hope that I can teach my students that it is okay to be unapologetically passionate about something that you love. I hope that I can encourage my students to always to create, learn, and grow. I am optimistic that, through an education in the arts, my students will obtain the tools and knowledge to be successful - wherever the future may take them.

 

Javier Saucedo

Music has been a part of my life since childhood; my dad was in a family band with his brothers since the late 60’s. Ever since I could remember I always wanted to be a musician, especially a guitarist. Like many other musicians, it has given me a sense of identity, opened many doors, as well as many amazing opportunities. I hope that the love I have for music, guitar, and for the ACG community will transcend through my teaching and influence my students to give back to their communities in the future. 

After receiving my degree at Texas State University, where I studied Classical Guitar Performance, I started working under contract with Austin Classical Guitar for their education outreach program. This led me to enlist in the alternative certification program called Teach Quest. Now I have accepted a teaching position as one of the Guitar Directors at what is now Lively Middle School, formally known as Fulmore. 

 

Justice Phillips

Like any serious musician, music and specifically guitar has had a profound impact on my life in various manners. When I ponder the things music has done for me the first thought that comes to mind are the relationships in my life that have started because of music. The first guitar class I ever took was after school in sixth grade at Fulmore Middle School, and in that class I became friends with the person who would go on to be my closest friend throughout middle school. Also in my classroom classical guitar class that was ran by Jeremy Osborne from Austin Classical Guitar, I met many friends that I would know for many years. But, the most important relationship guitar has created for me is the one with my current closest friend that I have known now for close to a decade now and have lived with for over four years. I had the pleasure of meeting him at McCallum Fine Arts Academy, a school I didn’t live in the area for but attended for the sole purpose of pursuing classical guitar. There have been numerous relationships in my life that were created because of the opportunities I had with music and guitar. 

Music and guitar have also provided for me in many different ways other than the relationships they’ve helped me build. Obviously music enriches my spirit and playing guitar soothes my soul, but that much is true for every serious musician and their instrument of expertise. We all love music in a way that’s hard to convey in words, and you don’t have to be a musician to feel that. What music has done for me as a guitar player though is allow me an outlet to give back to my community, and do something to make people feel happier for a brief moment. When I play guitar for people and the music induces feelings of happiness, I feel a sense of purpose and satisfaction. That is why I feel so fortunate to be able to work for Austin Classical Guitar. Through ACG I am constantly finding myself having opportunities to use music and the work we do to give back to the community and spread joy to people of all backgrounds and ages. It’s extremely humbling, provides a feeling that is unmatched, and it’s something I wouldn’t have experienced without music and guitar. 

 

Alex Lew

Playing music has been a defining trait of my character ever since I can remember. However, my life was truly put on a trajectory once I found the classical guitar. It all started in middle school when I joined the guitar program and started taking private lessons. I have always been introverted and reserved, but when I play the guitar in front of an audience I feel a sense of self empowerment and confidence that I wouldn’t be able to feel otherwise. The staff at ACG allowed for this discovery, and the guitar allowed me to develop my personality to who I am today. Once my teacher suggested that I could get a degree in something that I genuinely enjoy, it was a no-brainer. My appreciation for music continues to grow, but especially after I realized that it’s not just about the notes on a page, but about how those notes are interpreted by the performer. I am now entering my last year at the University of Texas majoring in classical guitar performance and I have ACG to thank for my accomplishments.

 

Angelica Campbell

Music has always been a huge part of my life and community I grew up around. I first started learning how to play music in my early childhood. Mainly off the internet, but I joined music programs at my public school as soon as I could. I always felt the most connected to people when playing music with them. The friends I made in my guitar and mariachi classes are still my longest and strongest friendships. Growing up in a low income household, I wasn't able to have many opportunities to continue music outside of school. However, once I met the members of ACG in high school every opportunity I needed to succeed was laid out on the table for me. Through the help of ACG I was donated a guitar so that I could have my own to audition with for University, and I was also donated private guitar lessons to help me grow and succeed as a musician.

I am currently a junior at the University of Texas at Austin majoring in classical guitar performance and I genuinely believe that I would not be where I am today if it weren't for the community, safety, acceptance, success, and room for growth that the music programs I was a part of brought to me. ACG was a huge part of bringing that together for myself and the friends I made throughout the programs and I couldn't be more grateful.


Thank You, from Jeremy Osborne

Jeremy Osborne has touched the lives of many young people who have had the great fortune of working with him, as well as his colleagues, friends, and family. Join us in learning what motivates Jeremy, as well as what this time at ACG has meant to him.

If his story inspires, and you would like to support our services here at ACG, click here

 

I cannot begin to express my gratitude for all of the wonderful notes and generous gifts of support that came this past month in honor of my 10-year anniversary with ACG. I have to look at the Appreciation Page in moderation because my emotions completely overwhelm me, but wow, what a gift to receive! 

I especially want to acknowledge my former students. I truly believe that any impact I've had on you is merely a fraction of the impact you've had on me. You were my teachers, too. 

It's been an amazing ten years, and I would like to share a little bit about what this time has meant to me.

My mother is an elementary music teacher, and my father is a Lutheran minister. They value service to others as a virtue above nearly everything else, and instilled that in me early on. As I got older, I became motivated by the idea of altruism, and grew to appreciate how those who share their time and talents actually receive more than they give.

ACG has allowed me to give myself in so many ways, most of the time with a guitar in my hand. It has pushed me to face seemingly insurmountable tasks, but always with the tools to be successful. ACG has informed my humanity, and more importantly, has taught me how to transform empathy into action.

When I joined ACG 10 years ago, I was preoccupied with learning how to be a more effective leader in the classroom. As any veteran teacher will tell you, it takes about three years of classroom experience just to realize how clueless you are. I eventually gained my confidence, but my "Aha!" moment had nothing to do with pedagogy. It was the realization that success in teaching is directly related to how you cultivate, maintain, and leverage the community of your classroom.

I'll never forget the first concert I led with my students at Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. We were nervously warming up beforehand, and suddenly one of my students asked, "Mr. O, do you know that Our Father prayer?"

I paused, because I wasn't sure it was appropriate, but I said I'd lead us through it and no one needed to feel obligated to join. Without a word, they all stood and gathered around me, forming a tight circle. I heard a couple of the staff members gasp. What's significant is that up until this concert, some of those kids were not even allowed to be in the same room together because of fear of violent conflict. I had to teach them in separate sections. But standing together in this circle, everyone's hard work and refinement had led us to this moment of trust, and an appreciation for the collective strength that comes through community.

Our mission at ACG is to inspire people through musical experiences of deep personal significance. This leads us to engage the communities we serve in creative ways by using artistry to meet people where they are.

Guitar education has progressed dramatically on my watch, especially in central Texas. In my 10 years, we've gone from supporting programs in two high schools and two middle schools to guitar classes in nearly every middle and high school in AISD. We've created a one-of-a-kind program at Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center, and will start a new one in Williamson County next month. Our online curriculum went from a unique website to a resource utilized all over the world! Despite all this, it feels like we are just getting started.

Thank you for letting me be a part of this journey, thank you for letting me lead you through parts of it, and thank you for supporting us as we see what lies around the bend!


Music and Healing

Dr. Travis Marcum, Austin Classical Guitar’s Director of Education since 2005, has been at the forefront of ACG's Music and Healing Initiative in recent years. Tune in as Dr. Marcum discusses a magical time where music truly touched a family.

If you are inspired after reading this story, and would like to support our Music & Healing Services at ACG, click here.

Over the last 18 months I've been meeting with long-term patients at Dell Children's Hospital as part of ACG's Music & Healing Initiative. Every child I've met and every experience I've had there has been unique, but I wanted to share a particularly special encounter I had recently.

I work closely with Della Malloy-Daugherty, the hospital's staff music therapist, to create individualized musical experiences for each patient. These experiences vary depending on the child, and can be guitar lessons, bedside concerts, writing an original song, or singing together.

In early April, I met with a teenage girl - I'll call her Anna - who expressed interest in taking guitar lessons during the three months she was hospitalized for a major procedure. We met every few days to have a lesson, play guitar, and talk about life and music.

Within moments of our first meeting, I learned that Anna had lived in Spain, and was a huge fan of flamenco music. Soon after, I found out that ACG's good friend and world-class flamenco guitarist, Grisha, would be in Houston for a concert in May.  

I had an idea.

With help from Edward Grigassy, director of the Houston Guitar Initiative, and thanks to the kindness and generosity of Grisha, we were able to arrange a private concert for Anna.

Grisha and Anna met in a small room in the hospital's rehabilitation wing. She pulled her seat up within inches of his guitar as a thundering, muted rasgueado rang out, signifying the beginning of a Bulerias. Anna leaned in, her jaw dropped, so close she could feel the breeze from Grisha's right hand.

Before long Anna's father, mother, and brother all gathered in the room. When they heard Grisha play, they were in disbelief.

"You have brought me home! You have brought me a piece of my home in Andalusia!" her father exclaimed.

Between songs they shared stories. Grisha talked about the first time he met Paco de Lucía, and Anna recalled memories of living in Zamora as a child, eating bocadillo in the park and hearing music in the distance.

Grisha played for well over an hour, Anna transfixed on his hands, her father humming along with the melodies - many of which he knew by heart.

Before his last piece, Grisha said, "I have studied my whole life to do this, I practice all the time. But this music does not exist without you ... it means so much more because of you."

There wasn't a dry eye in the room. For a moment, the cold, sterile hospital room was filled with warmth, feelings of community, and memories of home. Grisha finished his last piece and signed Anna's guitar before giving everyone a big hug goodbye.

The goal of ACG's Music & Healing Initiative is simply to be together and let the music direct us. Music, like water, finds the path of least resistance. Music can soften and calm. It can give purpose and offer an open space to receive all kinds of difficult feelings and emotions.

https://youtu.be/bD1SgjTK54U


Spring 2019 Education Report

Dear Friends of ACG Education,

I often find myself overwhelmed by the beautiful stories that pour into ACG each week of individual transformations, of achievements by students and programs and communities, of young musicians who have shaped themselves into career educators, of our own team members who have extended themselves beyond what they thought they could do.

At the heart of it all is purpose and belonging. I truly believe that, as gentle as music is, it has a deep super power inviting people to join together, with their own dreams and with others, to make positive change.

You have believed in us, you have supported us, and on behalf of all of us here at ACG Education, I am so profoundly grateful. I hope what you find in this brief report will make you proud.

Thank you,

 

 

Matt Hinsley, Executive Director
Austin Classical Guitar


People

Often in reports like this we talk about the big systems — the curriculum, the communities, the training — that support all of our partner programs. I’d like to begin this report, however, with a glimpse into the experiences of a few individuals.

Jeremy Osborne recently passed his ten-year mark as ACG’s Assistant Director of Education. I love starting off with Jeremy because he absolutely embodies the spirit of purpose and belonging I mentioned above. Jeremy is the member of our team most fully deployed in schools, and has affected the lives of thousands of students and teachers.

We created a special page in honor of Jeremy’s ten years of service, and invited people to share their thoughts and reflections. If you’d like to read some of the many tributes that have been pouring in, from students and teachers to colleagues and a Travis County judge who has seen the impact of his work with incarcerated and court-involved youth, click here. For this report, I’ll just include one of those tributes. This is from former student Makena Smith:

Mr. Osborne didn’t just teach us how to play guitar. He taught us to work hard for success, to believe in ourselves, how to work as an ensemble, and how to support each other. He gave us challenges and made us proud to be a part of our guitar program. Mr. Osborne is one of my greatest role models and I will never forget the wisdom, opportunities, and experiences he gave my peers and me. There was not a day guitar rehearsal went by where we weren’t excited to see Mr. Osborne.

Javi

We had a tragic loss in our student family this past February when Javier Niño lost his life at age 19 as the result of a traffic accident involving an impaired driver. Javi first discovered guitar at Eastside Memorial High School, where he began studying with Jeremy Osborne. With Jeremy’s help, he practiced hard and won an audition that allowed him to transfer to McCallum Fine Arts Academy. At McCallum, Javi distinguished himself both as a soloist and member of McCallum’s elite Guitar Quartet. He also began private studies with ACG Performance Engagement Artist Joseph Palmer. After graduating from McCallum, Javi became the first in his family to go to college, attending St. Edward’s University as a Computer Science major this past fall.

In a speech from earlier this year about Joseph Palmer, he wrote:

I always admired how amazing Joseph played and how easy he made it seem. I was nowhere near his level then, nor am I now. However that 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? Well that’s exactly how much I wanted to become a great player, and I established my determination to do so.

With the help of an initial gift from a family close to Javi, ACG has created a scholarship to honor and celebrate this remarkable young man. To learn more about the Javier Niño Memorial Scholarship Fund, click here.

There was a deeply moving interview with Javier’s mother on KUT’s Texas Standard that aired May 9th. You can find it here if you’d like to listen.

Angelica

We meet so many bright young people through our work in schools. Angelica Campbell was a guitar student at Crockett High School in south Austin who worked very hard, received ACG lessons, and decided to audition for music school. We gave her a beautiful, guitar that a woman in Colorado had donated to us with the request that it be given to a talented and dedicated student who could use a high quality instrument. Angelica’s now a junior at the UT Austin Butler School of Music, and we couldn’t be more proud! She recently wrote a lovely letter of thanks to ACG and the donor who made the gift of her guitar possible:

I would not have been able to reach where I am today without the support of ACG and their donors/supporters and I am so incredibly grateful for the organization and all of its members. ACG has helped me with lessons to prepare me for my audition, with giving me opportunities to perform, and with providing opportunities to see professional performances and to meet many of the world-renowned musicians that I look up to.

Thanks to people like you who are generous enough to donate what you can, they were able to provide me with these incredible opportunities. Thank you so much for donating your Aparicio guitar to ACG; because of your donation I was able to have an instrument to audition with to get into the classical guitar program at UT and to help me begin my career path. Through your generous donation I was able to have a beautiful guitar that I was proud to call my own and perform numerous events and school requirements with. I hope to meet you one day to share my gratitude in person! 

Texas

Ann Richards School for Girls Guitar Ensemble at Concert & Sightreading, April 2019

The bulk of our day-to-day education activity is devoted, of course, to supporting Central Texas programs. Our core team is responsible for curriculum and quality in the development of more than 50 area school programs serving over 4,000 students, and we have five teaching artists providing 30+ free individual lessons every week to our students in Title I schools.

 

We helped install a new teacher who’s now leading programs at three schools in the Manor School District. Those classes are thriving we’ve just learned they are adding two new programs in the fall. Students in our for-credit after-school program in Del Valle participated in our Concert and Sight Reading assessment event for the first time this spring and received all “Superior” ratings. We are projecting significant growth in both San Marcos and Dripping Springs, where enrollment numbers are dramatically rising and new programs are planned. Our Austin ISD programs continue to be large, beautiful, and occasionally volatile, with lots that are thriving, and a few that struggle with challenges like large class sizes and teachers having to divide their time between multiple campuses.

While we spend a lot of time in the trenches helping individual teachers and students, our team continues to be involved in statewide advocacy and standard-setting activities, most notably in the creation and administration of Concert and Sightreading (C&SR) assessment events for large guitar ensembles.

We have developed and run a C&SR event in Austin for seven years, and assisted – through modeling, training, and sharing of procedures and documents – in the development of similar events in Houston, El Paso, and Corpus Christi. This spring, our C&SR event at the AISD Performing Arts Center drew 43 ensembles with nearly 1,000 students participating. Each ensemble played a prepared concert performance in front of three external judges, and then sight-read newly created musical excerpts for a second panel of judges. The importance of events like this for defining and ensuring educational standards across many programs cannot be overemphasized.

Our chief advocacy goals in the coming years are to establish C&SR events in at least 15 more districts in Texas, with the ultimate goal of convincing the University Interscholastic League (UIL) to begin overseeing contest and assessment events for large guitar ensembles statewide.

This is critical because the UIL is the official authority in Texas that governs C&SR events at all levels for established, traditional large ensemble programs – primarily choir, orchestra, and band. While we are working hard to get UIL to add guitar ensemble to this list, as well as advocating for a process that would create an All-State Guitar Ensemble, we are probably still several years away. So for now, our education team largely manages the C&SR event we hold each year in Austin – developing the protocols, recruiting and organizing judges and participants, creating new sight-reading excerpts, even taking the photographs and ordering and hand-delivering trophies!

The UIL does oversee competition events for solo classical guitar, however. ACG has been engaged in an intentional 2-year plan to increase student participation in these contests by deploying our Performance Engagement Artist, Dr. Joseph Palmer. Joseph has been visiting guitar classes in schools across the region, giving concerts in which he plays music from the UIL’s list of approved contest pieces. Then, as students prepare the piece they have chosen for the contest, they can reference a video of Joseph performing it as part of the 30+ Tutorial Videos he recorded. Since this effort began, guitar student solo UIL participation has nearly tripled, making guitar one of the most popular solo instrument categories in our region (UIL Region 18).

One other standard piece of district-level guitar education infrastructure is All-City and All-Region Guitar Ensembles. ACG is heavily involved in administering both the audition process and performances by these ensembles in Austin, and we are also supporting similar efforts by our partners in other communities. Our most recent All-City and All-Region events took place in the fall; details can be found in our Fall 2018 Education Report.

As you can see from our current curriculum user map, we have many teaching partners around the state of Texas. We interact directly with our statewide partners through our annual National Teacher Summit in Austin, along with in-person and electronic consultation as requested, and by sharing guest artists and performance engagement opportunities as they arise throughout the year. It is also worth mentioning that in 2014 ACG created the Texas Guitar Directors Association to serve as an advocacy organization for classroom guitar teachers. In 2017 the TGDA held statewide elections that transferred the leadership of the organization to a board made up of teachers from across the state. Today TGDA is growing and functioning beautifully.

Juvenile Justice

Jeremy and Javier after the Sunday, Dec. 9th Concert at Gardner Betts

We are particularly proud this year to have seen a former student from our local school programs come full circle, joining our teaching staff as the new director of guitar at the Travis County Juvenile Justice Center (Gardner Betts). You can read some of Javier Saucedo’s story here. He is now a certified music educator, and a treasured member of our teaching team. It’s beautiful!

We are also pleased to report that our services for youth in the juvenile justice system will be extending for the first time to Williamson County, with an enrichment program launching this summer and for-credit guitar classes offered to residents in the county’s detention facility starting in the fall. Also this summer, the Travis County Probation Department has asked us to offer individual instruction to youth in the community who are court-involved but not incarcerated. The intention of that program is to engage these young people in an enriching activity that can help establish a pathway to new social and scholastic opportunities when school begins again in the fall.

We were encouraged to see six years of academic data from Gardner Betts comparing performance of students enrolled in our guitar programs versus students not enrolled. While it is always difficult to draw large conclusions or infer direct causality from data like this, the trends are nonetheless encouraging.

United States and Beyond

We are always on the lookout for strong, motivated partners who could benefit from some extra support from our team. With curriculum subscribers in over 40 states and 20 countries, there are always exciting conversations happening with existing and potential new high-level partners. These conversations and the relationships that develop can produce positively transformative results for students, teachers, and families in the communities we partner with. I’d like to share a few stories here.

James McKay’s 7th Grade Guitar Class

St. Louis: St. Louis Classical Guitar (SLCG) continues to do beautiful things, including growth in programming, building capacity to add a full time education director, and developing their own program in the St. Louis juvenile justice system. We have spent extensive time with SLCG assisting both with education and organizational development, and I strongly recommend you read this beautiful feature on their work from the National Endowment on the Arts.

Cleveland: Perhaps our favorite story of 2019 so far was the CBS This Morning feature about Cleveland Classical Guitar. It is so beautiful that I won’t say any more except to encourage you to click here and enjoy!

Ontario, Canada: We were delighted to discover what we believe to be the first published scholarly paper about our online guitar curriculum! The title says it all: “Has Classroom Guitar Education Come of Age? A Review of the GuitarCurriculum.com Method.” It is perhaps the most detailed yet concise description we’ve seen of the tool we have been building since 2004 that is at the heart of all our classroom program building activities. You can read the paper online here.

Kathmandu, Nepal: We are simply thrilled to report that our program at the Early Childhood Development Center in Kathmandu is continuing. The new teacher, Ravindra Paudyal, trained internationally and has already begun making magic with the kids in the facility, which is a home for children of incarcerated parents founded by CNN Superhero Pushpa Basnet.

Guitar Education for Blind and Visually Impaired Students

The guitar program at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (video) is now in its ninth year. Two years ago, we realized that the world lacked a comprehensive tool for braille-based lifelong music learning on the guitar. With your generous support and 16 months of development, in July 2018 we launched LetsPlayGuitar.org, an online resource offering a sequential learning system that uses downloadable braille music files along with extensive audio guides to promote skill-learning in classical guitar and braille music literacy.

Our goal this year has been to expand the site with content supporting four additional skill levels, which will complement the initial four levels in place. With this Phase 2 addition, which includes 26 new pieces of music, we’ll have a system that will allow learners to progress to a point of fluency on the guitar in first position over several years of study, and make lots of beautiful, joyful music along the way! This will be a significant milestone for us. I’m thrilled to report that we have completed braille files for all 26 new pieces. In the coming months, the audio instructional guides will be prepared, and we are on track to launch the new levels in July, 2019.  

Conclusion

There is so much more to report! But I will stop there for this mid-year update. By the end of 2019 I look forward to reporting on major new developments with our core resource, GuitarCurriculum.com, along with the launch of LetsPlayGuitar.org, the results of new training relationships, and many more beautiful stories of personal transformation.

I would like to thank each and every one of you for believing in ACG Education, and for believing in the power of music to change lives. If in reading this report you have decided you might like to get more involved with us in any way, please don’t hesitate to email me.

I would also like to take a moment to thank our amazing sponsors and institutional supporters, including:

City of Austin Cultural Arts Division, Augustine Foundation, Webber Family Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Sue L. Nguyen Trust, Kaman Foundation, Still Water Foundation, the Rea Charitable Trust, Cain Foundation, Texas Women for the Arts, Kodosky Foundation, Lucy Ross Farland, H-E-B Tournament of Champions, Tingari-Silverton Foundation, Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation, Michael R. Levy, Texas Commission on the Arts, MFS Foundation, Sarah & Ernest Butler, the University Area Rotary Club, the Mitte Foundation, Shield-Ayres Foundation, the Skeel-Baldauf Family, Applied Materials, Bill & Lynne Cariker, Louise Epstein & John Henry McDonald, Long Foundation, Wright Family Foundation, Mercedes-Benz of Austin, Silicon Labs, 3M Foundation, Kendal & Ken Gladish, the Benavi Family, Austin Radiological Association, D’Addario Foundation, PwC, Urban Betty, Charles Schwab & Co., Burdine Johnson Foundation, Cindy Cook, William Metz, Karrie & Tim League, Austin Bar Foundation, Carl Caricari & Margaret Murray Miller, Rixen Law, Elaine & Michael Kasper, Victoria & Bill Donnellan, Bill & Mary LaRosa, Kerry & Carole Price, Bank of America Matching Gifts Program, Josh Stern & Reality Based Group, Tesoros Trading Company, Fiddler’s Green Music Shop, IBC Bank Austin, Savarez, Calido Guitars, and Strait Music.

On behalf of all of us here at ACG Education, thank you for your support, and I hope our work in the coming year will make you proud.


Guitar in Schools: Oak Meadows Elementary

Every Wednesday afternoon in a classroom at Oak Meadows Elementary School in Manor, Texas, you'll find a group of 4th and 5th grade students learning to play classical guitar with their instructor, Victor Longoria. This after-school program was launched in the fall of 2018 as part of ACG Education's new expansion into Manor ISD, which includes programs at Oak Meadows, Decker Elementary, and Decker Middle School. ACG's work in Manor is made possible by a generous grant from the Applied Materials Foundation.

Engaging with music early in life has many documented benefits, and for the students at Oak Meadows that includes having lots of fun! When asked what their favorite things were about guitar class they happily listed practicing, giving each other nicknames, and playing exciting repertoire - from Christmas songs to pop and rock music. The students enjoy activities like these while simultaneously gaining valuable life skills. In music class, they learn how to persist through challenges, commit to tasks, and work together to create something beautiful to share with the world.     

Their instructor, Victor, was a self-taught musician until college. He says that once he had a teacher, “[learning guitar] was totally different.” He knows how influential and inspiring a good music teacher can be. Victor supports and encourages his students through the struggles that inevitably arise when they learn a new concept or piece of music. And when they ultimately master something that was once difficult, their success can help them build the confidence and skills to problem-solve and overcome their insecurities in other aspects of their lives. Victor believes that it’s not all about perfection, reassuring his students that he knows what they’re going through. After each performance, he asks his class how they felt. He thinks it's important to recognize the emotions that they’re experiencing.

The program fosters an environment in which the students feel safe to express their emotions artistically as well. Joshua, a 5th-grader in Victor’s class, solemnly observed that “[music] can be so weird and abstract, but so good!” Joshua and his classmates are discovering what music means to them, and the beautiful thing is that they all see it in a unique way.

The class agreed that one of the best moments they’ve had in the program so far was joining with 30 middle school guitar students this spring to accompany a singer on a folk song called “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” Having the opportunity to play with older students gives the younger ones a chance to envision themselves continuing with music. They remembered feeling both ecstatic and nervous, and Victor is proud of how well they played. The students also reminisced about how much they enjoyed playing “Jingle Bells” during a winter concert.

These students are not only honing talent, but also growing friendships. There are a range of personalities in the group, from a quiet student with a shy smile who needed encouragement to speak, to an incredibly excited and talkative 5th grader who shared a seemingly random assortment of ideas and stories. Students whose paths might normally diverge are creating bonds that will exist beyond guitar class. Their smiles and camaraderie say it all: music has the power to bring us together, no matter our differences.

Thanks to the support from the Applied Materials Foundation and other donors, ACG is able to provide high quality music education, as well as guitars, at no cost to the students or the district. We're thrilled to see guitar making a positive difference in Manor ISD and excited to watch these programs - and the children who participate - continue to bloom!


Borders of Belonging

In this unstable climate of boundaries drawn, borders disputed, and identities forced to bridge the middle ground, we're often pressured into seeing concrete lines of distinction. We're told to see others' differences as discordant notes of tension rather than as the harmonious elements of an orchestra.

ACG was recently honored to perform at an event confronting these notions of division: ACC's 8th Annual Peace and Conflict Studies Spring Symposium on Friday, April 12. This year's theme was "The Borders of Belonging: Art, Conflict Transformation, and Peace." The event was a full day of art, music, and discussion focused on uniting discrete disciplines in a contemplation of how peace relates to borders.

Executive Director Matt Hinsley described the transformative nature of the arts in a speech to introduce our performers.

"Art is powerful. Its imprecision is where the power lies: the opportunity to interpret, to participate, is a space to feel belonging. Transformation occurs with a feeling of safety and connection.”

Tom Echols - experimental artist, Adjunct Professor of Music at ACC, and longtime friend of ACG - performed Barrios's Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios (Alms for the Love of God) and a variation of Leonard Cohen's theme on a French wartime folk song. He explained how music enables us to see the space between, allowing us to be more accepting of difference.

"Otherness is created to distract. In music, we need to see musical objects, like chords and phrases, in every perspective. We have to be comfortable with questions, with uncertainty. Art-making is inherently conducive to inclusivity.”

Travis Marcum, ACG's Director of Education, played some covers and some original compositions of 20-year-old vocalist Ta'tyana Jammer, a graduate of our McCallum High School guitar program who's carving a path into the music world. Travis shared how his perception of age changed during dream - ACG's community-based music project from last summer devoted to the voices, hopes, and dreams of young people in Austin.

"Dream sought to erode imaginary borders of age through music. Time and life can systematically desensitize us to the emotions, the urgent sense of purpose we had when we were young. When I hear young people like Ta'Tyana pour their heart into music they create, I am reminded of the fire and the passion. I feel those feelings again. I carry them with me." 

Oliver Rajamani, Austin guitarist notable for his Flamenco India project highlighting the Indian roots of flamenco, performed genre-bending music - such as a country song with an American accent - on both the oud and the guitar.

"I’ve worked a lot with the Romani, a people long misunderstood by others. People say my music breaks borders. I’m not sure it does, but my whole life I’ve been able to connect with people from all walks of life: all ages, races, religions. Music has been instrumental - it crosses borders in a non-violent way. It touches people and affects them very deeply."

The timing of ACC's Peace Symposium could not have been more serendipitous. A little more than 200 miles away, the "Bach Project" of world-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma brought him on April 13th to the Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge, a crossing point between Mexico and the US. The Bach Project has taken Ma all over the world exploring connections between cultures using the centuries-old music of Bach.

Before an audience with residents of both Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Yo-Yo Ma performed the beginning of Bach's Suite No. 1 for Unaccompanied Cello.

"As you all know, as you did and do and will do, in culture, we build bridges, not walls," he said. "I've lived my life at the borders. Between cultures. Between disciplines. Between musics. Between generations."

We're so fortunate to exist in the midst of such thoughtful, creative music-makers. Through experiences such as the Peace Symposium and Yo-Yo Ma's Bach Project performance, we're reminded of the complimentary aspects of identity, of the components of our beings that strive for connection. We're reminded that the arts offer an opportunity to communicate with others from different backgrounds, an opportunity to dissolve constructed boundaries and provide spaces for belonging.


ACG Youth Orchestra Tour and the Joy of Sharing Music

The Austin Classical Guitar Youth Orchestra, founded in 2013 under the direction of Dr. Joseph Williams, comprises the best young guitarists in the Austin area. They've performed before thousands in prestigious venues, premiered several new works, and this March, they embarked on their first-ever tour. The 12 guitarists, guided by Director Joseph Williams and Assistant Director Stephen Krishnan, spent four days in San Francisco performing concerts, exploring the city, and forming new friendships.


To play music together for a few hours a week is a chance to escape the stress of daily life, to engage with like-minded individuals, and to strive for a cohesive musical expression.

But to voyage on a shared adventure thousands of miles from home, performing familiar music for unfamiliar audiences in a different venue each day, is an unforgettable experience of transformation.

The evolution of an ensemble throughout the course of tour is striking.

As the members perform music in different settings for new audiences, familiar phrases and rhythms acquire new meaning and fresh interpretations. The melody of Ellis Island suddenly becomes infused with memories of their first conveyor-belt sushi Friday night. The repeated motif at the beginning of Gale seems different when performed in an impromptu hotel lobby rehearsal. And the intensity of Verano Porteño, when shared with guitarists from far away that they've only just met, assumes a new identity when rehearsed for the first time together.

One of the most significant experiences for a young ensemble is learning how to apply skills in new settings or under unusual circumstances. On tour, situations arise that require musicians to rehearse earlier in the morning than expected or in a different location than anticipated. Tour requires a certain flexibility of mind and body, a certain confidence in musical ability and muscle memory, to be able to spring into action even in abnormal circumstances.

The opportunity to play music in new venues holds particular importance for the ensemble members. Notes they're accustomed to playing in their own practice rooms undergo obvious changes when rehearsed with the entire group, but when performing these same harmonies and rhythms in magnificent spaces such as St. Mark's Church (right), the music goes through a beautiful metamorphosis. The students realize their musicality can soar into the rafters, it can envelop entire halls with its gorgeous tone; they realize the power and substance of their own creation can affect others.

A crucial element of the musical evolution, though, depends upon individuals coalescing into a unified ensemble. The young musicians, converging in the Youth Orchestra from diverse walks of life, spend every waking moment with each other. Stand-mates and part-sharers become bus-mates and meal-sharers; jokes and serious conversations build connections where before there were none; new shared experiences strengthen bonds; sooner or later, whether by choice or by proximity, these once-unfamiliar musicians become friends.

Aytahn Benavi, a 16-year-old member of ACGYO, shared the following:

"Of course, the little funny stuff will stick in my mind, like Joe throwing the baton during the concert at San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Stephen singing at the amphitheater in Golden Gate Park, and Max wearing a kimono to the Alamo. But the most memorable thing about the trip was being able to make good on months of work in the ensemble by making some very good music, and being able to enjoy the company of the group members in a completely different environment than rehearsals."

"It is rather rare that one gets to share a truly meaningful experience with people who share a passion and have worked towards the same goal." - Aytahn