Our Partners for “dream”: CASA of Travis County

We’re honored to partner with CASA of Travis County for our upcoming presentation of dream. This isn’t our first collaboration – for the past several years, students from our guitar classes at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center have performed at CASA’s swearing-in ceremonies for new volunteers. We talked with Callie Langford, their Director of Communications, to learn more about the services CASA provides for children in the welfare system.

I’ve worked with CASA of Travis County for the past ten years. CASA is a national organization that started over 40 years ago in Seattle, and the Travis County organization began in 1985. Last year we had over 700 volunteers helping almost 1,800 children.

We speak up for kids in the child welfare and foster care system. We recruit, screen, and train volunteers to work directly with kids in child protection services. Our volunteers don’t need a special education or background to become children’s advocates in the courtroom, in schools, and in the community.

The volunteers spend time building a trusting relationship with the child. If something goes wrong, or if the child is scared, the child knows to call the CASA volunteer.

To help build a well-rounded picture of the child’s experience, the volunteer gets to know the parents, foster home parents, shelter workers, therapists, doctors, attorneys, and case workers. The advocate will see the child more often than most parties on the case, and will go to the courtroom and defend the interests of the child or sibling group about four times a year. Unlike an attorney with multiple cases at a time, our CASA volunteers are focused on only one child or sibling group.

CASA volunteers keep children in protection services from falling through the cracks of the system.

It’s really a big commitment. About half of our volunteers have full-time jobs, and they range in age from 21 to 83. They have families, careers, and travel obligations. We ask our volunteers to commit to the lifetime of a case, which on average is around seventeen months. Volunteers typically give about fifteen hours per month.

It’s a really empowering and very engaging volunteer job, and probably the most professional volunteer role out there. I’m always amazed at how many people are able to do their end, and how much time they’re able to give. Our volunteers are incredible people.

A volunteer once told me that “It doesn’t take up time, it creates a space. It makes your life bigger.” 

I interviewed someone who was aging out of the CASA system a few years ago. We try to help the children make healthy adult connections and go in a successful direction after leaving our program. This young woman told me that she couldn’t decide between going to school to be an attorney or an engineer.

I asked where she would be without her Court Appointed Special Advocate, and she said with zero hesitation, “I’d be in jail.” She really attributed the success and direction in her life to her CASA volunteer.

An Tran: Playing from the heart

An Tran, a rising virtuoso from Vietnam, will perform for ACG’s final Library Series concert this Sunday, May 27th at 2pm. We had the chance to sit down and ask him some questions about the role of music in his home life, his move to the U.S., and his desire to bridge two worlds through music.

 How did music play a part of  your life growing up?

My parents were music lovers. I was lucky to be raised in an environment where music was always there – my dad used to put the radio next to my mom when she was pregnant with me, so it was there from the beginning. My parents let me try out all different instruments, but when I tried guitar, it made a lot of sense. It was challenging, but also motivating to me as a kid.

When did you move to the U.S. from Vietnam?

I left Hanoi when I was 15 to study as a foreign exchange student in Nebraska. A while after moving there, I quit guitar – I got tired of playing the same things, and wanted a change. I’d been in the Vietnam National Academy of Music for a number of years, but I lost motivation when I moved to the States. Then, I visited a friend studying guitar with Anne Waller in Chicago, and when I had the chance to play for her, she told me I should continue. I realized I enjoyed performing, and that people liked hearing me play. I’m now a doctoral candidate studying with Anne at Northwestern University.

“The guitar is universal, which makes it easy to communicate and connect with people. I believe it can function as a bridge between Vietnamese music and Western classical music.”

How does music of your homeland play a part in your performances?

I like to incorporate pieces close to my heart in all concerts, so about half of the music I perform is Vietnamese. I try to bring traditional Vietnamese music to as many audiences as possible, which I think gives them a small part of who I am. The final piece I’ll play next Sunday is an arrangement of a traditional lullaby my mom used to sing to me.

How do you view the guitar as a way to portray traditional Vietnamese music?

The guitar is universal, which makes it easy to communicate and connect with people. I believe it can function as a bridge between Vietnamese music and Western classical music, and I view myself as that bridge. The guitar is part of my personality, my identity.

Guitar & Juvenile Justice: a student perspective

Begun in 2010 in partnership with Austin Independent School District and Travis County, ACG developed the only for-credit arts class offered to young people incarcerated at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. The impact of these classes has drawn national attention, including coverage on PBS NewsHour. Most recently, the Travis County Juvenile Probation Department has asked that ACG expand this program to begin serving Austin students who are currently on probation.

A couple of weeks ago, we sat down with several of ACG’s students at Gardner Betts to ask them about their experience with guitar. We’d like to share one young man’s perspective:

My mom cried she was so happy after my first guitar concert.

I hadn’t even told her that I was learning to play. For that first performance, I just told her to come to the courthouse, that there was something going on and she needed to be there. When she showed up and there was a concert, and I played, she was amazed, and just kept crying.

I already finished my fine arts credit, but I decided to stay in guitar. I just like it. It keeps me busy, keeps me out of trouble and makes me feel grounded. It calms me down when I’m feeling angry or upset, for real. When I start playing, my mind slows down and pretty soon I’m lost in the music and everything else goes away, like blurs, and it’s just me playing guitar.

Guitar is just interesting. I’ve even learned how to figure out songs by ear. I used to bring in a recording of a song I wanted to learn and Mr. Osborne would start showing me how to play it. One day he told me to try and figure it out myself. I didn’t think I would be able to do it, but I started trying. At first I couldn’t do anything, so Mr. Osborne showed me the first note. Then I got it, one note here and there until I had the whole thing. If I got stuck or something, he would help, but other than that, I figured it out myself.

You practice to get better, you make a little progress, but you can’t really see it happening in a big way. Then one day you’re able to play this crazy piece. When I’m about to perform, I don’t worry about messing up, I just worry about playing. I close my eyes, and just focus on the music. When I sit down to play my hands always shake, but you just gotta play, get in your zone. The audience might not like it, they don’t have to like it, as long as you like it, that’s what matters.

If you are inspired by Austin Classical Guitar’s work with young people in the Juvenile Justice System, please consider making a donation to support this work today.

The Artist-Audience Connection

This story is part of our ACG Fall Fund Drive Changing Lives Storyboard. Read our previous story about a member of ACG’s Community Ensemble who credits his participation in the group as the reason he decided to pursue a new career and change his life purpose. Consider supporting ACG today!

In his role as ACG’s Performance Engagement Artist, Joseph Palmer gives concerts in schools, libraries, museums – even alongside puppets! His programs are each uniquely crafted for the audience he’s performing for, and always feature plenty of storytelling and audience interaction. And through his regular visits to all of our local middle and high school guitar programs, along with a series of online performance videos, Joseph is inspiring young people throughout Austin to find joy through music-making. In this blog post, learn more about Joseph’s work with ACG and approach to engaging diverse audiences.

School Visits

In 2017, Joseph made 35 visits to Austin middle and high schools, performing for more than 1,000 students. One of the main goals of his school visits in the last 18 months has been to inspire guitar students to participate in the University Interscholastic League (UIL) Solo Music Contest.

The specific design of these visits was Inspire-Support-Refine. First, Joseph developed a concert program consisting entirely of selections from the UIL Prescribed Music List. This meant that every piece he performed is one the students would be eligible to play for a UIL guitar competition. Joseph then recorded videos of many of the selections so that all students, particularly those without private instructors, would have access to excellent tutorial support for their own chosen solo. Finally, he scheduled follow-up visits at each school, styled as master classes, for the students to perform their piece for him and their peers, and receive feedback.

Joseph during a recent visit to Akins High School.

Musical Puppet Shows

At the core of Joseph’s work in Performance Engagement is the question: As an artist, what can I do to make my performances as deeply personally significant as possible?

In the UIL example above, he designed a powerful program for middle and high school students of guitar. In partnering with storytellers from Austin Public Library’s “Literature Live” program for six performances of the musical puppet show, Fifolet (in addition to a radio show performance), Joseph provided free and engaging musical experiences for about 350 diverse young people and families all around Austin.

We asked Joseph to tell us a bit more about his work:

The role of music has always been deeply significant in my life. It can express what words cannot, connect people with their emotions, and it carries the capacity to dissolve the barriers that separate people. In the last several years, I have become increasingly inspired by the idea of being able to connect with virtually any person through music.

I’ve found that combining musical performance with personal interaction can open up a space where young people can explore something beautiful, share their impressions, self-reflect, discuss emotions, empathize, and think creatively. These are perhaps atypical experiences for a classroom setting, yet they are an essential part of our every day lives.

The greatness of the art we love and produce is only manifest through the personal connections others are able to make with it. As the performer, you are the ambassador for your art, and each performance is an opportunity to connect others to the richness and beauty of that world. Oftentimes, it’s not only about how great you play; it’s about how you present the experience as a whole.

The way an artist communicates and interacts with the audience during a performance has the potential to significantly enrich the listening experience. The goal is not to merely give information, but to build audience anticipation, engage their interest, imagination, or emotions in ways that tie into the music. When done well, it dramatically changes the whole dynamic of the musical experience.

Joseph Palmer’s Performance Engagement work is made possible through the generous support of Bill & Mary LaRosa and Carl Caricari & Margaret Murray Miller. 

Top 10 Moments of 2017

Back by popular demand, it’s our list of the Top 10 ACG Moments of the Year! It was an epic struggle to narrow this one down. We argued, we pleaded, we cajoled, and for a while even thought about making it a Top 11 list – but when the dust finally settled, we chose the 10 unforgettable moments listed below.

Was there something we left out? Let us know your most memorable ACG moments of 2017!


#10 – “Coco”
We couldn’t resist. As soon as we heard that Disney/Pixar would be releasing “Coco,” an animated musical about a young boy and his magical guitar, we called our friends at the Alamo Drafthouse and made plans for a kid-friendly, first-time guitar experience as part of the movie’s opening weekend in late November. We secured permission from Disney to create a simple arrangement of one of the songs from the film, came up with a fun lesson plan designed to get a roomful of kids from zero to performance-ready in less than an hour, gathered up 50 guitars, and headed to the theater hoping it would all work! Somehow, it did! And everyone had a blast. BONUS: Lots of adorable kiddos with guitars!


#9 – “The Fifolet”
What will happen to little Jolie when she encounters Percival, the mysterious pirate ghost, standing guard over his precious treasure? Find out in The Fifolet!

In August, ACG’s Performance Engagement Artist, Joseph Palmer, teamed up with storytellers from Austin Public Library for our first-ever musical puppet show collaboration! So much drama – so much fun! They gave six free shows in six different neighborhood libraries around the city.

Joseph recently shared some thoughts about connecting with audiences in this blog post.


#8 – Guitars Under the Stars
Guitars Under the Stars, our annual gala for ACG Education, is always a highlight of the season, and the 2017 edition was no exception. So many memorable moments – the heartfelt testimonial by Judge Darlene Byrne about ACG’s work with youth in juvenile detention… words of gratitude from ACG Scholarship recipient Santiago Esquivel… the Paper Guitar… Joseph Palmer’s “Bold Fashioned” custom cocktail… the Akins High School guitar ensemble… and capping it all off, a performance by Grisha that led to long standing ovations (and swooning guitarists). But the part we loved the most? That we got to spend a magical night with so many friends and raised nearly $90,000 for ACG Education programs.


#7 – ACG Juvenile Justice Program featured in Teen Vogue
ACG’s work with youth in the juvenile justice system has attracted a lot of attention over the years – but we never expected to make it into Teen Vogue! Click here to read the article they published on their website in October.

We are so proud of the positive impact our guitar classes at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center have had on the young people we have the privilege of working with there. Check out this recent blog from Jeremy Osborne for a story about one of his students. BONUS: At the end of Jeremy’s post you can watch the PBS NewsHour segment that led to the Teen Vogue story, which features an interview with the NewsHour reporter. Meta!


#6 – Matt gets an award!

We always knew our boss was pretty special. Matt Hinsley’s leadership and vision have transformed Austin Classical Guitar from a humble guitar society into one of the most innovative and effective arts service organizations in the United States, so we were thrilled when the National Association of Social Workers named him as the 2017 “Public Citizen of the Year” for the state of Texas. Congratulations, Matt!


#5 – GuitarCurriculum.com: Changing lives from Austin to Kathmandu

The not-so-secret engine that powers ACG Education is GuitarCurriculum.com, our online instructional resource for classroom-based guitar that allows us to support hundreds of teachers and thousands of their students across the U.S. and beyond. We didn’t truly appreciate how “beyond” our reach extended until we heard from Daniel Linden, who uses our curriculum with his students in Kathmandu, Nepal! Behind the scenes, the big news happened this August with the long-awaited relaunch of GC.com on a new software platform. This upgrade has dramatically improved the usability of the site and will allow us to introduce some new features that we’ve been dreaming about for a while.


#4 – The Lullaby Project, and a Transformational Gift

The Lullaby Project brings us together with mothers in extremely challenging circumstances to help them write personal songs for their children. It’s incredibly challenging and rewarding work, and the songs and stories that have emerged since we began in 2014 have touched us deeply. The lullaby above, “I Will Protect You,” was created just a couple of weeks ago at Travis County Jail.

In October, an anonymous donor handed us a check for $75,000 to start a Lullaby Project fund within ACG’s Endowment. We were blown away by this incredible gift, which will help sustain this special program for years to come.


#3 – A trial run for our newest and coolest project

One of our most exciting projects at the moment is a web-based learning resource designed to empower lifelong learning on the classical guitar for people with visual impairments. Nothing like it exists, and with help from Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired, we’re on track to launch in March, 2018! Back in August, though, we were just getting started and needed assurance it would all work. Seven members from the Austin chapter of the National Association for the Blind agreed to meet with us at TSBVI to try out the first few lessons. None of them played guitar, and as soon as we handed them instruments they had lots of questions! We told them they could only use the audio guides and braille scores we provided – because that’s how people using the resource would do it. Not only did everyone sail through the lessons, they had so much fun they asked to keep going!


#2 – “Hope After Harvey”

Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast on Friday, August 25th. The devastation it left in its wake was unimaginable, and we were eager to do something – anything – to help those affected. Together with Austin Chamber Music Center, Conspirare, and the Miro Quartet, we formulated plans for a benefit concert to raise money for the relief effort. St. John’s United Methodist Church generously stepped in and offered to host, and with five days to prepare, we got busy!

As soon as “Hope After Harvey” was announced, the contributions began pouring in – and not just from local folks planning to attend the concert. There were contributions from all over Texas, as well as Florida, California – even Singapore and Switzerland!

And on the day of the concert, hundreds of you came. Every single seat in St. John’s large sanctuary was filled, with more people lining the aisles, and even more watching a video simulcast of the concert from two overflow rooms. We also collected two carloads of donated goods, and signed up volunteers for two trips to assist nearby affected communities.

In the end, the concert raised over $35,000, all of which went to Austin- and Houston-based disaster relief organizations. “Hope After Harvey” was a remarkable demonstration of what our community can accomplish when we come together to help our neighbors – and a powerful affirmation that music is a mysterious and gentle force that brings people together, and inspires and lifts us all.


#1 – i/we

i/we changed us.

For two evenings in late July, i/we invited us to gather, to contemplate, and to search for ourselves in the faces and stories of others. It was also one of the most unique, ambitious, and challenging projects we’ve ever attempted at ACG. Highlighted by Joe Williams’s stunning score and Travis Marcum’s interviews with refugees recently settled in central Texas, i/we drew upon the combined efforts and talents of the entire staff, a small army volunteers, and an international ensemble of world-class musicians. Everyone poured their hearts into it. i/we also drew upon the willingness of our community to open themselves up to an experience that asked a lot from them. The result was a truly extraordinary night of music, art, and stories we will never forget. The video above captures some of the magic.



From every one of us at Austin Classical Guitar, thank you for your incredible support and friendship. We are so grateful for the generous spirit of this community. You inspire us every day. We can’t wait to share more great moments together in 2018!

A Lullaby Story from Matt Hinsley

A few weeks ago, a very good friend asked ACG’s Director of Education Travis Marcum and I to lunch to talk about the Lullaby Project. We traded stories about the importance of music in our own childhoods. We talked about the young moms we’ve gotten to know in the course of this work, and the unforgettable songs they have created for their children. We were moved to tears.

Our friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, handed us a beautiful card expressing her hope for many more years of healing through music at Austin Classical Guitar. Inside the envelope was a check for $75,000 to begin a fund dedicated to the Lullaby Project within the ACG Endowment.

What an extraordinary gift. I am so inspired by the generosity that enables us to work toward healing through music with some of our community’s most vulnerable individuals.

If you would like to add your support, you can make a contribution using the form below, or email me to learn more about gifts to the ACG Endowment.

The newest lullaby, “I Will Protect You,” was created just last week at the Travis County Jail by Arlen, who wrote it for her four young children. I’d love for you to hear it. Just hit the play button on the video below. There’s also a reflection by Joey Delahoussaye, the Lullaby Project clinician who worked with Arlen to write this moving song.


I Will Protect You
By Arlen, with Joey Delahoussaye

Within a few minutes of meeting Arlen, I could tell that her soft-spoken manner belied her strength as a mother and protector of her children, who mean everything to her. In her lullaby, Arlen takes turns singing to her three daughters, Kamila, Fatima, and Valeria, and to her son, Angel. She hasn’t seen any of them since arriving at the Travis County Correctional Complex a few months ago.

Arlen would be the first to tell you how unique each of her children are, and for that reason we decided early on that this would not be a one-size-fits-all lullaby. Arlen uses the verses to speak directly to each child, addressing them one by one to offer words of encouragement. Then, in the chorus, she expresses her love for her family and commitment to protect them, no matter what. For all the uncertainty in Arlen’s life right now, her devotion to her children is steadfast. Writing this lullaby was a special experience that I won’t soon forget.

– Joey Delahoussaye, ACG Lullaby Project Clinician

If you’re inspired by this story and would like to support the Lullaby Project, please consider making a financial gift using the form below.

Opening a door

This story is part of our ACG Fall Fund Drive Changing Lives Storyboard. Read our previous story about the first-time-ever guitar experience we created for young movie fans right before they saw Disney/Pixar’s newest film Coco. Consider supporting ACG today! 

Lynn Wills has been a member of ACG’s Community Ensemble since the summer of 2016.  He credits his participation in the group with realizing the need to pursue a new direction in his career and a change in life purpose.

Lynn Wills (left) performing in a duet with Ed Collins, Dec. 10, 2017.

For more information about ACG’s Community Ensembles, click here.

How did you become involved with ACG?

Growing up, a lot of my life centered around band. I played clarinet and saxophone in middle and high school, and senior year I was drum major, first chair, and section leader. In my senior year, half of my classes were music: marching band, jazz band, dance band, and theory class. By the time I went to college, I was burned out. It was too much, I was tired of performance jitters and auditioning, and I got interested in Air Force ROTC. I only played in the marching band my senior year of college, then I joined the Air Force.

As tired as I was of auditioning in high school, it turned out my area of specialty in the Air Force required an audition of sorts every year – people came in, critiqued me – it was just continuous criticism for years and years. I spent 30 years in the Air Force, and worked in the defense industry for 12 years.

Six years into the Air Force, I ended up stationed in Madrid. I went downtown, bought a guitar, met an American ex-pat living there, and started learning to play classical music. This was 1980 – a long time ago. I played off and on at home, but my family joked about how I never performed in public.

In March of last year, I started looking around for something new. I signed up for a guitar ensemble with ACG. At the first practice, I fell in love. Then, in November, we performed for a charity event. It was my first time performing in public since 1974. I had forgotten what it was like. The ensemble is such a supportive environment that a couple mistakes are no big deal. It was never like that in high school.

I started thinking, “What other areas of life have I restricted myself in?”

ACG Community Ensemble at St. Luke’s on the Lake, Lynn far left.

“I was just amazed at what happens when you open a new door and start looking around. I’m pretty convinced if I hadn’t played guitar and joined an ACG ensemble, that wouldn’t have happened.”

In October, I quit my job and applied to The University of Texas at Austin for a Master’s degree in Public Leadership at the LBJ School of Public Policy. I was accepted, and now I’m taking classes. It’s a public policy program in executive leadership, so 80% of the students are state employees. I would be really interested in teaching or consulting, as well as volunteering with a non-profit. I’ve just been amazed at what happens when you open a new door and start looking around. I’m pretty convinced that if I hadn’t played guitar and joined an ACG ensemble, that wouldn’t have happened.

How would you describe your experience in the ACG ensemble, and a part of ACG as a whole?

It’s very supportive, and there’s a lot of work involved. In an ensemble like that, you’re pretty exposed. Ensemble playing really drives you to practice. It also expands your repertoire, and I think I’m a better player than I was a year ago.


The hit new Disney/Pixar movie Coco features a lot of guitar playing, so as soon as we heard about it we asked our friends at the Alamo Drafthouse if we could create a real, live, first-time-ever guitar experience for young movie fans right before the show!

Here’s what happened, along with a few adorable photos from the experience. Special thanks to the Alamo Drafthouse for yet another fruitful collaboration, and to HLK Fotos for taking and sharing these fantastic snaps!

The Idea

Our friend Dan Baugh from Calido Guitars first told us about Coco (Thank you, Dan!). ACG Education is all about engaging young people in beautiful music making right from the beginning, so we immediately knew what we wanted to do!

Getting It Together

We selected a song that was featured in one of the movie’s trailers, and with help from the Alamo Drafthouse we secured Disney’s permission to use it. We then tasked our amazing curriculum specialist from Knoxville, Tennessee, Chris Lee, with creating a three-part arrangement of the song that would be playable by beginners.

Then we set a date!

Brass Tacks

A few weeks out we assembled the team to come up with a lesson plan: What to teach, in what order, to reach the goal we were hoping to achieve. Our plan was to get the kids seated and set up properly with their guitars, get them to play one note together, learn to listen to one another, refine their togetherness and volume, teach them to count beats and play in time. Once that was accomplished, we’d teach them the first of two patterns, practice it with the band, teach them the second of two patterns, practice it with the band, then put it all together for a performance and take a bow!

Simple, right?

What Happened

The big day arrived. We tuned and prepared 50 guitars, and laid them out next to 50 chairs. By that point there was almost no place to step, and we were sure there would be a few casualties among the guitars! Turns out all the kids were super careful and we lost zero guitars – though one of our team members had to intervene as a particularly small girl was about to use a guitar as a stepstool to help her get into her chair!

As excited and full of energy as they were, the kids became focused pretty quickly. We watched a one-minute trailer that featured the song and then got to work. Within ten minutes, we’d already learned the first pattern—the simpler of the two. The second pattern was trickier and took longer, but after about 35 minutes we played the whole entire song together and it sounded pretty good! We performed it three times, the crowd went wild, and it was time to go see the movie!

Why’d We Do it?

For the same reason we do everything at ACG: because we believe in music.

We believe that music is one of the oldest, most enduring, most powerful, most gentle, and most patient teachers there is. We believe music brings us together, and we believe that coming together is at the center of peace and productivity. We witness it every day in classrooms across Austin, and through our many partners, across the world.

And we were absolutely thrilled to share a real music-making experience with 50 new young people!

This story was part of ACG’s 2017 Fall Fund Drive Changing Lives Storyboard. If you’re inspired by Austin Classical Guitar’s work in Austin and across the globe, please consider supporting ACG today!

A Story of Transformation

One of the benefits of teaching guitar at the Gardner-Betts Juvenile Justice Center is getting to witness the high rate of positive change that learning music brings to my students. Music has the unique ability to provide an honest experience in which the students’ hard work brings them legitimate recognition. For many of my students, this has never happened before. I get asked a lot about what it’s like working in a youth detention facility, and I usually say, “The bad days are bad, but the good days are really good.” Fortunately, we have many more good days than bad, and the abundance of positive change I witness turns the bad days into mere reminders of what these young people are truly dealing with in their lives.

I’d like to tell you about one student. Let’s call him Taylor.

Taylor is a long-term resident at Gardner-Betts. He is extremely intelligent and very intuitive. He reluctantly entered my class last year because he needed fine arts credit to stay on track for high school graduation. He was always polite and did what I asked, but made it clear he had no interest in being there.

One afternoon, Taylor walked into the classroom, and I could tell he was already having a bad day. Minutes after we started rehearsing I heard a loud “POW!” Taylor had punched his guitar in an attempt to vent his frustration. I immediately told him to give me the guitar, and explained that I had a responsibility to keep all of my students safe. Taylor responded by lobbing a flurry of colorful verbal threats of bodily harm at me. Fortunately, the Gardner-Betts staff members were able to calm him down without having to use physical restraint. My heart was pounding. I felt like I had failed Taylor, as this incident caused him to be removed from guitar class for the rest of the year.

“Taylor still has some tough days, but he’s learned to cope with them. He’ll tell me, ‘I’m mad, sir, not at you, but mad nonetheless. Is it OK if I just chill for a little while?’ When this happens, he always picks up the guitar by the end of class.”

Taylor was allowed back in the class this fall. He was in a better place with his treatment, and living in a quieter unit. We talked for a long time after class one day, and he apologized for what had happened. I told him how happy I was to have him back, and that we could try again. This time around, Taylor immersed himself in the class. He began to learn solos and compose his own music on the instrument. Every week he made a point to tell me he how sorry he was about what had happened, and that he hadn’t realized how much he would enjoy learning guitar. I kept reminding him how happy I was to have him in class.

Taylor still has some tough days, but he’s learned to cope with them. He’ll tell me, “I’m mad, sir, not at you, but mad nonetheless. Is it OK if I just chill for a little while?” When this happens, he always picks up the guitar by the end of class.

Last week Taylor performed Etude No. 1 by Leo Brouwer as part of our winter concert. This piece is a rite of passage for classical guitar students, and Taylor worked on it obsessively. All of the students played beautifully that afternoon, but Taylor stole the show, and got a huge ovation after his piece. I’m happy to say that Taylor is just days away from being transferred into a lower security facility. The strides he has made in the last four months have given his treatment team the confidence to expedite him through his sentence, and put him on a faster track to returning home.

This story was part of ACG’s 2017 Fall Fund Drive Changing Lives Storyboard. If you’re inspired by Austin Classical Guitar’s work in Austin and across the globe, please consider supporting ACG today!

Inspiring Passion & Self-Respect

This story is the first of our ACG Fall Fund Drive Changing Lives Storyboard. Consider supporting ACG today!

For the past seven years, Austin Classical Guitar has offered daily guitar classes for incarcerated young people at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. Many of our students have at one time or another found themselves in the courtroom of The Honorable Darlene Byrne. Having spent over 15 years working with youth involved in the Juvenile Justice and Foster Care Systems, Judge Byrne offers a unique and insightful perspective on ACG’s work with these talented students who happen to have troubled pasts.

What was your initial thought about a classical guitar program at Gardner Betts?

That it’s unique, innovative, and a win-win for the students and the facility. It’s not a program I would have ever imagined thriving in a detention center, but it’s become a wonderful enrichment experience that allows these young men to define themselves other than as someone who has broken the law. Learning music can reveal the unique, and often hidden, talents these kids have. It’s more than music. It’s mentorship, and the relationship the instructor has with the students.

“Austin Classical Guitar uses a beautiful art form to crack through the hard exterior of some of our community’s toughest young people and inspire in them a sense of beauty, passion, and self-respect.”


What kind of impact do you think the guitar program has on the students at Gardner Betts?

As a judge, I routinely see young people in my courtroom who suffer from the effects of abuse, neglect, poverty, mental illness, and addiction. These youth often develop a hard exterior and are not easily reached by individuals in the community who want to engage them in a positive activity. Austin Classical Guitar uses a beautiful art form to crack through the hard exterior of some of our community’s toughest young people and inspire in them a sense of beauty, passion, and self-respect. For some students this may be the first opportunity they’ve had to express themselves and their emotions.

Most of the young people at Gardner Betts are one, two, or three years behind in their education, and this becomes something they are self-conscious about. Because of this, many learn not to like school, and feel embarrassed if they don’t know something. But the great thing about the guitar program is that all the students are starting from the same place. They’re learning the language of music together. Regrettably, I think many of these students have been taught to view messing up as a failure. ACG takes those messy moments, like when a student might be having trouble with a passage of music, and turns them into moments of enlightenment, discovery, and learning.

Do you have a favorite memory of the guitar students at Gardner Betts?

One of the most beautiful experiences I have had with the program was seeing one of the young men perform a solo in front of a live audience while at the same time displaying a paper and tape, life size, three dimensional rendering of a guitar he had built. It is a remarkable piece of art and an expression of what this program can inspire within some of these young folks. This young man took it upon himself to create this piece of art for his instructors while his classes were on pause for the summer. It was a testament to how much passion the program had inspired in his heart.

If you are inspired by Austin Classical Guitar’s work with young people in the Juvenile Justice System, please consider making a donation to support our work today.