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.

If you’re inspired by Austin Classical Guitar’s work with youth in the Juvenile Justice System, please consider making a donation today.

Changing Lives: The Honorable Darlene Byrne

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.

Volunteer Spotlight: Fred Springer

Fred Springer, a student at UT-Austin pursuing a Bachelor of Music in Guitar Performance, has been volunteering at ACG concerts since 2015. He has taken on a variety of responsibilities over that time, including usher, artist liaison, and stage manager. We recently sat down with Fred to ask about his reasons for becoming involved with ACG, and what his experiences as a volunteer have meant to him.

Interested in volunteering for ACG? Sign up here!


Q: Where are you from originally, and what brought you to Austin?

A: I was born and raised in Tallahassee, Florida. Eventually I ended up choosing UT-Austin, partly because of the strong program and the faculty, but also because of Austin Classical Guitar. ACG provided a great window of opportunity. When you look around as a student applying to schools, it’s rare to find an organization like this, one that is so symbiotic with the city. They do so much in terms of putting on performances and teaching, as well as all their community engagement.

Q: In what ways has music touched your life?

A: I started Kindermusik classes when I was four. I started guitar at eight, just learning simple pop songs on acoustic guitar, and then played bass guitar in a cover band with my friends. We played Cream songs, Metallica, Lynyrd SkynyrdThere’s a very rewarding cycle in studying music. You have an initial love for something, such as a guitar solo in a rock song, or a piece you hear at an ACG concert. You think, “Woah! That was awesome.” Then there’s an investigative time of getting into the details and learning. The reward comes at the end when you’ve brought it to a certain level and you can play it. I think studying music instills a sense of focus and work ethic. It directs attention and allows you to see what you can do. 


“I think studying music instills a sense of focus and work ethic. It directs attention and allows you to see what you can do.”

 

Q: Do you have a favorite memory with ACG?

A:  I still remember the first event I volunteered for, it was the second night of “The Lodger” at the Alamo Drafthouse. I love movies, I love Alfred Hitchcock, and obviously I love classical guitar, so that concert was almost other-worldly because it was a perfect package of Joe Williams’s original score and a classic Hitchcock movie – both happening at an Austin landmark. It was so cool, and from that moment I knew this was a unique organization. That first event, I fell in love with ACG – it’s a pride and joy of Austin.

Q: What do you appreciate about volunteering with ACG?

A: The level of insider access. Not only do you get to see artists perform, but you get to see how they work, because you can go backstage and see exactly what goes into a production. It’s incredible that a group of volunteers from the community and a few really dedicated people can put together these amazing shows.

Q: What does ACG provide to college students such as yourself?

A: The real downfall of music programs in higher education is how little they prepare you for the real world of professional music. People say once you have a college degree, you put that on your résumé, and then doors open. But you also have to make connections, get windows into organizations like ACG, build rapport with an employer or a community member. It’s been awesome for me to meet, talk with, learn from, and get to know the people and artists involved with ACG, and investigate what it takes to run an organization like this. It’s really been invaluable.

Q: Other than concerts, are there any other aspects of ACG’s work that interest you?

A: The program for incarcerated youth at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center really stands out for me. To see the young men there use music to its fullest potential, to see how playing guitar affects their individual growth, their process of maturity – that’s a real measurable impact. Music offers them an opportunity to think and to dream beyond themselves. It’s incredible to see their intent and good nature emerge. ACG provides a way for them to experience the diligence, the work ethic, the joy that comes from music.

Q: What is the one thing you wish more people knew about ACG?

A: I wish more people knew about the real reach of ACG’s community service. When people ask me about Austin, I point them to ACG, emphasizing that it’s not just an organization which presents classical guitar concerts. ACG’s intent and genuine nature sets it apart: it presents music as a celebration of life. The support, the money that goes into the organization, the love – it all comes back tenfold to the community.

A masterclass with Pepe Romero in October 2016. (Fred second from left)

 

Volunteer Spotlight: Lloyd Pond

For over ten years, Lloyd Pond has been a dedicated volunteer for ACG. These days, he spends much of his time repairing guitars used in our school programs, often saving badly damaged instruments from the scrap heap and getting them back into the hands of students. We asked him to share a bit about his upbringing, love of music, and favorite moments with our organization.

Interested in volunteering for ACG? Sign up here!



Can you tell me about your family’s musical heritage?

My grandmother grew up playing piano in a small Texas town near Louisiana. She taught all of the grandchildren how to play, so that’s how we all got our musical influence.

We had a piano at home, and people would come in to take music lessons. Often people from the church would come to practice singing, and my grandmother would rehearse with them or provide music. Sometimes my family would gather around the piano and sing old songs she had on sheet music from the 20s and 30s.

In what ways has music touched your life?

When I was about 10 or 11, I said “I hate piano, I never want to play again.” My grandmother said, “If you don’t want to play piano, what instrument would you like to play?” I said,“I’d like to play the violin.”

There was a man who played violin at our church, and so it just came into my mind. We were a middle-income family. I really didn’t think there was any way I’d get a violin; I just wanted a way out of playing piano.

The next day I came home from school, and my grandmother had gone down to the Heights area – where there was a music store – and bought a violin. She showed me the rudiments of playing, which led to playing in the school orchestra – I always enjoyed that. Late in high school I started playing the guitar. Rock ‘n roll, Elvis Presley and all that stuff.

How did you get involved in woodworking and repairing instruments?

My father and his family were all constructors, builders, people who made things. He built our house, so every day he’d come home from work and start working on something. I was side-by-side with him, learning about tools and working with wood. Repairing instruments probably came when I had the chance to meet the man who adjusted my violin. He had a great workshop, and immediately set my mind to thinking about, “How do people make and repair instruments?”

“Musicians are always wild and crazy, and it’s fun to hear their experiences, to share that interest and joy of making music.”

How did you first get connected with ACG?
I came to Austin around 2004. I had attended guitar concerts here before, and I started playing with the classical guitar ensemble. A couple of years went by, and my wife and I bought a house in the Crestview neighborhood. One day, I noticed a sign nearby that said “Austin Classical Guitar Society” and I thought, “I could go by there and see if they need help.”

What have you enjoyed about your experience here?

It’s the people. The reason I wanted to play in the classical guitar ensemble was to meet people who were interested in music. Musicians are always wild and crazy, so that’s fun to hear their experiences, and share that interest and joy of making music. Of course the other major interest I had was the instrument repair: to repair the instruments, marvel at the ways middle and high school kids can manage to destroy and damage and otherwise misuse the instruments; I try to put them back together.

Are there some special memories, people, or events that stand out if you reflect on your years here?

Sometimes I would have the opportunity to meet with the concert artists or interact with them. That was always a fun thing for me. Sometimes we were surprised at their eccentricities.

We’d have some artists come and play at schools. I’d provide transportation, and one that most impressed me was going to the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Watching those students – wow, how incredibly inspirational! After hearing the performer play, listening to the response of the students – so interested and so captivated by the music, and asking very good questions.

“I wish that each one of those people could have some of the same experiences that I’ve had: of seeing how other parts of the community can benefit from the efforts of all of us put together.”

Pepe Romero, he’s part of a lot of beautiful memories. During the GFA convention, I was at the UT radio station that did the interview. To hear his stories about his family, and his father and his music- every time he tells these stories, it’s such an emotional event. He related a story of his father’s passing, and everybody, everybody was in tears. Even his wife, who I’m sure has heard that story a hundred, a million times.

What are your impressions overall of ACG as a non-profit organization and the service it provides?

It’s certainly an amazing success story. It’s grown and grown, now all kinds of wonderful things are happening. The idea that guitar and music is only a basis, a beginning, for contact with students, troubled individuals, people who need help, people who have special needs, that guitar and the music generated from it is only a tiny portion of that. It provides a connection into other areas of people’s lives, other needs they may have. That’s a fantastic concept to me, and it wasn’t one I ever imagined when I became involved with ACG. I looked at it as a feel-good thing for me to enjoy some music great performers can bring, but it’s certainly much much much much more than that.

What is the one thing you wish that more people knew about ACG?

It’s so much more than just going to a concert and listening to a great performer. 

Donor Spotlight: Ed and Mary Collins

Every Sunday for almost ten years, Ed Collins has made the two-hour round trip drive to his ACG Community Guitar Ensemble rehearsal. This passion for learning guitar led Ed and his wife Mary to become involved with ACG’s education and social service programs. We asked them to talk with us about their relationship with the organization, and the reasons behind their decision to include ACG in their planned giving.


How did you first pick up the guitar, and find out about ACG?

Ed: Years ago, when my son was very young, we went to see the great Spanish guitarist, Andrés Segovia, perform in Houston. From the first note, I fell in love with the instrument, and knew I wanted to learn classical guitar. At the time, I was too busy to do anything about it, but I always kept that love with me, and decided that when I had the time, I would learn classical guitar.

In 2008, I finally decided to buy a guitar and start learning, but couldn’t find a teacher. I eventually found Austin Classical Guitar on the internet, and signed up for the Community Guitar Ensemble. Playing in the group fulfills my passion for improving my guitar playing, but also for sharing music with others. I’ve been in the Community Guitar Ensemble for almost ten years, and it’s been amazing.

“ACG provides young people with experiences that make them feel engaged and important. This organization is about more than just pushing strings on a guitar. It’s about changing lives.”

– Ed Collins

What has kept you involved in the ensemble for so long?

Ed: I discovered a long time ago that if I have a place to go, a time to be there, and a group to be involved with, I won’t let them down. So for ACG, I’ll get my practice in, and be ready to play. Eric Pearson, who directs ACG’s Community Ensembles, has taught me so much. He can take a concept or a technique that seems complicated and present it in a digestible format. On the drive home every week, I think about everything we learned in rehearsal, and I just can’t wait to get back. It’s a two-hour round trip, but I wouldn’t miss it. We’ve got a great group of players in the ensemble, and we’re all there for the same reason: the friendship and the love of playing together. When we get the music down and perform it, everyone sounds great.

Mary, what has it been like to watch Ed pursue his passion for classical guitar?

Mary: It’s been amazing to watch this process unfold. I could tell right away he loved being in the ensemble, and he can’t wait for rehearsal each week. I’m just so glad he found guitar. We always encourage each other to do what we love.

You’ve both decided to include ACG in your planned giving. Can you talk a little bit about how that came about?

Mary: What interested me was how ACG’s education programs serve at-risk and low-income children. I think everyone deserves to learn music, and a positive activity like performing in an ensemble can build self-esteem for a young person. Once we discovered the depth of service at ACG, we knew we wanted to be involved long-term. We decided we wanted to make a difference in the places where we were personally involved. ACG is one of those places.

Ed: I initially joined ACG because I wanted to learn classical guitar and rehearse and perform in the Community Ensemble. But when Mary and I found out about ACG’s education and service programs in schools and the juvenile detention center, we knew we wanted to do more. We’ve increased our support each year, and now, most importantly, we’ve included ACG in our planned giving. ACG provides young people with experiences that make them feel engaged and important. This organization is about more than just pushing strings on a guitar. It’s about changing lives.

Donor Spotlight: John Henry McDonald

John Henry McDonald has led a remarkable life. After serving in Vietnam during the war, he spent time as a traveling musician, a ranch manager, and eventually founded Austin’s premiere asset management company. For over a decade, he has been a mentor to ACG’s Executive Director, Matt Hinsley, and currently serves as Vice-President of ACG’s Board of Directors. We asked John Henry to tell us why he believes music education can make a difference in the lives of children.


One of ACG’s primary goals is to positively impact the lives of young people through the guitar. This aspect of our mission seems to resonate with you quite a bit. Can you tell us why?

The story of ACG and the work it does with kids is the story of my life.

When I was a kid, and my home was shattered, and my family life was confusing, guitar was there. After Vietnam, when I was shattered, and everything was confusing, guitar was there. Music is what got me through those tough years. When I finally got back on my feet after the war, I grabbed my guitar, found a harmonica player, and pretty soon we were opening for Waylon Jennings, Johnny Hammond Jr., and Sonny Terry. Through guitar, I learned how to perform, how to communicate with an audience, and most importantly, how to tell a story.

When I came to Austin, I was determined to keep my life together. I was told by a mentor to put the guitar away, and that was seminal. At the time it was what needed to happen for me to transition to the next phase of my life. And that’s when I founded Austin Asset Management.

When I got involved with ACG, I was in another transition. This time, I was selling Austin Asset Management, the company I had built and been running for decades. Once I learned about ACG’s education programs, I was drawn to the organization. I know that for some kids, guitar won’t mean anything. But for some it will be extremely important, and for others – like myself – it will be everything. I remember being 13 years old, lying in bed with a guitar on my chest, and I would play it until I fell asleep. Guitar was central to my life and has been my companion ever since. I give to this organization because music changed my life, and I’ve seen it change the lives of the kids we work with.

“With ACG, I can see my money doing good things, and that makes me want to keep on giving. I trust that when I pass on, the money I have left to this organization will continue to make an impact.”

How did you decide to include the organization in your planned giving?

 An old friend once told me that the hardest part about making money isn’t earning it — the hardest part is giving it away. It’s not that I don’t want to give, I’m happy to. But it was hard for me to find an organization I trusted. With ACG, I know I’ve found an organization where I can see my money at work – see the funds actually getting to the beneficiaries, the people the organization says it’s helping. When I met Matt Hinsley, ACG’s Executive Director, I realized immediately that he had a vision for nonprofit arts organizations, and for changing lives through music. I trusted him because it was never about this organization. It was always about giving to the community, and helping young people. Giving to ACG is easy. With ACG, I can see my money doing good things, and that makes me want to keep giving. I trust that when I pass on, the money I have left to ACG will continue to make an impact.

Could you talk a little bit about your involvement with Austin Community College, and the connection it has to ACG?

I’m on the board of ACC as well, and I love the connection we have with them. Dr. Tom Echols is teaching guitar there, and we send kids to him from our high school programs at Travis High School, Akins High School, and others. I know they’re going to get a great education. I love blending my giving – kids in ACG’s high school programs earn college credit by studying guitar at ACC while they’re still in high school, and that keeps their education moving forward. It’s huge for kids who don’t come from a context that would be able to financially support a college education. For some, college may never have seemed like an option. Guitar can provide a pathway to a higher education, and ACG helps make that happen.

 

Donor Spotlight: April Long

April’s connection with Austin Classical Guitar began when she was hired as an administrative assistant in 2009. A few years later, she became the Director of Development and was an integral part of the fundraising initiatives that allowed ACG to expand its education programs. We caught up with April to see what she’s been up to since leaving ACG in 2015 to go back to school, and to ask her why she is still such an enthusiastic supporter of the organization.


Was there a particular moment or experience that connected you to ACG and its work?

My connection to ACG is the result of seeing the good it does in the community. This organization puts deep goodness out into the world, and I say that with no reservations. ACG uses guitar as a way to meet certain people who aren’t being met in other ways. For some people, classical guitar speaks to them when other things might not. I’ve heard so many stories from the education team about students using music as a way to express difficult emotions that they hadn’t found any other way to express.

ACG provides an opportunity for people to find beauty in their lives, or to define for themselves what they think is beautiful. Music can be a way to express or grapple with grief, trauma, and other difficult experiences. It’s not going to magically make everything better, but giving voice to that kind of emotion is very powerful. I love that beauty in music can be a complicated beauty. In the Lullaby Project, ACG works with young mothers who are facing extraordinary challenges to help them write a lullaby for their baby. In one sense there is a mother having a child, and there is all this joy around it, and yet these women might be incarcerated, or facing severe economic challenges. Music can express that joy and that complication at the same time.

“Beyond teaching guitar, ACG uses music to foster a community. ACG listens to people’s stories, and provides a safe space where people can share their feelings. It creates a space for everyone to feel comfortable being themselves, and that is something we should seek to do in all walks of life.”

Could you tell us about your history with ACG, and what have you been up to lately?

I actually worked at ACG for about 6 years, even though I didn’t have a background in music. I started off working in operations, and ended up as the Director of Development. It was an incredible place to work and an incredible service to be a part of.

I’m now a student at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and I hope to eventually serve as a church pastor or a chaplain, maybe in a hospital or a prison. I haven’t decided on the specifics, but that’s the general direction.

In some ways this new direction is a big shift from my work at ACG, but at the same time it’s not a shift at all. What I saw ACG doing, and the way the organization went about doing it, I remember thinking that I want to take those principles with me for the rest of my life. I first thought about becoming a pastor when I was in middle school, and then I put it away for a while. In a way, working at ACG reignited that passion for me. It’s not a religious organization, but there is a spirit in the work that is also present in my new path. ACG uses music to bring people together, and create meaningful connections, and that is what the best churches and the best organizations of any kind do, and so the transition has felt very natural for me.

Why did you decide to name ACG as a beneficiary in your will?

Beyond teaching guitar, ACG uses music to foster a community. ACG listens to people’s stories, and provides a safe space where people can share their feelings. It creates a space for everyone to feel comfortable being themselves, and that is something we should seek to do in all walks of life. Naming ACG as a beneficiary was all about how much I love what happens here. I still contribute to ACG every year, but as a student, it’s not as much as I would like. I believe in what this organization does and is, so this is a way I can still say “yes” to ACG.

Donor Spotlight: Carl Caricari

In this interview, we hear from one of ACG’s most ardent supporters, Carl Caricari. A long-time member of ACG’s Board of Directors and current President-elect, Carl was the Education Committee’s first chairperson, and from the beginning has played an integral role in making ACG Education what it is today. Find out what has kept him involved since 2008!

 


What’s one thing you wish everyone knew about Austin Classical Guitar?

My favorite thing about ACG is how we impact the lives of students. I am always surprised when I meet people who have come to many of our concerts and love the music, but don’t know about our education services. Our education program has been around since 2001 when it started in one school with 15 kids, and now we’re in 60 schools serving 4,000 students, each week! For me, it’s all about the kids. It’s about the lives we’ve impacted positively through guitar. And now, we’re partnering with schools throughout Texas and around the country to help build new programs. That’s what I want more people to know about.

“I love going to the concerts we present with the world’s greatest guitarists, but hearing students perform is incredible. I love seeing young people on stage for the first time, feeling good about themselves and what they are doing. This is what keeps me coming back.”

How did you get involved with ACG? And what has kept you so involved over the years?

Almost 10 years ago, John Henry McDonald, the Vice President of ACG’s board, and his wife Louise invited me to hear a concert by the Brazilian Guitar Quartet. I was blown away. About a week later, John Henry called me and asked if I would consider being on the board. I said no. I didn’t know anything about music! But I agreed to meet with Matt Hinsley for coffee. I still remember the moment Matt told me about ACG’s education programs and the work they were doing with kids. That’s when I knew I wanted to get involved, and I became a board member.

I was excited to lead the Education Committee because I had a hunch that our education programs were attracting diverse students and that guitar was a positive outlet for them. That’s when we met with Dr. Calvin Streeter from U.T. Austin’s School of Social Work and commissioned his team to do a social impact study. What the study found was astounding: 90% of the students in our school guitar programs hadn’t taken an arts class before. The study also revealed the positive impact our classes were having on students’ self-esteem, and their ability to collaborate and work as a team. These days, I love going to the concerts we present with the world’s greatest guitarists, but hearing students perform is incredible. Seeing young people onstage feeling good about themselves and what they are doing, this is what keeps me coming back.

Why did you choose to include ACG in your planned giving, and what led you to decide you wanted to support the endowment through your bequest?

ACG is an organization that puts effort into its community, and I think it’s important for someone in my position to provide support so the organization can focus on service. I’ve been able to make a comfortable life for myself, and now I feel it’s my turn to give back.

I believe in the power of musical experiences to change the lives of young people for the better. Our programs engage all kinds of kids. Some students might have gotten into trouble, but with guitar we’re able to provide an inspiring experience that can help keep them from making bad decisions. I’ve seen it happen. Students start learning to play guitar, and by practicing hard and performing, they gain confidence and self-esteem, and this sticks with them the rest of their lives. ACG Education has been doing this for 15 years, and building a healthy endowment will ensure that our work in education will continue long after I’m gone.

Donor Spotlight: Matt Oliver

Matt Oliver is a custom home builder here in Austin who has become one of ACG’s most committed supporters. He joined the board in 2013, and today chairs the Endowment Committee, and works closely with ACG’s development team. We asked Matt to tell us about what drew him to the organization, and why he feels the ACG Endowment Fund is so important.

 


You seem to be really connected to ACG’s education and social services. What about this work moves you, and how has this kept you involved with the organization over the years?

The reason I stay involved is because when I wake up in the morning and think about how I want to make a difference in the world – or my tiny corner of it – ACG is how I want to do it. I’ve always loved the Robert F. Kennedy quote that speaks to this, something like, “each time a man acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.” The idea is that this ripple of hope, over time, combines with other ripples, and builds energy until eventually it becomes wave. No matter where you fall politically, I think we all want to make people’s lives better. Very few individuals are in a position to create a wave by themselves. But, if you get enough people to make ripples, the combined energy can be enough to make a difference in the world. I’ve realized that I’m a tiny ripple, but ACG is the way I can help create that wave.

“Music is magic. It’s an emotional experience you can see and feel. For some students, their eyes light up like a light bulb when they’re practicing or performing, and you see them grow and become more aware of themselves. It’s about showing a kid, who might have gotten into trouble, a path to success.”

What are some moments or programs in which you’ve seen ACG have an impact on people’s lives?

To me, the Lullaby Project speaks to the commitment ACG has to making people’s lives better through musical experiences. In this particular endeavor, we seek to help young women who are pregnant and in a tough situation, be it financial, emotional, physical, or what have you, to write a personal lullaby for their baby. These young mothers, or mothers-to-be, are wonderful people, and if you can intervene and help them in some way, you help their child, too. With the Lullaby Project we try to take a stressful, difficult situation, and reveal the beauty in it. That beauty is already there, and through music we find a way for the mother to express it. No matter the situation, everyone deserves to cherish the experience of being pregnant and having a child. I think the Lullaby Project is a way to help people do that.

I also love our program for incarcerated youth at the Gardner-Betts Juvenile Justice Center. As an organization, ACG is committed to meeting people where they are, and to providing an enriching artistic experience. When it comes to kids who are incarcerated, we can’t give up on them. They deserve music, too. They deserve to find their passion, have a great teacher, even if they’ve made mistakes. The staff at the detention facility, judges, and counselors have all told us they see a difference in the students who learn guitar. This is what I mean when I always say that I see God in the work we do. It’s not a religious thing – it’s an energy. Music is magic. It’s an emotional experience that you can see and feel. For some students you can see their eyes light up like a light bulb when they’re practicing or performing, and you see them grow and become more aware of themselves. It’s about showing a kid, who might have gotten into trouble, a path to success. Music can light up someone’s life.

You were an early supporter of ACG starting an endowment and have been one of the lead donors. What prompted this?

The reason I pushed for the endowment was because I’m most passionate about the direct educational services we provide. We work in schools, maternity homes, jails, and medical clinics, and I love the work I see our education staff doing every day. But, having grown up in the church, I know firsthand how much energy needs to be spent on raising money. My idea for ACG is that one day there will be enough money in the endowment so that all of the organization’s energy will be able to be focused on direct service and we won’t have to worry about raising money anymore. This won’t happen in my lifetime, but that is why I wanted an endowment – I’ve seen the work we do and the impact it has, and I want there to be enough money coming in from the endowment so that ACG can help any student who needs it, no matter the cost.

Thank You from the ACG Team

The Austin Classical Guitar Youth Orchestra(ACGYO) played a beautiful concert this past weekend. Right afterwards, the younger brother of one of the members announced loudly, “That was my kind of show. Cool – and not too long!” Then he added, “Maybe some day I can play with them too.”

“He just loves it,” one mother said about her son’s experience playing in the ensemble. “He gets so much joy out of playing with other kids.”

The ACGYO has performed in the Long Center, The Paramount Theater, the AISD Performing Arts Center, but this concert was in a smaller, more intimate space. Close as we were, we could hear all of the colors and subtleties the ensemble has worked so hard to develop all semester long. The playing was elegant and refined; it was easy to forget the youthfulness of the musicians.

From Ekachai Jearakul’s brilliant performance a week ago last Saturday, to an evocative night of original music and art with our Composer in Residence on Wednesday, to the laughter and tears at Thursday’s tribute to Travis Marcum’s ten years of leadership in education, and culminating with this weekend’s ACGYO performance, it was a full week, rich with moments of authentic beauty at once ephemeral and uniquely powerful.

Moments that left us feeling grateful.

Grateful that we are able to provide free instruments and lessons for kids in need, grateful for the opportunities to develop adaptive curricula so that all students can participate meaningfully in guitar class, grateful to the teachers in our community and around the world who bring such deep dedication to changing lives with music, grateful for our board members, staff and volunteers – and grateful for our many supporters like you, who make everything we do possible.

From all of us at Austin Classical Guitar, we send our warmest wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving.

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