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


Volunteer Spotlight: Todd Waldron

Interested in volunteering for ACG? Sign up here!


“Music is a story itself: the instruments are the characters and the notes are the dialogue.” - Todd Waldron, ACG Volunteer

Todd with Badi Assad

Todd Waldron, a native of Indiana, came to Austin in 1993 excited for a new adventure with his band, The Cleavers. The band was formed at West Texas A&M, where Todd studied classical guitar and voice. Upon arriving in Austin, Todd found a job teaching music lessons at a performing arts school, but soon realized teaching was not right for him. The band eventually fizzled out too, but Todd’s natural aptitude for working with computers spurred him on a journey into the IT world, and his discovery of a passion for the art and science of capturing beauty through audio and video production. Today Todd works for St. David’s Foundation as their Director of IT, and he uses his technical skills to assist Austin Classical Guitar with various film and recording projects.

After hearing Steve Kostelnik perform on John Aielli’s KUTX radio show in 1996, Todd was inspired to pick up the classical guitar again, and began studying with Dr. Klondike Steadman. Dr. Steadman was president of what was then known as the “Austin Classical Guitar Society,” and Todd would get together to play music with the small group of enthusiasts who were members. He even remembers his first time volunteering for the organization in 2000, recording a concert to raise funds to bring Cuban guitarist Manuel Barrueco to Austin.

Over the years that followed, Todd remained involved with ACG, volunteering and playing in ensembles, and watching the organization grow to be the largest non-profit of its kind in the United States.

In what way has music touched your life?

“Music is my happy place, it’s my sanctuary. My senior year of high school, Odessa College offered classical guitar for college credit. That led to an audition at West Texas A&M, which led to the band, which led to Austin, which led to film. These were all building blocks that instilled in me a deep passion for music and sound.”

What have you enjoyed most about volunteering with ACG?

“I think the friendships and relationships that I’ve made, and networking and connecting with new people. I learned a ton on the technical side backstage, dealing with sound and recording. I think the mission of ACG is amazing. When I see what these high school - and junior high and elementary - kids are doing, it blows me away. They are getting a boost to start programming their brains musically at such an early age. I did not have that kind of mentorship or support at that age; I didn't have the community. It was only the last few years of high school that my parents understood how serious I was about [music]. Austin is a city rich in creativity, and ACG is an integral part.”

Are there any special memories, people, or events you want to highlight?

Todd, Andrew York, Joseph V. Williams II

“Top of the list was Berta Rojas in 2016. She had recently gone through chemotherapy, and [Austin] was her first performance back. She was very moved by that show. In our short interaction, she was really lovely and friendly, and I felt her passion. I think after that, [a special memory was] just being able to sit and talk with legends like Pepe Romero and Andrew York and pick their brains. Also, the feeling I get walking into the PAC when we’re all there for a show is so exciting. It keeps me fired up and active in my creative space.”

What are your impressions of ACG as an arts organization and the services given to the community?

“As an arts organization, ACG is very strong and does an amazing job engaging and inspiring the community. The thing that touches my heart the most is ACG’s work at Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. These kids are struggling so much in their lives, and art and creativity gives them something to be present for and to protect. [They deal with] a lot of darkness, and so for them to be sitting in a room, making music with each other … I see them connecting with something that's healthy and positive. It’s a way out: this will show them, Yes, you can do it.”


"A Gift for My Daughter"

This story is part of our "Music and Healing Initiative", the program we're highlighting in this year's Amplify Austin campaign. To learn more about our Lullaby Project and new partnerships with Dell Children’s Medical Center and The Livestrong Cancer Institute, and about how you can support this initiative, click here.


Holly, a single mother, is searching for part-time work that fits the busy schedule of caring for her four-month old infant, Anna. Six months ago, faced with the prospect of raising her child alone and without close family in the area, she found Any Baby Can. It's an organization that provides counselling, classes, and in-home support to parents in difficult situations. Diane, her counselor through Any Baby Can, put her in touch with ACG and Arnold Yzaguirre, one of our Lullaby Artists.

Over four appointments with Arnold last September, they discussed her feelings about pregnancy and having a child, and about what message she'd want to convey to her baby. Mothers in our Lullaby Project have differing levels of ability and interest in the details of writing a lullaby. Holly has a background in music, so she came up with the melody, harmonies, and lyrics entirely on her own, and presented them to Arnold so that he could craft the lullaby on his guitar.

"I’ve been singing since I was five, it’s a natural passion of mine. My dad can sing and play the keyboard - music is in the family. I did choir in high school and college, wrote songs with a friend - more like a hobby - and learned how to record in a studio."

She is raising Anna in a musical manner as well, often singing to her infant at times when she is particularly fussy or bored.

"I call them 'jam sessions': I put music on, and sing and dance with her. I mostly put on lullabies, or anything I can sing to. Anytime I turn on the stereo, she’ll stare at it like 'What is that?' She’s very curious."

Holly's lullaby for Anna is inspired by love. She encourages Anna to be patient, kind, humble, and grateful, and to find a love that is true to guide her through life. The chorus is repeated phrases of "Oh love," and she wanted the title to be more unique.

"It's called 'Meraki Lullaby.' Meraki is a verb that means 'to do something with full creativity or love; to put something of yourself into your work.'”

Now when she sings to Anna, she can sing along to the song she created - Meraki Lullaby. Sometimes, Anna joins in with her own interpretation of singing (more like long held tones.)

"This is a gift for Anna. I want her to be able to grow up and sing this song, or listen to it forever. It means a lot to me. We can’t live in a world without music; it really is healing, it really is inspiring. It helps lift you up."

Holly enjoyed working with Arnold so much that she hopes to continue collaboration with him and other mothers to help them create songs of their own.

"I already had a passion for music, but this sparked something in me ... It reignited some of my creativity. I hope this is something I can continue to do forever. Being able to share their love through music would be great."


Miles to Go

Our Director of Education, Dr. Travis Marcum, has been collaborating with the Livestrong Cancer Institute’s new CaLM Clinic, opening this spring, at the UT Dell Medical School. Their goal is to build a holistic approach to cancer treatment, and ACG’s role will be a music-wellness service that includes learning opportunities, personal-story song writing, and performances. He was paired with a cancer patient to develop a process for musically conveying her journey, and together they wrote a beautiful song that you can listen to here. We recently had the chance to sit down with Christina and hear about her experience.


Christina

A loving mother, wife, computer programmer, knitting aficionado, and athlete, Christina is spunky, matter-of-fact, and fearless. Her willingness to persevere and accomplish whatever she sets her mind to has driven her to run marathons, craft complex and time-consuming knits and quilts, and apply for her dream job.

She never thought she’d win the web developer position for her favorite knitting website, but the motivation to apply despite her skepticism led to her appointment as one of only four full-time employees on Ravelry. The tiny staff works remotely from three states around the country, and provides a knitting and crocheting community resource for a following of 8.5 million members around the world.

“There’s not really anyone else that does what we do. The biggest non-English speaking contingent is in Germany, because knitting is really popular there - you can buy yarn in grocery stores. Also, about 20% of Iceland’s population is on Ravelry.”

Christina was lifting weights and running multiple times a week when she began to notice back pain. She thought it was from strenuous exercise, but as she began to investigate the cause, she learned it was due to a tumor pressing against her tailbone. She’s been in treatment for a majority of the past three and a half years.

CaLM

Recently, she was asked to be a member of the CaLM Clinic’s Advisory Board.

“I was hesitant because my cancer is chronic, meaning it won’t be cured, so my time is precious. I think really hard about the time I spend away from my family. But I decided this sounded like an exciting opportunity, and it’s been so much more fulfilling than I ever could’ve imagined it would be.”

The CaLM Clinic focuses on three crucial elements cancer patients seek: a sense of calm, a feeling of capability, and being comfortable.

“Doctors are experts at medicine, but they’re not experts at being sick people. So here, you can actually talk to sick people about what it’s like, and how they can make your lives better.”

Travis Marcum attended one of the advisory board meetings to see how ACG could assist the CaLM Clinic programming. When he talked about the Lullaby Project, Christina was instantly hooked.

“Hearing about it gave me chills. I immediately piped up and said, ‘I want to write a song about my cancer.’”

Travis asked her to help pilot the program, and together they worked on a piece of music that would be meaningful to Christina.

Miles to Go

“I knew I wanted the song to sound like Sufjan Stevens. Also, I had found out only a month before we started this process that that there’s no cure for this cancer, so I already knew what I wanted to say."

"I really wanted to tell people I know I’m in this weird space, and I’m certainly going to feel hopeful because medicine is changing. But hear this news and don’t be in denial ... also, I’m ok."

The phrase Miles to go comes up frequently in Christina’s song. It served as a mantra during her marathon-running days, reminding her that I’m present in this moment - where there are still miles to go. During the pregnancy with her daughter and subsequent maternity leave, Christina spent 40 hours crafting a uniquely-stitched quilt that says Miles to go. The lyrics incorporate quilting imagery: "I can darn me where I’m worn/Mend me where I’m torn."

She receives treatment at a cancer clinic in Houston, and the drive to and from the center also plays a large part in the lyrics.

“The song really captured my feelings about going through the long, challenging process of literally driving miles and miles - miles to go - to do these scans to find out what’s going to happen next.”

"I can bear the weight/I can bear the wait," begins the chorus.

https://soundcloud.com/austinclassicalguitar/miles-to-go

She finds it comforting to take the same route each time, and one of key landmarks is the Starlite Drive-In Movie Theatre.

“I think it’s beautiful. It’s a little bit dilapidated, but it’s still there, still standing; it resonates with a lot of people.”

Her mantra of Miles to go has been encouraging as she's traversed the treatment process.

“I like to do things that are a little scary and challenging just to see what happens. Running marathons felt like that to me. If there’s something I want, I will learn or do whatever it is just to get that thing. Lots of treatment sucks, but it's so easy to keep my eyes on the prize: I do this, and I get to spend longer with my husband and daughter. That’s what matters to me.”

Christina’s seven-year-old daughter plays piano, and Christina really wanted her to play in the song. Travis wrote out a part for her to practice at weekly lessons, and professional guitarist and songwriter Claire Puckett came over to their house to record it. Christina’s daughter aspires to be a professional musician, so she peppered Claire with questions about a musician’s life, and could barely contain her excitement at the answers.

Inner Strength

Christina appreciates the assistance of Travis, who knew how to get at the heart of what she was saying, and Claire, whose production and orchestration skills helped create a beautiful song.

“I listen to it on days when I need a little boost of strength. It’s a good reminder to myself that I’ve got this. I’m gonna get through this next step, and it sucks, but I can do it. I know I said all of those things and believed and meant them at the time, so this is all in me somewhere.

Her advice for people considering the music wellness process of song-writing is to “Do it. You will feel safe, you will not be alone, they will take care of you and guide you, and at the end, you’re going to have a physical thing to represent the feelings inside you. It’s going to be really good for you to have the song; there will be days when you’ll be so glad you do ... even if you don’t share it with anyone, even if it’s just for you.”

Christina was recently filmed in a video about the CaLM Clinic that will screen at SXSW in a few weeks. The Clinic is pretty unique in its field, and there will be several representatives speaking about their work to other medical professionals. She's been asked to speak about her experience in a panel, and they'll play her song with the lyrics up on a screen.


A Transformative Experience

We recently spoke with a senior at Crockett High School. He performed with Crockett's guitar ensemble at the 2019 Guitars Under the Stars, our annual education gala, and was also one of the three speakers for the event. He even has a special connection with the featured artist for the gala, Berta Rojas. We wanted to share his story with you.


Rey Rodriguez began playing guitar seven years ago as part of a pilot program at Bedichek Middle School. The first musician in his family, he quickly learned that with music, the more he gave, the more rewarding it became.

"If I respect people and show them I can work hard, they'll present me with different opportunities, and allow me to grow as a musician."

Rey has always appreciated the welcoming environment of his guitar class, and finds the lessons in teamwork especially valuable.

"At Crockett High, my ensemble is like a second family, my family away from home. I can tell them anything, we're all close. The ensemble setting teaches me to work with others, and to have the discipline to work on things for the group."

One particular experience early in his high school career had a transformative effect on his future.

In January of his freshman year, Berta Rojas came to Crockett High to give a masterclass.

"She came in and I was thinking, OK, she plays guitar, that's not new - lots of people can play the guitar. But when she started playing, I learned that I've been listening to guitar wrong my whole life."

Rey broke into a wide smile at the memory.

"Berta was very inspiring. I'd never seen such an amazing musician, and she was very kind and motivating, and really wanted to help us learn. I learned from Berta that you don't always have to be robotic when you play, that you can express the music and still play beautifully."

"Up until then, I had no idea music could be so expressive. I realized that's what I wanted to do: be a solo musician."

Asked if he was excited to talk to Berta at the gala, Rey demurred.

"I was starry-eyed over a celebrity; I doubt she remembers me."

In the spring of 2019, Rey received a full-ride music scholarship to study guitar at University of Texas - Austin. He is especially grateful he stuck with music because of opportunities like this Saturday night, when he performed with the Crockett High School Guitar Ensemble right before Berta Rojas took the stage at Guitars Under the Stars.

"Guitar is my life, and without ACG, I don't think I'd be as happy doing what I'm doing, and I wouldn't be the person I am today. ACG has allowed me to achieve new heights as a musician that I would've never been able to reach on my own."

Rey, third from bottom left