Motivating Children with Music

For our ACG Fall Fund Drive, we’re sharing stories of ways music has changed our world, and how our community helped make it happen. Consider supporting ACG today!


Fourteen years ago, Austin Classical Guitar recognized the need for an improved system of school-based guitar education comparable to established programs in choir, orchestra, and band. Three years later, we launched GuitarCurriculum.com. Now used internationally by hundreds of teachers serving tens of thousands of students, “GC.com” is a comprehensive teacher resource that includes a searchable library of original, pedagogically-sequenced ensemble literature, sight reading, and audio and video tutorials, all espousing a core educational philosophy of “expressive, beautiful music-making from the very first day.

We’ve been talking to teachers around the country – and the world – about how they use our curriculum, and wanted to share with you the story of Sayil López, a guitarist and educator in Mexico City.


People really like guitar in Mexico, and a large number of children are starting to play. One of the easiest ways to teach all of them is by putting together ensembles. But we have to find teaching materials intended for groups, since right now, we lack the tools.

I started playing guitar as a small child of 9, and became a teacher 15 years ago. As a teacher, I believe it’s important to know many methods of education. I find yours very interesting, useful, and practical.

I conduct a children’s orchestra in the Facultad de Música in the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. We don’t have a set guitar curriculum, so GuitarCurriculum.com is our base, and the only program that actually works for us. I’ve worked with your method for the past five years.

My children's orchestra has kids between the ages of 8 to 15. They all represent a wide range of levels, which is common in ensembles, and a characteristic of guitar ensembles especially. Your curriculum is the first that solves this particular problem. The kids love to play the music, and the quality of arrangements is really well done. There are different and mixed levels for each piece, it's so inclusive.

When a little child and a more advanced student play together, it’s beautiful that they're able to share the music. It motivates the younger child.

At the Facultad de Música, the children work so hard. They have a lot of lessons during the week, and they get so tired. The children used to get disappointed with music and quit.

When you give a child something too difficult to play, it's easy to give up. When a child plays something at the right level, something enjoyable, it’s motivating. That's why students love the GuitarCurriculum.com music. When they finish one part, they move on to a more difficult one.

When I started using GuitarCurriculum.com with the children’s orchestra, they all were suddenly so motivated to work. Other teachers asked what I was doing. It was beautiful, and the parents were so thankful. They want their children to be happy, and for that, the kids have to be happy with music.

If we had the program in Spanish, that would be great. I would like to use it the right way: reading and understanding all the histories of the pieces and the full instructions. More of my colleagues would use it too. GuitarCurriculum.com should be more well known!

 


Thoughts from the Border: Eclipsing Violence with Music

For our ACG Fall Fund Drive, we’re sharing stories on our Changing Lives Storyboard of ways music has changed our world, and how our community helped make it happen. Consider supporting ACG today!


“We’re trying to save them with music.”

Last weekend, we opened our International Series 2018-19 Season with celebrated guitarist Ana Vidovic. While audience members enjoyed an art display and refreshments in the lobby, a small group of people gathered in the Black Box Theater. They were students, teachers, and mothers from the city of Reynosa Tamaulipas, Mexico, and they had driven more than five hours from the US-Mexico border to perform for Ana Vidovic.

The students - one only six years old, his legs dangling off the chair as he held a half-size guitar - each played short solos while their mothers watched proudly. Ana listened to each one and gave thoughtful feedback, the students nodding with wide eyes at their teacher’s translation of her words into Spanish. A few years ago, the possibility of such an opportunity for these children would have been unthinkable.

According to their teacher, Mario Quintanilla Saucedo, the city of Reynosa Tamaulipas has become increasingly troubled with violence in recent years, and there's no clear end in sight.

“It’s practically unsafe to go into streets and live a normal life. Children 9 to 14 years old are enlisted in the most dangerous criminal gangs, carrying assault rifles instead of musical instruments,” Mario told us.

Mindful of the deteriorating role of culture in their city, a small group of music-lovers began searching for a guitar teacher for their children. They came upon one in the city of Monterrey Nuevo León, 140 miles from Reynosa. Mario Quintanilla Saucedo has studied with distinguished masters of international stature - including Ana Vidovic - and placed in national guitar competitions across Mexico.

“Our idea was to rescue children by occupying them in the art of classical guitar before they could be victims of organized crime," Mario explained, "the theory being that a child who learns guitar from a young age will never carry a weapon.”

After almost a year of bringing a student to study with Mario in Monterrey once a week, the plan changed: every weekend, Mario would drive the three hours to Reynosa Tamaulipas. Now, he has a whole studio of students between the ages of 4 and 53.

When Mario heard that Ana Vidovic was coming to Austin, he contacted her to ask if his students could play before the concert. He wanted to show them a world of hope, opportunity, and the possibility of life in the arts.

"Keep your strength," she told one of the students after he'd played. "Mantén tu fuerza."

“This trip to Austin showed that we are doing the right thing by helping children grow up in an environment of music instead of one concerned with terror and violence," Mario wrote to us after the concert.

“Our students and their parents were very happy with the reception and attention you gave us, it was much more than we could have imagined. The stage you set up so Ana Vidovic could hear us was spectacular and touching. ACG is a wonderful organization, and your team was very kind.”

His guitar studio would soon like to relocate to a nearby city of McAllen or Mission, Texas, since Reynosa is very dangerous. "We do not want any of our students to be accidentally injured by a stray bullet. Currently, our facilities are in a private house for our students' safety.”

"We see education as a cornerstone for changing the course of our children and our environment.”

They aspire to follow the model of ACG Education.

“Our project is small and has a limited budget, but we believe it will grow. We will hopefully see our progress reflected in disciplined young people with artistic training who someday could be in high spheres of the classical guitar world."


Music for a Little Spirit

For our ACG Fall Fund Drive, we’re sharing stories on our Changing Lives Storyboard of ways music has changed our world, and how our community helped make it happen. Consider supporting ACG today!


Since 2012, our Lullaby Project has paired ACG artist-clinicians with mothers in challenging circumstances. Together, they talk about the mother's hopes, fears, and musical inspirations, then create and record a personal song for her baby. The mother then has a lullaby entirely of her own that she and her child can listen to for years to come. A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to attend the recording session of one mother's lullaby: "Bright Eyes."

Photo by Bastien Jaillot

A woman sits in front of a table scattered with recording equipment, a journal, and a box of tissues. A man offers her headphones, tilts the mic closer to her face, and asks if she’s ready. She inhales deeply, gazes at the phone leaning against her water bottle, and laughs good-naturedly. “As ready as I'll ever be. Let’s do it.”

The woman is Kheira, mother of Jennings Dean. Jennings has spent the first 130 days of his life in the neonatal intensive care Unit of St. David’s Medical Center. He was born several months premature, weighing only one pound at birth.

Kheira’s phone, propped up to be the center of attention while recording, displays a recent photo of Jennings: a healthy, plump tot wearing huge, goofy glasses - it was costume day - and a Yoda onesie that says “Too Cute I Am”. This picture would have been impossible to imagine a few months ago.

Kheira is recording a lullaby she’s written with the calm guidance of Arnold Yzaguirre, one of Austin Classical Guitar's Lullaby Project clinicians. They’ve already met a few times in the past month to talk about the melody, lyrics, and message of her lullaby.

“It was magic,” she said of the process. “It was like the melody was already there, we just plucked it out of the universe.”

Photo by Aditya Romansa

Music has always been present in baby Jennings’ life. Dismayed at having to leave him alone in the NICU every night, Kheira persuaded the nurses to play Pandora in his room.

“It started with just classical, but it’s evolved to whatever we’re listening to. He loves Foster the People. We have Fleetwood Mac Saturdays.”

Some mothers in the Lullaby Project choose to have someone else record their lullaby, but Kheira wanted to sing it herself. Her voice radiates with gentle, soothing strength. She tells Jennings of the uncertainty at the beginning of his life, and the fearless resilience she saw in his bright eyes. Her words reflect his light from within during the dark time, and encourage him to Be kind. Be brave. Be unafraid. Always remember you’re a part of my soul … If you ever forget how much you are loved, just listen to your song.

“Before I started working on the lullaby,” Kheira said, “I hadn’t been thinking about what I wanted to say to him outside the hospital, because I hadn’t even thought about the future.

"I was so busy living in the now, thinking about the medical jargon, the questions of ‘Is he breathing? Is he surviving?’ It was good to take a step back and think about what the future could be, and to think of him as a little person, a little spirit.”

A few weeks later, Arnold brought the final recording of “Bright Eyes” to Kheira. She held her baby, finally home after over 140 days, in her arms while her husband and Jennings listened to the lullaby for the first time. Tears rolled down her face as she said, “It’s perfect.”


Teacher Spotlight Part III: Bringing Folklore to the Guitar

For our ACG Fall Fund Drive, we’re sharing stories on our Changing Lives Storyboard of ways music has changed our world, and how our community helped make it happen. Consider supporting ACG today!


Fourteen years ago, Austin Classical Guitar recognized the need for an improved system of school-based guitar education comparable to established programs in choir, orchestra, and band. Three years later, we launched GuitarCurriculum.com. Now used internationally by hundreds of teachers serving tens of thousands of students, "GC.com" is a comprehensive teacher resource that includes a searchable library of original, pedagogically-sequenced ensemble literature, sight reading, and audio and video tutorials, all espousing a powerful core educational philosophy of “expressive, beautiful music-making from the very first day."

We've been talking to teachers around the country - and the world - about how they use our curriculum, and wanted to share Jane's story with you. The following is the third installment of our three-part series.


Jane's classes incorporate diverse elements of instruction. “We're a Cajun, Creole, and Country music town. We respond to that as guitar teachers.”

She’s written arrangements of many Cajun and Creole tunes, and has a rotating set of projects that emphasize cultural aspects of Louisiana heritage. Through scavenger hunts, biographies, and live performances of instruments and music genres from around the world, Jane integrates her folklore background into the classroom.

A Kora player with Jane's student

“Last year we had a Kora player come play in class, and the students did a little improv of its scale with a drone underneath.”

“This year I have a student who just moved from Haiti, and we’re going to do a Haitian folk song in class. It’ll help him with his transition, and expose classmates to his culture as well.”

She also has a “Family Jam Night” at the end of the year. She asks her students to interview a family member who plays music, and then hosts an inter-generational jam night. She’s encountered grandmas and grandpas who play everything from rock and classical to Cajun accordion.

"When you’re in the trench, you think it’s just class, but then later, you find out it’s not. I’ve had students get full music scholarships to college, students who go into music business, and kids that have CDs out, traveling bands, all kinds of stuff. It’s really cool. We live in a very creative hub here that really encourages that, and I’m glad to be making this particular contribution to the effort."

"When I find out I’ve sparked creativity and direction in some student’s life, wow. That’s just amazing."

"It took a while to come back to me, but now my students are succeeding as young adults in music. I’ve put between 1500-2000 students out into the world. When you do that, you feel like you just launch them out there. But certain students have really taken on the guitar and music as their life."

 


Teacher Spotlight Part II: Growing a Program with GuitarCurriculum.com

For our ACG Fall Fund Drive, we’re sharing stories on our Changing Lives Storyboard of ways music has changed our world, and how our community helped make it happen. Consider supporting ACG today!


Fourteen years ago, Austin Classical Guitar recognized the need for an improved system of school-based guitar education comparable to established programs in choir, orchestra, and band. Three years later, we launched GuitarCurriculum.com. Now used internationally by hundreds of teachers serving tens of thousands of students, "GC.com" is a comprehensive teacher resource that includes a searchable library of original, pedagogically-sequenced ensemble literature, sight reading, and audio and video tutorials, all espousing a powerful core educational philosophy of “expressive, beautiful music-making from the very first day."

We've been talking to teachers around the country - and the world - about how they use our curriculum, and wanted to share Jane's story with you. The following is the second installment of our three-part series.


Over the past twenty years, Jane Vidrine has built a guitar program up from nothing at the LJ Alleman Fine Arts Magnet Academy. She now teaches about a hundred 5th-8th graders in seven classes a day. For years, she was the only classroom guitar teacher in all of Lafayette.

LJ Alleman Fine Arts Magnet Academy Guitar Class

She found GuitarCurriculum.com after searching for ensemble music, and six years ago, she attended Austin Classical Guitar’s first Summer Teacher Training Workshop.

“I was looking for ways to grow the program up into high school and down into elementary school. At that time, there was very little online. If you searched for 'guitar ensemble music,' forget it. It was almost non-existent.”

She uses the Curriculum primarily for the repertoire, finding the division of levels within music to be the most helpful.

“Even in an advanced piece, there will be some part for your student who’s more challenged. I think the thought process behind the pedagogy is just outstanding, it’s so solid."

"GuitarCurriculum.com represents for teachers what we see in front of us everyday: students from all levels, and all kinds of challenges."

She's faced a number of unique challenges in the classroom. Until last year, her school ran the hearing impaired program of her parish, and this year, it's home to students on the autism spectrum. She’s also taught several students with visual impairments.

Courtesy of KADN News

Jane has taken an innovative approach to building her program. To create a pipeline from elementary school music classes into her middle school guitar programs, she developed and wrote a grant for a ukulele program called “The Ukulele Suitcase.” She has about three dozen ukuleles which she loans  to teachers, and offers annual training workshops for elementary music educators. The idea behind starting with ukulele is that tiny fingers can negotiate the smaller instrument more easily, which builds basic skills that are then transferable to guitar.

Although high schools in Lafayette didn't have guitar years ago, so many of her students were entering the high schools that parents demanded they offer guitar classes. The Lafayette Magnet Arts Academy guitar program, a direct stem from her alumni, has enjoyed a particularly close relationship with Jane's middle school.

"It's building by itself, not because of anything I personally have done, but because students coming out of my program ask for the class, and other schools see how successful my program is. It’s more a supply and demand thing."

"Austin’s program is sort of our dream."

To be continued in Part III


Teacher Spotlight Part I: From Folklore to Music Education

For our ACG Fall Fund Drive, we’re sharing stories on our Changing Lives Storyboard of ways music has changed our world, and how our community helped make it happen. Consider supporting ACG today!


Fourteen years ago, Austin Classical Guitar recognized the need for an improved system of school-based guitar education comparable to established programs in choir, orchestra, and band. Three years later, we launched GuitarCurriculum.com. Now used internationally by hundreds of teachers serving tens of thousands of students, "GC.com" is a comprehensive teacher resource that includes a searchable library of original, pedagogically-sequenced ensemble literature, sight reading, and audio and video tutorials, all espousing a powerful core educational philosophy of “expressive, beautiful music-making from the very first day."

We've been talking to teachers around the country - and the world - about how they use our curriculum, and wanted to share Jane's story with you. The following is the first installment of our three-part series.


Originally a museum curator and folklorist in St. Louis, Jane Vidrine is a guitar teacher and musician in Lafayette, Louisiana. A few years ago she was named the Lafayette Education Foundation's "Teacher of the Year," and she's part of a two-time Grammy-nominated, all-female Cajun and Creole band called the Magnolia Sisters.

Jane traveled to Louisiana after her friend, Nick Spitzer of NPR’s “American Routes,” enlisted her help with the Louisiana Folklife Pavilion at the New Orleans 1984 World’s Fair. She’s been in Lafayette - the "Hub City" and the state's center of Creole culture - ever since.

Jane Vidrine, far left

After moving to Louisiana, she continued to do cultural programming and museum curation for a while, but turned her attention toward education when she and her husband had two children.

“It was the beginning of the French immersion program at their school, and here we were in the heart of Cajun and Creole music, and they weren’t teaching music in French,” Jane said.

She wrote some grants to place herself in the classrooms, teaching Cajun and Creole music in French as a field work and archival project. She became “one of those classic itinerant teachers teaching seven different classes in three or four different places every day.”

“I knew the language of folklore and the language of music, but I decided at that point I needed to learn the language of education. So I went back to school and got my Master’s in Education.”

One day about twenty years ago, a girl in her middle school French immersion class said, ‘Miss Vidrine, you’re always teaching us with your guitar. Why don’t you teach us guitar?’

When Jane inquired about a guitar class, her principal said, ‘If you can recruit the students, you can do it.’

Jane only had six students the first year, but her conviction to bring students into the community for exposure to authentic performance settings enabled the word to spread quickly. During a student performance for a principals’ luncheon, one of the principals rushed up to her afterward and said, “I need you at my school.”

To be continued in Part II


Postcard from Brownsville

For our ACG Fall Fund Drive, we're sharing stories on our Changing Lives Storyboard of ways music has changed our world, and how our community helped make it happen. Consider supporting ACG today!


A few weeks ago, we got a message from a student in Brownsville, Texas:

 

We reached out to him to learn more about his passion for guitar, and this is what he told us:

"I started guitar by coincidence sophomore year because my school counselor just put me in guitar class. I knew nothing about it. We started with guitar one: basics of how to sit and how to read music. And now I’m in the guitar 4 class, the varsity, which is a guitar quartet that competes in music contests.

My school's population is 98% Mexican, but the majority speaks English. My guitar teacher knows both English and Spanish, so if students don’t understand something he can say it in Spanish.

My whole family has a history of music: my dad played in a band in the 80's and 90's, my older brother is a high school band director, my middle brother played in band in middle and high school, and my youngest brother was in an Estudiantina, a traditional Cuban guitar  and singing group.

I found out about ACG because my teacher intended for my quartet to go to ACG Fest, but my school didn’t have enough funds. That’s when I started looking at y’alls website, reading about all you do and the concerts y'all host. I love the organization because I feel like not many kids, especially younger kids, realize what classical guitar is. When people say "classical guitar", they probably imagine an electric one.

The fact that you bring classical guitar to young kids is really inspiring.

I love the guitar because it's so versatile. It can be played very forcefully or delicately. You can play ponticello or dolce. And music can be arranged so well for the instrument, ranging from piano pieces to modern pop pieces. The repertoire for guitar is the absolute best!

I definitely plan to pursue a career in guitar performance. I know people say that music degrees and careers are very risky, and even my teachers ask if I have support from my family. But my family all supports me. I’ve applied to the Butler School of Music, University of Texas - Austin, and I plan to apply to two more schools as well."

Matt's story reaffirms our belief that no one should be barred from attending or participating in any ACG event because of the cost. If you'd like to be involved in helping kids like Matt take full advantage of the opportunities we provide, contact us at info@austinclassicalguitar.org


Alumni Reflection: Francisco De La Rosa

For our ACG Fall Fund Drive, we’re sharing stories on our Changing Lives Storyboard of ways music has changed our world, and how our community helped make it happen. Consider supporting ACG today!


We came to know Francisco De La Rosa in 2009 when he joined the guitar class at Akins High School and began working with ACG’s Assistant Director of Education, Jeremy Osborne. We’re proud to count Francisco, who's currently a Music Performance major at Texas State University, as one of our alumni. He recently sat down with us to talk about his love for music, and what motivates him to continue playing.


How did you start learning guitar, and what were your early experiences with Austin Classical Guitar?

I started classical guitar my freshman year at Akins High School. Before that, I was self-taught and had never been exposed to classical music. I still remember the first time I heard a Bach cello suite on guitar. It was unbelievable.

At Akins, guitar was more than just a class - it was a second family. And Mr. Osborne was like an older brother, a role model. High school can be a stressful time, but guitar class was my comfort zone. Everyone was friendly, and there was no judgement. We worked as a team.

I remember that I needed to improve my grades to participate in guitar competitions, and Mr. Osborne helped me study until my GPA was good enough. Before that, I didn’t have to worry about grades, and could just play guitar. He helped me become a better student.

When I talk, I can’t always find the right words, but when I play guitar, I can express exactly how I’m feeling.

What has it been like studying guitar in college?

I received a scholarship from ACG to attend Austin Community College. After that, I reached out to Mr. Osborne for some help preparing for my audition for Texas State’s classical guitar program. I’m proud to say I just finished my second year there, and I'm working toward my Bachelor's in Music Performance. It hasn't always been easy, but ACG helped me discover my passion and go further with guitar than I ever thought I could.

What does music mean to you?

Music completes life for me. It allows me to express who I truly am. When I’m playing guitar, it's like I’m transferred to a different world. Music is a magical feeling. I step outside my consciousness. When I talk, I can’t always find the right words, but when I play guitar, I can express exactly how I’m feeling.

In the future, I want to continue performing and composing, but my biggest dream is to become a teacher. I want to follow in the the footsteps of Mark Cruz, Jeremy Osborne, and Travis Marcum. They all showed me how music can help to achieve my dreams, and I want to share that with others.


The Gift of Guitar

For our ACG Fall Fund Drive, we’re sharing stories on our Changing Lives Storyboard of ways music has changed our world, and how our community helped make it happen. Consider supporting ACG today!


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

Below is a reflection from Kerry Price, an ACG board member, who recently attended a performance of students at Gardner Betts.



Last Sunday, May 6, I had the opportunity to attend a guitar performance by five students at Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center.  In the courtroom, each student played one or two solo pieces in front of the judge's podium to an audience of family members, friends, teachers, and ACG Board members and staff.

While the regular use of this room is anything but festive, on this particular afternoon we were there for an accomplishment: young students' hard work to prepare for the daunting task of performing alone.

I was very moved to hear a student play the same Villa-Lobos Prelude which, forty years ago, was the first piece of classical guitar music I'd ever heard. It was the same piece that began my own journey with the guitar and brought so much joy to my own life. What really made my day was seeing the piece performed on a guitar that I once owned - I'd given it to ACG so that maybe someone could use it. That my old guitar was used on this day, and that I had an opportunity to hear and see a student playing Villa-Lobos on it, was icing on the cake.

-Kerry Price, Board Member

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


ACG Alum Comes Full Circle

For our ACG Fall Fund Drive, we’re sharing stories on our Changing Lives Storyboard of ways music has changed our world, and how our community helped make it happen. Consider supporting ACG today!


We first met Javier Saucedo during his junior year at Akins High School. He had always loved guitar, but never had a teacher or an opportunity to perform. That all changed when he saw a flyer about a new guitar class at Akins. Javier told us, "I couldn’t believe I could actually play guitar during the school day and receive credit for it!" That first semester the class was small, but Javier felt right at home with the other guitar students, and the experience of rehearsing and performing together made them all close friends.

Javier excelled in guitar class during that first year, and began taking private lessons with Tate Coyle, a local professional guitarist, and Jeremy Osborne, ACG’s Assistant Director of Education. Javier says, “Mr. Osborne became a mentor. He helped me with guitar and helped me figure out my future, what I was going to do with my life.”

"Guitar was a place for me to put my energy and emotions. It gave me a constructive activity to be a part of. I always had a guitar by my side or in my hands. It became a part of my identity and motivated me to work hard in school and at home."

Javier also credits guitar with helping him stay focused as a teenager: “I went through a rough patch in high school, and guitar was a place for me to put my energy and emotions. It gave me a constructive activity to be a part of. I always had a guitar by my side or in my hands. It became a part of my identity and motivated me to work hard in school and at home.”

Javier remained committed to guitar throughout high school, and was awarded a full scholarship to study classical guitar at Austin Community College. Eventually, he transferred to Texas State University, where he earned his Bachelor of Music degree this past fall.

Mr. Osborne stayed in touch with Javier over the years, and attended his senior recital this past November. Impressed with his maturity and musicianship, Mr. Osborne began mentoring Javier once again. But this time, instead of helping Javier with his guitar playing, Mr. Osborne began showing him how to be an effective and inspiring guitar teacher.

In January, Javier became an instructor with ACG's Free Lessons Initiative, which provides weekly private guitar lessons to students with financial need. He’s now teaching at Paredes and Mendez Middle Schools, as well as Akins High School, working with students in the very same classroom he himself was in only five years ago.

Javier says his goal is to keep teaching and performing guitar as much as possible. He’s currently applying to get his teaching certificate, and hopes to one day work as a full-time classroom guitar educator in one of ACG’s programs in Austin. He told us:

"I’m thankful to ACG not only for helping me when I was in high school, but for their support through college, and now for helping me to get my teaching career started. I'm so thankful for the opportunity to give back to my community and to the program that helped make me the musician I am today.  I love being able to work with students who are in the same place I was not too long ago. I’m even helping some of them get ready for college auditions. The cycle continues – I had great teachers in high school who helped me, and now I get to do the same for others."