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."


Guitar & Juvenile Justice: a student perspective

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Artist-Audience Connection

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


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


School Visits

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

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

Joseph during a recent visit to Akins High School.

Musical Puppet Shows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Lullaby Story from Matt Hinsley

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


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

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

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

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

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

 

I Will Protect You
By Arlen, with Joey Delahoussaye

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

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

- Joey Delahoussaye, ACG Lullaby Project Clinician

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


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Opening a door

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

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

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

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


How did you become involved with ACG?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Coco!

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

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

The Idea

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

Getting It Together

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

Then we set a date!

Brass Tacks

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

Simple, right?

What Happened

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

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

Why’d We Do it?

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

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

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


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


A Story of Transformation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Rt0UvAOqa8


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