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

Fall 2018 Education Report

Dear Friends,

2018 has been another remarkable year in ACG Education. We are grateful every day for the unique opportunities we have to connect with children and adults across the globe through music.

Before 2001, music education in U.S. schools was primarily focused on choir, orchestra, and band. Our work these last 17 years has been to build deep, thoughtful, and advanced systems, from curriculum, to training, to assessment, to direct and adaptive services, all to add guitar as a rigorous option for engaging in the arts.

Guitar is easily the most popular instrument in the world, and our classroom-based model for teaching it has enabled schools and teachers to joyfully engage tens of thousands of new and different students in meaningful fine arts study – not in one-time or short-term engagements, but in years-long, deeply enriching educational endeavors.

On behalf of everyone at Austin Classical Guitar, we thank you for your support of our services, and for your belief in the power of music to positively change lives.

I hope the updates you find in this report will make you proud.



Matt Hinsley, Executive Director
Austin Classical Guitar

1) Let's Play!

CURRENT: We began our services at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) in 2010. Our partner teacher, Jeremy Coleman, converted our core curriculum into braille in 2012, and began a literacy-based approach to music instruction on the guitar at TSBVI.

In 2016, we realized that while our program at TSBVI was providing their students quality guitar instruction with impressive results, there was a lack of resources to support lifelong learning on the guitar for our students at TSBVI and other members of the low-vision community around the world.

We began an 18-month, $75,000 project to create an online resource that would offer a collection of graded, sequential solo guitar pieces, each with its own complementary set of audio and braille literacy guides. The site, called Let’s Play!, launched in early July, and within weeks was accessed by over 4,000 users in 20 countries.

One of them, Hendrik, wrote to us:

“I am a blind adult with an interest in playing classical guitar. In South Africa, there are not many teachers willing to take on the challenge of such a task. I am writing to thank you from the bottom of my heart for creating this resource and making it available to people like me.”

Explore Let’s Play!
Watch a KVUE News Story & meet three of our TSBVI guitar students

FUTURE: Let’s Play! currently guides learners through five “levels” of study. In the months ahead, we will be adding content to support two additional levels of study. Our goal is that by the time students have mastered all seven levels, they will have acquired the skills and music literacy necessary to begin exploring a large body of parallel literature without further core technical instruction. From our standpoint, this will be a significant milestone towards our vision of a true lifelong learning resource. Future development phases will focus on advanced skills and expanding the music library.

2) Central Texas


CURRENT: We have been very encouraged by the progress of our programs in three nearby districts. In Manor ISD, Decker Middle School just brought on Victor Longoria, one of our teaching artists, as a full time guitar instructor, and our curriculum is now being taught to students in general music classes at both Decker Elementary and Oak Meadows Elementary Schools. In Del Valle ISD, ACG’s Arnold Yzaguirre is teaching for-credit guitar classes after school. And in Dripping Springs ISD, we’re supporting a new high school program led by our partner teacher, Charles Cavanaugh.

All of these programs ended the semester with successful concerts this December.

FUTURE: We anticipate growth in all three of these districts, especially Manor. We also anticipate expanding our reach through new relationships in places like Hutto and San Marcos. The rising cost of housing in Austin is driving more and more families to outlying communities, which in turn is leading under-resourced school districts in those communities to seek our services.

Victor Longoria leads Decker Elementary School students in a performance of Jingle Bells, December 19.

3) Austin & District Infrastructure

CURRENT: Austin ISD is going through a volatile period, and with ACG-supported programs spread throughout the district, our services are widely impacted. At the heart of near-term and long-term challenges are well-publicized district funding decisions that affect all elements of AISD – including fine arts and guitar.

We are seeing challenges resulting from enormous class sizes, last-minute decisions to add or remove classes, unstable registration, and teacher assignments spread across two and sometime three campuses. Responding to these challenges has required new levels of support from our staff and teaching artists

Even in this environment of uncertainty, we have seen stability and notable growth in a number of programs. We are funding significant efforts at certain campuses where we believe there is unique need or opportunity, including LBJ/LASA High School, Travis High School, Martin Middle School, and Mendez Middle School.

We continue to focus on promoting district-wide standards and assessment. In April, ACG’s education team led the fifth annual District Concert and Sight-Reading Contest, which included 44 student ensembles with 608 total student participants. Other districts in Texas, such as El Paso, Houston, Odessa, Brownsville, and Killeen, are currently working toward piloting similar events with the help of ACG and our affiliates.

Our staff also assisted with the All-City and All-Region Ensemble concerts in November. These auditioned ensembles bring together top students from around the district to play together, help with setting standards, and celebrating achievement. ACG’s Matt Hinsley and Joe Williams conducted the Middle School and High School All-Region Ensembles at this year’s event.

4) Free Lessons Initiative

CURRENT: Six ACG teaching artists are currently providing free individual lessons for 34 students with financial need every week at Bedichek Middle School, and at Travis, McCallum, Akins, and Reagan High Schools.

We’re particularly proud that 16 of our free lessons recipients participated in this year’s All-City/All-Region Ensembles, including eight out of the 20 high school students selected for the top All-Region Ensemble.

FUTURE: We are currently developing a framework for a new kind of community presence we call Pro-Social Ecosystem. We aim to empower our students to serve their community with music, thereby benefiting both themselves and their community. Among other things, we expect our Free Lesson recipients to be involved in service projects ranging from performances in retirement homes to mentoring younger students.

5) Juvenile Justice

Jeremy and Javier after the Sunday, Dec. 9th concert

CURRENT: We’re very excited about our former student Javier Saucedo, who we met as a junior at Akins High School a few years ago. Javier received an ACG scholarship to attend Austin Community College, and then transferred to Texas State, where he earned an undergraduate degree in music. He’s now on our education team as the new guitar director at the Travis County Juvenile Justice Center. With support from ACG Assistant Director of Education Jeremy Osborne, Javier is doing a fantastic job, and just led his students’ first public recital on December 9th.

FUTURE: We’ve had several inquiries, from St. Louis to New York, about assisting other communities to build similar programs for incarcerated youth. Here in central Texas we are working toward two types of program expansion: the first is to build a new program in Williamson County, and the second is to launch services for court-involved youth who are not incarcerated as an intervention model to be included in their probation case plans.

6) Musical Wellness & The Lullaby Project

CURRENT: The Lullaby Project has continued to grow. Lullaby artist Claire Puckett has joined our existing team of Arnold Yzaguirre and Travis Marcum, and our institutional partners include Any Baby Can, Travis County Jail, and Dell Children’s Medical Center. In the video below, ACG Lullaby Artist Arnold Yzaguirre performs a lullaby with Jennifer, one of the moms he worked with through our partnership with Any Baby Can. You can learn more about Jennifer’s story here.

Our work at Dell Children’s Hospital is expanding beyond the Lullaby Project to include services individually tailored for children in long-term care scenarios.

The most significant new development is a formal partnership with the CALM Clinic of the Livestrong Cancer Institutes at the UT Dell Medical School, where Travis Marcum has been working to design music services for patients. One of the program’s components will be collaborative songwriting. To explore how this might work, Travis met over several months with Christina, a volunteer who serves on the Young Adult Advisory Council for the CALM Clinic.

Christina is a loving mother, wife, biologist, computer programmer, and athlete living in Austin. She’s also a seamstress extraordinaire, with a lifetime of experience knitting and quilting beautiful textiles for her friends and family. She received her cancer diagnosis 3 years ago, and has been undergoing treatment at MD Anderson in Houston ever since.

FUTURE: We anticipate services being available to patients at the CALM Clinic in spring 2019. We will continue to train and grow our Lullaby artist team, because demand far outweighs our capacity to provide these services.

7) National Programs

As of this writing our online curriculum resource has 773 active users across the United States. To provide insight into the kinds of things that are happening with our national partners, we asked several of them to share brief updates.

Cleveland, Ohio

CCGS students at Guitar Day at Cleveland Institute of Music in March 2018, where they took classes with CIM faculty and performed in CIM’s iconic Mixon Hall.

Cleveland Classical Guitar Society (CCGS) is dedicated to creating life-changing experiences for Cleveland’s kids. The city of Cleveland has the second highest child poverty rate for mid- to large-sized cities in the U.S., and combined with cuts to the arts in schools, it means many kids in Cleveland have no opportunity to learn to play an instrument. CCGS has built free guitar classes using Austin Classical Guitar’s GuitarCurriculum.com for 250 students each year and growing, and over 10% of these students also get individual lessons. One of these students, 10th grader Damian Goggans, was accepted into a fellowship at the prestigious Cleveland Institute of Music more than a year ago, and they will provide free instruction for him until he graduates from high school. Damian received a full scholarship to Interlochen this summer. CCGS also has been teaching Katie Stubblefield for over a year, the youngest face transplant recipient in the U.S., who made international news recently through a feature in National Geographic.

Eric Mann, Executive Director
Cleveland Classical Guitar Society

Cleveland students created this video with help from CCGS Director of Education, Brian Gaudino.

Canton, Ohio

“Guitar education has experienced tremendous growth in the Canton City Schools over the last 4 years. We have grown to about a 110 high school students and a growing middle school population taking guitar. There are currently 5 sections of guitar at McKinley High School and 4 other middle school classes taking place in our district. We have added an advanced guitar class in which students receive college credit from Kent State University.
As of December of this year we have performed at the Kent State Guitar Festival and our middle school and high school winter concerts in the Canton City Schools. Students at McKinley are preparing to take part in a guitar day festival at the University of Akron, spring concerts as well as other community performances. GuitarCurriculum.com and ACG are at the heart of our curriculum in the Canton City Schools and I believe the reason for our tremendous growth. I am excited about the future and the development of the program.”


George E. Dean IV
Director of Guitar, McKinley Senior High School


New York City

One of the most memorable community service projects this year took place when the students of Leaders High School performed for a community of people in need of food while they were waiting for their pantry order within the facility the St. John’s Bread and Life soup kitchen in Brooklyn. After the students performed and the audience (who did not expect music during this time) roared with applause, one of the audience members walked up to the kids and said, ” You know, I was having a really messed up day and I have been extremely angry all day, but listening to you just made me forget about all my problems and I feel happy again, thank you for this”. The students then volunteered to help prepare the food orders for the community and worked until near closing time as we lost track of time. The students learned the beauty of giving back and how great it feels to help others who are in need, making them aware of how much they have to be grateful for and the power music has to help other people at all times. To add, while the students were volunteering, we also had audience volunteers come up to learn how to play a song together on the guitar, which they loved and bought smiles and confidence to their life in a matter of a few minutes. On our way home from the soup kitchen, one of our students asked, “How can I volunteer again? I really enjoyed helping the people out”….. This is what we call a heart-melter!


Jahzeel Montes, Executive Director
Internal Creations, New York City


St. Louis, Missouri

Students from Bermuda Elementary, a new Guitar Horizons program, in Florissant, Missouri with guitars purchased through local Old Newsboys Grant.

The St. Louis Guitar Horizons program is going full “STEAM”! With major sponsorship from The Augustine Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, we now send one of our six teaching artists to co-teach in twenty locations in underserved neighborhoods in the St. Louis metro area: Ferguson-Florissant (14), St. Louis City (3), Hazelwood (1), and the Mathews-Dickey Boys’ and Girls’ Club. We now include the Clayton Detention Center, inspired by the Austin program at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Detention Center. There were 22 November-December public presentations, attended by 5,000+ parents and students. We are in preparation for our All Metro Guitar Day next April 2019. Last year’s performance had 100+ students on stage!


William Ash, Education Director
St. Louis Classical Guitar

St. Louis All Metro Concert

Jennings, Missouri

“This is my third year incorporating classical guitar into our string program. I started it as an after-school guitar club when I returned from ACG’s Teacher Training Workshop, and currently I teach it in my 7th grade string class.
Our semester of classical guitar started off with a bang! Fourteen first-timers were very eager to begin instruction. The class is comprised of orchestra students who double on other instruments (i.e. violin, viola, cello, double bass). Guitar is worked into our regular schedule – we have instruction on Tuesday and Thursday of each week.”


James McKay, Music Teacher
Jennings Junior High

8) Teacher Training

CURRENT: ACG’s education team led two Teacher Training Summits this summer in St. Louis and Austin. These were the first training workshops dedicated to advancing the Five Elements we first detailed in our 2017 Education Report. Our staff was also hired to train teachers for Houston ISD in September, and a second visit is scheduled there for January 2019.

FUTURE: Our teacher training vision continues to focus on a path to certification. This must combine training and curriculum with work samples, assessment and feedback, and proof of mastery. This is a major goal we hope to realize in large part using the newly-enhanced technological capabilities of GuitarCurriculum.com (see #10 below).

9) International Partners

CURRENT: We are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to share ideas and resources with partners outside of the United States, from Mexico, to Nicaragua, to Nepal, and New Zealand. We currently have GuitarCurriculum subscribers in the United States, Thailand, Australia, the Federated States of Micronesia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Canada, Argentina, England, Nepal, India, Uruguay, Haiti, Tanzania, the Philippines, Portugal, Nicaragua, Ireland, and the Netherlands. We were thrilled when 18 delegates from Central and West Africa visited ACG in November, and we look forward to sustaining these relationships going forward.

Perhaps most promising at the moment is a new partnership developing with Mario Quintanilla Saucedo in Mexico. We have met several times about strategy, and more training visits are scheduled. The goal is to develop a widespread music education program serving youth in Mexico as an alternative to, and shelter from, the crime and violence that threatens many communities around the country. Read more about this initiative here.

FUTURE: As you’ll see in the next section, a lot is happening behind the scenes with GuitarCurriculum.com to enhance our services for our teaching partners. This is especially important for our international partners. In particular, the additions of an interactive Teacher Forum and monthly webinars are helping us to more effectively and more regularly reach our partners across the world.

10) Technology Upgrades

CURRENT: GuitarCurriculum.com was launched on a new platform in August 2017. This ushered in a new era in terms of our ability to address needs, track user data, and communicate with users. Since then we have added a score upload function so that teachers around the world can begin to contribute their own music to the resource. We believe this will greatly enhance the quality, diversity, and quantity of teaching material available. We also launched a Teacher Forum that includes jobs listings, a space for teachers to exchange ideas, and video contest opportunities. And this fall, with the help of Reality Based Group in Austin, we have shot more than a dozen next-generation student tutorial videos with Dr. Joseph Palmer that will be released in early 2019.

FUTURE: In the coming year look for a newly-designed GuitarCurriculum.com! Apart from a variety of curricular and functional updates, our primary technical focus in the coming years will be on leveraging the resource to gather better data about the teachers using the curriculum and their students, and develop the technological infrastructure to support rigorous online certification process.
Below you’ll see an example of the kind of data reports we are now able generate thanks to our technology upgrades. This is a current map of the 773 active curriculum users in the United States.

GuitarCurriculum.com active users in U.S. (December, 2018)

11) Leadership

CURRENT: Jeremy Osborne gave a talk at SXSW.edu on Music and Juvenile Justice in March.

Travis Marcum, Matt Hinsley, and ACG Board member Dr. Ted Held presented at a Humanities Institute Symposium at the UT Dell Medical School in May. This paved the way for ACG’s partnership with Livestrong Cancer Institute’s CALM Clinic.

In July, Jeremy Osborne and Travis Marcum were invited to participate in an Art for Justice forum in Houston as part of a national initiative led by California Lawyers for the Arts.

In September, Matt Hinsley led a day-long Organizational Development workshop in Baltimore for leaders of 35 North American arts organizations. A story about it appeared in the 2018 fall issue of Classical Guitar Magazine.

FUTURE: Matt will lecture on Organizational Development and Community Service in the Arts as part of the Glasscock Distinguished Speakers Series at Texas A&M University in March, 2019, and again at the Scuola Universitaria di Musica in Lugano, Switzerland for three days in May, 2019.

In September 2019, Travis will be leading a study of community-based music with funding from research grant awarded by the Humanities Institute at U.T. Austin.

Thank you!

In conclusion, while our services have grown and deepened in beautiful and sometimes surprising ways, our main strategic objectives this year surround refining our processes, building our human resources, and enhancing our technological capabilities. We believe these steps are the most crucial as we move toward our next significant growth phase.

On behalf of Austin Classical Guitar’s entire board and staff, I would like to thank everyone who has helped make our work possible in 2018, including these major institutional supporters and program sponsors:

City of Austin Cultural Arts Division, Augustine Foundation, Webber Family Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Sue L. Nguyen Trust, Texas Women for the Arts, Rea Charitable Trust, Cain Foundation, Texas Commission on the Arts, Still Water Foundation, Kaman Foundation, The Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation, Michael R. Levy, Sarah & Ernest Butler, Kodosky Foundation, H-E-B, Tingari-Silverton Foundation, Shield-Ayres Foundation, Applied Materials, Louise Epstein & John Henry McDonald, The Mitte Foundation, Long Foundation, Wright Family Foundation, Mercedes-Benz of Austin, Silicon Labs, 3M Foundation, Kendal & Ken Gladish, Bill & Lynne Cariker, the Benavi Family, Austin Radiological Association, D’Addario Foundation, PwC, Jeanette & Ernest Auerbach, Urban Betty, Charles Schwab & Co., MFS Foundation, Lucy Farland, Cindy Cook, William Metz, Karrie & Tim League, Austin Bar Foundation, Carl Caricari & Margaret Murray Miller, Rixen Law, Elaine & Michael Kasper, Marcia Raff, Ed Pierce, Josh Stern & Reality Based Group, Tesoros Trading Company, IBC Bank, Savarez, Calido Guitars, and Strait Music.

The Courtroom as a Stage for Music

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

People streamed through the door, gathering in the front lobby and chatting excitedly. The metal detectors, unnecessary for this occasion, had been moved to the side. There was a note of celebration in the air despite the inauspicious location: Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center.

Friends, families, and members of the community had all assembled to see three young men, three adolescents incarcerated there, perform a guitar concert.

Jeremy and his former student, now colleague, Javier

For the past few months, these students had worked with Jeremy Osborne, ACG Assistant Director of Education, and Javier Saucedo, an Akins High School guitar alum, in the only for-credit arts class offered at Gardner Betts.

James German, a Residential Treatment Officer Lead, has been at Gardner Betts for almost 15 years, and witnessed the beginning of our Juvenile Justice guitar program there eight years ago. He said most students have never played guitar before taking the class.

Some of them don’t want to play at first. But once they start learning it, they want to do it all the time. They ask, ‘Can I have my guitar?’ and practice in their units. It really makes them focus on better behavior, because they want to play the guitar, they want to be part of these performances, they want their family to come and see them. ”

The musicians were already seated onstage as the audience filed in to take their seats. A courtroom is an unusual concert venue: a short wooden barrier divides the performers from the crowd. The guitarists were in a small arc near the podium, not to face charges before a judge, but to share music with a warm audience of family and friends. The podium, as they began to play, was completely forgotten.

The audience witnessed a transformation during the performance, a transformation of three somber young teens into three focused musicians striving for beautiful tone and rhythmic precision.

Enraptured with the guitarists’ poise and musicality, the audience listened thoughtfully as the students played together. After the first soloist performed and took a bow, the musician in the center of the arc broke his serious expression to share with him a wide grin.

“It’s a peaceful thing for the kids, it makes them feel better about themselves, because they’re accomplishing something, something they never thought in their wildest imagination they’d be doing. It’s so positive,” James said.

After the students finished the final piece on their program, the audience stood up by twos and threes to give them a wholehearted standing ovation. The students couldn’t help but smile humbly, looking around with surprise at their enthusiastic fans.

“Now that they see themselves play guitar, now maybe it makes them see themselves as musicians, artists.”

In the lobby, audience members had the opportunity to write letters of congratulations and encouragement to the musicians. Soon, there was a basket full of notes for them.

The guitarists, after talking with amazed friends and families, enjoyed a celebratory pizza with their proud teachers.

"Music for All" in Puerto Rico

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. The following is a spotlight on Héctor Vázquez, a guitar teacher in Puerto Rico.

Héctor Vázquez was working on his Bachelor's in Guitar Performance when he became a Teaching Assistant. Although performance had always been his focus, he began to notice that teaching was improving his own guitar skills. This led him to the realization that to be a good player, you must know how to teach.

He started his Master's in Tallahassee, where he expanded his teaching experience by doing private lessons, leading a full studio, and directing a seminar. After completing his degree at a school back in Puerto Rico, he began to work at the Fundacion Musica Y Pais, and eventually led the guitar orchestra in his local conservatory.

The Fundacion brings music to schools lacking arts education as part of its Música para Todos (Music for All) initiative. It describes itself as an organization that "advocates for the democratization of access to music education as a citizen right. As part of that vision, we offer a varied platform of programs and initiatives to provide children and youth of Puerto Rico - regardless of social class or socioeconomic status - the necessary opportunities to discover, train, develop and express their musical talent."

"We were only in two schools at the beginning, and none of the students had their own guitars - they had to borrow them," Héctor recalls. They gradually expanded their reach, and now the program supports over 1,300 students in 20 projects located throughout Puerto Rico.

"I still perform, but teaching is what keeps me on my toes." 

Héctor believes his role is to help students progress smoothly and quickly. He works with guitarists between the ages of 8-60, and is grateful they all appreciate the thought he puts into instruction.

As he began to teach in more group settings, Héctor was frustrated by a lack of resources for guitar educators. He thought that a straightforward, effective progression for classroom guitar education did not exist.

"Teachers often start students with chords, which is really hard! My thought is, why are we making this so difficult? Guitar is a polyphonic instrument. Students should start one finger at a time."

He began to research a good method for ensemble use.

"I remember it was really hard for me to play chamber music at first because the guitar is such an independent instrument. So I wanted to find a curriculum where students could play their own parts independently while also listening for other’s music. That's when I found GuitarCurriculum.com."

"I like GuitarCurriculum because it starts with melodies and open strings, meaning you don’t have to switch strings, which is one of the hardest things for a guitarist. The curriculum begins with very simple techniques and well-composed music to teach difficult concepts."

In the fall of 2017, Héctor subscribed to GuitarCurriculum.com and planned to start using it with his students.

Then Hurricane Maria hit.

As a Category 4 Hurricane, it was the worst natural disaster to affect Puerto Rico on record. Most of the island's infrastructure was destroyed, the vegetation was obliterated, and much of the population was faced with a humanitarian crisis due to flooding and lack of resources. The storm wiped out the entire island's power grid, causing millions to lose electricity. Almost 3,000 people were killed.

Luckily, Héctor's community survived largely unscathed.

"The Conservatory opened after a month, but it had no power until December."

"The foundations of our buildings and structures were ok, but we lost power.  That meant we had no internet, which meant I had limited resources, and I could only access the Curriculum from my phone. We charged phones in our cars. We did have generators - plantas - which powered fans to keep us cool, but that meant we had to fight against their noise when we played guitar."

Once the power was restored, Héctor was able to fully embrace all the resources in GuitarCurriculum.com. It was January, and his students were almost a semester behind. This fall, he began the Curriculum with his new students from the very beginning. He says it's working very well.

"As an educator, I wish to improve the culture of music and guitar from the ground up.  I take great pride in teaching in my home country. I wish to teach all musicians, despite their goals, most importantly to support the art of the guitar in the genres they like, and to create a wide-spread appreciation for the art and instrument. "

"Minor Waltz" by Travis Marcum, ACG's Director of Education
One of Héctor's guitar classes performing with a handbell choir as part of the 'Musica para Todos' initiative.

Let go and love: A Lullaby Story

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!

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.

Jennifer was in her second-to-last semester of college when she found out she was pregnant. She’d had a rough time in school, and many people encouraged her to take time off during the pregnancy. She decided to complete her degree anyway, her mindset being I’ve come too far, worked too hard, and spent too much time and money. I’m finishing school.

She ended up graduating a semester later than planned, which meant she was raising her newborn, Ava, while working, interning, and taking classes. Since she and her husband had no family in town, they worked out their schedules so one of them would always be home with their baby. That meant rarely seeing each other for the first several months of their daughter’s life.

Photo Credit Jenna Christina

She sought the assistance of ‘Any Baby Can’ through the Nurse Family Partnership, and they helped her with some of the most difficult parts of her pregnancy and postpartum struggles. When she told her counselor that she felt as if she wouldn’t be able to accomplish certain goals because of having a child, the counselor recommended the Lullaby Project. Jennifer had her reservations, but eventually gave it a try.

The first time she met with our one of our lullaby specialists, she brought Ava along, and her counselor was also there for support. Jennifer was nervous because she’d never written a song before, but they started off slowly.

“He just asked me to write down phrases I associate with my daughter - adjectives, words, feelings - which really helped, because I didn’t know where to start. And from those words, it turned into a letter to her.”

After the first session, she took the letter home. She began to read it while listening to her favorite music, then started to make up lyrics to the songs.

“I didn’t expect the words to come out like that, but all of a sudden it was pouring out of me; I was on a roll. I thought, ‘Wait, I can do this! It’s not as hard as I thought,' and then 'Wow, I can actually express myself in a way that is art.'"

Jennifer now realizes a lot of what she was going through emotionally was due to Postpartum Depression. She said even getting out of bed was a struggle at the time. But when she began to write down her thoughts for the Lullaby Project, reflecting on her first few months of raising a child, and how hard it was working, interning, going to classes, not having family in town, and never seeing her husband, she was able to overcome many of the feelings associated with those struggles.


Being a mother and having a child made me stronger, but I think the Lullaby Project helped me process everything I was going through, and put things in perspective. It helped me put everything into words, then put those words into the action of writing and performing. That made me stronger, pretty much more so than any other experience I’ve had. The fact that I was able to do something I’d never done before, and do it myself, was empowering. It meant I could feel like a role model for Ava."

The chorus of her lullaby for Ava says 'Let go and love, and grow stronger each day,' which is as much a message for Jennifer as it is for her daughter. 'Everything falls into place.'

This is Jennifer singing her lullaby with Arnold Yzaguirre, one of our lullaby specialists, at the Nurse Family Partnership Graduation with 'Any Baby Can'. After the performance, she said to the audience, "The Lullaby Project helped me rediscover my love, my passion for writing. I never thought I'd be up here in front of you singing, but here I am."

Ava, her daughter, crawls all over her during the lullaby in an attempt to grab the mic. Apparently, she always sings along when Jennifer practices at home.

"She wanted to be a part of it, she loves to sing. I want to get her involved in music."

Jennifer would love to continue writing lullabies for her baby, and maybe for a future child someday as well. She encourages all moms considering the project to go for it, even if fears get in the way.

"The Lullaby Project is honestly one of the most beautiful things I've ever done for my daughter, and for myself. It’s a very empowering and fun experience, and it brings out strength you didn't know you had. It might reconnect you with a passion of yours. I want all moms to do this, especially those that are going through postpartum depression. I’m so grateful for the entire group of people involved."

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 these words from 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