Patti Troth Black: The Nurturing Beauty of Nature

An artist living both in Austin and Santa Fe, Patti Troth Black has been a dear friend of ACG for years, and has always been deeply appreciative of our work in the Lullaby Project. A few years back, she created a collection of paintings in honor of our work with mothers. At the Austin Tango! concert on March 2nd, an exhibit of her work was on display in the lobby before the Bandini-Chiacchiaretta Duo took the stage. We're so fortunate to have spoken with her recently about her artwork, her inspiration, and why she is so moved by the Lullaby Project.

Patti was born in the "wild and rugged beauty" of West Texas. Always in love with nature and possessing an innate aesthetic vision,  she has three degrees in subjects unrelated to art: a double major in English and Classics, a Master's of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, and an almost-completed Master's from the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest. An ongoing shoulder injury prevented her from completing the seminary degree, but she was still able to paint and write poetry.

"I have no training in art. I’ve simply been drawing and painting since I was five, and I’m in love with it."

Her artwork, ranging from prints to paintings to panels of gouache-painted photos, often depicts natural elements breathed to life with vibrant, intricate patterns.

"I am particularly drawn to rich floral and nature motifs on hand-painted furniture, which weave their way into all my tiny detail work. I use a lot of iridescent gold to represent touches of sunlight. Very often hidden in those patterns will be trees, leaves, tiny birds, all kinds of things that make up the concrete reality of life. That is the fabric upon which I build the final impression."

"It’s usually something very close to my heart - I love nature, birds, trees, and light - so those motifs repeat over and over again; they inspire everything."

Her admiration of the Lullaby Project, the program that pairs expectant or new mothers with artists to write a lullaby together, stems from memories of her childhood. Because of events beyond her control growing up, she recognizes the intense bond music can form between a parent and child.

"I was the first child, and my mother wasn't well - she didn’t want me when I was born. My father would come home and find me unchanged and unfed, and he would clean me up and feed me, and then he’d sing to me in both Spanish and English with his guitar. I think he saved my life."

"My first language was music; I thought music was language. I was singing the songs with my father before I could even talk.  In very difficult times of my life, if I can get a song going in my head, it takes me back to that place of a really gentle, sincere feeling of safety, warmth, and nourishment."

Over the past five years or so, her artistic vision has shifted focus toward photography. After falling in love with a 120 film camera she purchased from a friend, she began to print the photographs on heavy German etching paper. She was seeing certain aspects of the photographs stand out, and she wanted to paint directly on the photos.

"I don’t plan things out ahead of time. I can see it in my mind’s eye, but everything tells me what it wants to be."

She's been working for the past seven months on shadow, light, and reflection. The focus of these works is not on the objects themselves, but on their reflections. Similarly to noticing things within photographs that she would highlight through painting, Patti began to see elements leaping out of the reflections, and felt the need to bring them to life.

"There's a photo I did in Santa Fe - light there is different than light here - and I’m holding in my hand a dark, almost sapphire blue bowl. It was so opaque that the reflection didn’t show the blue. But it did get brilliant little suggestions of aqua and turquoise that presented an aura around the scalloped edge of the bulb. As I began to look at it, I saw a tree holding up a city, and it made me think of Austin. The title is 'Nature’s Graciousness,' and it’s about the value of our oaks. No matter how much the city gets built and built, there are still oak trees everywhere. Sometimes they struggle up through things, but they’re still there."

Lullaby, 2014 (first Lullaby Project painting)

Patti's work is an ode to nature and the soul. She believes us all to be incredibly fortunate to live within nature's embrace, and her work draws inspiration from the everyday beauty of her world.

"The earth is our mother: it nurtures us constantly, not only with its beauty, but with the fact that trees and plants exhale pure oxygen. In a city, the trees are constantly counteracting all the carbon dioxide from cars. Our spirits are immensely enriched by the birds. Right now, we have black-belly whistling ducks that come to my feeding area in the backyard - this is the third year in a row they’ve come back - and it’s so fun watching the ducks padding around on their duck feet in the backyard eating birdseed."

Her favorite piece among those she's gathered for the exhibit on March 2nd depicts a mother and child. There's a tree growing alongside them, a tiny city down on the right-hand corner, and two birds carrying in a guitar.

"That, to me, says it all."

Over Twenty Years of Tango: A True Passion

We couldn't be more excited for the Bandini-Chiacchiaretta Tango Duo's return to Austin for their third performance with us. Click here for more information about the Austin Tango! concert on March 2nd at 8pm in the AISD Performing Arts Center.

Each concert, an energetic team of volunteers helps us out with everything from the Box Office to ushering to assisting our food vendors. One of our longest-serving volunteers, Pat Dickerson, has been dancing tango for over two decades. She has a unique perspective on tango in Austin, and why the Bandini-Chiacchiaretta Duo is special.

Pat is a research geologist at the University of Texas - Austin where she serves on graduate student committees, collaborates with friends and colleagues, and leads Smithsonian trips to places such as Iceland, Machu Picchu, the Galapagos, and US National Parks. In addition to geology, Pat's second love is tango.

"It’s one of the most wonderful things I’ve discovered - my passion for tango and geology are pretty close."

Her first exposure to tango was her goddaughter's performance with Glover Gill's internationally renowned "Tosca Tango Orchestra" in 1997. Pat was instantly hooked.

"I heard the music, saw the people dancing, and thought, 'There’s the rest of my life.' It was that visceral, that immediate."

She signed up for a tango workshop and started taking lessons, gradually becoming more enthusiastic about it as time went on.

"Week after week I built on it and became more and more - I don’t want to say obsessed - more enamored of it."

The roots of tango music go back to docks on the port of Buenos Aires. Most tango social dances, milongas, take place in small venues, similar to the Buenos Aires neighborhood dance halls in which they began. Pat started attending milongas, and grew to love the music and culture surrounding tango.

"The dance is total improv, it’s similar to jazz and blues in that way. You learn a few basic steps, and those can be chained together in whatever sequence the music wants you to do, whatever skill level you or your partner has, or how much room you have on the dance floor."

"We dance to a lot of the same music every night, every week, for months and years, and you’d think we’d get bored, but it’s always fresh - it’s a curious thing. You can dance five times to the same song, but it will always be a different dance."

Tango dancing appeals to Pat because it demands her complete attention.

"I love that you have to be engaged. It’s a very cerebral dance. You’re not just learning patterns, it’s not choreographed - for me that’s a huge appeal. You have to be able to read each other’s movements and respond. The connection with the music and your partner is a different level of dancing."

Pat tries to get to Buenos Aires at least once a year, but she also appreciates the tango opportunities available right here in Austin. She finds a milonga to attend almost every evening, and has developed a deep connection with the tango community.

"You can dance every night in Austin. Occasionally people will host milongas in their homes - those are always lovely. Someone who’s even more an addict than I am has built a room off her house just for tango dancing."

According to Pat, tango seems to attract quite a wide range of enthusiasts.

"Our group has everything from aerospace engineers to US Postmen to 28 flavors of teachers. At the moment, I’m the only geologist in the group. It’s a wonderful melting pot, and you can meet people you might not otherwise have a chance to cross paths with. It’s almost like a clan, in a way, but without any blood relations."

Pat is drawn to the universal appeal of tango, finding similarly zealous dancers in her travels around the world.

"I’ve danced in Reykjavik, Oslo, Auckland, Santiago, Quebec, Vancouver, several places in Argentina, and many US cities. It's this shared music we all dance to; it’s a comfortable thing when traveling."

Pat has seen the Bandini-Chiacchiaretta each time they've performed in Austin. She admires their impeccable skill and originality.

"Bandini-Chiacchiaretta carry some of the original feel of the music; they retain the legitimacy of it. Their selection of pieces is authentic, older, more traditional tango - the classics. They play animatedly, it's wonderful."

Oliver Rajamani: A Magical Perspective

Join us April 6th & 7th for a performance unlike anything you've ever seen before: Oliver Rajamani's Flamenco India with Jerónimo Maya! For tickets and more information, click here.

“Life is magical and mysterious. I try to stay in the pure joy of life. There’s an innocence in creating and being in joy … music is part of that, music is joyful. It’s beautiful what people create.”
- Oliver Rajamani

Oliver Rajamani’s unique upbringing contributed to the distinct stylistic and visual palette of his music. Had he not attended an American International school in India, Rajamani believes he would not be who he is today: an internationally renowned artist and the creator of “Flamenco India.”

“Going to that school changed my life. I had this upbringing that was so different from the normal Indian child and way of thinking. I couldn’t connect with my family, or people from my own country, or anyone in American Western culture either. No one could really understand my life; there were times when I just felt alone."

"Because I don’t belong in any one group, I’m able to connect better with everyone.”

Rajamani feels strongly that people should experience cultures outside their own. He moved to New York in 1989, studying in an unconventional college that viewed education as an exploratory time for students to immerse themselves fully in an area of interest, and not to be sequestered into ‘learning from the books,’ so to speak.

“I traveled and got to experience culture and people for their essence, rather than just sitting in a classroom and learning.”

Ethnomusicology was not yet a broad field of study, so Oliver Rajamani pieced together his own version with a dual degree in sociology and music. His study of music actually began much earlier, during his school days in India, when he played onstage with his uncle's band and encountered the folk music of villages. He was also exposed to Western classical music as a percussionist in his school’s band.

After coming to the US, his appetite for music grew stronger.

Rajamani was aimless during his college years; he enjoyed music and meeting new people, but didn’t know what he wanted to do beyond that. An anthropology professor gave him a book about the Romani people, thinking the open field of study relating to his home country might interest him.

“I didn’t go looking out for this Gypsy thing, it just came into my life.”

He first encountered the Romani people during his college years. Rajamani says the Roma are not as secluded as mainstream culture believes: “There are a lot of Roma in the US, but you won’t know because they won’t tell you; they hide it for fear of persecution.”

The Roma migrated from India in waves beginning in the 11th century. They adopted elements from each culture in which they lived as a survival method, but kept very secretive out of fear of discrimination.

The Romani people have been misunderstood for centuries, their persistent seclusion allowing for each group they encounter to create myths and prejudices about their beliefs and behaviors.

Rajamani began playing with a wide range of Roma musicians, along with Non-Roma (Gadje) musicians, in New York. Through those musical connections, he met someone who would have a major influence on his future: Dr. Ian Hancock, the UN Ambassador for the Romani Congress and the world’s head scholar in Romani studies. Hancock connected him with the Romani Congress, where he ended up working for four years.

Dr. Hancock was a linguist and professor at the University of Texas - Austin, the location of the world’s largest historical archives of Roma, and he encouraged Rajamani to move there. He thought Rajamani would benefit from its diverse music scene. The coalescence of Rajamani’s deep connection with Romani cultures, his unique musical flavor, and his move to Austin all provided fertile ground for the birth of Flamenco India.

Through his time spent with Romani people, and his acquaintance with flamenco guitarist Arturo Martinez, Rajamani learned about the Indian roots of flamenco. He was collaborating with flamenco artists and emphasizing its Indian components, such as Indian folk songs, to demonstrate its rich history to his audiences. This innovative approach evolved into Flamenco India.

“The majority of my musical life has been from my family, my own talent, and learning things here and there as I went along, working with different artists and talking with different people.”

Flamenco evolved from the cultural and spiritual identity of the Roma in Spain. Historically called 'Gypsies' by various groups, the Roma were known as 'flamencos' by the Spaniards.

“Most people don’t know the roots of flamenco. The Roma came to Spain at the end of the 15th century during the Inquisition, when the Spanish were trying to get rid of foreigners: Jews, Gypsies, Moors. These people ran and hid in the caves of Granada, which is where flamenco evolved from. Flamenco was a fusion of the time: it has unique similarities to Indian singing and musical styles, Indian dance movements - the hands and footsteps - and the music is also heavily influenced by Arabic Andalusian music. All I’m doing with Flamenco India is highlighting the Indian-ness of flamenco.”

In Flamenco India, Rajamani has brought together Indian musicians, a small string orchestra, Jerónimo Maya - a Romani guitarist - and Indian and flamenco dancers. The flamenco music incorporates Indian and Middle Eastern melodies and harmonies, and the orchestra performs in a style displaying his roots in Western classical music. He acknowledges the influence of place in Flamenco India as well.

“There’s definitely an Austin element to my music: even though it has roots in Spain, India, the Middle East, it’s really an Austin project. Flamenco India was born in Austin, but it has deep roots in all these other cultures.”

Rajamani believes his synthesis of flamenco and Romani cultures merging through shared Indian roots shines “a new light and a new perspective on a beautiful, historic, educational, and passionate show full of fire. It’s a unique experience; there’s not really anyone else in the world doing this. It’s a magical and very colorful show.”

Caitlin McCollom: A Universal Experience of Spirituality

We're so fortunate to partner with local artists for our International Series at the Austin ISD Performing Arts Center. On Saturday, January 22nd, the work of Caitlin McCollom will be displayed in a beautiful and fascinating exhibit in the lobby for Irina Kulikova's concert. We had the chance to speak with Caitlin, and she shared some insight into how she became an artist, what influences her painting, and what she portrays in her work.

How did you become an artist?

I was calling myself an artist even as a little kid. I loved to paint and draw, and I had a super-active imagination and strong connection to spirituality. I grew up in Dripping Springs when it was still rural, so I was very connected to nature and bucolic solitude. I hated school very much; I couldn’t wait for it to be over. When I went to college, I decided to major in painting. It wasn’t a supported talent when I was younger, so getting to study it professionally made it apparent that it was not just a passion, but something that would be my whole way of life.

I started showing exhibits when I was a junior in college, and continued to show all over Texas after graduating. I also ran a little gallery with the intention of supporting other artists, but it was really a way to meet as many artists in the community as possible.

Then, I moved to New York City to get an MFA and pursue my career there.

Shortly after moving, I acquired a chronic genetic disease and fell very ill. I spent some time in the hospital, then moved back to Austin.  I was desperately ill, couldn’t work at all, and didn’t really have any money, since I’d just moved to New York. It all just fell apart - I had to start my life over.

But it was an amazing time to learn what I really wanted out of my life: to be a full-time artist. It took me six months of doing nothing but healing, and then I got back to work once I saved up enough money for art supplies.

As an artist, I have a compulsion to create. The hardest part of the illness was that I couldn’t work for a while.

In New York it’s really expensive, it's a really hard way of life. As a full-time artist, I can live a lot more inexpensively in Austin. I’ve been a full-time artist for a few years now, which was my dream! I don’t know if that would’ve happened in New York. I feel like I’m exactly where I need to be.


Blood Core, Acrylic on yupo

Do you feel that art helped you with the healing process?

When I was finally able to work again, I made this series called “Blood and White,” which was all about the fragility of the body, and the physicality of disease, and trying to make fragility and disease look beautiful. It was made in a stark way, but also in a way that had a very strong aesthetic component. I was trying to communicate to people where I had been the past year ... that was healing.


Did your illness inform your aesthetic sense?

I definitely have a very particular aesthetic sense; I always paint in red, I love the symbology of it. And in my work from 2014, while I was healing, I had this strong urge to use the color blue because I was trying to communicate the idea of water as a symbol of the spiritual realm.

I read this book called the “Cloud of Unknowing,” an anonymous medieval text on early Christian mysticism. In it, there were beautiful, specific instructions for having a mystical experience. It was fascinating. The author talks about this idea that the way to experience God is through entering the cloud of unknowing: with no preconceived notions of what God is, and no knowledge of anything beyond your existence in the moment, God gives you a spiritual experience.

Around that time, I became fascinated by a weather phenomenon in South America called a Garúa: a low-hanging, transparent cloud that can appear suddenly. You don’t know it's there unless you pass through it - it's so dense that your body becomes soaking wet.

The garúa reminded me of the ‘cloud of unknowing’, and I realized that water was a symbol of the spiritual realm. What I try to say in my work is that what's completely real can be absolutely invisible, and you only know it’s there from experience.

What message do you convey in your work?

The red is physical, and the blue is spiritual. You have this physicality, this red blood, and then something happens beyond you, and it’s like the water of the spirit realm mixing in with your blood.

It’s swirling all around you, and you feel the sense of being infused with something beyond yourself. It’s similar to the invisible experience of music causing a strong emotional reaction.

The abstraction of my paintings can purify meaning without confusing the viewer with a concrete subject, but each of my paintings has a specific shape. There are teardrops, orbs, hearts;  these shapes are all Jungian symbols with universal meaning. 

I try to have layers of symbols in my paintings to make them universal, but also very personal, so people can see their own lives and the meanings ascribed to them. What inspires me most is people’s stories about spirituality, and about near-death experiences.

Each painting has its own kind of message, and reveals itself to me in a different way. I can tell if a work is successful or not if someone looks at one and says it means to them the same thing it meant to me when painting it. It’s a visual language, so if it’s not translatable, I feel it’s not very successful. I really try to have a painting mean something attainable.

Irina Kulikova: An Exchange of Energy

Our first International Series concert of 2019 features the fabulous Russian guitarist, Irina Kulikova, whose musical elegance, beauty, and power have captivated audiences around the world. We can't wait for her Austin debut on January 26th!

Irina Kulikova, a daughter and granddaughter of musicians, grew up listening to her mother play cello. She taught private lessons and played in a quartet, and Irina remembers often accompanying her mother to the “Wedding Palace” to hear her perform for ceremonies and receptions.

“I was always there, and always naughty,” Irina recalls fondly.

Her mother had a profound influence on her, musically and otherwise. When Irina was five, she wanted to play either the violin or cello, but her mother insisted she start on guitar because it was “easier to play in tune at first.” To this day, Irina strives for a cello-like sound in her guitar playing, and says she has a strong cello technique.

Her parents in Chelyabinsk, Russia

Irina believes her mother was the anchor of her family when she was little. When Irina’s father lost his factory job during the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was her mother who supported the family, balancing three jobs with caring for Irina and her younger brother. Irina's father pursued his passion of photography, and today has made a career of it.

“When the Soviet Union fell, the women found new ways of survival even as the men were losing jobs.”

Just as Irina's mother introduced her to cello, so too is Irina exposing her daughter to the world of music. Mariëlle is six and a half, and already plays piano, acts, and sings. She's strong-willed and free-spirited: Irina considers it a success if she can choose her daughter's clothes even one or two days a week.

She also sees a lot of herself in her daughter.

“She has a very sharp mind, very bright and very supportive. If she wants something a certain way and I disagree, I make her prove why she’s right.”

Mariëlle is always close by when Irina gives lessons, listening quietly while occupying herself with something tactile and creative, such as drawing or playing with clay.

“She once asked me how many students I had, and after I told her, she said, ‘No Mommy, that’s not right. You have one more - I’m your student.’ Even though she doesn’t really play guitar! She’ll pick it up for a while and learn something, then leave it for two months or so, and come back remembering exactly what I taught her. Sometimes, she corrects the hands of my students - and she’s right! The students become very embarrassed.”

Mariëlle doesn’t travel with Irina during her concert tours, as Irina believes the traveling life of a performer is too hectic. Irina never worries about her while she's gone though, because, "I feel confident that when I’m away, she knows exactly what she wants, and will do fine."

“My main goal in life is to make people happy: I make my daughter happy, I love cooking for my family and friends, and when I play in a concert, I bring a message with my music. People with sparkling eyes come up to me after a concert and say 'Thank you.'  When you see people so happy because of your playing, it’s an incredible exchange of energy, it’s so meaningful and so important."

Though touring can be arduous and lonely at times, Irina admits she’s grown accustomed to life on the road, and at this point, it’s just a fact of life.

“I’ve traveled since I was eight, so now if I’m home for more than two weeks or a month at a time, it feels like a disaster. I want to perform!”

Irina also loves meeting new people, and finds performing greatly rewarding.

“Giving an audience the right food for the mind, the right feelings, is incredible.”

She loves US audiences in particular, since they enjoy contemporary music and always give her amazing feedback after concerts. She did have to get used to speaking from the stage, as that is not customary in Russia, but now finds it easy to break the ice with even the most non-responsive audiences.

Helping a student in an Italian masterclass

Irina, who has never been to Austin, is especially excited for her visits to four local schools, and for the masterclass she’ll be teaching at the University of Texas.

“I had a difficult path - working many jobs, practicing a lot - to pursue my dream, so I understand the struggle of young musicians. I’m grateful for my experiences, because I can share them with passionate people who can learn from me.”

Strait Music Ticket for Kids: A Passion for Helping Young Music-Makers

Last fall, we began a program with Strait Music Company. Thanks to their generous support, we now offer all middle and high school students free tickets to our entire International Series 2018-19 season at the AISD Performing Arts Center. We’d love to share with you the story of this beloved community business, along with some words from Clint Strait, the family’s third-generation to lead the music store.

In 1963, Dan Strait opened “Strait Piano and Organ” on the corner of 9th and Lamar. His motto, which remains true today, was “Where customers become friends.”

After quadrupling in size, moving three times, opening a second location, and enduring two major floods, Strait Music Company now rests in the hands of Dan’s grandson, Clint Strait.

The full-line music store has expanded from only pianos and organs to almost all musical needs, including guitars, band and orchestra instruments, Pro Audio equipment, amps, and keyboards. They also provide service to all items on sale, employing twelve repair technicians, three guitar luthiers, and one orchestral luthier.

“We’re very proud of the rich history. This store is all we know, it’s our extended family. A lot of people have been working here as long as I’ve been alive, some longer. They’re why we’re successful.
– Clint Strait

“The funny thing about my family is that there are no serious musicians – I don’t play an instrument. That being said, I’m extremely passionate about music: I’ve grown up around it, I love seeing live music, and I have a pretty awesome record collection. Music is an enormous part of my life, it fulfills me. I think there’s nothing better than sitting around a campfire and jamming some tunes.”

“There’s a community service aspect to what we do: being helpful in making music-makers.”

Clint’s enthusiasm for music translated into a collaboration with ACG: “Strait Music Tickets for Kids“, a program offering free tickets to all middle and high school students in the Austin area for our International Series Concerts at the AISD Performing Arts Center. Attached to every ticket is a 10% discount to Strait Music.

“We think playing music is really important for a child’s development. My four-year-old son just started piano lessons, which is certainly a ‘to-be-determined’ experiment.”

“We’re excited to be able to provide this, and the bottom line is that we’re really passionate about kids playing music, and we think this program will inspire them. They’ll see the shows, get revved up, hopefully want to start playing, and when they do, they’ll have a discount at Strait Music. I’m really lucky to be part of such an awesome business and fun industry. Nothing makes me happier than seeing kids in my store. “

Top 10 Moments of 2018

Grab your seats, it's time for ACG's Top 10 Moments of 2018! The original list had over 20 contenders, and it took some serious negotiating and compromising to pare it down to the ten you see below. But every one of these fills us with joy, and we hope they'll put a smile on your face too.

If you have a favorite ACG moment from 2018, let us know!

#10 - The Cycle Continues

Our annual gala for ACG Education, Guitars Under the Stars, was an evening full of captivating moments and moving stories, and Grisha’s playing was mesmerizing. But perhaps the most poignant moment for us was the performance by the Alumni Ensemble, a group of four gifted guitarists who graduated from our programs in Austin schools.

One of them was Javier Saucedo, who we first met during his junior year at Akins High School. Javier went on to earn a music degree from Texas State, and this fall we asked him to lead our program for youth incarcerated at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. He agreed, and working closely with his former teacher and Assistant Director of Education Jeremy Osborne, we've been thrilled to watch Javier emerge into a capable and inspiring teacher himself.   

“The cycle continues – I had great teachers in high school who helped me get through a rough patch, and now I get to do the same for others.” - Javier

To read Javier's story, check out this blog.

#9 - Recognizing an ACG Legend

Lloyd Pond has been volunteering in our office almost every week for over ten years. No task is too large or small for Lloyd, but his specialty is repairing the guitars used by students in ACG’s local school programs. When RecognizeGood, an Austin-based nonprofit that shines a light on members of the community, named Lloyd a 2018 RecognizeGood Legend award-winner, we were thrilled - but far from surprised.

Beyond the thousands of hours he has spent here fixing instruments, taking out the recycling, stuffing envelopes, and helping out in whatever way we need, Lloyd’s impact goes much deeper.  As April Long, ACG’s former development director, put it, Lloyd represents “what ACG is all about – joy in community. In his deep kindness and infectious joy, in his commitment to creating community, and in his willingness to help in any way, Lloyd has shaped ACG and has shown all of us what it means to live with an open heart.

We couldn’t agree more. Congratulations, Lloyd!

#8 - A Week of Student Achievement

Our education services began in 2001 in one school as part of an initiative to improve the quality of classroom-based guitar instruction. Today, ACG Education is supporting programs in 60 central Texas schools that reach over 4,000 students every day. There was a week in November that really encapsulated how far we have come in 17 years. On Monday afternoon the Travis High School Advanced Guitar Ensemble performed at the National Association for Music Education Conference in Dallas - they were the only guitar ensemble invited to play! Then on Wednesday night at the AISD Performing Arts Center, we got to see some of the most talented middle and high school students in the city perform together as part of All-City and All-Region Guitar Ensembles. We were just blown away by the quality of the performances, the diversity of the students and schools represented, and the joy that was so evident on the faces of the players and audience members alike.

To see the Travis HS guitar ensemble performance in Dallas, click here.

#7 - Helping Other Communities

We can get so focused on our own work at ACG that we forget other people are watching us, too. So when individuals or organizations from communities outside of Austin seek us out for guidance it is both gratifying and humbling. Two instances of this happened recently - in September Matt was asked to speak about nonprofit leadership in front of dozens of executive directors at the 6th annual Guitar Society Summit in Baltimore, and then in November a U.S. State Department-sponsored delegation of 18 NGO leaders from Africa visited ACG to learn about our approach to community service.

BONUS: Classical Guitar Magazine featured a story about Matt's presentation in Baltimore! Check it out here.

#6 - ACGYO in 360°

The ACG Youth Orchestra just keeps getting better and better. This select group of talented young guitarists from across the region has already played on some of the biggest stages in Austin, but nothing prepared us for the ACGYO's performance this past spring on the downtown rooftop of the Contemporary Austin Jones Center. The 360° video speaks for itself - check out how awesome it is to be in the center of such cool music-making!

#5 - Joe Williams named Artistic Director!

A major milestone for ACG took place in September when Dr. Joseph V. Williams II signed on as ACG’s first full-time Artistic Director. Joe is no stranger to ACG, of course. He's led our youth orchestra since it was founded in 2013, and as Composer in Residence for the past five years, Joe's been the creative force behind some of the most ambitious projects we’ve ever produced. We’re not the only ones who think Joe’s great - in June, the Austin Critics Table selected the original score he wrote for last summer’s i/we as Best Original Composition for 2017-18.

As Artistic Director, Joe will be curating our concert series and dreaming up new and exciting directions for ACG. He’ll also continue creating deep and beautiful music, and leading the ACGYO to even greater heights. With his passion for great art and a commitment to serving our diverse and growing community, the future of ACG is looking brighter than ever.

#4 - Eclipsing Violence with Music

On a Saturday night in late September, a group of young guitar students traveled with their teacher and parents five hours from Reynosa Tamaulipas, Mexico to the AISD Performing Arts Center to see Ana Vidovic perform for the opening night of our International Series. They had brought along their guitars, in hopes that they might be able to meet and play for Ana before her concert. She graciously agreed, and they all gathered in the black box theater for an impromptu master class! 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, giving thoughtful feedback while the students nodded, wide-eyed, at their teacher’s translation of her words into Spanish.

The story didn’t end there. Since that night, we've been working closely with the teacher, Mario Quintanilla Saucedo, along with his partners in Reynosa and other Mexican communities to help them build their own guitar education nonprofit. They've discovered that engaging kids with guitar is a way to keep them safe from the crime and violence that increasingly surrounds their lives.

You can read more about their efforts here.

#3 - "Miles to Go"

Over the past year, ACG Director of Education Travis Marcum has been working with a team from UT’s Dell Medical School to help establish a music-wellness program for the Livestrong Cancer Institutes CALM Clinic. One of the program's components will be collaborative songwriting, and to explore how it might work Travis met over several months with a 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.

Working together with Travis, Christina wrote “Miles to Go.” The poetry and music paints a picture of her frequent drives from Austin to Houston to see her doctors. She describes the experience of waiting for answers and treatment while bearing the weight of the situation, using the language of sewing, quilting, and knitting to convey her message of strength.

The result is a profound and personal expression of Christina’s experience and her spirit. It’s also a beautiful song. Hearing it touched us deeply, and we’re incredibly grateful that she was willing to share it with the world.

#2 - dream

dream, a multimedia concert presented over three days in August at the Blanton Auditorium, was one of the most ambitious projects we’ve ever produced at ACG. It was a concert devoted to the truth and experience of young people, and their desire to be heard, to be listened to, to be taken seriously. Over several months we sat with young people in our community, and asked them to share their thoughts and stories with us. Their voices inspired every part of dream, including a new three-movement work composed by Joseph V. Williams II. Surrounding Williams’ composition were songs and chamber pieces re-imagined by the performers.

This video features the breathtaking interpretation of an Angel Olsen song by Travis Marcum and recent McCallum High School graduate, Ta’tyana Jammer.

#1 - Let's Play!

In June, after years of dreaming and planning, we finally launched Let’s Play!, a web-based resource designed to provide guitarists with visual impairments everything they need to learn to play classical guitar. Created in partnership with Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired, Let’s Play! includes a progressive series of classical guitar solos, downloadable scores in both braille and traditional music notation, and audio guides focusing on technique and braille music literacy.

We’re blown away by the response. In just six months, Let’s Play! was accessed over 5,000 times by users from almost 100 countries. It was featured in stories in both Austin Monthly (link) and the Texas Standard (link). But what really touched us most deeply was this long-distance email we received two weeks after it launched:

"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." - Hendrik S., Potchefstroom, South Africa


Happy Holidays from all of us at ACG!

From Our Artistic Director: Kazuhito Yamashita

From our Artistic Director, Joe Williams:

Kazuhito Yamashita is out of this world, and he’s back in Austin.

Our next International Series Concert brings together Yamashita’s incomparable virtuosity with the masterful etchings of Francisco Goya.

Matt Hinsley and I couldn’t contain our excitement, so we sat down to chat about why this concert is a once in a lifetime experience.

Check out the conversation below.  Find tickets for Nov. 10 & 11 and more info here.



Full Transcript:

Matt: How can you be ready? It's impossible.

Joe: Right, exactly. Are you ready, Matt?

Matt: I have been so excited about this concert for so long. We have this spectacular talent in Kazuhito Yamashita coming to Austin to do something that only he can do, in only the way that he can do it, and bring to life in a moment this extraordinary interpretation, this extraordinary art. We are gonna experience something totally unique, transcendent, superhuman, it’s gonna be an event in Austin. And in a hall that seats 300 people.

I was first talking to Kazuhito about coming back - this will be his third time coming to Austin and right out of the gate, this was his suggestion: to play the 24 Caprichos de Goya [J: the Tedesco Caprichos de Goya in total, which I think no one does.]

Matt: Tedesco was the teacher of some of the great film composers of our time.

Joe: John Williams, Henry Mancini, basically the people that taught us how to experience digital media through music. Mr. Star Wars himself learned how to do this from Tedesco.

Matt: His language evokes ideas in music, it paints pictures with music, it takes ideas and themes, and in this case images, and brings them to life in music in such a demonstrative and expressive way.

And the subject matter is the 24 etchings of Francisco Goya, and these etchings are so deep, and the deep social commentary that’s timeless...

Joe: So what we get to hear in this concert is Tedesco interpreting Goya’s masterful etchings, with a language that is already part of our vernacular. We have Goya who is making etchings, pointing at the aristocrats, the religious figures, and the public, and showing our foibles, our problems, with this amazing wit. It’s very sharp critique of society. We actually get to hear and experience and see this artwork the way it’s supposed to be. Cause we’re going to look up and see these amazing projections of Goya’s etchings while Yamashita is playing them, and stay in that space of imagining the composer looking at that etching, how we feel about that beautiful piece of art, and then hear this amazing landscape of music.

Matt: And in a way, what Tedesco brings to us in 24 Caprichos de Goya is an elongation of experience in sound of an image which you can see instantaneously. You see the image in a moment, we experience the music over 4 minutes or 7 minutes with all these peaks and valleys in that experience.

You could crawl into this experience from so many angles - from social criticism, from art, art history, from music, music history, just guitar awesomeness. It’s gonna be one of those events you wanna crawl into multiple times, you’re gonna wanna come back, and actually you can! Because it’s gonna be happening twice, once on the 10th, and once on the 11th at the Blanton Museum Auditorium. So this opportunity to experience something this deep, this powerful, I’m looking forward to both times. Can’t wait.

Joe: Can’t wait.

Ana Vidovic Program Notes

We’re so excited for our Season Opener with Ana Vidovic on September 22nd! Here’s a sneak peak of just a few of the amazing pieces you’ll hear on Saturday.

Ana’s program is delightful. It ranges from Bach to Piazzolla, and has some of the greatest music ever written for guitar. Listen and watch here, and feel free to follow along with notes about a few of the works below.

Recuerdos de la Alhambra, Francisco Tárrega

Flute Partita in A Minor, BWV. 1013: II. Corrente, J.S. Bach

Sonata in A Major, Domenico Scarlatti

La Catedral, Agustín Barrios Mangoré

Verano PorteñoAstor Piazzolla

Feste LarianeLuigi Mozzani

Recuerdos de la Alhambra

More than any other composer, Francisco Tarrega evokes the spirit of Spain. In the iconic Recuerdos de la Alhambra, he pays tribute to the greatest surviving remnant of the Islamic presence in Iberia and the rich shared history of Spain and the Arab world.


Sonata K. 322

Some of the most charming music played on the guitar was originally composed for the keyboard by Domenico Scarlatti. His Sonata K.322, one of the 550 he created, exhibits his simple but masterfully inventive style. Here is the great Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli performing K. 322 with its characteristic Italian tunefulness and early Classical style.


Verano Porteño

Astor Piazzolla is the Argentinian master of Nuevo Tango, and his music blends jazz, classical and traditional tango styles. We can’t wait to hear Ana’s interpretations of his work, and here is Piazzolla himself performing Verano Porteño.


Feste Lariane

This isn’t on the program, but we couldn’t help including a short video of Ana from her childhood. In it, she shares that she’s playing her brother’s guitar - it was double the size of her, but her parents couldn't afford a smaller one. Necessity, in this case, was the mother of a determined and promising young lady who grew into a brilliant concert artist.


Join us for our spectacular season opener on September 22 with the one and only Ana Vidovic! Tickets and more information available here.

Artist Robin Emmerich: Overcoming Fear

We had so much fun partnering with local visual artists this past season as part of our International Series concerts at the AISD Performing Arts Center, and look forward to showcasing more talented artists in the coming year! For our opening night concert with the fabulous Ana Vidovic on September 22nd, we're thrilled to feature Austin-based artist Robin Emmerich. We recently got the chance to speak with her about how she dove into art after grappling with personal struggles.

What led to your present career?

I was working my way up the corporate ladder, but found myself unfulfilled. I thought, 'Wow, I went to college and everything for this?'

Then the perfect storm happened: a car accident, someone attempting to break into my home, someone attempting to break into my car. These random events led me to deeper work, deeper healing work. I started a personal journey of transformation.

Those events created a lot of fear. I found a doctor who brought me into a deep meditative state to work through those experiences. Through my personal development, I tapped into the creative force, the artist, within me.

How did you begin painting?

One day years ago, I wanted to open my heart more to love, and an artist friend said, “Come paint with me. Just try it.” I turned on music, set my intention like I would in any of my other work, and four hours later had created this amazing, gorgeous painting. I was in awe.

In a sense, I became addicted to that fear of facing a blank canvas, setting my intention, going inward, and painting.

My art comes from intention. I overcome the fear: I set an intention, feel the fear, and do it anyway. It’s like going on stage. Because art comes from such a higher place within us, sometimes it’s not for us to know how it’s going to be created. I set my intention, and trust in it.

What do you hope people get from your artwork?

A lot of people that view my artwork feel peace, hope, positivity. My hope is that no matter what a person has experienced, my art brings to them what their heart most desires.

I’ve already painted one piece while listening to her performance of Asturias by Isaac Albéniz, and I’m working on another.