This story is part of our ACG Fall Fund Drive Changing Lives Storyboard. Read our previous story about a remarkable transformation we witnessed in our juvenile detention center program. Please consider supporting ACG today! 

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

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

The Idea

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

Getting It Together

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

Then we set a date!

Brass Tacks

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

Simple, right?

What Happened

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

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

Why’d We Do it?

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

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

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

If you’re inspired by Austin Classical Guitar’s work with young people in Austin and across the globe, please consider making a donation today.

A Story of Transformation

This story is part of our ACG Fall Fund Drive Changing Lives Storyboard. Read our previous story, an interview with Judge Darlene Byrne who provides a unique perspective on ACG’s work with young people invovled in the Juvenile Justice Sysytem. Consider supporting ACG today! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you’re inspired by Austin Classical Guitar’s work with youth in the Juvenile Justice System, please consider making a donation today.

Eliot Fisk: The Maestro Returns

Eliot Fisk is one of the premiere classical guitarists on the planet. No stranger to Austin audiences, we’re thrilled to welcome him back for our International Series on Saturday night. Tickets are still available! There’s a preview of his program below, but first, we caught up with Eliot to talk about his views on classical music, the work of ACG, and why he thinks music can change the world.

Tell us about how you first met ACG’s Executive Director, Matt Hinsley.
UT Guitar Professor Adam Holzman is one of my oldest and dearest friends. Years ago he invited me to Austin to give a master class, and that’s when I got to meet and hear this young guitarist named Matt Hinsley for the first time. He played the first song from Vogelweide: Song Cycle by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. It’s a piece for voice and guitar, and he sang and played the guitar accompaniment at the same time! Not only did he play it perfectly, but I couldn’t even criticize his German.

What has kept you interested in the work of Austin Classical Guitar over the years?
As someone whose life has been inextricably linked to the classical guitar for so long, I’m thrilled not only with the concerts ACG presents, but with the education programs you guys have created, and with your innovations in classical guitar pedagogy. Because of this, ACG is reaching students around the globe. The organization has created so many opportunities for guitarists to work and thrive, as well as thought up new and exciting ways for musicians to be involved with the community and public service.

What do you think makes music special?
The arts, and I think music in particular, create experiences for people to come together in the appreciation of beauty. We as musicians are uniquely poised to provide opportunities for human connection and empathy. The live music experience creates a temporary feeling of community among audience members, who are often complete strangers.

Playing music as a group means coming together, joining forces, and creating something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Whether you’re singing in a choir or playing in a guitar ensemble, there is no “I” –  there is only “we,” and when differences are set aside in the pursuit of creating something special for people to enjoy, everyone wins. I think ACG is a wonderful example of this. Through its education programs in schools, concert series, guitar classes for incarcerated students, the Lullaby Project, and so much more, ACG reaches the community in unique, impactful, and innovative ways. To me, this is the future of classical music, and ACG is at the forefront of this movement.

More About Eliot

“I consider Eliot Fisk as one of the most brilliant, intelligent and gifted young musical artists of our times, not only amongst guitarists but in all the general field of instrumentalists. I put him at the top line of our artistic world.”
– Andrés Segovia

The final student of the great Andrés Segovia, Eliot Fisk has been dazzling audiences for decades. He is easily one of the most famous American guitarists of the last 50 years. Over that time, Fisk has performed all over the world, made 29 recordings, and was nominated for a Grammy award.

Check out Eliot’s performance with Paco Peña as part of an NPR’s Tiny Desk concert series!

Saturday Night’s Program

With music from all over the world, including selections from some of classical guitar’s most cherished composers, Eliot’s concert this Saturday will be as thrilling and eclectic as they come. Known for his adventurous and daring performances, Eliot will tackle two of Bach’s beloved Cello Suites, as well as a set of Paganini’s devilishly difficult Caprices for solo violin. Fisk was the first to transcribe these legendary pieces for guitar. We’re particularly excited to hear Eliot take on the infamous Caprice No. 24. Arguably one of the most challenging pieces written for violin – performing it on guitar is even more astounding!

Join us this Saturday for Eliot Fisk, Live at the AISD Performing Arts Center!

Austin Classical Guitar presents
Eliot Fisk, guitar
Saturday, November 4th , 2017 at 8:00 p.m.

Six pieces from Latin America:
CuecaAgustín Barrios Mangore  (1885-1944)
QuirpaVicente Emilio Sojo (1887-1974)
Vals en Re (“Tatania”)Antonio Lauro (1917-1986)
Los CuajaritosIgnacio “Indio” Figurero (1899-1995)
El NiñoAntonio Lauro (1917-1986)
El Coquí*José Ignacio Quintón (1881-1925)

Cello Suite No. 1, BWV 1007*Johann Sebastian Bach
Prelude(1685 – 1750)
Minuet I
Minuet II

Six Capricci from Op. 1*Niccolò Paganini
No. 20 in D major: Allegretto (dolce); Minore; Allegretto (dolce)(1782 – 1840)
No. 2 in B minor: Moderato
No. 11 in C major: Andante; Presto; Primo Tempo
No. 22 in F major: Marcato; Minore; Da Capo
No. 13 in Bb major: Allegro; Minore; Da Capo
No. 24 in A minor: Quasi Presto (Tema con Variaizioni)


Cello Suite No. 3 BWV 1009*J. S. Bach
Bourrée I
Bourrée II

Six pieces from Spain and Latin America:
Danza Española No. 5 (“Andaluza”)*Enrique Granados (1867-1916)
Homenaje (“Pour le tombeau de Debussy”)Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)
Estrellita*Manuel Ponce (1882-1948)
Torre Bermeja*Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909)
Habanera*Ernesto Halffter (1905-1989)
Sevilla*Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909)

* Transcribed for guitar by Eliot Fisk

Program subject to change


Volunteer Spotlight: Fred Springer

Fred Springer, a student at UT-Austin pursuing a Bachelor of Music in Guitar Performance, has been volunteering at ACG concerts since 2015. He has taken on a variety of responsibilities over that time, including usher, artist liaison, and stage manager. We recently sat down with Fred to ask about his reasons for becoming involved with ACG, and what his experiences as a volunteer have meant to him.

Interested in volunteering for ACG? Sign up here!

Q: Where are you from originally, and what brought you to Austin?

A: I was born and raised in Tallahassee, Florida. Eventually I ended up choosing UT-Austin, partly because of the strong program and the faculty, but also because of Austin Classical Guitar. ACG provided a great window of opportunity. When you look around as a student applying to schools, it’s rare to find an organization like this, one that is so symbiotic with the city. They do so much in terms of putting on performances and teaching, as well as all their community engagement.

Q: In what ways has music touched your life?

A: I started Kindermusik classes when I was four. I started guitar at eight, just learning simple pop songs on acoustic guitar, and then played bass guitar in a cover band with my friends. We played Cream songs, Metallica, Lynyrd SkynyrdThere’s a very rewarding cycle in studying music. You have an initial love for something, such as a guitar solo in a rock song, or a piece you hear at an ACG concert. You think, “Woah! That was awesome.” Then there’s an investigative time of getting into the details and learning. The reward comes at the end when you’ve brought it to a certain level and you can play it. I think studying music instills a sense of focus and work ethic. It directs attention and allows you to see what you can do. 

“I think studying music instills a sense of focus and work ethic. It directs attention and allows you to see what you can do.”


Q: Do you have a favorite memory with ACG?

A:  I still remember the first event I volunteered for, it was the second night of “The Lodger” at the Alamo Drafthouse. I love movies, I love Alfred Hitchcock, and obviously I love classical guitar, so that concert was almost other-worldly because it was a perfect package of Joe Williams’s original score and a classic Hitchcock movie – both happening at an Austin landmark. It was so cool, and from that moment I knew this was a unique organization. That first event, I fell in love with ACG – it’s a pride and joy of Austin.

Q: What do you appreciate about volunteering with ACG?

A: The level of insider access. Not only do you get to see artists perform, but you get to see how they work, because you can go backstage and see exactly what goes into a production. It’s incredible that a group of volunteers from the community and a few really dedicated people can put together these amazing shows.

Q: What does ACG provide to college students such as yourself?

A: The real downfall of music programs in higher education is how little they prepare you for the real world of professional music. People say once you have a college degree, you put that on your résumé, and then doors open. But you also have to make connections, get windows into organizations like ACG, build rapport with an employer or a community member. It’s been awesome for me to meet, talk with, learn from, and get to know the people and artists involved with ACG, and investigate what it takes to run an organization like this. It’s really been invaluable.

Q: Other than concerts, are there any other aspects of ACG’s work that interest you?

A: The program for incarcerated youth at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center really stands out for me. To see the young men there use music to its fullest potential, to see how playing guitar affects their individual growth, their process of maturity – that’s a real measurable impact. Music offers them an opportunity to think and to dream beyond themselves. It’s incredible to see their intent and good nature emerge. ACG provides a way for them to experience the diligence, the work ethic, the joy that comes from music.

Q: What is the one thing you wish more people knew about ACG?

A: I wish more people knew about the real reach of ACG’s community service. When people ask me about Austin, I point them to ACG, emphasizing that it’s not just an organization which presents classical guitar concerts. ACG’s intent and genuine nature sets it apart: it presents music as a celebration of life. The support, the money that goes into the organization, the love – it all comes back tenfold to the community.

A masterclass with Pepe Romero in October 2016. (Fred second from left)


Jorge Caballero: A symphony on six strings

From his transcriptions of mammoth piano works to capturing the essence of Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestral suite, Capriccio Espagnole, on solo guitar, it seems like Jorge Caballero is drawn to musical challenges many guitarists wouldn’t dare attempt. But what makes him such a remarkable guitarist is his ability to make everything he plays, no matter how difficult, look and sound effortless.

One of our most favorite artists, we could think of no one better to open our 17-18 International Concert Series! In honor of the occasion, he’s prepared a program for us that’s sure to dazzle.

Here’s a preview:

The first half of the concert features Jorge’s transcriptions of keyboard music by J.S. Bach and the great Spanish composer, Isaac Albéniz. Especially exciting will be Jorge’s performance of his landmark arrangement of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, a work originally written for organ.

Then, after the break, Jorge will tackle Kazuhito Yamashita’s fiendishly difficult arrangement of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 (“The New World Symphony”). Two hands, six strings, and 19 frets. I’m not sure how this beloved orchestral work can all fit on one guitar, but I bet Jorge will make it look easy – and sound stunning.

Join us for ACG’s Season Opening Concert!

Jorge Caballero, guitar
Saturday, October 7, 2017 at 8pm
AISD Performing Arts Center

Prelude and Fugue, BWV 849                                                                                     Johann Sebastian Bach
(from “The Well Tempered Clavier,” Book I)                                                                                (1685 – 1750)
Arr. J. Caballero
Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, BWV 903

Cantos de España, op. 232 Isaac Albéniz
I. Preludio (1860 – 1909)
II. Oriental
III. Bajo la palmera
IV. Córdoba
V. Seguidillas


Symphony No. 9, op. 95 (“From the New World”) Antonín Dvořák
I. Adagio – Allegro molto (1841 – 1904)
II. Largo arr. K Yamashita
III. Scherzo: Molto vivace – Poco sostenuto
IV. Allegro con Fuoco

Volunteer Spotlight: Lloyd Pond

For over ten years, Lloyd Pond has been a dedicated volunteer for ACG. These days, he spends much of his time repairing guitars used in our school programs, often saving badly damaged instruments from the scrap heap and getting them back into the hands of students. We asked him to share a bit about his upbringing, love of music, and favorite moments with our organization.

Interested in volunteering for ACG? Sign up here!

Can you tell me about your family’s musical heritage?

My grandmother grew up playing piano in a small Texas town near Louisiana. She taught all of the grandchildren how to play, so that’s how we all got our musical influence.

We had a piano at home, and people would come in to take music lessons. Often people from the church would come to practice singing, and my grandmother would rehearse with them or provide music. Sometimes my family would gather around the piano and sing old songs she had on sheet music from the 20s and 30s.

In what ways has music touched your life?

When I was about 10 or 11, I said “I hate piano, I never want to play again.” My grandmother said, “If you don’t want to play piano, what instrument would you like to play?” I said,“I’d like to play the violin.”

There was a man who played violin at our church, and so it just came into my mind. We were a middle-income family. I really didn’t think there was any way I’d get a violin; I just wanted a way out of playing piano.

The next day I came home from school, and my grandmother had gone down to the Heights area – where there was a music store – and bought a violin. She showed me the rudiments of playing, which led to playing in the school orchestra – I always enjoyed that. Late in high school I started playing the guitar. Rock ‘n roll, Elvis Presley and all that stuff.

How did you get involved in woodworking and repairing instruments?

My father and his family were all constructors, builders, people who made things. He built our house, so every day he’d come home from work and start working on something. I was side-by-side with him, learning about tools and working with wood. Repairing instruments probably came when I had the chance to meet the man who adjusted my violin. He had a great workshop, and immediately set my mind to thinking about, “How do people make and repair instruments?”

“Musicians are always wild and crazy, and it’s fun to hear their experiences, to share that interest and joy of making music.”

How did you first get connected with ACG?
I came to Austin around 2004. I had attended guitar concerts here before, and I started playing with the classical guitar ensemble. A couple of years went by, and my wife and I bought a house in the Crestview neighborhood. One day, I noticed a sign nearby that said “Austin Classical Guitar Society” and I thought, “I could go by there and see if they need help.”

What have you enjoyed about your experience here?

It’s the people. The reason I wanted to play in the classical guitar ensemble was to meet people who were interested in music. Musicians are always wild and crazy, so that’s fun to hear their experiences, and share that interest and joy of making music. Of course the other major interest I had was the instrument repair: to repair the instruments, marvel at the ways middle and high school kids can manage to destroy and damage and otherwise misuse the instruments; I try to put them back together.

Are there some special memories, people, or events that stand out if you reflect on your years here?

Sometimes I would have the opportunity to meet with the concert artists or interact with them. That was always a fun thing for me. Sometimes we were surprised at their eccentricities.

We’d have some artists come and play at schools. I’d provide transportation, and one that most impressed me was going to the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Watching those students – wow, how incredibly inspirational! After hearing the performer play, listening to the response of the students – so interested and so captivated by the music, and asking very good questions.

“I wish that each one of those people could have some of the same experiences that I’ve had: of seeing how other parts of the community can benefit from the efforts of all of us put together.”

Pepe Romero, he’s part of a lot of beautiful memories. During the GFA convention, I was at the UT radio station that did the interview. To hear his stories about his family, and his father and his music- every time he tells these stories, it’s such an emotional event. He related a story of his father’s passing, and everybody, everybody was in tears. Even his wife, who I’m sure has heard that story a hundred, a million times.

What are your impressions overall of ACG as a non-profit organization and the service it provides?

It’s certainly an amazing success story. It’s grown and grown, now all kinds of wonderful things are happening. The idea that guitar and music is only a basis, a beginning, for contact with students, troubled individuals, people who need help, people who have special needs, that guitar and the music generated from it is only a tiny portion of that. It provides a connection into other areas of people’s lives, other needs they may have. That’s a fantastic concept to me, and it wasn’t one I ever imagined when I became involved with ACG. I looked at it as a feel-good thing for me to enjoy some music great performers can bring, but it’s certainly much much much much more than that.

What is the one thing you wish that more people knew about ACG?

It’s so much more than just going to a concert and listening to a great performer. 

Hope After Harvey Reflection

As the “Hope After Harvey” benefit concert this past Sunday came to an end, I rose to my feet with the hundreds of other people who had gathered at Saint John’s United Methodist Church. We had just finished listening to a marvelous and heartfelt performance by the Miró Quartet, and were all about to start singing Amazing Grace in unison. Every seat was filled, with more people lining the aisles along the sides of the church, and even more watching a video simulcast of the concert from two overflow rooms. In this moment, I was reminded of the power of being together.

Less than a week before, I was sitting down with our team to explore the possibility of creating an event to support Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. The days that followed now swirl together as I think about how enthusiastically our partners at Conspirare, Austin Chamber Music Center, the Miró Quartet, St. John’s United Methodist Church, KUTX’s John Aielli, and KMFA jumped on board, ready to lend a hand, and eager to make this event a reality. I think of how volunteers from each organization pledged their time and their energy to make this event run smoothly. I think of the donations we received from people in Texas, Florida, California, and even Switzerland and Singapore, all to help those displaced in the aftermath of the hurricane. We did this together, and all of us at Austin Classical Guitar are honored to have been a part of it.

Hope for Harvey raised $31,500, all of which will go to Austin- and Houston-based disaster relief organizations. We were also surprised and delighted to receive two carloads of donated food, personal hygiene, and cleaning supplies, one trunk load of diapers, one carload of clothes, a car seat and two large toddler toys, as well as an unexpected donation of two tickets to Six Flags which will be given to children affected by Hurricane Harvey.

What’s Next?

There is still much work to do. Many people and communities will be working to rebuild their lives and homes for a long time to come. ACG will be organizing group volunteer trips in the coming weeks and months to areas experiencing hardship in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. If you’re interested in joining us, please email Julie Stoakley and she’ll add you to the list.

Donor Spotlight: Ed and Mary Collins

Every Sunday for almost ten years, Ed Collins has made the two-hour round trip drive to his ACG Community Guitar Ensemble rehearsal. This passion for learning guitar led Ed and his wife Mary to become involved with ACG’s education and social service programs. We asked them to talk with us about their relationship with the organization, and the reasons behind their decision to include ACG in their planned giving.

How did you first pick up the guitar, and find out about ACG?

Ed: Years ago, when my son was very young, we went to see the great Spanish guitarist, Andrés Segovia, perform in Houston. From the first note, I fell in love with the instrument, and knew I wanted to learn classical guitar. At the time, I was too busy to do anything about it, but I always kept that love with me, and decided that when I had the time, I would learn classical guitar.

In 2008, I finally decided to buy a guitar and start learning, but couldn’t find a teacher. I eventually found Austin Classical Guitar on the internet, and signed up for the Community Guitar Ensemble. Playing in the group fulfills my passion for improving my guitar playing, but also for sharing music with others. I’ve been in the Community Guitar Ensemble for almost ten years, and it’s been amazing.

“ACG provides young people with experiences that make them feel engaged and important. This organization is about more than just pushing strings on a guitar. It’s about changing lives.”

– Ed Collins

What has kept you involved in the ensemble for so long?

Ed: I discovered a long time ago that if I have a place to go, a time to be there, and a group to be involved with, I won’t let them down. So for ACG, I’ll get my practice in, and be ready to play. Eric Pearson, who directs ACG’s Community Ensembles, has taught me so much. He can take a concept or a technique that seems complicated and present it in a digestible format. On the drive home every week, I think about everything we learned in rehearsal, and I just can’t wait to get back. It’s a two-hour round trip, but I wouldn’t miss it. We’ve got a great group of players in the ensemble, and we’re all there for the same reason: the friendship and the love of playing together. When we get the music down and perform it, everyone sounds great.

Mary, what has it been like to watch Ed pursue his passion for classical guitar?

Mary: It’s been amazing to watch this process unfold. I could tell right away he loved being in the ensemble, and he can’t wait for rehearsal each week. I’m just so glad he found guitar. We always encourage each other to do what we love.

You’ve both decided to include ACG in your planned giving. Can you talk a little bit about how that came about?

Mary: What interested me was how ACG’s education programs serve at-risk and low-income children. I think everyone deserves to learn music, and a positive activity like performing in an ensemble can build self-esteem for a young person. Once we discovered the depth of service at ACG, we knew we wanted to be involved long-term. We decided we wanted to make a difference in the places where we were personally involved. ACG is one of those places.

Ed: I initially joined ACG because I wanted to learn classical guitar and rehearse and perform in the Community Ensemble. But when Mary and I found out about ACG’s education and service programs in schools and the juvenile detention center, we knew we wanted to do more. We’ve increased our support each year, and now, most importantly, we’ve included ACG in our planned giving. ACG provides young people with experiences that make them feel engaged and important. This organization is about more than just pushing strings on a guitar. It’s about changing lives.

The Artists of i/we

i/we brings together an international cast of world-class musicians and artists. Some are making their Austin-debut, while others are local talents, cherished the world over. We are so grateful for their commitment to this project, and for the unique artistry each one is contributing.

Grammy-winning Conspirare’s Craig Hella Johnson lends us his voice as both singer and narrator. He’s chosen the poetry that he’ll recite throughout the concert, as well as the very first thing we’ll hear: a stirring folk song from Norway called I Sing of Your Mercies.

Two spectacular touring and recording artists, Sweden’s Håkan Rosengren (clarinet) and French cellist Louis-Marie Fardet of the Houston Symphony, will join us for the very first time. After her stunning performance in last year’s summer series, New York-based violin virtuoso Jennifer Choi returns to share her prodigious talent. We also have two members of the acclaimed Texas Guitar Quartet—and former Austinites—Isaac Bustos and Alejandro Montiel.

Sometimes I fear that we lose sight of the human aspect of being a refugee. i/we gives a voice to people with diverse and often traumatic life experiences, and shines a light on what they have went through.” – Isaac Bustos


This project resonates strongly with Isaac, who was born in Nicaragua and came to the U.S. as a refugee at age 13. He told us, “i/we humanizes the refugee experience through music. I know what it’s like to have your entire life in limbo. As a child, being treated differently because of my refugee status was difficult. Sometimes I fear that we lose sight of the human aspect of being a refugee. i/we gives a voice to people with diverse and often traumatic life experiences, and shines a light on what they have went through.”

The music of i/we will begin at 8 p.m., but the lobby opens at 6:30 for an atrium exhibit that will include music boxes and paintings created by visual artist Yuliya Lanina. There will also be a selection of poems written by members of the Austin community, as well as a display of stories and quotes from the refugees interviewed for this project. Wine, beer, and other refreshments will be available for purchase.

In expressing her enthusiasm for this project, Yuliya Lanina told us, “I came as a refugee from Russia in 1990, fleeing anti-Semitism and constant threats. The U.S. welcomed me and my family, and we were given the freedom to build our lives, without being punished for who we are. I believe in the power of projects like i/we…because music and art have a way to communicate with people that transcends language and borders.”

Six months in the making, with many lifetimes of influences, we can’t wait to share i/we with you.

Purchase tickets here, or call us at 512-300-2247.

Donor Spotlight: John Henry McDonald

John Henry McDonald has led a remarkable life. After serving in Vietnam during the war, he spent time as a traveling musician, a ranch manager, and eventually founded Austin’s premiere asset management company. For over a decade, he has been a mentor to ACG’s Executive Director, Matt Hinsley, and currently serves as Vice-President of ACG’s Board of Directors. We asked John Henry to tell us why he believes music education can make a difference in the lives of children.

One of ACG’s primary goals is to positively impact the lives of young people through the guitar. This aspect of our mission seems to resonate with you quite a bit. Can you tell us why?

The story of ACG and the work it does with kids is the story of my life.

When I was a kid, and my home was shattered, and my family life was confusing, guitar was there. After Vietnam, when I was shattered, and everything was confusing, guitar was there. Music is what got me through those tough years. When I finally got back on my feet after the war, I grabbed my guitar, found a harmonica player, and pretty soon we were opening for Waylon Jennings, Johnny Hammond Jr., and Sonny Terry. Through guitar, I learned how to perform, how to communicate with an audience, and most importantly, how to tell a story.

When I came to Austin, I was determined to keep my life together. I was told by a mentor to put the guitar away, and that was seminal. At the time it was what needed to happen for me to transition to the next phase of my life. And that’s when I founded Austin Asset Management.

When I got involved with ACG, I was in another transition. This time, I was selling Austin Asset Management, the company I had built and been running for decades. Once I learned about ACG’s education programs, I was drawn to the organization. I know that for some kids, guitar won’t mean anything. But for some it will be extremely important, and for others – like myself – it will be everything. I remember being 13 years old, lying in bed with a guitar on my chest, and I would play it until I fell asleep. Guitar was central to my life and has been my companion ever since. I give to this organization because music changed my life, and I’ve seen it change the lives of the kids we work with.

“With ACG, I can see my money doing good things, and that makes me want to keep on giving. I trust that when I pass on, the money I have left to this organization will continue to make an impact.”

How did you decide to include the organization in your planned giving?

 An old friend once told me that the hardest part about making money isn’t earning it — the hardest part is giving it away. It’s not that I don’t want to give, I’m happy to. But it was hard for me to find an organization I trusted. With ACG, I know I’ve found an organization where I can see my money at work – see the funds actually getting to the beneficiaries, the people the organization says it’s helping. When I met Matt Hinsley, ACG’s Executive Director, I realized immediately that he had a vision for nonprofit arts organizations, and for changing lives through music. I trusted him because it was never about this organization. It was always about giving to the community, and helping young people. Giving to ACG is easy. With ACG, I can see my money doing good things, and that makes me want to keep giving. I trust that when I pass on, the money I have left to ACG will continue to make an impact.

Could you talk a little bit about your involvement with Austin Community College, and the connection it has to ACG?

I’m on the board of ACC as well, and I love the connection we have with them. Dr. Tom Echols is teaching guitar there, and we send kids to him from our high school programs at Travis High School, Akins High School, and others. I know they’re going to get a great education. I love blending my giving – kids in ACG’s high school programs earn college credit by studying guitar at ACC while they’re still in high school, and that keeps their education moving forward. It’s huge for kids who don’t come from a context that would be able to financially support a college education. For some, college may never have seemed like an option. Guitar can provide a pathway to a higher education, and ACG helps make that happen.