Austin Flamenco Festival

Flamenco dancer Genevieve Guinn is a world-renowed performer and teacher of flamenco, as well as the founder and artistic director of the Austin Flamenco Academy. On July 6-8, Genevieve will be hosting the  Austin Flamenco Festival where there will be music, theatre, dance, and even free community classes! We recently had a chance to sit down with Genevieve to talk about the festival, as well as her history with the flamenco art form.


What would you like people to know about the Austin Flamenco Festival?

This is the inaugural year of the Austin Flamenco Festival, and it’s something this city has never had before. There will be dance workshops, theater performances, a free community rhythm and dance class, and a big closing party. My plan is to expand every year and continue bringing the top names in flamenco dance and music to Austin. This first year focuses on building a base and introducing Austin to some of the incredible flamenco performers from around the world. We’ll also be presenting Fosteros, a Flamenco Suite created by myself and the festival’s Musical Director Gonzalo Grau.

Could you tell us a little bit about the artists that are coming in for the festival, as well as some of the educational opportunities for the community?

Along with local talent, the festival will feature an international cast of artists from Spain, Cuba, Venezuela, and France. Edwin Aparicio will be teaching both beginning and professional workshops at Austin Flamenco Academy and I will also host a free rhythm and rumba workshop on July 8th on the H-E-B Terrace at the Long Center. These workshops are unique to the festival, but flamenco classes for children and adults are offered year-round at Austin Flamenco Academy.

Could you talk about how you got involved with flamenco and what makes you so passionate about it?

I’ve always loved flamenco. As a kid, I started dancing flamenco at a studio on South Congress, where the future Soho House would be. My mom took me to my first class and I was instantly hooked. I remember asking my parents if I could go to Spain to study flamenco instead of going to high school. That didn’t fly. So I saved up until I graduated and immediately jumped on the plane to Madrid. After years of performing in Spain, I moved back to the U.S. and taught on the east coast. I moved back to Austin in 2011 and founded what is now Austin Flamenco Academy. All my classes are bilingual and I start my little ones at three-years-old. We work on technique, posture, music, singing, and memory. We even get special guest musicians to come play and sing for us!

www.AustinFlamencoFestival.com

Mak Grgić

Mak Grgić is a dynamic and versatile artist. On July 7th at Bates Recital Hall, he’ll be pairing his unique approach to guitar in a duo performance with violinist Martin Chalifour, concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. We are thrilled to present this concert with Austin Chamber Music Center as part of their Summer Festival. This will be Mak’s third Austin performance in five years, and we spoke with him recently about his musical background, and why he’s excited for his return to Austin.

Q: What was your first experience with music?

A: I didn’t want to play the guitar; that was my father’s choice. Piano was too big, violin too squeaky. I took lessons, learned about theory, and got excited about guitar in a very normal, ambitious-child way: I just wanted to be good. My music studies took me from Slovenia to Zagreb, then to Vienna and finally Los Angeles, where the enjoyment of playing music really kicked in. Here I saw many wonderful musicians and new styles of music, which felt almost liberating to me. In Europe, you have to play a certain way, fit in a mold, and I find that very unpleasant. I prefer the more open space of L.A.

Q: You perform a wide variety of music. What do you consider your signature style?

A: I’m most comfortable with classical music because I grew up with it, but dabbling in other styles informs my approach to classical. I have more a sense of enjoyment than I did before. It’s fun to play styles like flamenco and rock, but I’m without a doubt a classical musician.

Q: Why do you view art as important to a community?

A: Art is the language all can understand, it’s a way of communicating that doesn’t ever perish. You don’t necessarily have to study art to have an aesthetic appreciation or emotional connection to it. It’s particularly important because it gives kids an extracurricular activity and keeps them off the streets, gives them a distraction. Art is an escape from the technology that’s overwhelming us and making us socially isolated. There are so many benefits.

Q: What do you love about Austin?

I’ve played here twice before, and I’ve seen how culture is alive in a very special way, how Austin is an innovative oasis of the arts.  It’s a privilege to come play for an audience that’s so appreciative.

An Tran: Playing from the heart

An Tran, a rising virtuoso from Vietnam, will perform for ACG’s final Library Series concert this Sunday, May 27th at 2pm. We had the chance to sit down and ask him some questions about the role of music in his home life, his move to the U.S., and his desire to bridge two worlds through music.


 How did music play a part of  your life growing up?

My parents were music lovers. I was lucky to be raised in an environment where music was always there – my dad used to put the radio next to my mom when she was pregnant with me, so it was there from the beginning. My parents let me try out all different instruments, but when I tried guitar, it made a lot of sense. It was challenging, but also motivating to me as a kid.

When did you move to the U.S. from Vietnam?

I left Hanoi when I was 15 to study as a foreign exchange student in Nebraska. A while after moving there, I quit guitar – I got tired of playing the same things, and wanted a change. I’d been in the Vietnam National Academy of Music for a number of years, but I lost motivation when I moved to the States. Then, I visited a friend studying guitar with Anne Waller in Chicago, and when I had the chance to play for her, she told me I should continue. I realized I enjoyed performing, and that people liked hearing me play. I’m now a doctoral candidate studying with Anne at Northwestern University.

“The guitar is universal, which makes it easy to communicate and connect with people. I believe it can function as a bridge between Vietnamese music and Western classical music.”

How does music of your homeland play a part in your performances?

I like to incorporate pieces close to my heart in all concerts, so about half of the music I perform is Vietnamese. I try to bring traditional Vietnamese music to as many audiences as possible, which I think gives them a small part of who I am. The final piece I’ll play next Sunday is an arrangement of a traditional lullaby my mom used to sing to me.

How do you view the guitar as a way to portray traditional Vietnamese music?

The guitar is universal, which makes it easy to communicate and connect with people. I believe it can function as a bridge between Vietnamese music and Western classical music, and I view myself as that bridge. The guitar is part of my personality, my identity.

Greg Davis, National Geographic

©Amber Vickery Photography

“The purpose of my work is to serve as a reminder to us that we are all part of something greater than ourselves. At a faster rate than ever before, our world is shrinking and traditional cultures are at risk. It is imperative that we be aware of and respect the diversity of our planet as well as our unprecedented need to preserve it.” – Greg Davis

Greg Davis is a National Geographic Creative Photographer and an Ambassador for the Austin non-profit Well Aware, which provides innovative and sustainable solutions to the problems of water scarcity and contamination in Africa. His collectible works hang in private and institutional collections worldwide. We are thrilled to have Greg as our very first International Series visual art collaborator! He’ll be on hand at the AISD Performing Arts Center during this Saturday night’s concert with Ioana Gandrabur, exhibiting some of his stunning photographs from all over the world. Join us for an international celebration of music, art, and human connection.

Here is a preview of Greg’s incredible work:

The Blanket Weaver, Vietnam

© Greg Davis Photography

Nine months into a transcontinental soul-searching expedition, a twist of fate put Greg on a dirt road in northern Vietnam—one that converged with that of Black Hmong blanket weaver. Without a word of common language between them, Greg gestured towards her hands. She held them out: deep blue and green, worn from years of labor, an intricate map of the lines of fate. With only a $400 point-and-shoot, Davis captured something larger than himself. Though he did not know it yet, in this fleeting moment, his life was woven with that of the blanket weaver.

Circle of Gratitude Too, Kenya

© Greg Davis Photography

They had walked hours, risking exposure to heat, animal and even man. A perilous journey, each day, every day. A journey of need. A journey of water. Education wasn’t the priority anymore, the intent was to fetch a basic human need…clean drinking water. Young girls are normally tasked with this job. School becomes secondary. In this arid region of Northern Kenya, at a young age, this becomes an obvious reality to life here. But but even then, its not always guaranteed that the water gathered isn’t tainted and may possibly cause more harm than good. This is where Well Aware delivers. Well Aware, an Austin based non-profit, provides innovative and sustainable solutions to the problems of water scarcity and contamination in Africa. This image was captured in the village of Daaba, where I worked with the children in a creative way to represent the well that was built there in 2011. 20% of the profits from the sale of Well Aware fine art photographs go back to help serve those in need.

Mohan’s Offering, India

© Greg Davis Photography

He sat quietly on the banks of the Sangam, the confluence of the three holiest rivers in India, his gentle spirit shined. Mohan was quick to smile and the type of man that when you first met him, you’d swear that you had met before. I first met Mohan in 2013 at Kumbh Mela, the world’s largest pilgrimage in Allahabad, India. I sat with him one day and at one point asked where he lived. He smiled graciously and replied, “The sky is my roof and the land is my room.” Mohan spent his time near the birthplace of Lord Krishna, four hours upriver but had no home. He came from a wealthy family but chose the life of a sadhu, an ascetic who is solely dedicated to the contemplation of God. It was his eyes that drew you initially, but it was Mohan’s heart that ultimately captured you. Mohan welcomes others into his realm and leaves them all the better for it, for he believes, as he stated many times in our encounters, that “We are all one.” In July 2017, we embarked on a quest to find Mohan, somewhere between the heavens and the earth, not just for the man, but for the wisdom that resides within. To learn more, visit www.themanfrommathura.com.

 

Ioana Gandrabur

Romanian-born Ioana Gandrabur is one of the most inspiring artists we know, and we’re thrilled to present her Austin debut on January 27th at the AISD Performing Arts Center. Ioana, who is blind, will spend the week before her concert at Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired, working with students in their guitar program. Then, those same students will perform to open her concert! We asked Ioana to tell us about how she discovered the guitar, the impact it has had on her life, and her career as a professional musician.

Can you describe your journey with guitar, how you started, and what it’s meant to you over the years?
Since I was a little kid I was always attracted to sounds, and would play the songs I knew on any toy instrument I could find. I started piano lessons at five, and it was my piano teacher who suggested I try out the guitar. Her reason was that the guitar is an intimate instrument you can feel with your whole body as you play. I fell in love with it right away. Becoming a classical guitarist helped me find my voice, find a place where I felt strong, and provided a way for me to connect with other like-minded people. My identity became inextricably linked to the guitar and I am grateful for the ability to touch others through music.

What has been your experience with braille music and its availability to musicians?
In general, braille-adapted texts are much harder to find than printed ones. This situation is improving steadily for books, but braille music is lagging far behind. Great progress has been made with some braille music translation software, but it’s quite expensive. Some libraries have braille music, but if you find a piece you want to learn, you have to copy it by hand. I learned music by having others – usually my father – read the score out loud, note-by-note, as I would write it down in braille.

As a musician who is blind, have there been particular challenges to overcome? Did your blindness help foster any strengths?
I often joke that being a musician who is blind forces me to do what would be beneficial for any other musician. Not being able to see my instrument encouraged me to develop an innate tactile connection with the guitar, and since I can’t look at my hands, I truly listen to what I am playing. I know many musicians who practice in the dark to hone these skills.

Not being able to sight-read makes discovering new repertoire difficult. I would love to sit and read through new pieces, but I have to listen to recordings and thus am dependent on the rendition I hear. The upside is that I have a very well-trained memory, since everything I play has to be learned by heart from the beginning. In terms of teaching students who are blind, I believe it’s critical to hold them to the same standards as you would anyone else. I remember feeling frustrated when I would hear comments like, “she’s a good player, even though she’s blind.” I have always wanted to be known only as a great musician, nothing else.

Special thanks to our friends at Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired for helping support Ioana Gandrabur’s concert and teaching residency!

A’lante Flamenco

The Austin-based flamenco ensemble A’lante Flamenco has been dazzling Texas audiences since 2011. Their productions range from traditional flamenco performances to multimedia theater works that draw upon flamenco culture to address pressing social issues. Austin Classical Guitar is grateful to have partnered with A’lante Flamenco over the years, and we invite you to attend an upcoming performance of their latest original work, Juana: First (I) Dream. Here, A’lante Flamenco’s Artistic Director and Choreographer, Oliva Chacón, talks about the inspiration behind Juana: First (I) Dream, as well as why she is so passionate about the flamenco art form.


What do wish everyone knew about flamenco?

Flamenco is not just a musical style—it’s an entire culture, with a long, complex history. Most people are familiar with flamenco as a dance form or guitar music, but the oldest and most important element of flamenco is the singing, known as cante. Both the guitar and dance developed in service to the cante. In flamenco, the guitar, singing, and dancing are all parts of a whole, each feeding off one another. The audience also plays an important role, encouraging the performers and adding energy to the experience.

Can you tell us a little bit about this show?

Photo by Estrella Chacón

Juana: First (I) Dream is a full-length flamenco music and dance work by A’lante Flamenco that tells the story of one woman’s passionate quest for knowledge. It’s about Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a 17th-century poet, scholar, and nun who lived Nueva España. Today she is known as the first feminist of the Americas. Our production features seven dancers and three musicians from A’lante Flamenco, along with beautiful costuming and lighting design, as well as six singers from the Texas Early Music Project.

The show’s music combines traditional flamenco, original compositions by guitarist Jose Manuel Tejeda, and Baroque choral music sung by members of the Texas Early Music Project. Their director, Daniel Johnson, and I worked closely to choose choral selections that would have been performed during Juana’s life, including one piece sung in Nahuatl, the indigenous language of Central Mexico. Plus, dancing in front of a six-member choir is a total luxury!

I love the process of bringing a feminist hero like Juana to life. She was so passionate about learning, and through her writing earned herself a platform from which to be heard. She used her voice to defend the right of women to be educated and speak freely – both unheard of in the 1600’s. She’s a historical figure whose life and work is relevant to the current political and social climate, and I’m so pleased to introduce her to audience members who may not know her story.

How does your art form relate to the current human condition?

In my view, flamenco is a raw product of our humanity, without the filters of polite society. It comes from a longing to express all the richness of the human experience—joy, pain, nostalgia, mortality, and more. That’s why I think everyone can identify with some aspect of flamenco, even if they may not understand the words. The chords of the guitar, the tone of the voice, or the movement of a dancer can elicit an emotional response that transcends generations and cultures.

That’s why flamenco is the perfect language in which to tell a story like Juana’s. She lived in the 17th century, but, like flamenco, her story is timeless. Her passion for knowledge, her struggle, is all present in flamenco. It doesn’t have an expiration date. The drive to achieve something, to persevere despite forces that oppose you—that’s the essence of the human spirit, and it’s the essence of flamenco, too.

Juana: First (I) Dream runs January 5-7 & 12-14 (6 shows total) at the Rollins Theater, inside the Long Center for the Performing Arts (701 Riverside Dr.) Tickets and more information are available here

Top 10 Moments of 2017

 
Back by popular demand, it’s our list of the Top 10 ACG Moments of the Year! It was an epic struggle to narrow this one down. We argued, we pleaded, we cajoled, and for a while even thought about making it a Top 11 list – but when the dust finally settled, we chose the 10 unforgettable moments listed below.

Was there something we left out? Let us know your most memorable ACG moments of 2017!

 


#10 – “Coco”
We couldn’t resist. As soon as we heard that Disney/Pixar would be releasing “Coco,” an animated musical about a young boy and his magical guitar, we called our friends at the Alamo Drafthouse and made plans for a kid-friendly, first-time guitar experience as part of the movie’s opening weekend in late November. We secured permission from Disney to create a simple arrangement of one of the songs from the film, came up with a fun lesson plan designed to get a roomful of kids from zero to performance-ready in less than an hour, gathered up 50 guitars, and headed to the theater hoping it would all work! Somehow, it did! And everyone had a blast. BONUS: Lots of adorable kiddos with guitars!


 


#9 – “The Fifolet”
What will happen to little Jolie when she encounters Percival, the mysterious pirate ghost, standing guard over his precious treasure? Find out in The Fifolet!

In August, ACG’s Performance Engagement Artist, Joseph Palmer, teamed up with storytellers from Austin Public Library for our first-ever musical puppet show collaboration! So much drama – so much fun! They gave six free shows in six different neighborhood libraries around the city.

Joseph recently shared some thoughts about connecting with audiences in this blog post.


 


#8 – Guitars Under the Stars
Guitars Under the Stars, our annual gala for ACG Education, is always a highlight of the season, and the 2017 edition was no exception. So many memorable moments – the heartfelt testimonial by Judge Darlene Byrne about ACG’s work with youth in juvenile detention… words of gratitude from ACG Scholarship recipient Santiago Esquivel… the Paper Guitar… Joseph Palmer’s “Bold Fashioned” custom cocktail… the Akins High School guitar ensemble… and capping it all off, a performance by Grisha that led to long standing ovations (and swooning guitarists). But the part we loved the most? That we got to spend a magical night with so many friends and raised nearly $90,000 for ACG Education programs.


 


#7 – ACG Juvenile Justice Program featured in Teen Vogue
ACG’s work with youth in the juvenile justice system has attracted a lot of attention over the years – but we never expected to make it into Teen Vogue! Click here to read the article they published on their website in October.

We are so proud of the positive impact our guitar classes at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center have had on the young people we have the privilege of working with there. Check out this recent blog from Jeremy Osborne for a story about one of his students. BONUS: At the end of Jeremy’s post you can watch the PBS NewsHour segment that led to the Teen Vogue story, which features an interview with the NewsHour reporter. Meta!


 


#6 – Matt gets an award!

We always knew our boss was pretty special. Matt Hinsley’s leadership and vision have transformed Austin Classical Guitar from a humble guitar society into one of the most innovative and effective arts service organizations in the United States, so we were thrilled when the National Association of Social Workers named him as the 2017 “Public Citizen of the Year” for the state of Texas. Congratulations, Matt!


 

#5 – GuitarCurriculum.com: Changing lives from Austin to Kathmandu

The not-so-secret engine that powers ACG Education is GuitarCurriculum.com, our online instructional resource for classroom-based guitar that allows us to support hundreds of teachers and thousands of their students across the U.S. and beyond. We didn’t truly appreciate how “beyond” our reach extended until we heard from Daniel Linden, who uses our curriculum with his students in Kathmandu, Nepal! Behind the scenes, the big news happened this August with the long-awaited relaunch of GC.com on a new software platform. This upgrade has dramatically improved the usability of the site and will allow us to introduce some new features that we’ve been dreaming about for a while.


 

#4 – The Lullaby Project, and a Transformational Gift

The Lullaby Project brings us together with mothers in extremely challenging circumstances to help them write personal songs for their children. It’s incredibly challenging and rewarding work, and the songs and stories that have emerged since we began in 2014 have touched us deeply. The lullaby above, “I Will Protect You,” was created just a couple of weeks ago at Travis County Jail.

In October, an anonymous donor handed us a check for $75,000 to start a Lullaby Project fund within ACG’s Endowment. We were blown away by this incredible gift, which will help sustain this special program for years to come.


 

#3 – A trial run for our newest and coolest project

One of our most exciting projects at the moment is a web-based learning resource designed to empower lifelong learning on the classical guitar for people with visual impairments. Nothing like it exists, and with help from Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired, we’re on track to launch in March, 2018! Back in August, though, we were just getting started and needed assurance it would all work. Seven members from the Austin chapter of the National Association for the Blind agreed to meet with us at TSBVI to try out the first few lessons. None of them played guitar, and as soon as we handed them instruments they had lots of questions! We told them they could only use the audio guides and braille scores we provided – because that’s how people using the resource would do it. Not only did everyone sail through the lessons, they had so much fun they asked to keep going!


 

#2 – “Hope After Harvey”

Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast on Friday, August 25th. The devastation it left in its wake was unimaginable, and we were eager to do something – anything – to help those affected. Together with Austin Chamber Music Center, Conspirare, and the Miro Quartet, we formulated plans for a benefit concert to raise money for the relief effort. St. John’s United Methodist Church generously stepped in and offered to host, and with five days to prepare, we got busy!

As soon as “Hope After Harvey” was announced, the contributions began pouring in – and not just from local folks planning to attend the concert. There were contributions from all over Texas, as well as Florida, California – even Singapore and Switzerland!

And on the day of the concert, hundreds of you came. Every single seat in St. John’s large sanctuary was filled, with more people lining the aisles, and even more watching a video simulcast of the concert from two overflow rooms. We also collected two carloads of donated goods, and signed up volunteers for two trips to assist nearby affected communities.

In the end, the concert raised over $35,000, all of which went to Austin- and Houston-based disaster relief organizations. “Hope After Harvey” was a remarkable demonstration of what our community can accomplish when we come together to help our neighbors – and a powerful affirmation that music is a mysterious and gentle force that brings people together, and inspires and lifts us all.


 

#1 – i/we

i/we changed us.

For two evenings in late July, i/we invited us to gather, to contemplate, and to search for ourselves in the faces and stories of others. It was also one of the most unique, ambitious, and challenging projects we’ve ever attempted at ACG. Highlighted by Joe Williams’s stunning score and Travis Marcum’s interviews with refugees recently settled in central Texas, i/we drew upon the combined efforts and talents of the entire staff, a small army volunteers, and an international ensemble of world-class musicians. Everyone poured their hearts into it. i/we also drew upon the willingness of our community to open themselves up to an experience that asked a lot from them. The result was a truly extraordinary night of music, art, and stories we will never forget. The video above captures some of the magic.

 

 

From every one of us at Austin Classical Guitar, thank you for your incredible support and friendship. We are so grateful for the generous spirit of this community. You inspire us every day. We can’t wait to share more great moments together in 2018!

A Lullaby Story from Matt Hinsley

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

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

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

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

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

 

I Will Protect You
By Arlen, with Joey Delahoussaye

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

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

– Joey Delahoussaye, ACG Lullaby Project Clinician

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


Coco!

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

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

The Idea

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

Getting It Together

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

Then we set a date!

Brass Tacks

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

Simple, right?

What Happened

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

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

Why’d We Do it?

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

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

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


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

A Story of Transformation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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