Over the past year, with the generous support of our community, ACG Education made meaningful, enduring connections with more students and teachers than ever before. I am so pleased to share this Fall 2016 Education Report with you.
I’d like to begin with a brief story:
Our classroom guitar program at Gardner Betts Juvenile Detention Center, now in its sixth year, is the only daily, for-credit arts elective offered to incarcerated youth in Travis County. We met a young man last year who was struggling with his school work and rehabilitation program, as many there do. Then he joined the guitar class and something just clicked. He had found his passion. After about six months working with our teacher there, Jeremy, it was clear that guitar had transformed his attitude and changed his life.
Our schedule at Gardner Betts slows over the summer. When daily classes resumed this fall, this young student presented Jeremy with a full size replica of a classical guitar – made entirely out of rolled strips of copy paper and tape, with yarn for strings. The level of care and craftsmanship he had invested in the project was astonishing. Without guitar class every day, he had chosen, of his own accord, to spend his time creating one using the materials available to him. Click here to see a picture.
For me, this paper guitar is a powerful reminder of how perseverance, passion, and the power of art and mentorship can bring light to dark places.
Our mission at ACG is to inspire individuals in our community through musical experiences of deep, personal significance. Nowhere is this mission more vibrant than in our education programs and social services.
I hope you enjoy reading this report, and know how deeply grateful we are for your generosity, which has helped make everything here possible.
With thanks and my very best wishes for the New Year,
Austin Classical Guitar Education Report, Fall 2016
Our classroom guitar curriculum is founded on the principle of expressive, beautiful music-making from the very first day. We believe this simple but profound idea is the basis for the success of our programs.
In the most practical sense this means that the music we create for our curriculum library must lend itself to expressive playing at each sequential level. It also means that our teachers need to be trained and reminded of the importance of demanding beauty and refinement in every lesson.
In a broader sense, our goal is to place the study of music in the context of human expressiveness—to make the act of learning and playing music personally significant.
Extending this philosophy beyond the day-to-day classroom, therefore, we encourage our teachers to create high-quality and community-oriented performance and sharing opportunities, collaborations, and creative applications for their students’ music-making.
I’d like to share two videos from this fall that demonstrate the kinds of special opportunities meaningful arts engagement can lead to. Even if you see just a few seconds, you’ll understand why these kinds of experiences are so significant and unforgettable.
The first video captures the evening in October when classical guitar icon Pepe Romero rehearsed and performed a Vivaldi Concerto with 80 Austin ISD guitar students from six schools.
This next video shows what happened when a group of adult students from a class we teach at Silicon Labs agreed to sit in with students from the guitar program at Martin Middle School.
ACG Education is driven by our efforts to build and support rigorous, for-credit classical guitar programs in schools. We accomplish this through a combination of ground-breaking curriculum development, teacher training, and direct instructional services. In 2016 we launched our 60th local school program, which collectively serve nearly 4,000 diverse young people in the Austin area.
Here is a snapshot of the kinds of challenges our education team approaches on a day-to-day basis:
- Just days before school began in fall 2015, Bowie High School decided to add two sections of guitar. The district needed a certified educator to take a 1/3 time position on a few days’ notice and could not find a qualified individual. Toby Rodriguez from our education team stepped in, and under his guidance the program grew from 35 students to over 150 by the year’s end. The success of the program led the district to hire the school’s first full time guitar educator, Jody Mosely, who began over the summer.
- Akins High School has been one of our great success stories. Working closely with ACG’s Jeremy Osborne, veteran band director Cathy Bennett developed a competitive, thriving program with a full-time guitar director and over 100 students involved each year. When Bennett retired this past spring, our education team made a special commitment to support her replacement, Paul Crockett (also with a band background), in maintaining the strength of this program and the quality of instruction.
- In the fall of 2016, the Austin ISD was unable to secure a qualified instructor for two sections of guitar at LBJ/LASA. ACG’s Travis Marcum stepped in to fill the spot. The students recently presented their fall concert and are planning to compete in district Concert and Sight Reading Contest in March.
- Also this fall, the guitar teachers at both Reagan High School and Murchison Middle School left their positions unexpectedly in the middle of the semester. ACG staff has stepped in to ensure quality instruction and smooth the transition while the district works to refill these positions.
These cases represent special challenges beyond the formal teacher training sessions, administrative support for assessment events and performance opportunities, and daily consultation throughout the district that have turned our community into a national model of high quality, school-based classroom guitar instruction.
We are continually impressed with the excellent work being done by our partners at the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society and their 18 affiliated elementary, middle, and high schools in St. Louis, Ferguson, Hazelwood, Jennings, and Normandy. One of their elementary school programs was the subject of a September 12th article by Elisa Crouch, St. Louis School Uses Guitar Training to Help Open Doors, in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (online here).
In the wake of significant advances by our partners in Akron, Canton, and Cleveland, we have scheduled our first teacher training workshop in Ohio. The Cleveland Classical Guitar Society will host the training July 20-22, 2017. We also had a very promising meeting with the Director of Music for New York City Public Schools, where we hope to launch a pilot program in the fall.
We were surprised and honored in September when the US State Department asked us to meet and share our work with a delegation from Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Bahrain. The visitors were artists and civil servants interested in our approach to community service and cultural exchange through the arts. They were especially interested in GuitarCurriculum.com, our online curriculum that forms the basis for all our educational work.
More and more communities across Texas, the US, Canada, and beyond are using our training and curriculum resources. Just this week an affiliate in Nepal sent us a link to a short video by CNN about Pushpa Basnet, a woman who runs a youth shelter in Kathmandu where our curriculum is used to teach music lessons. In addition to offering their teachers free access to our curriculum, we created a custom arrangement of a Nepali folk song for the kids to learn – which you can see them playing about 45 seconds into this one-minute feature! Watch the video here.
I mentioned earlier that the success of our curriculum stems from its commitment to expressive, beautiful music making from the very first day. Not only do we emphasize this idea in our lessons plans, we make sure that teachers experience it during their training. The video below is from our summer 2016 teacher training workshop, and features a performance by nearly 100 teachers from around the US and Mexico. Many of them had never played guitar before our training, but they still could participate in making beautiful music.
Summer 2016 also saw our second official training visit to St. Louis where we worked with some promising new teachers, and helped some veteran teachers enhance and refine their instructional methods.
I received a call last week from an official at Travis County who asked, on behalf of a juvenile court judge, how to contribute to Austin Classical Guitar. He described the huge impact that our guitar classes were having on students at the county’s youth detention facility, and talked about one young man in particular whose dedication to guitar and composing played a significant role in the judge’s decision to release him on parole this summer.
Some of the most promising developments in our social service work have involved the Lullaby Project. Now in its third year, the project has been engaged by Dr. Ted Held, Medical Director for People’s Community Clinic’s Center for Women’s Health. We are now producing our first lullabies with new moms at PCC in a partnership that represents the most significant opportunity for service through this project to date.
Dr. Held also helped us bring the project to Travis County Jail. In the video below you can hear an especially touching lullaby written by our clinician Joey Delahoussaye with Trimonisha, who created it for her baby daughter Miracle and a son who had passed away during infancy.
Press & Academia
Arts in Context, an award-winning PBS documentary series produced in Austin by KLRU-TV, featured ACG in an episode that aired nationally this month. You can watch the 27-minute video by clicking on the image below (it will open in another window). While the main focus of the piece is the Lullaby Project, it also touches on our broader work in education and outreach.
Watch now: Arts in Context | Sing Me A Lullaby | KLRU-TV, Austin PBS Video
The winter 2016 issue of American String Teacher included an article I wrote with Travis Marcum and Jeremy Osborne about characteristics of successful teachers, as well as quality guitar classroom programming in general.
The ACG team will lead two sessions at the Texas Music Educators Association’s annual conference this February in San Antonio, and along with a session in March for the SXSWedu conference in Austin.
Several college professors have been using GuitarCurriculum.com in their guitar pedagogy courses. This fall Travis Marcum visited Patrick Feeley’s class at the University of Western Ontario via Skype, and I joined Zane Foreshee’s class at Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, also via Skype.
Carlos Diaz-Miranda, a masters student in Instrumental Education at Quebec’s Université Laval, is writing his thesis about ACG Education. Another student named Matthew Polk is working towards his Ph.D. at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. His dissertation, also focusing on ACG Education, is titled Expanding the Realms of Music Education: A Narrative study examining how entrepreneurial educators creatively navigate innovative music education programs for K-12 U.S. students.
It is clear that our local service is expanding through consistent growth in our social initiatives and education programs. At the same time, our work is having ripple effects far beyond Austin, demonstrated by our influence on other service providers worldwide and the increasing attention to our methods we are seeing from academic circles. 2017 will see, at long last, the launch of our new curriculum website. Among many improvements, the upgrade will enable critical community-building features we believe will promote a global dialogue about rigorous, literacy-based, inspirational classroom guitar education. We also have big hopes to realize our dream of a free online braille music resource to help visually impaired guitar students, including those from our program at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, to become life-long learners in the arts. Apart from Texas, some partners poised to make significant advances in the coming year include affiliates in New York, Ohio, and Ontario, Canada. Finally, in 2017, with the support of a grant from the Texas Bar Foundation, we will see our relationship with Travis County deepen through the introduction of new services for non-incarcerated, court-involved youth in the juvenile justice system.
On behalf of Austin Classical Guitar’s board and staff I would like to thank everyone who has helped make our work possible in 2016, including these major institutional supporters and program sponsors:
City of Austin Cultural Arts Division, Augustine Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Texas Commission on the Arts, Webber Family Foundation, Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation, Sarah & Ernest Butler, Kodosky Foundation, H-E-B, Topfer Family Foundation, Mercedes-Benz of Austin, Shield-Ayres Foundation, Silicon Labs, 3M Foundation, Kendal & Ken Gladish, Oliver Custom Homes, D’Addario Foundation, Louise Epstein & John Henry McDonald, David & Sheila Lastrapes, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Savarez, 3Can Events, Ameriprise Financial, Cain Foundation, Charles Schwab, Dr. Ted Held, MFS Foundation, William Metz, Ted Philippus & Carol Wratten, Sue Nguyen Management Trust, Texas Bar Foundation, Savage Classical Guitar, Dr. Michael Froehls, Bill & Marilyn Hartman, Carl Caricari & Margaret Murray Miller, and Bill & Mary LaRosa