The 23-24 school year is underway. ACG is investing a million dollars in our education services this year. As you’ll read in the report below, ACG Education enriches the lives of thousands of young people and families in communities near and far. If you are inspired by this work we hope you will consider making a gift as part of our Fall Fund Drive. Click here to donate.

Dear Friends of ACG Education,

When ACG Education began in 2001, music offerings in most U.S. public schools were limited to choir, orchestra, and band. We believed guitar, the most popular instrument in the world, could make a huge, positive impact on American youth, if taught with careful attention to beauty, expressivity, individual identity, and technical development. Through a partnership with Austin ISD, we were given a rare opportunity to create an entirely new course area – classroom-based guitar – and develop an approach to teaching that engages and welcomes every student who participates. 

Twenty-two years and tens of thousands of students later, we are incredibly grateful for this opportunity to serve, and to all those who have made it possible. And we are excited for the path before us. 

In two decades we have built programs in every Austin ISD middle and high school. Last year, enrollment in guitar across AISD surpassed all other music classes besides band. The district’s latest Master Plan calls for a dedicated guitar room and guitar faculty member on every new campus going forward, beginning with this year’s new Marshall Middle School.

We believe now more than ever that high-quality guitar education can significantly and positively move the needle for youth development, and not just here in Austin. We have successfully scaled our guitar education systems and resources to support programs in 45 Texas school districts and 40 states, along with a growing list of international partners. We believe we hold the keys to a major shift in scholastic engagement across the nation. A major focus in our 2023 Strategic Plan is continued scaling and replicating of ACG Education services and methods, while maintaining special focus on the critical needs of our local community, including Title 1 Schools and the Juvenile Justice System.

We hope reading this 2022-23 Education Report brings you joy and makes you proud. We thank you for your support, and the support of friends like you, who believe in ACG and the power of music to do good in the world, and who make all of this service possible. 

The ACG Team

Juvenile Justice Services

Earlier this year Kim Andersen, a Counselor at Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center and one of our longest-serving partners, wrote a beautiful letter in support of ACG’s work at the facility. Here’s an excerpt:

I can’t say enough about how much the addition of music influences the lives of our incarcerated youth. Every student in Guitar starts up reluctant, afraid of failure, and afraid of trying. The ACG teachers coax them out of their protective shell, note by note, until they are performing in front of crowds. It’s an amazing sight to see their faces when they look up and take in the effect they’ve had on those in attendance.

You can read Kim’s complete letter online here.

This past school year was a monumental time for ACG’s Juvenile Justice Education programs. For the first time since we have been working with youth in detention centers, we were able to successfully advocate for a student to be granted leave to perform off-site at one of our public events. To be able to gain the trust of the student and the leaders of the facility to do something like this is only done through the faith and efforts of everyone involved. This was such a beautiful experience for everyone, but most of all for this young performer. After playing he stated, “It’s amazing! There are so many words to describe it. I can’t find any right now but it’s really changed my life. It does a lot for me. It helps me. It gives me peace. It gives me happiness. I love this art of playing the guitar. It’s really beautiful and I’m really thankful for you.” 

Under the leadership of Hector Aguilar, ACG Director of Juvenile Justice Services, our work in this arena has thrived in five Texas facilities: Gardner Betts and Phoenix House in Travis County, the Williamson County Juvenile Justice Center in Georgetown, and the Henry Wade and Medlock centers in Dallas County. The success of these programs, and our expanding reach, is made possible by the dedication of our amazing and talented teachers: Hector of course, as well as Gabriel Ibarra in Dallas, and Francisco de la Rosa – himself a graduate of ACG education – in Austin.

Students in all five facilities performed throughout the year, including final recitals in May, and were able to participate remotely in our spring Concert and Sight Reading Contest.

Below is a piece titled “Forever Lasting,” created by the students in Travis County’s Gardner Betts Facility. What started as a simple warm-up exercise transformed into a composed and improvised piece that showcases the artistic growth and creativity of these remarkable young musicians. 

Local Services

Last year we reported our big news that guitar had become the second highest enrolled music class of any kind in Austin ISD middle and high schools (behind band). This was a huge milestone for ACG, since our primary work since 2001 has been to build these programs from curriculum, to teacher training, to district-wide organization and standards.

In August 2023, AISD Director of Fine Arts, Philip Taylor, wrote: “This growth has garnered district wide attention, as guitar courses now play a large role in the new educational specifications and master plan for the school district. AISD passed a bond in November 2022 and, as we modernize or build new campuses, guitar classrooms will be added to (or enlarged) at each of the secondary campuses. Not only does this partnership expand interest in the arts, but it provides an affordable instrument option for students interested in becoming a musician, removing one of the many barriers that exist for students to participate in the arts.”

We are still seeing strong performance from our local programs in Manor and Hutto, and are looking forward to two new middle school programs being added in San Marcos ISD, which will strengthen the excellent programs there.

Read Phillip Taylor’s letter here.

Photo by Jack Kloecker
Concert and Sight Reading

Since 2014, ACG has created and administered Austin ISD’s Concert and Sight Reading Contest. This is a critical part of our growing ecosystem, creating an opportunity for students, teachers, and administrators near and far to work toward common educational goals. On May 11 and 12 over 40 programs participated from Austin, Odessa, San Marcos, Dallas, Williamson County, and San Antonio. 

ACG has also been working with the communities of El Paso, Corpus Christie, Brownsville, and Houston to deliver similar events in those areas. For example, in April the Socorro ISD event (El Paso) attracted all Six SISD High schools and two Middle Schools for a total of 13 events. Each year we share best practices, deliver newly created sight-reading excerpts, and offer training.

GuitarCurriculum, Method Books, and Teacher Training

The primary engine driving ACG Education’s growing reach in Texas and across the US is the support, training, and resources we can offer to music teachers and their guitar programs. 

GuitarCurriculum, originally launched in 2008, is a vast and evolving web-based resource for classroom-based guitar teachers. The big news this summer is the publication of our first-ever printed Student and Teacher Method Books. The books compile selected materials and scores from the website to give teachers a clearly prescribed path to follow with their beginning classes. The books are already getting a tremendous response. Isaac Greene, professor at Bob Jones University called them “a resource without comparison,” and guitar education leader Matt Denman called them, “a great achievement for class guitar pedagogy.” 

We are especially pleased to announce the arrival of a new staff member, Phil Swasey, who will be taking both the curriculum and our partner relationships to the next level. Phil has had a marvelous 14-year career as a master middle school instructor, has been contracting with ACG for several years, and his arrival on the team is much-anticipated.

We produced two Teacher Summits this summer: Austin, July 13-15, and Columbia, South Carolina, July 28-29. With over 70 participants, the Summits were a wonderful chance to debut the new Method Books. Our session survey comments included: That was some of the BEST professional development I’ve had in 13 years of teaching!” and, “I want to commend you all for a fantastic conference. The patience and understanding of the GC team was phenomenal. I am incredibly appreciative of your kindness and encouragement. This conference helped ease my anxiety as I approach the new school year, launching a beginning guitar program.”

Performance Engagement

Over the years we’ve learned that a broad baseline of high quality education, when combined with injections of inspiration from high-profile events or guest artist appearances, make for a powerful recipe for personal transformation. Students have frequently pointed to ‘that one time’ when a guest artist came to their classroom, connected with them, and set them on a path of deeper dedication.

Joseph Palmer is our Performance Engagement Artist, performing over 50 concerts a year in schools. Guests artists and staff members often visit schools in this capacity as well. Here’s a note we received from Lively Middle School’s Meredith McAlmon about the impact a visit by ACG’s Justice Phillips, himself an alum of Lively’s guitar program, had on her students:

“I want to thank you for providing another wonderful opportunity for my students. Justice Phillips came to talk to and play for my beginning guitar class, which is made up of 18 sixth graders. This is a high energy class that meets right after lunch, and it is often a challenge to engage them. The visit from Justice was a surprise and they were so excited when they came into the room to meet someone they have often heard me talk about. Justice spoke about his journey and accomplishments in music, which started at Fulmore (now Lively) Middle School when he was their age. He pointed out that we even met in the same room that we are still in, and they loved that! Justice talked a little, played, talked some more, showed a little bit of his clip from Nick Hurt’s movie – whose title is the song that he commissioned Justice to write – and did some improvising along the way. The students were fascinated by the composing process, which Justice talked about as well. We are currently working on El Chinati, so we had the students get their guitars and play some of their parts – which he then improvised over. It was such an exciting visit for them, and the next day we did some more improvising in class, which they loved! They really related to Justice as a former student of their school and to the fact that someone so young and energetic (like they are) has already accomplished so much. It helped them to see what they could do if they set their mind to it!”

Community Education

The Rosette, Austin Classical Guitar’s new concert and creative learning center in Hyde Park, has been a game changer for our Community Education initiatives. The number of offerings and the number of participants has more than doubled in our youth and adult ensembles, our classes, workshops, open mic opportunities, student spotlight concerts, and early childhood development classes. In all cases we seek to leverage the inspiring beauty of the Rosette, with our knowledge of teaching, and our unique brand of welcoming kindness, to offer diverse members of our community joyful and unforgettable experiences with music.

Community Co-creation

In recent years we have made a significant, organization-wide effort to integrate our artistic programming with our services in education. We arrange school visits for almost every guest artist, and students perform before or during every major ACG public presentation. We also are investing deeply in large-scale community-based creative projects where students and community members collaborate for months to co-create and perform major new works. 

This past season, 65 members of our community developed a piece called “The Elements,” written by our Artist in Residence, Marek Pasieczny, which was performed in February, 2023. In the upcoming 23-24 season, we are thrilled to welcome the Fulbright-winning and Grammy-nominated composer Reena Esmail as our Artist in Residence. Reena will collaborate with students from across our community in the creation and realization of an exciting new work, which will be premiered in February, 2024.

Of her experience performing “The Elements,” an eighth-grade student, Aryanna, wrote in a handwritten letter to her teacher: “I was so excited because I was going to be surrounded by people who are just as passionate about guitar as I am. Ever since we worked with ACG, I haven’t been able to get that out of my head. The members were so sweet, the music they play is so beautiful and majestic, the stage was huge, just everything about that experience was so wonderful. The moment I stepped foot on that stage I knew this is the life I want.”

Read Aryanna’s letter here.

Free Individual Lessons

Recognizing that not all students in our community have the same access to private individual instruction, ACG has worked to provide high-level, weekly instruction for students across our district who show dedication to improving their skills, and who are nominated by their classroom instructors for this scholarship program. Started in 2001, our Free individual lessons programs is focused primarily in Title 1 Schools, and has grown to employ seven instructors with advanced music degrees, and serve about fifty students.

Our Free Individual Lessons program is a deep investment in the individuals served, with weekly instruction and an ecosystem of support that includes ensemble participation, performance opportunities, free instruments, and professional development including college and financial aid application support.

The results of this program have been remarkable. Dozens of students have won hundreds of thousands of dollars in college scholarships over the years. Six former ACG students, posit-college, joined the ACG team as staff members of instructors. Five graduates are now themselves full-time teachers in AISD. 

This year we’re especially proud of 2023 graduate Juanito Rodriguez who won scholarships to attend several universities in the spring and will be starting as a Music major at the Butler School of Music at UT Austin this fall.

Spotlight: Spy Kids

A particularly exciting example of community co-creation, is our Spy Kids project in collaboration with famed film director Robert Rodriguez. Rodriguez has generously donated his Spy Kids movie music for us to use in our teaching curriculum. He also offered to make a music video of students playing it. ACG contract composer, Matthew Lyons, prepared the arrangement with Rodriguez and Rick del Castillo. Eighteen students learned the piece in the spring, and Rodriguez filmed them performing it at The Long Center in June. The video is due out soon, and the teaching score is already available online at GuitarCurriculum.

The Future

We have big plans to deepen and expand our education services. As we wrote at the beginning of this report, we believe we are holding the keys to a major transformation in scholastic engagement in America. In the coming years we plan to launch and name the Austin Classical Guitar Education Institute with several endowed positions in order to support and sustain the work we have started in the past twenty-two years. If you would like help us launch this institute, or if you have any questions about this report, please do not hesitate to reach out to Executive Director, Matthew Hinsley.

Thank You

ACG Education services are only possible because of the generosity of the many people who share our belief in the power of music to positively transform lives. We would like to extend an extra special thanks to the following institutions and individuals for their major financial support over the past year:

The Augustine Foundation, The Kaman Foundation, Karrie & Tim League, the Cain Foundation, the Webber Family Foundation, the Rea Charitable Trust, The Ben & Nancy Sander Family, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Shield-Ayres Foundation, the Still Water Foundation, Greg Wooldridge & Lynne Dobson, Bill & Lynne Cariker, Mary Raley, the Texas Commission on the Arts, the Long Foundation, atsec information security, Jeff & Gail Kodosky, Reverb Gives/, Carson & Michele McKowen, Judith Stich & the MFS Fund at the North Georgia Community Foundation, H-E-B, the Kodosky Foundation, Debra Lewis, Jacqueline Rixen, the Burdine Johnson Foundation, the Texas Bar Foundation, Lucy & Bill Farland, Sarah & Ernest Butler, the Texas Women for the Arts, Rick & Valeri Reeder, Mercedes-Benz of Austin, Mike Chesser, the Warren Skaaren Charitable Trust, Megyn Busse, Zack & Whitney Zamora, Greg & Cindy Abell, Martha P. Rochelle, Ameriprise Financial Community Relations, the University Area Rotary Club, Edwina Carrington, Patrice Arnold, Rich & Caryn Puccio, IBC Bank Austin, Stacia & Walt DeBill, the Shanti Foundation for Intercultural Understanding, the Mockingbird Foundation, the Arnold Foundation in honor of Lazan Pargaman, and Anonymous Donors.