Special Moments: Juvenile Justice Reflection by Angelica Campbell

At ACG, we believe in the transformative power of music. We have witnessed firsthand how music can transcend boundaries, touch hearts, and make a positive impact in people’s lives. Over the past decade, we have been privileged to create and sustain Texas’ first and only daily, for-credit performing arts course for young people incarcerated in the Juvenile Justice system. Learn more about ACG Education and our Juvenile Justice programs here

We are having our May fund drive here at ACG and it’s because of our community and supporters that we are able to share stories like this. Click here to learn more about supporting ACG.


In my time at ACG, both as a student and now as Director of Communications,  I’ve had the privilege of witnessing transformation through music many times. Nowhere is it more profound than in our Juvenile Justice center concerts, and so when I got the date for our spring concert at the Williamson County facility I raised my hand to go. I and many other members of our community had the opportunity to see the group and wow, what an opportunity. 

About twenty of us went through security, and then eight more magnetic doors down various hallways before we finally entered the gym where six residents sat anxiously at the head of the room, guitars in hand. We sat on the right side of the gym while other residents, some family, and a handful of staff members sat on the left side of the gym. It was a full house!

Hector Aguilar, ACG’s Director of Juvenile Justice Education and teacher at Williamson County, was sitting amongst the performers as we entered. When he stood to greet the audience, he expressed his pride and gratitude for his students and the admirable work and dedication it took to prepare their spring concert; the students beside him stared at the large crowd that came just to hear them. You could see that they were both nervous and excited.

The concert consisted of a mix of solos, trios, quartets, and full ensemble performances. It was beautiful. It was profound. 

Not only was the music, their connection to Hector, and their musicality amongst each other so wonderful to witness, the energy each member of the ensemble carried was inspirational. 

When the first soloist performed, you could physically and energetically see an extraordinary shift. When his turn was up, he looked up at the other residents and staff, he looked over at the crowd from ACG, he looked at Hector, introduced the piece he was playing, and then finally he looked down at his fingers and took a breath. He played beautifully. His demeanor lightened as he heard himself playing well; he was thoughtful and musical. When he finished, he stopped the ringing of his instrument and looked up at the cheering crowd with a huge smile on his face. 

Every performance went in a similar manner. The nerves eased, faces lit up across the ensemble, there was excitement and celebration in every corner of the room. It was a joy to experience. 

The impact of an experience like this is immeasurable. As a musician who went through ACG’s guitar program at Crockett High School, I have felt firsthand the impact of working towards a creative goal, performing for a supportive audience, and feeling inspired to follow that feeling in every area of my life. 

For these young people, many of whom have faced significant adversity, this concert was more than just a performance. It was a moment of triumph, a chance to be seen and heard, to express themselves in a way that words often fail to capture. 

Experiences like this build confidence, a sense of accomplishment and pride. It goes beyond the notes they played and the applause they received; it touches their hearts and minds, fostering growth, healing, and hope. 

I’m so grateful I got to witness such a special moment. 

I asked Hector if he could share a few words about his experience working with these students and what the journey towards this moment was like. He shared, 

“For three years now, I've been incredibly fortunate to work with the talented students at the Williamson County Detention Center, guiding them through the beautiful journey of making music together. Each day we meet, we immerse ourselves in music, and their commitment and progress are truly remarkable. The weeks leading up to the concert were filled with a mix of excitement and nerves, but witnessing their journey from uncertainty to absolute focus on stage was nothing short of inspiring. Watching the students transform from nervous beginners to confident performers was nothing short of magical. It was a reminder of the incredible resilience and talent within each of them. One of the most unforgettable moments for me was seeing a student, who once doubted they'd ever have this opportunity, shine on stage with pride and focus. It's moments like these that remind me of the profound impact music can have. This work moves me deeply because it highlights how music can transform lives, offering growth, self-discovery, and a sense of accomplishment. It’s a joy and an honor to witness how music helps them discover their potential and connect with something greater. This is why I love what I do.”

Learn more about our Juvenile Justice Education programs here. Support ACG here.

Special Moments: ACGYO Goes to Spain!

The ACGYO, founded in 2013 under the direction of Joe Williams, is an ensemble of advanced young guitarists from across our community. The youth involved have spent years refining their musical skills, and along the way they’ve made amazing videos, premiered many new works, performed on Austin’s biggest stages, and toured as far as San Francisco. We couldn’t be more proud of their accomplishments.

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of ACGYO, they’re going on tour in Spain this June! 

Learn more about our Youth and Community Ensembles. 


Our ACG Youth Orchestra is preparing to go on their most exciting tour yet next month; all the way to Spain! 

On June 3, the ACGYO will set foot in Madrid, the vibrant capital of Spain, marking the beginning of their European adventure. From there, they will travel to the picturesque town of Muro De Alcoy- a place where magic truly happens. 

YO members will have the opportunity to visit the esteemed Alhambra Guitars factory, where amidst the rich craftsmanship, they will pick up fifteen of Alhambra’s exquisite 4 P Conservatory model guitars. Over the course of a week in Spain, the ACGYO will enchant audiences across Southern Spain with Alhambra’s donated instruments. 

From intimate performances in quaint villages to large concerts in bustling cities to master classes with world renowned musicians, these young musicians will not only blow their audiences away, they will be forging connections, fostering cultural exchange, and celebrating the universal language of music. 

We can’t wait to share their adventures with you! 

We at ACG extend a heartfelt thank you to Alhambra Guitars and Fundación Alhambra Guitarras for helping us make this dream a reality. 

We also share our deepest gratitude to every member of our community who supports ACG, we are only capable of creating moments like these because of you. We are profoundly thankful to all of you.

June 3

The ACGYO landed in Madrid today! They took part in a walking tour of the city and had the chance to visit places like the Prado Museum, where they have some gorgeous works by significant Spanish artists such as Francisco de Goya, and tried traditional Spanish dishes like Paella!

June 4

Today, our ACGYO members visited the esteemed Alhambra Guitar factory in Muro de Alcoy, where they picked up fourteen gorgeous guitars, generously donated by Alhambra Guitars and Fundación Alhambra Guitarras, that they will use to enchant audiences across the country all week long!

June 5

The ACGYO had a beach day in Alicante, Spain! They had the chance to relax on the gorgeous beach and some explored a nearby castle!

They ended their evening exploring the city of Murcia before their rehearsals and concert happening tomorrow!

June 6

Had a gorgeous concert in Murcia, Spain and got to explore the city later that evening! 

June 7

Today the ACGYO traveled to Almeria, where they played at Museo de la Guitarra. They then went to Casa-Museo Antonio Torres- a house that Torres lived in and made guitars at. They ended their day driving to Granada and doing a pop up concert in a plaza outside of a Cathedral!

June 8

Our ensembles members visited the Alhambra for a few hours, returned guitars to a shop, had lunch and yummy churros, did some shopping and got to hang out in the prettiest place ever, Granada!

David Russell Returns to Austin: A Celebration of Music & Community

At Austin Classical Guitar, our mission is to inspire individuals in our community through musical experiences of deep personal significance. One of the ways in which we do this is through our artist residencies, where we bring world-renowned musicians to Austin to engage with our education programs and community events. Learn more about our mission here. Support ACG here


This week, we are thrilled to welcome back a long-time friend of ACG and a legend in the guitar world, David Russell. David's return to Austin marks a special occasion as he reconnects with our education programs and community in various ways.

Throughout the week, David will be conducting two master classes at the college and high school levels, offering invaluable insights and guidance to aspiring musicians. These master classes provide a unique opportunity for students to learn from a master guitarist and gain inspiration from his wealth of experience.

David will also be connecting with our community during our ACGtalks happy hour this coming Thursday; allowing music enthusiasts and supporters of ACG to connect with each other and with David in a relaxed setting, fostering conversations and sharing insights about music and life over delicious snacks from our friends over at New World Deli.

The highlight of David's visit will undoubtedly be his four sold-out concerts this weekend, serving as the grand finale to our season. Audiences can expect to be mesmerized by David's unparalleled artistry as he takes them on a musical journey like no other.

David's presence in Austin holds special significance, especially considering the challenges we've faced in recent times. The last time we had David Russell with us was in 2021 when the world was still grappling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the obstacles, we came together as a global community to spread messages of hope through music.

One of the standout moments from that time was the online concert titled HOPE, where artists from across the world shared music and messages of resilience and optimism. David Russell's contribution to this event, captured in a beautiful video, served as a beacon of hope for all who watched it. His music transcended barriers and brought comfort to countless individuals during uncertain times.


One of the last projects we undertook before the shutdown in March of 2020 was a marvelous 360 video of David Russell performing Asturias with a guitar ensemble made up of AISD students. The video was filmed in the room that has now become The Rosette and is one of our most watched videos on YouTube! Watch below:


As we welcome David Russell back to Austin, we are immensely grateful for his unwavering support and dedication to our mission. We also extend our heartfelt thanks to our community for their continued support, which makes moments like these possible.

In David Russell's return to Austin, we find not just a celebration of music but also a celebration of community, resilience, and hope. It's a reminder of the power of music to uplift, inspire, and unite us, even in the most challenging of times. We look forward to sharing this musical journey with David and our community, knowing that the memories created will resonate for years to come.

A Generous Gift: Connecting with luthier Michael Fontenot

At ACG, we dream of a world where music is here for everyone, connecting us, inspiring us, and bringing joy and meaning wherever it goes. We share with deep gratitude that it is through the generosity of our community that we have been able to obtain this dream in many ways. Learn more about supporting ACG here


Owning your first guitar is an incredibly special moment for an aspiring musician. 

Over the years we have had the opportunity to share this moment with many young musicians in our programs through the generosity of our community. 

This year, we received a very special donation from luthier and guitarist, Michael Fontenot. 

Michael donated one of his very own creations in support of ACG Education and we’re giving it away this Friday at our Student Spotlight concert in The Rosette!

We had the pleasure of connecting with Michael recently about his history and journey into becoming a luthier. 

In the world of music, the journey of an artist is often marked by pivotal moments of inspiration and dedication. For Michael Fontenot, his love affair with music began at a young age, sparked by the timeless melodies of the Beatles and nurtured through years of exploration and dedication to the guitar. Michael shares, 

“I believe I was 10 or 11 years old when I first heard the Beatles song I want to hold your hand. I remember being drawn, not only to the song, but I was also compelled to learn how to play it, and even to write music like that. It was a very consuming experience for me and launched my love for music. Some of the most formative influences for me in my middle school in high school years were James Taylor and Paul Simon. It is from listening to their music and emulating their style of playing that I developed a good portion of my early technique. 

This period of my life was also a crash course in “ear training” and that I didn’t work from sheet music, but rather figured pieces out by listening to them over and over again. I played in a band with my older brother and would figure out chord patterns and parts for the other members of the band.”

It wasn’t until late into his undergraduate studies that he discovered his interest in classical guitar! During Michael’s senior year at the University of Texas, a friend introduced him to the classical style.

“I was amazed and intrigued with the control over different lines of music. I sold my steel string guitar and bought a Ramirez student model guitar, went into the Peace Corps with the Carcassi method, book, and the studies by Fernando Sor, and began practicing several hours a day in West Africa,” Micheal shares. 

After returning to the U.S a year later, Michael began studying classical guitar at the University of North Texas with Tom Johnson. Though he was pursuing a Masters degree ultimately, he needed undergraduate hours in Music in order to do so. During his two years at UNT, he studied in Aspen with Oscar Ghiglia, Eliot Fisk, and Bob Guthrie over the summers. Michael then went on to study with Eliot at Yale University for his Masters.

At the age of 28, Michael went on to Medical school!

“Always interested in composition, I wrote humorous songs about the materials we were studying in medical school (50 ways to lose your liver, the Bipolar Blues.) Over the following 40 years, I continually played music in one form or another, composing songs and recording them,” says Michael. 

Towards the end of 2020, as retirement loomed on the horizon, Michael found himself seeking a new project to fuel his creative spirit. 

In all honesty, making guitars was not something that anyone would’ve predicted for me five years ago. So to some extent, the whole project was fabricated out of whole cloth. I have obviously always loved the sound of the guitar and truthfully have marveled at its construction and beauty since I can remember. But I had no woodworking skills, and no woodworking tools. I don’t remember the moment that the idea popped in my head but as soon as I thought of building guitars, I was completely drawn in.”

Michael embarked on a journey of self-discovery, turning to online resources and mentors like luthier Pablo Requeña for guidance. 

“I started watching videos on YouTube and ran across a Luthier in Malaga, Spain named Pablo Requeña who is a phenomenal teacher and builds traditional Spanish style guitars. I purchased a course and followed his instructions, and after a year built my first guitar. It took me one year to build that first guitar, largely because I was still working, and I had to build all of the jigs necessary to make a guitar. I built 12 guitars over the next two years and I’m currently working on my 15th. This year I am exploring more modern styles of guitar making including lattice, bracing, and double top construction,” Michael shares. 

As he delves deeper into the intricacies of guitar construction, Michael finds himself captivated by the process of transforming raw materials into instruments that sing with life. 

“For me, what inspires me about building is the process of starting off with several flat pieces of wood and ending up with something that makes such a beautiful sound, and is transformed into a piece of art by talented players. Especially this year, as I dive more deeply into the mechanisms of sound production of the instrument, I am amazed at how small changes in the design of the guitar can result in different sonic pallets.”

We are so grateful for Michael’s generous donation of one of his beautifully crafted instruments. He goes on to share more about this specific guitar, 

“The guitar I donated to Austin Classical Guitar is my second guitar. It is built with Engelmann Spruce on the top, East Indian Rosewood, on the back and sides, and Spanish cedar for the neck. The Rosette is a classical Spanish style Rosette, which I purchased, and inlaid. I must give credit to Pablo Requena for these early guitars. They are all made with traditional fan bracing in the Hauser style. Pablo had made some modifications to the braces, and I followed his recipe. The guitars are extraordinarily light, especially compared to some modern guitars.” 

Michael goes on to share more about this donation, 

“I was motivated to donate the guitar because of the work that ACG is doing in the community. As I have gone to guitar concerts over the past couple of years and heard the level of performance of students coming out of ACG Education programs, I have been very inspired to somehow be a part of that. 

There is no reason for guitars of this quality to be sitting around not being played. And while it is always wonderful to sell guitars, my personal mission is not to sell guitars, but to make guitars. I suspect that over the next year I will continue to have surplus and hope to continue to give young players in Austin a guitar that is worthy of their dedication.”

We are incredibly grateful to Michael for his generosity and are so excited to aid in the rehoming of this gorgeous instrument this Friday. 

Learn more about Michael Fontenot and Fontenot guitars here.

PRESENCE: Connecting with Alexina Derkaz

Last month, we presented a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind, community based collaborative concert called Presence.

The culmination of a yearlong collaboration, Presence featured music by ACG’s 23-24 Artist-in-Residence and Grammy-nominated composer Reena Esmail, and performances by the extraordinary Mexican guitarist Dieter Hennings Yeomans, Austin’s super-creative and genre-bending vocal ensemble VAMP, and critically acclaimed bassoonist and UT Butler School faculty member Kristin Wolfe Jensen. These internationally celebrated artists were joined by a massive guitar orchestra, conducted by ACG Artistic Director Joe Williams on stage at the gorgeous AISD Performing Arts Center. 

Alexina Derkaz was a member of that massive guitar orchestra and we had the pleasure of speaking with her about her experience with Presence.


Growing up with two professional classical guitarists as parents, Alexina Derkaz is no stranger to the instrument. 

“I participated in classical guitar festivals, competitions, and master classes in middle and high school and pursued guitar as my major at Florida State University.” 

However, Alexina ultimately pursued another passion of hers, the study of Latin, in graduate school and as her career. 

“Without a meaningful outlet or community, guitar fell to the wayside for years. Then, I moved to Austin and found ACG. The Chamber Ensemble is perfect for me. I get to play beautiful, interesting music and perform for audiences again!” 

Our 2023-24 season theme and the theme of this past concert is presence. Alexina shared a little bit about what presence means to her, 

“To me, being present means bringing my focus to the moment and environment that I’m in.  When I’m teaching, it means that my awareness of each student is heightened: we’re making eye contact and I’m not watching the clock.  When I’m playing music it means I’m absorbed in the phrases and not thinking about that tricky part coming up. When I’m parenting, it means that I slow down to my baby’s pace, just observing him as he explores a leaf; I have no agenda. Presence means expanding my awareness inward, to the state of my body and spirit, and also outward to the birdsong and feeling of the breeze.”

Presence, the project, was very much a collaborative effort from all parties involved. Every member of the orchestra, including Alexina, got to interact with the composition process and heard their ideas in the final product. Alexina shares, 

“Presence was the opportunity to feel like I was a part of something great.  So many people worked so hard to make the performance magical. 

The intentional collaboration between composer and musicians is what made Presence such a unique experience.  At our first rehearsal for the music, we received a worksheet of sorts from Reena.  There were fragments of melodies and rhythms.  As a warm-up, the ensemble was asked to use the notes to play something that reflected how we were feeling at that very moment. If I had been brave enough to volunteer, I would have played some tense exchange of notes that sounded like the Jaws soundtrack: improvisation and composition are way out of my comfort zone! Before I knew it, I was sent with a group of peers to do that: compose a mini piece to perform using the rhythms and melodies from the worksheet.  Everything we did was recorded in case someone came up with something great.  Reena was going to listen! 

I made it through the collaboration unscathed as the ACG leadership is so kind and reassuring.  That was just the beginning.  Next, we were writing diaristic entries that became lyrics to the pieces, like a patchwork quilt of the ensemble members’ experiences of “presence”.  Then at a mother moment, Joe, Reena, and the ensemble were figuring out the best way for us to make a percussive sound on our guitars in real time during the first rehearsal: Joe was saying “try it like this” to us, Reena  was shaking her head, Joe was saying “how about like this?” We try something new, Reena nods enthusiastically – that’s the sound!”

What’s so unique about this method of collaboration in a large group setting is that all that was provided to the ensemble to begin with were a handful of notes. They had a tiny amount to work with so they could have full range in their creative spaces. However, that required a ton of flexibility with everyone involved. Alexina shared more about what this was like,

“If I were to let someone in on a little behind the scenes experience, it would have been the fact that we didn’t just receive our scores to learn all at once (like one usually does in an ensemble).  We were literally getting pages at a time.  One page this week, then as the composers finished a few more measures, the next page would come.  It was hot-off-the-press!  The composers were working so, so hard to write this music in a shorter time span than they were used to. One time, a whole page of the piece we were working on was scrapped and replaced with something new; a chord was being changed in the actual rehearsal the day before the concert… it was evolving up to the performance.  We performers had to be flexible and ready to put in the work to learn the music quickly.”

We asked Alexina to share some of her favorite moments throughout the project with us and this is what she expressed, 

“It was a huge treat to get to hear the singers of VAMP.  I remember the first rehearsal we had with them. As they entered the room there was a palpable excitement.  I was internally squealing “wow wow, real singers, this is so cool!”.  Then I saw my excitement mirrored in their faces and they beheld the 70 or so guitarists facing them.  The first time they sang, I literally had tears well in my eyes. I stopped playing and had to find my place again.  It wasn’t only their ethereal sound, but the song itself – it was just so beautiful.  One piece that a solo member of VAMP sang with one of the youth groups gave me goosebumps every time I heard it. 

While the singers of VAMP inspired tears and goosebumps, our incredible bassoonist and guitarist, Kristen and Dieter, pumped us up with their technically challenging extended solos.  I just had to laugh and shake my head at their brilliance…”is this for realI get to play with them??”  

Another favorite moment is the feeling of pride I had upon hearing the work the youth ensembles had put into the music.  They really held their own and sounded fantastic. 

Finally, I always look forward to being conducted by Joe.  Conducting is essentially a very difficult form of communication and Joe is a master communicator.  He delivers his directives so clearly, calmly, powerfully, and encouragingly all at the same time!  He always tells us what we did well first and then tells us what to do better.  He wastes no words and will sometimes pause before he says something – because everything he says matters.   Before the big group rehearsals I did have the thought, “Are we going to be able to pull this off??”  But we did because of Joe.”

When show day came around, we needed a space that would fit our massive community orchestra! So, we held the concert at the gorgeous Austin ISD Performing Arts Center. Which is a much bigger stage than what a lot of our performers may have been used to. Alexina shares a bit about what this was like, 

“Playing on the PAC feels grand and important and dramatic and powerful! The musicians really spend the day there, arriving quite early for our sound checks and final dress rehearsal.  We bond backstage, share a few meals and pre-performance tricks (like one member bringing a large box of hand-warmers for us to hold before our turn to play). We excitedly anticipate the size of the audience and recount the performance with one another after it’s over.  While on stage we are trying so hard to be laser focused and communicate everything we worked on. My whole family came and brought me a bouquet of flowers afterward; they knew it was a big moment.”

We are so grateful to Alexina and to every member of Presence for being so flexible and accomplishing something so magnificent. We are grateful to our community for supporting us in projects like these. 

Thank you for your unwavering support of our pursuit of what good can music do in the world today?


Gorgeous photos below by Arlen Nydam.

Lullaby Project: Connecting with Arnold Yzaguirre

Amplify Austin is next week and we’re dedicating our campaign to our beloved Lullaby Project. For ten years now, our Lullaby Project has brought comfort and connection to families facing various challenges by creating beautiful and meaningful songs for their babies.Our Music & Healing artists engage with participants in schools, prisons, hospitals, social service centers, and shelters. Together, they craft heartfelt lyrics that reflect the hopes, dreams, and fears of each participant, turning them into something personal, durable, and shareable. Support our Amplify Austin campaign here.


We recently had the opportunity to speak with Music & Healing artist, Arnold Yzaguirre about his experience with the Lullaby Project. Here is what he had to share,

My experience with the Lullaby Project, in short, has been inspirational. Really fulfilling. Something I never thought I would be doing with the guitar. And I came into it because I wanted to exercise that part of my career as a musician, which is being creative by songwriting.

I used to be in a band many years ago, so I knew I could do it. I could write a song, I could write a good melody. The one thing I was, I’m ok at, I’m a little slow at, is being a lyricist. And that’s one of the big things about this Lullaby Project. But it’s become easy when there’s a very important and beautiful subject, which is the love of a mother for their child, for their children, for their kids. And so, that’s helped me in a way to be a good songwriter in that fact.

I thank ACG for allowing me to do this; for providing this opportunity for me to meet these people. To go into a room and a space and just have a conversation with these mothers. Go into a space I’ve never been in and meet a person I’ve never met. And we’re both a little reluctant at first you know, ‘cause we don’t know what’s about to happen. But they know that they’re there for one reason, and I think that’s what makes it easy for them to open up, because it’s all about creating something beautiful for their child. And when you have that in the center, it makes this much easier, because it’s not a therapy session, even though it feels like that at times, and it can be, and it is in a way actually, but it’s Music Healing. So there are tears involved in these sessions, and there’s a lot of listening. But when you have that in the center: love, and music in the center, it facilitates things really easily. And really all I have to do is just sit there and listen to their story. That’s both easy and hard. Not sure that everybody can do this type of job, but I’m glad that I’m able to do it and I’m glad that I’m able to express myself in that way and that it’s fulfilling in that way.

Being able to do this has been a wonderful thing for my life as a human being, as a person, as a musician. Something I never thought I would be able to do with this instrument. I thank ACG again for trusting me to do it, and I hope that I keep doing it, because it’s a beautiful part of what I do with this instrument. Aside from big events like weddings and events and things like this, where I create soundtracks for big moments, and teaching, where I get to see students every week and get to work with them and create music for their lives, the Lullaby Project has been such a special thing, and I hope to keep doing it.

It’s been 10 years and that’s an amazing thing. I haven’t been part of this project for that long, but I’m grateful for the time that I’ve been given, the opportunity that I’ve been given by ACG, thank you so much.

Last year, we had the immense pleasure of presenting a beautiful concert titled, “We’ve Always Known,” where four of our incredibly talented Music & Healing artists, Claire Puckett, Camille Sheiss, Daniel Fears, and Travis Marcum, reimagined and shared ten beautiful stories and songs from our Music & Healing program for the first time ever. 

During this concert, one of the pieces Arnold took part in through the Lullaby Project was performed.

Meraki's Lullaby was created with artist Arnold Yzaguirre and participant Holly. Written and recorded as a part of Austin Classical Guitar's Lullaby Project in partnership with Any Baby Can. Performed as part of our ACG Originals: We've Always Known concert. Listen here: 


PRESENCE: Connecting with Reena Esmail

The culmination of a yearlong collaboration, Presence featured music by ACG’s 23-24 Artist-in-Residence and Grammy-nominated composer Reena Esmail, and performances by the extraordinary Mexican guitarist Dieter Hennings Yeomans, Austin’s super-creative and genre-bending vocal ensemble VAMP, and critically acclaimed bassoonist and UT Butler School faculty member Kristin Wolfe Jensen. These internationally celebrated artists were joined by a massive guitar orchestra, conducted by ACG Artistic Director Joe Williams on stage at the gorgeous AISD Performing Arts Center. 

In the world of music, the journey to becoming a composer is often a winding path, marked by discovery and evolution. 

Reena Esmail, a prominent musician and composer and ACG’s 2023-24 Artist-in-Residence, recently shared her unique story with us, seamlessly weaving between her early encounters with the guitar to her present exploration of composition! 

Reena’s musical odyssey began unexpectedly at the age of five or six when she stumbled upon a guitar hidden in her mother’s linen closet. Intrigued by the enchanting sounds it produced, her curiosity led to guitar lessons and the realization that music would play a significant role in her life. 

Reena shares, “I was just so fascinated. I thought ‘wow this is making such a beautiful sound.’ I initially would play the guitar with its back on the floor and just press it and poke at it to play it. And eventually, my parents got me guitar lessons. I really remember the very first time I went for a guitar lesson thinking, ‘Oh this is the beginning of something big in my life,’ and even as a kid I knew this was going to go places and it did!”

However, her path took a turn when her guitar teacher moved away. Undeterred, Reena delved into other instruments, eventually becoming a pianist. It was during her exploration of composition at a fine arts high school that she found a way to express herself without the need to perform on stage herself. 

She states, “I realized that I didn’t enjoy performing on stage and I realized that there is a way to be a musician without ever needing to be on the stage by composing. By the time I went to undergrad I had already found that path for myself. But it’s funny, just because you get on that path doesn’t mean that it’s straight, sometimes it can be really circuitous and it was very circuitous for me. One of the circles I kind of took was that I realized that at that point, I was one of very few people in my culture as a South Asian who was doing western classical music and when you’re younger I think that can be really cool like you’re just different but as I grew older it started to feel a bit lonely. So I looked around a lot for students who were South Asian and there were tons of them who weren’t western classical musicians so a lot of my life has been about balancing those two worlds.”

As part of her collaborative composition for Presence, our centerpiece concert of the season, Reena endeavors to bridge the gap between Indian and Western classical music. Exploring the possibilities of incorporating Indian ragas into guitar music.

Reena shares, “It’s really interesting because my knowledge of string instruments now are more orchestral instruments. So right now I’m trying to find ways for guitars to play in raga, and it’s been fascinating because ACG sent me this amazing three quarter sized guitar to practice on and it’s been so fun trying to figure out how I can get those Indian styles on the guitar. This is my first time writing for the guitar on this big of a scale and it’s been interesting to figure out how those two things translate.”

Returning to her original instrument feels like stepping into a musical time machine for Reena. It allows her to recapture the pure love and inspiration she felt as a child. 

Reena explains, “To me, it feels like I get to go back to that time in my life where music was brand new, everything was ahead of me and there was so much inspiration. The process of getting good at music and eventually having a career at it can be a lot, and not that I don’t love every moment of it but there’s also moments that are very tough. It’s almost like I get to step inside a time machine and go back to a time where you remember it was 100% love and to get to bring that back and being able to work with people who are the age that I was when I was doing that makes me feel like I can bypass anything that felt difficult and just have a lot of fun.”

Presence, presents a new challenge for Reena and she revels in the opportunity to compose for such a diverse group, 

“This is the most unusual ensemble I’ve composed for because it’s a huge guitar choir and then there are five singers and a bassoon player along with a professional guitarist. So knowing how to write for it, how to balance, how people of ages and abilities from consummate professional musicians all the way to people who have just started playing, how can they relate to each other in a way that is beneficial to everyone. And that to me is really fun because I think a lot of times people think of my music as being between these two cultures but I think more broadly it’s between groups of people you would never find on the stage together. I’m really excited about it.

It was magical rehearsing for the first time all together because for the first half I was sitting in the back of the ensemble just kind of noodling away at my own piece and it’s fascinating when you can see the piece in that different perspective. Usually as a composer you think of all the parts at the same time but to play in an actual rehearsal where you’re only playing one part of the piece is like if someone was to make an oil painting and then they told you to just focus on the parts that are blue. That would be such a different way of looking at the painting, and so I got to figure that out and actually feel what the piece feels like and get to be surrounded by everyone and get to feel what that feels like which is abnormal. 

During the second half I was up front and I got to hear things kind of in a more objective way. I also felt like the vibe of the rehearsal changed when I was in the front versus when I was in the back. In a way, when I was in the back I thought, I got to see what it was like if I wasn’t there and you never really get that and I noticed how it changed once people felt that I was there.”

Presence has been a year long collaborative project without a preconceived plan, the project unfolds step by step. 

Reena dives into this, “The whole process was very organic, we did not plan more than one step ahead. Even now, I can’t say what this piece is going to be, I’m just getting ideas. 

We started thinking ‘Someone has to start with something.’ So basically, I sent the members of the ensemble these little seeds that were worksheet ideas-types of things and told them to make something out of the materials given to them. And people did all sorts of things like making them into little one minute pieces to just kind of noodling around and changing a few things. I think what I was looking for was a sense of what was the part of those little seeds that felt inspiring? What were the little things that people were grabbing onto and taking with them? 

By listening to these ideas I’d take whatever I thought was a cool thing to include; and this was true for the musical seeds as well as the written word seeds from poems they shared and there were certain lines that just stood out to me. I just thought I’d take whatever strikes me in the moment. It’s very much go-with-the-flow, which is rare for me in terms of the process of writing a piece but this feels like we’re going on a journey together and just seeing what comes of it.”

In this collaborative journey, Reena embraces uncertainty and allows the process to be organic. She shares more about what this means, 

“During this whole process I’ve really focused on just allowing myself to just experience things. I think that as a composer, a lot of times people think you know the answers and what you to tell them what the right thing is to do and I think normally I try to take that role seriously because people are asking for it, but in this case I’ve tried to ask more questions than I have answers and in a way that can be uncomfortable but also in a way it can be really amazing to not have to know and allow things to be organic. 

I was really looking forward to the first rehearsal to be able to interact with everyone for the first time and to also see how the guitar functions in this environment. I’ve always said guitar is both the easiest and the hardest instrument to play because anyone can just pick it up, play three chords and feel like they have enough musical materials to be able to accompany themselves singing songs so it’s a universal instrument in that way but then it’s also instrument where so few people can be classical guitarists because technically it’s so difficult and demanding and how can that be one instrument? It blows my mind. So it’s interesting to see everyone here have a different relationship with guitar.”

In essence, Reena Esmail’s musical expedition intertwined with the strings of diverse cultures, creating a harmonious blend that transcends boundaries. Through her compositions, she not only connects musical styles but also brings together individuals who, under normal circumstances, might never share a stage. 

Presence has been a journey of rediscovery, collaboration, and the perpetual exploration of the beautiful gifts that music can bring upon us. 

ACG Top Ten of 2023

What an amazing year we’ve had at ACG! We’re beyond grateful for the many new opportunities to serve, and for the time we’ve spent with friends old and new sharing beautiful things. After much lively debate, we are thrilled to present our ACG Top 10 of 2023!

As we approach the New Year, we hope you’ll consider making a year-end gift! Your contribution will turn into services and resources for schools, Juvenile Justice centers, hospitals, shelters, and community programming at The Rosette. 

Thank you for being part of our journey!

#10 Our Team Grows

Everything good at ACG happens because of people. We love our team, and this year we welcomed in some wonderful new members: Todd Waldron (Production Director), John Henry Johnson (Artistic Associate), Jeremy Roye (Rosette Venue Manager), Talin Nalbandian (Operations Associate), Judit Kolics (Development Associate), and Phil Swasey (Director of Curriculum & Partnerships).

Pictured From Top Left: [Row 1] Norma Hawes (Office Manager), Judit Kolics (Development Associate), Pietro Caporusso (Lead Volunteer), Hector Aguilar (Director Juvenile Justice Services), Phil Swasey (Director of Curriculum & Partnerships), Tony Mariano (Director of Community Education), Joe Williams (Artistic Director), Todd Waldron (Production Director), [Row 2] Matt Hinsley (Executive Director), John Henry Johnson (Artistic Associate), Liam Dolan-Henderson (Production Intern), James Fidlon (Managing Director), Joshua Friedman (Grants Manager), [Row 3] Arnold Yzaguirre (Healing and Teaching Artist), Debra Lewis (House Manager), Justice Phillips (Patron Services & Box Office Manager), Jeremy Roye (Rosette Venue Manager), [Row 4] Angelica Campbell (Communications Director), Jen Bamberg (Events Director) 
Not Pictured: Travis Marcum (Director of Education and Music & Healing), Claire Puckett (Music & Healing Coordinator), Salvador Garcia (Operations Director), Talin Nalbandian (Operations Associate), Vijay Meunier (Teaching Artist), Francisco de la Rosa (Teaching Artist, Ensemble Director), Alex Lew (Assistant Director ACGYO), Brendon Grabowski (Teaching Artist), Camille Schiess (Healing Artist), Maddie Coronado (Education intern), Rey Rodriguez (Teaching Artist), Stephen Krishnan (Ensemble Director), Cesar Gomez (Teaching Artist), Joseph Palmer (Performance Engagement Artist), Shayna Sands (Healing Artist), Jeremy Waldrip (Teaching Artist), Will Flowers (Juvenile Justice San Antonio), Gabriel Ibarra (Juvenile Justice Dallas), Jeri Lyn Sump (Accountant), Claudia Roeschmann (Graphic and Brand Design)

#9 Rosette Goes Global 

Thanks to the support of our incredible Production team, The Rosette has transcended its physical boundaries to captivate audiences globally through electrifying live-streams! 

The virtual stage has hosted many incredible performances. Including performances from two extraordinary guitar sensations, Andrea Caballero and Stephanie Jones, collectively gathering over 150,000 views from around the world!

To the music enthusiasts, supporters, and curious minds who tuned in from various time zones, we extend our sincerest gratitude. We look forward to sharing more magic with you soon.

#8 Juvenile Justice Beautiful Moments

Music reaches places where words fall short and changes lives through the simple act of sharing kindness over time. For over ten years, we’ve been on a mission to harness this gentle and profound power for youth in the Texas Juvenile Justice system.

Since 2012, ACG had been offering Texas’ first and only daily, for-credit performing arts courses within the Juvenile Justice system. The impact of this initiative has been monumental. Just this month, students performed beautifully in each of the five facilities where we serve, including our newest program in Austin: The Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program. Kim Andersen, a longtime partner, captured the transformative nature of these programs in a recent letter. 

“I can’t say enough about how much the addition of music influences the lives of our incarcerated youth. Every student in Guitar starts out reluctant, afraid of failure, and afraid of trying. The ACG teachers coax them out of their protective shell, note by note, until they’re 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. Many of them choose to continue their guitar studies after they leave Gardner Betts, and ACG makes sure whatever school they’re enrolling in next is prepared to receive them with open arms, often providing an instrument to our resident students as their discharge from the facility. They’re hooked on music! And they’ve accomplished something they didn’t imagine they could.”

Kim Andersen, Austin ISD School Counselor, Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center

Read the full letter here.

Learn More about ACG Juvenile Justice Services

Watch the PBS Newshour national TV special

Listen to the KUT radio story

#7 ACG Education

Late spring saw the release of our first-ever GuitarCurriculum Method Book, a sequenced compilation scores, exercises, and more to help teachers change lives in their classrooms. Our method books were premiered at the National Teacher Summit in Austin and are now in use all over the country! 

2023 has also been marked by growth in many of our partner communities around the country. Our Education team traveled to Columbia, South Carolina and worked with 30 teachers in July, and we’ll return next summer too! Other trips include presentations at New York, Kentucky, and South Carolina Music Educators conventions, along with visits all over Texas. New apps and a new website are on the horizon as well, so stay tuned for big growth in our flagship service.

#6 Jiji with Heart of Texas Quartet

In April, ACG had the incredible honor to welcome to Austin the incredible JIJI, one of the rising stars in the guitar world. 

A unique talent, Jiji’s playing and compositions are on the cutting edge and we felt it was a clear fit to pair her with some of our amazing young guitarists to collaborate. 

Four fabulous young guitarists, Juan Rodriguez (Crockett High School), Ace Pearson (Crockett High School), Jianna Zamora (Bowie High School), and Besa Carney (Bowie High School) joined forces to create the Heart of Texas Quartet. Jiji wrote a piece to play with them called Where You Are (Is Exactly Where You’re Supposed to Be). The results were absolutely incredible!

Oh, and by the way, the crinkling you hear at the beginning of the video is the sound of all the audience members opening a Korean treat called Choco Pie that Jiji had us tape under every seat. She wanted that sound to be part of the piece!


#5 Jorge Caballero Plays Liszt

Renowned for his awe-inspiring virtuosity, from tackling mammoth piano works to capturing the essence of orchestral suites on solo guitar, Jorge Caballero’s musical ability seems to know no bounds. 

Jorge performed our 2022-23 Season Finale, enchanting the audience with a gorgeous program including his jaw-dropping rendition of the Sonata in B minor, S. 178 by Franz Liszt. 

Listen to that magical performance here. It’s 30 minutes of stunning magic, so dim the lights, turn up the volume, and prepare to be amazed. 

As part of our Thank You newsletter and blog series last month, Jorge shared a beautiful letter to our community that you can read here. Enjoy!

#4 Reena Arrives!

Rising superstar composer Reena Esmail has been changing our world. Her energy and brilliance is infectious, and even though the premiere of her major work for ACG is yet to come (Get Tickets for February 17!) our spirits have already been lifted by her presence. 

After months of preliminary work, Reena joined us for about a week in early November visiting with over 60 ACG musicians, and meeting with board members, community members, and even Maestro Peter Bay, who would perform one of her works later that month with Austin Symphony!

We can’t wait for February 17, when five-member vocal ensemble Vamp will perform with Kristen Wolf-Jensen (Bassoon), Dieter Hennings (guitar), and more than 60 guitarists to premiere the piece Reena is creating for us.

#3 We’ve Always Known

Since 2014, ACG Music & Healing has been a beacon of solace, using the power of music to bring comfort and connection to those facing life’s challenges and traumas. 

One of the remarkable endeavors of the Music & Healing program is the creation of original songs born from conversations with participants. ACG Artists spend weeks sitting with individuals, discussing hopes, reflections, and experiences, which are then transformed into heartfelt songs. 

This year, for the first time ever, we had a concert sharing songs from this program. We’ve Always Known brought together four incredible Music & Healing artists – Claire Puckett, Camille Schiess, Daniel Fears, and Travis Marcum. They interpreted and shared incredible narratives they have helped shape through the program, giving us an unforgettable, moving concert experience.. 

One emotionally resonant piece from that concert was “In the Garden Green,” a song born from the Lullaby Project in Spring of 2019. Crafted by Meg for her son Garner, the song delves into the anticipation and love surrounding the birth of a child. Using the metaphor of a garden, Meg beautifully illustrates the journey of growth, peace, and resilience through life’s joys and challenges. 

Watch the full concert here and find the song descriptions of the program here

Take a deeper dive into what our Music & Healing artists do here.


#2 Home: The Elements 

The 2022-23 centerpiece concert, Home, was a monumental celebration for ACG. 

It was a celebration of nature, spirit and togetherness and featured the premiere of THE ELEMENTS, a new work created especially for our community by composer and guitarist Marek Pasieczny, ACG’s 2022-23 Artist-in-Residence.

The culmination of a year of dreaming, co-creating, refining, and preparing, Marek was joined on stage by the talented percussionist Thomas Burritt and Grammy-nominated cellist Bion Tsang as well as a massive orchestra of eighty guitarists of all ages led by ACG’s Artistic Director Joe Williams with video projections by photographer Barry Stone.

In a partnership with the AISD Performing Arts Center, the performance showcased guitar students from Bedichek Middle School, Akins High School, the ACG Youth Orchestra and Chamber Ensemble, as well as young artists from UT Austin, UT San Antonio, and UT Rio Grande Valley. The collaboration, a testament to the vibrant musical tapestry woven in Austin, wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication, time, and passion invested by everyone involved. Special thanks to our amazing video and audio production crews who worked tirelessly to make this video what it is.

The Elements was not merely a composition but a collaborative symphony of our community. 

Learn more about Marek’s residency and the project here:

A Journey Through Home

The Heart of Our Season with Joe Williams

Godai and the Guitar

Marek’s Five Elements: earth, fire, water, air, and ether. 

Marek’s Arrival

A Conversation with Artist Barry Stone


#1 Spy Kids

Famed film director Robert Rodriguez gave ACG a remarkable gift this year. 

First, he donated his iconic SPY KIDS movie themes to GuitarCurriculum, the ACG teacher resource serving tens of thousands of students worldwide every day. 

Then, Robert gave of his time, talent, and film crew to create a spectacular music video on the gorgeous Long Center stage featuring nineteen exceptional young players from our programs. 

Thank you Robert Rodriguez! For an in-depth look at how this extraordinary project unfolded, check out the Austin American-Statesman feature that delves into the behind-the-scenes story. And learn more about the dedicated individuals who made it all possible here.


Thank You

All of the beautiful things that happen at ACG are possible because of people who believe in what we do and choose to support our work. If you would like to join us, and it’s the right time to give, we invite you to make a year-end gift. We are so grateful to every one of you! 

In the space below, we would like to recognize some individuals and institutions for their exceptional generosity during the past year. We also invite you to view our 2023-24 sponsors here


3M Foundation, Adobe, Ameriprise Financial Community Relations, Amon Burton, Applied Materials Foundation, Arnold Foundation, in honor of Lazan Pargaman, atsec information security, Augustine Foundation, Austin Junior Forum, Bill & Lynne Cariker, Burdine Johnson Foundation, Cain Foundation, Carson & Michele McKowen, Debra Lewis, Dino Costa, Edwina Carrington, Gail Vanderlee Strain, Greg & Cindy Abell, Greg Wooldridge & Lynne Dobson, H-E-B, IBC Bank Austin, Jacqueline Rixen, Jeff & Gail Kodosky, Karrie & Tim League, Kodosky Foundation, Long Foundation, Robert Rodriguez, Louis & Mary Kay Smith Family Foundation, Lucy & Bill Farland, Martha P. Rochelle, Mary Raley, Megyn Busse, MFS Fund at the North Georgia Community Foundation, Mike Chesser, Mockingbird Foundation, Patricia Morrison, Rea Charitable Trust, Rich & Caryn Puccio, Rick & Valeri Reeder, Sarah & Ernest Butler, Seawell Elam Foundation, Shanti Foundation for Intercultural Understanding, Shield-Ayres Foundation, Stacia & Walt DeBill, Still Water Foundation, Texas Bar Foundation, Texas Commission on the Arts, Texas Women for the Arts, The Ben & Nancy Sander Family, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Gruppo Butera/Giacomo Butera, Live Oak Brewing Company, University Area Rotary Club, Warren Skaaren Charitable Trust, Webber Family Foundation, Fairweather Cider, Zack & Whitney Zamora.

Beautiful Gifts: Tyrique & the Guitar

At ACG we often think of special moments as gifts. This holiday season, we’d like to share some of these gifts with you in a series we’re calling Beautiful Gifts.

Learn more about how to support ACG and make a year-end gift here.


Just this week, we had the privilege of witnessing a heartwarming and transformative experience as ACG Teaching Artist, Brendon Grabowski and Director of Guitar at Travis High School, Susan Ronzac presented a gifted guitar to a talented young student at Travis named Tyrique. This guitar, generously provided to us by Hungry for Music, is a symbol of encouragement, inspiration, and a bright musical future for Tyrique. 

Tyrique’s private teacher, Brendon, shared his thoughts on Tyrique’s musical journey and the impact of this gift. 

“Tyrique is an extremely focused, inquisitive and hard working person who deserves a beautiful guitar that can match his high level of playing. It has been so much fun to watch Tyrique change as a player every single week as he practices diligently and works on all of the things we changed in his previous lesson. His care for music and the guitar are inspirational, and it is my honor to call him my student (and of course Susan’s!). Bravo to Tyrique and his bright musical future – I look forward to our continued growth over the years!” – Brendon Grabowski, ACG Teaching Artist

Moments like these can be life changing and leave a lasting impression. Susan shared what this moment was like in her classroom with Tyrique, 

“One of the best parts of this morning was how much his classmates supported and cheered for him. Every one of them was really happy for him and they thought he was the most deserving among them all. That instrument will be carried with him 24/7. The smile on his face will be there for weeks! Thank you all so much for this amazing gift, that couldn’t go to a more deserving student, and also for ACG’s unwavering support for both my program and of me. I have the teaching career I dreamed about in my youth because of that support. Being able to see the sheer joy and amazement on Tyrique’s face has filled my cup! Moments like this are why I do what I do!”  – Susan Ronzac, Director of Guitar at Travis HS

Director of Community Education, Tony Mariano, reflected on the profound impact a gifted instrument can have on a young person’s life. He shared, 

“When I think of the true effect a gifted instrument can have on a young person’s life, the word that immediately comes to mind is validation. A gift of a beautiful instrument tells a young artist, “you are doing the right thing, keep creating beautiful things, stay inspired, the community believes in you.” The emotions that are on full display when a young person opens the case for their new guitar for the first time and pulls out a spectacular new instrument are profound. Joy, pride, inspiration, encouragement – these are the feelings that power ACG. I am incredibly grateful for having the opportunity to be a part of these wonderful moments, and I am incredibly grateful for the community that steps up to make these gifts and these moments possible.” – Tony Mariano, Director of Community Education

Stories such as these exemplify the transformative power of music and the importance of community support. ACG is grateful to be a part of Tyrique’s journey and to contribute to the joy and inspiration that music brings. 

As we continue our Beautiful Gifts series, we look forward to sharing more heartwarming moments that showcase the positive impact of music in our community. 

Learn more about how to support ACG and make a year-end gift here.

Beautiful Gifts: From Music & Healing, Ana's Tango by Ana with Camille Schiess

ACG Music & Healing brings human connection, beauty, and expressivity to individuals facing isolation and challenge, through collaboration with a skilled and trained ACG Artist. These services are available to a wide variety of clients through partnerships with more than a dozen social service providers including hospitals, shelters, residential rehabilitation facilities, parental education and family health organizations, and veterans service providers. Learn more about ACG Music & Healing.


Written and recorded as a part of Austin Classical Guitar's Music & Healing Program in partnership with Texas Oncology, this song was created by Ana with Camille Schiess.

"This has been one of the most inspiring sessions I've done. I had a really great time connecting with [Ana] and trying to create something she can dance to and relate to on such a personal level. " - Camille Schiess