Thank You, from Jeremy Osborne

Jeremy Osborne has touched the lives of many young people who have had the great fortune of working with him, as well as his colleagues, friends, and family. Join us in learning what motivates Jeremy, as well as what this time at ACG has meant to him.

If his story inspires, and you would like to support our services here at ACG, click here


I cannot begin to express my gratitude for all of the wonderful notes and generous gifts of support that came this past month in honor of my 10-year anniversary with ACG. I have to look at the Appreciation Page in moderation because my emotions completely overwhelm me, but wow, what a gift to receive! 

I especially want to acknowledge my former students. I truly believe that any impact I've had on you is merely a fraction of the impact you've had on me. You were my teachers, too. 

It's been an amazing ten years, and I would like to share a little bit about what this time has meant to me.

My mother is an elementary music teacher, and my father is a Lutheran minister. They value service to others as a virtue above nearly everything else, and instilled that in me early on. As I got older, I became motivated by the idea of altruism, and grew to appreciate how those who share their time and talents actually receive more than they give.

ACG has allowed me to give myself in so many ways, most of the time with a guitar in my hand. It has pushed me to face seemingly insurmountable tasks, but always with the tools to be successful. ACG has informed my humanity, and more importantly, has taught me how to transform empathy into action.

When I joined ACG 10 years ago, I was preoccupied with learning how to be a more effective leader in the classroom. As any veteran teacher will tell you, it takes about three years of classroom experience just to realize how clueless you are. I eventually gained my confidence, but my "Aha!" moment had nothing to do with pedagogy. It was the realization that success in teaching is directly related to how you cultivate, maintain, and leverage the community of your classroom.

I'll never forget the first concert I led with my students at Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. We were nervously warming up beforehand, and suddenly one of my students asked, "Mr. O, do you know that Our Father prayer?"

I paused, because I wasn't sure it was appropriate, but I said I'd lead us through it and no one needed to feel obligated to join. Without a word, they all stood and gathered around me, forming a tight circle. I heard a couple of the staff members gasp. What's significant is that up until this concert, some of those kids were not even allowed to be in the same room together because of fear of violent conflict. I had to teach them in separate sections. But standing together in this circle, everyone's hard work and refinement had led us to this moment of trust, and an appreciation for the collective strength that comes through community.

Our mission at ACG is to inspire people through musical experiences of deep personal significance. This leads us to engage the communities we serve in creative ways by using artistry to meet people where they are.

Guitar education has progressed dramatically on my watch, especially in central Texas. In my 10 years, we've gone from supporting programs in two high schools and two middle schools to guitar classes in nearly every middle and high school in AISD. We've created a one-of-a-kind program at Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center, and will start a new one in Williamson County next month. Our online curriculum went from a unique website to a resource utilized all over the world! Despite all this, it feels like we are just getting started.

Thank you for letting me be a part of this journey, thank you for letting me lead you through parts of it, and thank you for supporting us as we see what lies around the bend!

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!

My First Semester at Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center

 2013-08-02-6505Photo by Arlen Nydam

In December Travis Marcum, our Director of Education, asked me to take the reigns on the guitar program at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. This program was founded by us in 2010 and, until this point, was offered after school in classes that met 2 to 3 times per week. It is unique in the context of juvenile justice because it serves as a means for students in lock down to earn a fine arts credit. If you have followed ACG you know that this program has been as successful as it is ground breaking.

This year the Austin Independent School District administration at Gardner Betts wanted to offer guitar to the longer term residents, so it was decided to make it part of the curricular day, essentially making it an official class. Being asked to consider doing this filled me with some trepidation regarding the potential difficulties of a program like this, as well as the fact that I would have some huge shoes to fill. A true challenge indeed! The opportunity for personal and professional growth greatly outweighed any fear I had about this change, so I charged full steam into this new chapter.

Gardner Betts is a high-security detention facility, so it goes without saying that there have been some intense moments. However, the greatest challenges I faced did not deal with behavior and classroom management, as one might expect. Instead they dealt primarily student motivation. I had to completely re-tool my pacing and sequencing, as well as integrate new elements into my daily instruction.

Another challenge is the facility itself. Every door has a code or a lock and the hallways are designed to make you feel slightly disoriented. There is very specific protocol for the staff, teachers, and students when on the campus, which takes some time getting used to.  The school schedule can change at a moment's notice, making consistency feel like quite a luxury. Lastly, because it is a partnership between Travis County Corrections and the Austin school district, there are significant bureaucratic procedures to navigate.

The class is now in two sections meeting five times per week for an hour. One section consists of medium to short term residents, which is the population we have worked with in earlier classes. The other section consists of long-term residents, who are currently serving 1 to 2 year terms. It goes without saying that working with these students requires great patience, but they have given me new insight that has lifted me to another level in my teaching.

These students are smart, they are creative, and are incredibly insightful once they let you in. In fact, they have gotten further in a semester than any class I have ever taught. Most importantly they have acquired enough skill to have a lasting relationship with music.

This past May, we performed for a packed house at a swearing-in ceremony for volunteers with the Travis County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) program, a volunteer service for system-involved youth in need of advocates. My students didn’t miss a note or a crescendo, and they presented themselves with pride and professionalism. They received two standing ovations and were grinning ear to ear!

After the concert we sat in the cafeteria where I had brought them pizza and Hostess cupcakes. Before we ate, the students came up to me one by one, hugged me then thanked me. Both the staff and myself were speechless. This performance gave them an experience that not only contextualized five months of hard work, it gave them 45 minutes where they clearly forgot about the situation they were currently in, where they easily rose above it through hard work and dedication, where they held instruments and presented expressive, polished, beautiful music before an enthusiastic audience for the very first time.