Guitar in Schools: Oak Meadows Elementary

Every Wednesday afternoon in a classroom at Oak Meadows Elementary School in Manor, Texas, you'll find a group of 4th and 5th grade students learning to play classical guitar with their instructor, Victor Longoria. This after-school program was launched in the fall of 2018 as part of ACG Education's new expansion into Manor ISD, which includes programs at Oak Meadows, Decker Elementary, and Decker Middle School. ACG's work in Manor is made possible by a generous grant from the Applied Materials Foundation.

Engaging with music early in life has many documented benefits, and for the students at Oak Meadows that includes having lots of fun! When asked what their favorite things were about guitar class they happily listed practicing, giving each other nicknames, and playing exciting repertoire - from Christmas songs to pop and rock music. The students enjoy activities like these while simultaneously gaining valuable life skills. In music class, they learn how to persist through challenges, commit to tasks, and work together to create something beautiful to share with the world.     

Their instructor, Victor, was a self-taught musician until college. He says that once he had a teacher, “[learning guitar] was totally different.” He knows how influential and inspiring a good music teacher can be. Victor supports and encourages his students through the struggles that inevitably arise when they learn a new concept or piece of music. And when they ultimately master something that was once difficult, their success can help them build the confidence and skills to problem-solve and overcome their insecurities in other aspects of their lives. Victor believes that it’s not all about perfection, reassuring his students that he knows what they’re going through. After each performance, he asks his class how they felt. He thinks it's important to recognize the emotions that they’re experiencing.

The program fosters an environment in which the students feel safe to express their emotions artistically as well. Joshua, a 5th-grader in Victor’s class, solemnly observed that “[music] can be so weird and abstract, but so good!” Joshua and his classmates are discovering what music means to them, and the beautiful thing is that they all see it in a unique way.

The class agreed that one of the best moments they’ve had in the program so far was joining with 30 middle school guitar students this spring to accompany a singer on a folk song called “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” Having the opportunity to play with older students gives the younger ones a chance to envision themselves continuing with music. They remembered feeling both ecstatic and nervous, and Victor is proud of how well they played. The students also reminisced about how much they enjoyed playing “Jingle Bells” during a winter concert.

These students are not only honing talent, but also growing friendships. There are a range of personalities in the group, from a quiet student with a shy smile who needed encouragement to speak, to an incredibly excited and talkative 5th grader who shared a seemingly random assortment of ideas and stories. Students whose paths might normally diverge are creating bonds that will exist beyond guitar class. Their smiles and camaraderie say it all: music has the power to bring us together, no matter our differences.

Thanks to the support from the Applied Materials Foundation and other donors, ACG is able to provide high quality music education, as well as guitars, at no cost to the students or the district. We're thrilled to see guitar making a positive difference in Manor ISD and excited to watch these programs - and the children who participate - continue to bloom!

Volunteer Spotlight: Todd Waldron

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“Music is a story itself: the instruments are the characters and the notes are the dialogue.” - Todd Waldron, ACG Volunteer

Todd with Badi Assad

Todd Waldron, a native of Indiana, came to Austin in 1993 excited for a new adventure with his band, The Cleavers. The band was formed at West Texas A&M, where Todd studied classical guitar and voice. Upon arriving in Austin, Todd found a job teaching music lessons at a performing arts school, but soon realized teaching was not right for him. The band eventually fizzled out too, but Todd’s natural aptitude for working with computers spurred him on a journey into the IT world, and his discovery of a passion for the art and science of capturing beauty through audio and video production. Today Todd works for St. David’s Foundation as their Director of IT, and he uses his technical skills to assist Austin Classical Guitar with various film and recording projects.

After hearing Steve Kostelnik perform on John Aielli’s KUTX radio show in 1996, Todd was inspired to pick up the classical guitar again, and began studying with Dr. Klondike Steadman. Dr. Steadman was president of what was then known as the “Austin Classical Guitar Society,” and Todd would get together to play music with the small group of enthusiasts who were members. He even remembers his first time volunteering for the organization in 2000, recording a concert to raise funds to bring Cuban guitarist Manuel Barrueco to Austin.

Over the years that followed, Todd remained involved with ACG, volunteering and playing in ensembles, and watching the organization grow to be the largest non-profit of its kind in the United States.

In what way has music touched your life?

“Music is my happy place, it’s my sanctuary. My senior year of high school, Odessa College offered classical guitar for college credit. That led to an audition at West Texas A&M, which led to the band, which led to Austin, which led to film. These were all building blocks that instilled in me a deep passion for music and sound.”

What have you enjoyed most about volunteering with ACG?

“I think the friendships and relationships that I’ve made, and networking and connecting with new people. I learned a ton on the technical side backstage, dealing with sound and recording. I think the mission of ACG is amazing. When I see what these high school - and junior high and elementary - kids are doing, it blows me away. They are getting a boost to start programming their brains musically at such an early age. I did not have that kind of mentorship or support at that age; I didn't have the community. It was only the last few years of high school that my parents understood how serious I was about [music]. Austin is a city rich in creativity, and ACG is an integral part.”

Are there any special memories, people, or events you want to highlight?

Todd, Andrew York, Joseph V. Williams II

“Top of the list was Berta Rojas in 2016. She had recently gone through chemotherapy, and [Austin] was her first performance back. She was very moved by that show. In our short interaction, she was really lovely and friendly, and I felt her passion. I think after that, [a special memory was] just being able to sit and talk with legends like Pepe Romero and Andrew York and pick their brains. Also, the feeling I get walking into the PAC when we’re all there for a show is so exciting. It keeps me fired up and active in my creative space.”

What are your impressions of ACG as an arts organization and the services given to the community?

“As an arts organization, ACG is very strong and does an amazing job engaging and inspiring the community. The thing that touches my heart the most is ACG’s work at Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. These kids are struggling so much in their lives, and art and creativity gives them something to be present for and to protect. [They deal with] a lot of darkness, and so for them to be sitting in a room, making music with each other … I see them connecting with something that's healthy and positive. It’s a way out: this will show them, Yes, you can do it.”