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: 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

Beautiful Gifts: Community Music Making with Tony Mariano

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.


Beautiful Gift #1

As we look forward to a beautiful concert this weekend, we start to dream of the next semester in our community ensembles and reflect on the magical experiences we’ve had in these programs. 

“The ACG ensemble is literally one of the reasons we moved to Austin.” Chamber Ensemble member Alexina Derkaz told us just yesterday. She and the rest of the group have been working hard toward Sunday’s performance.

“Guitar was a huge part of my childhood up through college, but fell to the wayside until I found ACG. Now I get to play new and exciting music alongside exceptional musicians.  THE ELEMENTS performance last spring was a heart-pounding, grandiose, and joyful experience: the huge audience, how hard we worked, the theatricality of the piece…our preparation for our new piece, PRESENCE, is already filled with anticipation and excitement. Being in the rehearsals just feels soalive.I know that I’ve landed somewhere special.”

We had the opportunity to speak with Director of Community Education, Tony Mariano, about what makes these ensembles so special. 

Tony expresses, “Folks who join our ensembles can look forward to building a close community of amazing people here in Austin, Texas. We meet weekly to learn and rehearse incredible music, preparing for performances throughout our community. Together, we extend our art form to share the pure joy of music making with everyone around us.” 

Ensembles hold space for deep connections between our members and with music itself. It gives a safe space to collaborate, communicate, and trust one another in a significant way as we work towards a common goal of creating something beautiful and powerful to share with others. 

Tony shares, “The connections people make in these ensembles are deep and energizing to see. There is challenge, determination, so much success and celebration, and the relationships that are made under those conditions are wonderful to be a part of.

I enjoy seeing people reach past where they thought they could ever make music. I love seeing people who love music push themselves to be true artists. And more than anything, I love the smiles on everyone’s faces, young and old, when they’ve just finished a performance, once they realize “wow… I did it!”. Those moments will stick with me forever. 

Ensembles are the places where I found the most joy in my music making. I began studying guitar in an ensemble, and every place music has brought me ever since I’ve searched for opportunities to make music with others. To connect with others on a deeply expressive and musical level is energizing in a way that I don’t experience many other places. And I’m so deeply grateful for those opportunities.”

We’re excited to share an opportunity opening up for anyone interested in joining one of these ensembles.

In late January, we will be starting up a South Austin ensemble! If you are interested in interviewing for a spot or would like to learn more about it, just email us at 

Let’s create beautiful music together!

Learn more about our Classes & Ensembles here.

Thank You: From Jorge Caballero

It’s November, the month of gratitude, and we thought we’d celebrate our deep gratitude to you with some reflections shared by members of our precious community. 

We dream of a world where music is here for everyone, connecting us, inspiring us, and bringing joy and meaning wherever it goes. Click here to learn more about supporting ACG.


We'd like to close out our month-long Thanksgiving-inspired gratitude series with a beautiful letter we just received from our dear friend, and spectacular virtuoso, Jorge Caballero. 

Here’s Jorge’s letter:

Dear Austin Classical Guitar,

Music is divine. In whatever form it may appear, it speaks to us in ways words cannot. It touches us. It finds in the nooks and crannies of our private existence the forgotten memories of the lives we once lived. 

That is the elemental lesson I learned growing up with musician parents. There was also another one: the gift for music is a gift that must be shared. 

My mother would tell stories of the songs she sang; how they came to be. With my older brother and me sitting at the dinner table, she would speak of them, and in addition, she would sing them. She would sing at all times. While doing chores, in a car on our way somewhere, at any place, she would sing. In family reunions during holidays, she would sing without reservation. Never mind she was a celebrity. If the get-together was with people she loved, she would sing, and my father would accompany her on the guitar. 

The last time I saw her do this was nine years ago. My parents made the long trip from Peru to Canada to meet my future in-laws. We shared a delicious meal, and after, as I had seen my mother do many times before, she spoke, giving thanks for the lovely welcome, and then, in the most natural way, as a metaphysical expression of her thanksgiving, she sang. At some point, I looked over at my future mother-in-law, with tears welling in her eyes. My future father-in-law was also touched. Even without knowing the Spanish words of my mother’s songs, they were moved. My mom had shared her gift, and it had touched them deeply. 

I think about this facet of my mother often. My mom had a unique gift for music. And she shared it freely with those she loved. I can only hope to do the same: my own metaphysical thanksgiving. 

As the holiday season is upon us, and with it, the time to remember that for which we are thankful, I’d like to express my gratitude to everyone who has given me the opportunity to share the gift of music with them. 

To the wonderful people of Austin Classical Guitar, no grand expression of thanks would be high enough to convey the magnificent work you have done for so many years to share the beauty of music with humanity; and I am forever grateful to have been a part of this experience in my own history as an artist. My life is better because of it. 

With my best wishes for happy holidays,

Jorge Caballero

Watch: Jorge Caballero Live at The Rosette  (Liszt Piano Sonata)

Thank You: From a Graduate

It’s November, the month of gratitude, and we thought we’d celebrate our deep gratitude to you with some reflections shared by members of our precious community. 

We dream of a world where music is here for everyone, connecting us, inspiring us, and bringing joy and meaning wherever it goes. Click here to learn more about supporting ACG for Giving Tuesday.


It’s Thanksgiving week and we wanted to share a reflection from Alex Lew, as part of our series thanking you for the difference you make at ACG. We met Alex in middle school, he went on to do amazing things with music, and now he’s back as a member of the ACG team. It’s all possible thanks to friends like you. Here’s Alex’s letter:

Dear Austin Classical Guitar,

I can’t express enough gratitude for the influence that you all have had on my life. It’s been 14 years and counting and I couldn’t imagine my trajectory without the presence of this organization. 

I first met ACG through the guitar program at Lamar Middle School and I fell in love with the instrument. Not only did you all have a hand in introducing me to the classical guitar, you offered me guidance and opportunities that made me realize how special this instrument is. ACG performance opportunities led to my interest in becoming a professional guitarist, and had me devote my years in college to studying the instrument. I learned so much about musicality and developed a love of teaching and spreading the joy of musicking, just as you did for me.

I believe it's the people that operate ACG that make the organization truly special. Everyone involved is passionate about the mission of changing lives through music and their enthusiasm for the guitar is infectious. I strive to reflect that passion as a musician and teacher. 

I’m grateful to be able to contribute to ACG since returning to Austin following my studies in classical guitar performance at Yale. Working with students in ACGYO has been especially fulfilling considering I was a part of the ensemble during the first year it developed ten years ago! The skills I developed playing alongside other talented musicians was invaluable to my classical guitar journey and I remember being inspired after every rehearsal. Now, as the Assistant Director, I strive to offer the same valuable guidance I received to the next generation.

Thank you ACG, for being present from my childhood to adulthood, 

Alex Lew

Thank You: From Tony Mariano & Milca

It’s November, the month of gratitude, and we thought we’d celebrate our deep gratitude to you with some reflections shared by members of our precious community. 

We dream of a world where music is here for everyone, connecting us, inspiring us, and bringing joy and meaning wherever it goes. Click here to learn more about supporting ACG for Giving Tuesday.


We wanted to continue our month of gratitude to you with a reflection shared by our Director of Community Education, Tony Mariano, who visited recently with this year's Javier Niño Scholarship recipient, Milca.

Tony and Milca's words are a beautiful reminder of the power music has as a medium for meaningful connection.

Here is Tony's letter:

Thank you to our ACG community, 

Your support runs so deep.

You are changing the course of young people's lives in powerful ways, and I feel grateful to be out in the field witnessing it first-hand every day. Music can bring so much to someone’s life, and because of you we have the amazing chance to bring its gifts to thousands of incredible young people across our community. 

Today I’d like to tell you a little bit about one student in particular. She's a junior at Northeast High School, she’s this year’s Javier Niño Scholarship winner, and her name is Milca.

Milca began playing guitar in school two years ago. She never expected to get as deeply involved with guitar as she has, but she felt a strong connection to it right away. And with a musician for a father, it just felt right. 

Thanks to friends like you, Milca was able to take private lessons with one of our ACG Teaching Artists; training that led to her winning this scholarship along with many other wonderful opportunities.

I first saw Milca perform at one of our Student Spotlight events at The Rosette last year. She was nervous, but was also inspired by the beautiful space. She described the feeling of overcoming that fear to share her art with others as “magical”.

And sharing that magic, through her words, is the reason I’m writing this letter to you today. We were talking last week, and Milca told me:

“Music is one of the most beautiful types of art, it can change your life. When you play music, you have a new home that you can go to whenever you want. I’m grateful for this opportunity that I could never have had if I was still in my country. It’s a chance to grow as a musician, something I would have never had before.

“Music has become a very big part of my life. When I feel hopeless or overwhelmed, I can go to it and forget about everything else. It’s comforting to know that I can always go back to it whenever I want.”

I am grateful for young people like Milca who will grow to be agents of positive change in this world. Through her art and kindness, she will make this world a better place. 

As I left my conversation with Milca, I turned to her and asked if she had any last thoughts, and she told me “I’m thankful for my dad, for helping bring music to my life.” 

I can’t think of anything more touching than that.

I am grateful for you, our community, for riding alongside ACG in this pursuit to affect significant change in the lives of people like Milca. 

I can’t wait for you all to meet her and hear her beautiful music!

Thank you,

Tony Mariano

Director of Community Education

Thank You: From a Young Guitarist

It’s November, the month of gratitude, and we thought we’d celebrate our deep gratitude to you with some reflections shared by members of our precious community. 

We dream of a world where music is here for everyone, connecting us, inspiring us, and bringing joy and meaning wherever it goes. Click here to learn more about supporting ACG for Giving Tuesday.


Our first letter is from Teddy McCoy, member of the ACG Youth Orchestra. A marvelous young artist, Teddy has contributed his talent to many exciting projects like last season’s centerpiece Home: The Elements, and Spy Kids with Robert Rodriguez.

Teddy’s words are a beautiful reminder of the power of music and friendship, and we thank you for helping make it all possible. Here’s Teddy’s letter:

Dear ACG Community,

I can remember my first rehearsal in the youth orchestra. Clear as day. I would summarize the experience with the following: First, I played terribly. I don’t believe I got a note in time. Second, Joe looked rather worried and asked in the middle of rehearsal if I was doing all right. I confess, that night, in my privacy, I cried. I feared being hated. I thought I was doomed to a cycle of disappointing others and plain failure. 

But the weeks proved my judgment wrong. What I found was, the people playing around me, with me, wanted us all to play as beautifully as we possibly could. I have learned that we, the youth orchestra, and all of ACG, are a wonderfully united group. United in the creation of beautiful things. 

I am deeply thankful for this and wish all who are intertwined with ACG to know, though I believe they are already aware, there is no action nobler than to aid music in seeping through to the world.

My foremost gratitude,


From Matt Hinsley: How We Make Change

We dream of a world where music is here for everyone, connecting us, inspiring us, and bringing joy and meaning wherever it goes. We are having our Fall 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.

How do we make change?

It’s all about people. As I reach the start of my twenty-eighth year with ACG this simple truth is clearer to me than ever before. 

We’ll invest just over $1.6 million in our community programming this season, and today as we enter the final weeks of our Fall Fund Drive, I wanted to share a few thoughts about what we’re investing in, and why.

At ACG we make positive change in the world through a combination of two things: beauty + kindness. 

Beauty is like our organizing principle. It’s the reason we get together, for a concert or class or rehearsal. In the aim of making beautiful things – and this extends to art, food, and the Rosette itself – we find our medium for togetherness, our reason to gather and wonder and celebrate. Kindness, however, is the magical force that lifts and inspires us. Kindness is why we return year after year, its why we give, its why thousands of kids courageously apply themselves and take chances, day after day in our classes.

We’ll spend close to $500,000 on our artistic productions this season, but really that’s an investment in people. We’ll hire composers, arrangers, performers, sound and lighting technicians, and the managers and caterers needed to make it all work.

I began doing this when I was 20 years old, and ringing in my ears at the time was the caring conventional wisdom that you can’t make money as an artist. I set out to change that. When you read about artists struggling with housing and healthcare as they play for tips, I’m proud to say that’s not what happens at ACG. We’ve grown from having no articulated budget, to become the largest classical guitar talent buyer in the history of our nation. And that means consistent, meaningful employment for a lot of people.

And we’ll spend nearly a million dollars on our education and healing programs, which is an investment in the amazing teachers, directors, healers and performers who build our school programs, run our community ensembles, and bring music to places where it’s urgently needed.

It’s in this space of nurturing, that the role of kindness is profound. There’s a secret sauce at the heart of ACG education. Yes, we teach music literacy and skills to play guitar, but there’s a reason our systems have spread all across the nation and beyond. There’s a reason close to 4,000 kids are playing guitar in our central Texas school programs each day. There’s a reason we have 13 years of peerless success engaging incarcerated youth. We devised a whole theory and training system, actually, that you can learn about here. But the main thing to know today is that it’s all about kindness. And kindness, is all about people.

Where does our funding come from? Well, that’s all about people and kindness, too. About two-thirds of ACG revenue is contributed, and that comes from a combination of foundation sources and from individuals like you who believe in us. The other third comes from “earned revenue” – things like ticket sales, Rosette rentals, workshop and ensemble registrations, and schools that pay for our curriculum systems and training.

I’m incredibly proud of our team and I’m incredibly grateful to our many friends like you who make it all possible. Each week I hear about students in our scholarship programs who are overcoming challenges with just a little bit of support, I hear about struggling teachers in our nationwide network who are improving thanks to the patient coaching of our experts, I hear from artists near and far who are hoping to get involved in our thoughtfully designed artworks, and I hear from community leaders who want advice about building similar organizations wherever they live. All these things happen because of a combination of beauty + kindness, delivered by people who care, and who are paid professionally to do the intricate work they’re uniquely qualified to do. 

Thank you for helping make it all possible. Thank you for believing in us, and in the power of music to do good in the world. If you have any questions at all about how we do what we do, the big plans we have for the future, or how you might be able to get more involved, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at

In gratitude,

Matt Hinsley, Executive Director

Music & Healing: Yellow Paper Birds by Eden Pearl with Shayna Sands

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.


Yellow Paper Birds is a beautiful song about keeping hope with you so you can fight towards a better future. Crafted with heartfelt words and melody by Eden Pearl (vocals), with Shayna Sands on guitar.

It was written and recorded in partnership with Foundation Communities.

"We started out as a guitar workshop but one day during a smaller group, we tried our hand at writing. Eden had a very brilliantly creative mind and took to it right away. She said she had written parts of songs and poems before.  Within a few sessions she had the main concept and lyrics along with a beautiful melody. We were in the process of learning to play and sing simultaneously in the class. I added some chords to fit her cool vibe and it worked :) It was a lovely process that also blossomed into a mentorship and friendship. She has taught me a few things about singing too!" - Shayna Sands

Special Thanks to ACG Production Director Todd Waldron for both video and audio capture and engineering.

Filmed at The Rosette, March 2023.