GRISHA: A Reflection from Hector Aguilar and Tony Mariano

This past weekend at ACG was spectacular! We had our 2022-2023 Season Opening Night with flamenco prodigy, Grisha Goryachev. The concert was absolutely stunning and exhilarating! We were swept away by Grisha’s impressive speed and beautiful musicianship. It was so wonderful to be back in the gorgeous AISD Performing Arts Center with close to 1,000 friends! 

Not only did we have a magical evening on Saturday, we had an entire week with Grisha filled with amazing moments! Not everyone knows that our guest artists also spend several days in our community teaching and visiting schools! 

“All the middle school students were amazed and came back the next day telling me they wanted to get better,” Hector Aguilar, reported about his students in the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. “They are so excited they could jam with Grisha and perform for him. It was already a good group of young men, but after the visit they’re even more patient and attentive.”

Grisha also played for a high school unit at Gardner Betts. Hector shared:

“The high school group is two students with a third one that is not in the class but is in their unit - which is where the classes are held. Usually, the third student goes into his dorm because he does not want to be in the room with the rest of the class, but when Grisha visited he came out and sat down to join the performance and even asked questions. It was great because he doesn’t communicate much normally when I am there. The newest member of this group also had a profound experience. Prior to Grisha's visit he did not want to participate in the Hispanic Heritage Month Event we have coming up. We’d agreed that as long as he performed for Grisha's visit he would not have to participate in it. After his performance, and Grisha's beautiful playing, the student was so inspired that he now wants to perform for the Hispanic Heritage Month presentation.”

Students from Manor Middle School, with their teacher Victor Longoria, posing with Grisha after his Saturday evening performance at the AISD Performing Arts Center

Tony Mariano, ACG’s Director of Community Education, took Grisha to several high schools, and shared this reflection as well.

“There was a particular moment that happened at Bowie that I thought was worth sharing. It was a little reminder for me about why we do the things we do at ACG.

Grisha had just finished an amazing 45 minute set for the students at Bowie High School, who had crowded into the front and center section of the school's theatre to hear him play. Some students there had started playing guitar only a month or so ago. For them, this was their first ever artist they had seen up close and personal. Others in there had been playing for a long time and had been waiting with anticipation to see and meet Grisha for weeks.

After Grisha's last rasgueado and golpe, after the students quieted from their excited applause, there was time for questions. At first, there were the usual questions you'd expect: how many hours do you practice, what age did you start? But then there was a question that seemingly came out of nowhere, one that made Grisha pause. A student asked Grisha, "why do you do this?" Grisha paused and asked, "what do you mean?" The student clarified their question with "what motivates you to do this, what inspires you?"

Grisha looked right at him and told him that music is what gives him purpose. It's what gives him meaning to his life. It's what makes him feel whole. Music is what gives his deepest feelings a voice. For Grisha, music is the language that allowed him to express himself in a way that speech never could. And that expression can connect with others, and bring them closer to him. 

On our way back to the car I looked at Grisha and told him how beautiful of a moment I thought that was. And without skipping a beat he said to me,  "this is how I can help make the world a little better. This is how we all can help make this world a little better, in our own small ways." That moment was so special. When you put people like Grisha in a room with young minds, really special and beautiful things happen. Everyone looks inward to find the things that really matter to them. The things that give us purpose.”

We are so grateful for the time we’ve spent with Grisha and all the inspiring moments we’ve got to share. 


Read a beautiful story about our Music & Healing program here

Learn more about ACG Education services here.

The 21-22 Javier Niño Memorial Scholarship Recipients

Click here to contribute to the Javier Niño Scholarship Fund.

The Javier Niño Memorial Scholarship at Austin Classical Guitar exists to honor the memory of a wonderful young man who brought joy through beauty and kindness to countless people during his lifetime, and to support young classical guitarists in Austin, Texas — through scholarship lessons and other means — who show great promise and who will benefit from access to expert instruction and mentorship. For the 2021-22 school year, after reviewing applications from many talented student musicians across Austin ISD, two stood out. We are proud to award scholarships to both of these deserving young artists.

Juan Itzep from McCallum Fine Arts Academy and Edan Tapia at Akins High School are both senior members and leaders of their respective guitar ensembles. They have both been playing since middle school and express a deep passion for the guitar and connecting to others with the music they make. 

“I started my guitar experience in seventh grade at Parades Middle School, with my director Mr. Conger. He inspired me to continue pursuing the guitar to where I am today. When I entered the guitar program at Akins High School, my director did not think I was at the level I needed to be to enter varsity guitar but after lots of hard work and determination, I am now the President of the 2022 chapter of Varsity guitar! Since that first year in seventh grade I have done so much with this instrument, including being part of my first theatrical play this year as both the guitarist and the banjo player. I plan to continue playing guitar for the rest of my life because I simply cannot imagine living without it. I hope that I can help others love guitar as much as I do as either a teacher or performer.” - Edan Tapia

“I started playing guitar seven years ago in middle school. Ferocity filled my chest as I entered my first guitar class in sixth grade. I felt a spark that opened the door to a passion I didn’t know would become my whole life. I was a quick learner at the beginning and surely enough the passion grew larger and larger as time went on, like a snowball running down a hill. My guitar director saw that talent in me and how bright my future would be so he introduced me to McCallum High School. When I started at McCallum, I started having second thoughts. I was nervous to be in a new environment with new people of different cultures and backgrounds. But my passion for guitar overpowered that anxiety. I was able to make my first friends in highschool through guitar. On top of going to school, I had to work at a young age to help support my family and my home life was chaotic. After long stressful days, I would come home and play guitar to help soothe my emotions. While playing guitar, it feels like I’m being taken to a different place, a place where I feel calm and relaxed. Guitar is more than just an instrument to me, it opened so many opportunities that my sixth grade self would have never dreamed of.” - Juan Itzep

Juan and Edan will receive weekly private lessons with professional and expert guitar instructors, Dr. Joseph Palmer and David Lester will be working with Juan. And Evan Taucher will be Edan's teacher and mentor. Each student will receive a concert-level instrument and they will be performing frequently at ACG events this year. 

At the heart of this award is to remember and honor Javi Nino, who was a truly beautiful player and human being in his time with us. Juan and Edan will be carrying on his tradition of joyful expression and kindness through music.

Together: Izika Zumba with KIPP and Brian Klenzendorf

This month we’re sharing a series of beautiful stories about ACG community and education projects that happened in the spring! If you’re curious to see more of our past projects please check out our ACG Productions page and our previous Blogs!

This past year was interesting in education-land, with students learning mostly from home. We were amazed by the ingenuity and resilience showed by so many students and teachers throughout the year. One of our partner programs, that continually exceeds expectations, is Texas nonprofit charter school KIPP. Our partner teacher there, Brian Klenzendorf, leads a vibrant guitar program, and collaborated with others to create one of our favorite projects this year for KIPP’s spring Fine Arts showcase. 

We spoke with Brian about the project:

“I wanted to collaborate with other Fine Art teachers at the school to bring us together for the event!  Our fabulous dance teacher, Jamie Vallejo, teaches an African dance unit in the Spring so we decided to do Izika Zumba!”

How exciting! Brian created a path for his students to connect with their classmates in other performing art programs during a time in which connecting felt a little bit harder. Izika Zumba, by the way, is one of our popular teaching pieces from our ACG curriculum, arranged by our staff composer Chris Lee. Brain shared a little bit of the process behind this collaboration,  

“We learned and recorded our parts early to send a recording to the KIPP Dance teacher, so she could help choreograph the routine for her Dance 1 students. We wanted to come together as a Fine Art department for the Spring Showcase. The students were more engaged and motivated knowing that they were doing a collaborative project! 

The Fine Art Showcase was such a success that the other fine art teachers at KIPP want to make it an annual tradition.  During the Showcase, we also featured recordings from our band, steel drum, guitar, and music production classes during the Visual Art exhibit.  Doing a unified Fine Art Showcase also brought our entire school community together to celebrate the arts and we also later found out that it was a fantastic recruiting tool for our Middle Schools.  Students in 8th grade were able to see the full scope of our fine art offerings and make informed decisions about which fine art program they want to be a part of!”

 We were so delighted to watch this incredible student performance and hope it puts just as big of a smile on your face as it did on ours!

“I’m so proud of our students for their perseverance and grit from this past year!  I really enjoy seeing them play guitar or dance in their homes or outside!  They made it happen whenever and wherever they were!” -Brian Klenzendorf

Together: Northeast High School with Tony Mariano

This month we’re sharing a series of beautiful stories about ACG community and education projects that happened in the spring! If you’re curious to see more of our past projects please check out our ACG Productions page and our previous Blogs!

This spring we had the opportunity to connect with the students of Northeast Highschool’s guitar program in a spectacular way. Our Teaching Artist and Director of Ensembles, Tony Mariano connected with local singer/songwriter Daniel Fears, to guide the students of Dallas Shreve’s guitar and orchestra classes through composing and recording their own music. 

Daniel Fears visited several classes and walked students through his compositional process to inspire them to compose their own music. Dallas and Tony then worked with the students directly to create some outstanding pieces of music inspired by the theme of Hope. 

We had the opportunity to speak with Tony Mariano about the process and value of the project. Tony shared, 

“Helping students to be creative in a way that brings them out of their comfort zone is incredibly valuable. It's what musicians do all the time - create beautiful music from nothing. We started with an idea of Hope, and ran with it. And in doing so, the students had the opportunity to take their limited experience on their instruments and create something brand new that connected what they were playing and composing to a specific feeling and idea. This gave them an opportunity to create despite feeling unsure of what would come from it. It allowed them to feel vulnerable in a safe and positive space, and seeing the final product gave them a chance to feel proud, not just of a performance, but proud of what they created. It wasn't always easy, in fact, the composition process was incredibly difficult, and many students felt super hesitant and self-conscious. But in the end, everyone was able to contribute a little bit of something to the final product, whether it be an idea for a melody, thoughts on the form, a video clip, or some poetry.”

The students in Dallas’ class were given the freedom to create their piece of music in any style or genre and were not limited to only the classical guitar or orchestral instruments. 

“While each composition began with music notated and composed in the manner you'd find typical of a "classical" piece of music, we did not limit their creativity to a classical genre. In the final product, there are drums, electric guitar, spoken word, etc. We were less concerned with creating a piece of music that adhered to a specific genre, but rather we were more interested in providing the students with an opportunity to use their musical voice to create something beautiful, whatever that may be,” Tony shared. 

The process of creating something beautiful is different for every artist and musician. It can be so rewarding and intricate to be able to create what is in your mind into something tangible or audible. We asked Tony to share what a typical composition lesson looked like for the students and how their creative process began. He shared, 

“A typical composition started with a prompt - "pick one string, pick three notes that sound good together." From there, we built a melody. Then, we would ask the students to come up with a bass line that sounded good with whatever melody they created. Usually we'd help them out with this part by choosing certain notes for the students, and allowing them to improvise with those notes until they came up with something that felt right. We then added ostinatos, chords, middle voices, anything that added positively to the "mix" we were creating - all improvised and coming directly from the students. And with each step, we would try to tie in what they were doing with the idea of Hope - "does this sound hopeful" , "what chord would make this sound and feel more hopeful" etc. Once the mixes were finished, we turned some of the more advanced students loose to compose their own solo's, which turned out incredible. And we passed one song on to Daniel to add his special touch to the mix.”

We at ACG are constantly astounded by the fiery creativity and talent that surrounds us. And today, we are so excited to share the hard work of Dallas Shreve’s students with you. 

“Composing and recording can be so messy, even for the pros. So seeing all that hard work pay off in an incredibly beautiful video was heartwarming in a truly special way. Whenever you start on a journey like this, you never know what is going to come of it. The students don't know, the teachers don't know. So it is always a special surprise to see the final product. And passing that video on to the students so that they could take it and show it to a family member or friend to say "Hey, I made this" is so so powerful.” -Tony Mariano

Together: A Conversation with Justice Phillips

Over the next month we will be sharing a series of beautiful and inspirational stories about ACG community and education projects that happened in the spring! If you’re curious to see more of our past projects please check out our ACG Productions page and our previous Blogs!

This blog is part of a two part series on our youth and community ensembles. Read the first part here. 

This year brought us many unanticipated gifts! One being our ability to expand our community ensemble reach beyond Austin and another being our opportunity to connect with and commission local artists more consistently. 

We recently commissioned four local composers, Justice Phillips, Matthew Lyons, Cassie Shankman, and Alan Retamozo, to write a piece for the ACG Youth Camerata, the ACG Youth Orchestra and two community ensembles. 

We had the exciting opportunity to speak with Justice a little more about his composition Winter to Spring. Justice composed this beautiful piece for the ACG Youth Camerata during the Texas winter storm in February. Justice shared, 

“I remember walking my dog, Luna, during the storm, and the harmonies at the beginning really captured how I felt in that icy environment. The piece moves and transitions throughout until finally at the end, spring arrives. When I first heard the performance the ACGYC did of the piece, I was more blown away by the level at which they play than I was about the piece itself honestly. It's crazy to me to hear a virtual ensemble of young people playing that beautifully.”

Justice began his path as a composer during his Freshman year of college when he broke a finger playing basketball. He wasn’t able to play his guitar so he dove into composing and became the talented young composer he is today! Justice shared a little about his process in composing,  

“Typically when I am writing a new piece, I create a ‘skeleton’ of the piece initially, then I improvise based on the skeleton with the guitar and add/subtract things as I see fit. While I was improvising Winter to Spring, I had the icy weather in my mind.”

We are so grateful to have Justice on our team! He creates constant beauty and we are so thrilled to watch it unfold. Justice shared about more beautiful things he has done this year, 

“I had the fortune of writing a piece for my old middle school Lively. Their guitar program and Orchestra played a piece of mine together, and their dance program danced to it. It was gorgeous and I was very honored to be a part of it. I also was commissioned by the Sans Duo to write a piece for Guitar and Saxophone that I titled Luna after my dog. For our GIVE project, I wrote a guitar solo for my best friend Alex Lew titled "Soni Time" named after his dog Sonata, and I'm currently working on a commission for the Austin Guitar Quartet!”

The abundance of beauty and creativity in our world leaves us speechless at times. We are so grateful for our community and cannot wait to continue thriving together in our bounty of magnificence!

Grisha with Internal Creations

One of our all-time favorite musical geniuses returns to inspire us in ways we can only imagine. Presented in partnership with Internal Creations, we will be able to experience the musicianship of Grisha live from Brooklyn, New York. Saturday, March 13, 2021 at 8pm CST. Register Online Here. Free, Donations Welcome. 


At ACG we have experiences every day that show us the power of music to inspire. In fact, it’s our mission: to inspire individuals in our community through musical experiences of deep personal significance.

Grisha is an artist that shines with an unusually bright light in this regard. Not only has he dazzled us many times on the concert stage, but he has always been willing to visit as many schools as we could fit in his schedule, to share his talent with countless young people. We frequently hear adult audience members and young students alike tell us how much they love and admire Grisha.

This week, Grisha is performing for us from Brooklyn, New York. So we wanted to take the opportunity to connect him with our education partner at Internal Creations, Jahzeel Montes.

Jahzeel and his students were able to have an online conversation, masterclass, and short performance from Grisha yesterday evening.

The class began with Grisha sharing his introduction into classical guitar and his inspiration to teach himself flamenco guitar from a recording of Paco de Lucia. His story was followed by a flamenco performance that left awe in the students eyes. 

Before hearing each student play their solos for Grisha, he taught and walked them through a fundamental rasgueado technique for flamenco. 

“Start by pinching the third string with your index and thumb, then strum the thumb up, strum the middle finger out and open the palm, and then finally strum down with the thumb and bring the fingers in to come back into the starting position.”

For the rest of the class, Grisha shared wisdom on musicianship, self expression, technique, patience, and motivated the students in individually unique ways. 

We are so ecstatic to be able to connect with the artistry and musicality of this incredibly talented and inspiring musician, Grisha, this Saturday March 13, 2021. We are also jumping in excitement to hear a program that includes repertoire by the man who inspired Grisha to become the musician he is today, Paco de Lucia. 

If you would like to join us please RSVP Here.

Amplify Austin: Tony Mariano

It’s Amplify Austin week. Our Amplify campaign is supporting pandemic innovations in ACG Education, and three very special projects designed to engage young people during this challenging time. In honor of ACG Education, we’re sharing a few personal insights this week. We hope you enjoy them! You can support our Amplify Austin campaign online here.


The past year has brought us many challenges, new opportunities for growth, a broader community, and new inspirations. The world of music education had to drastically shift methods and focus to adapt to the life this past year brought us. Luckily, we have an incredible community of music educators who were able to take on this challenge and create beautiful experiences, connections, and opportunities with their students. This week we spoke with Teaching Artist Tony Mariano about his experience this past year. 

Tony works directly with students in our local guitar programs and works with teachers to build creative and engaging projects for their classes. Tony shared, 

“The pandemic has changed almost every facet of my teaching, from how I engage and communicate with my students to the things that we do day to day in classes and lessons. My focus has shifted from emphasizing things like technique and musicianship to fostering creativity and engagement in my students. The pandemic has drawn everyone apart from each other, and I want my lessons and classes to be a place where the students and teachers can come together and create beautiful and meaningful relationships.”

Tony continued to share the underlying beauty brought by remote learning,

“Nothing is going to be as effective as in-person learning. But, what remote learning has given me is the opportunity to be more flexible in my approach to teaching. Remote learning forces me to find new and creative ways to keep students engaged by doing things that inspire them to contribute in beautiful ways. And as a result, I find that I am learning a lot more about my student's interests and what inspires them. Personally, I'm finding a lot of joy in catering my teaching towards ways that keep the students pumped up to play music. I've learned so much more about who my students are as people during this process, and it has made for some fun and meaningful lessons throughout the year.”

In the midst of all the chaos of the past year there have been incredible things too from projects like Forward to Solace to Everything Changes at Once. We are grateful to witness the power of community through music. Tony is involved in something extra special happening this semester at one of our local programs: Northeast High School. 

“We set out to guide the students in Dallas Shreve's guitar and orchestra classes to compose and record their own music inspired by the idea of Hope and Renewal as we enter into the final stages of the pandemic,”  Tony shared. 

“Daniel Fears, an incredibly special songwriter here in Austin, has been working directly with the classes to walk them through his process of songwriting in order to inspire the students to do the same. The kids have written some beautiful and powerful music that they are currently recording remotely at home with their cell phones.”

Tony also shared with us that part of the intention of this project is to help students not only dig into their own creative side but to connect and collaborate with their peers.

“Our goal is to coordinate with English, Choir, and AV teachers at Northeast to identify other students at NE High to contribute video, singing, and poetry to create a beautiful digital project that will live on in these student's memories forever. This project is entirely student led and student driven, and I am inspired to see the magic that they are creating each and every day!”

We are so grateful for our teachers and our students for inspiring us each and every day. Beauty, connection, creativity, and community is endless. 

If you would like to support ACG Education please visit Amplify Austin. 

If you would like to dive into another personal insight, please meet Justice Phillips.

2020 ACG Education Report

Dear Friends,

2020 has been a year like none other. It has challenged us, and demanded we grow and adapt in ways we could not have imagined. But above all else, the events of the past year have helped us to focus our intention, more than ever before, on the importance of inspiration and service. 

Through it all, music has shined as one of humanity’s greatest treasures. In its gentle and powerful way music has offered new roads to connect when so many have been closed. We’ve seen Italians serenading one another from their balconies in the height of the pandemic, Yo Yo Ma create #songsofcomfort, and the cast of Hamilton inspire millions through live-streamed appearances. Closer to home we’ve seen students and teachers make never-before-imagined collaborative artworks. Our youth and adult community ensembles have courageously sailed into unknown waters, and our concerts have reached audiences across the globe for the first time.

It is a solemn time, and a tragic time for many. In addition to the effects of pandemic life, our nation and our world has awoken to a new awareness of racism and inequity in our communities and within ourselves. Racism and inequity are not new, tragedy is not new, but the voices of change and leadership have thankfully found a larger platform in our public discourse.

I am deeply grateful for our team at ACG. And that includes you! We have worked hard to grow and adapt, pivot quickly where possible, and set in motion processes that will create the kind of mindful change that can only happen over a long period of time. 

On behalf of all of us on the ACG team, thank you for your belief in us, and for your belief in the power of music to do good in the world. 

Matt Hinsley, Executive Director


1) ACG Organizational Ecosystem

This is a report about ACG Education. For nearly twenty years, education has been the single largest division of ACG. At the same time we’d like to point out that, with growth and experience, we have come to see less and less actual division between the different streams of our work. We have come to realize that, like music, inspiration flows freely between all of our services if we can be open to the possibilities. For that reason, we’ll say just a few words about ACG overall. 

As an example of this intersection, every major ACG concert event begins with student performers. All students (in typical times) can attend ACG concerts for free, and in that way, our concerts enable large-scale performances that allow students to play on the biggest stages with artists and peers. This experience offers countless opportunities for collaboration, inspiration and education for all involved. For an extensive update about how ACG Concerts have adapted during this time, click here

We are frequently centering student and community projects as integral parts of our concert-making, as was the case, for example, with the premiere of Everything Changes at Once (a piece made by students in 29 US cities) in May as part of our 19-20 season finale. This was also the case with the premiere of Forward (created by our four youth and adult community ensembles) as part of our Fall 2020 finale.

Also in this report, we will discuss our strengthened efforts to acknowledge and take action towards racial equity in our services, for example, to diversify representation in our curriculum teaching library, among other things. But these efforts are not limited to ACG Education. They can, and should, be seen throughout our artistic production as well. For dozens of examples of inspiring artmaking, we invite you to look through our YouTube Channel.

ACG has remained strong and productive during the pandemic. Our curriculum and training were in high demand, our Music & Healing services actually expanded because of the move to online interactions, and our artistic pivots to live-stream concerts resulted in many strengthened connections with our supporters, many new friends, and a lot of good will as evidenced by overwhelming feedback and generosity.

2) Central Texas

Our partnership continues to deepen with Austin ISD. In a recent strategic planning meeting with the Fine Arts Director, Alan Lambert, we were very pleased to see Guitar listed as a core subject for every middle and high school in the district. We are happy to report that Manor ISD, expanded their offerings to include guitar at the high school level in fall 2020, complimenting the impressive growth and success of their Decker Middle School program. After school programming at Del Valle High School has stalled due to the pandemic, though we look forward to continuing services as soon as possible. Similarly the projected growth into San Marcos ISD Middle Schools has not taken place, but we are hopeful for the future. He have recently confirmed, however, Hutto ISD as a new Central Texas district partner, and we will begin training elementary and middle school teachers in spring 2021.

During “normal” times, on a spectrum from broad to specific, our services in Central Texas include: District Strategic Support, District and Region Assessment Creation and Execution, All City and All Region Audition and Direction, Curriculum Development and Distribution, Teacher Recruitment, Teacher Training, Individual Program Support or Teacher Consultation, Free Individual Lessons focused in Title 1 Schools, Instrument and other material support, Special Collaborative Events, Student Performance Opportunities, and In-School Guest Artist Performance Engagement.

We are particularly grateful to have added Jess Griggs to our team, in July 2019, as our Director of Music and Community Engagement. Among Jess’ many responsibilities is interfacing with our local districts and many teachers to assess needs, match resources, and accomplish our suite of services. We are also particularly grateful to report that, with the exception of All-City and All-Region ensembles, we have continued to provide all of our services, albeit with modifications. Here are some highlights:

Free Individual Lessons: Individual instruction is actually quite effective by video conference. We have slightly increased our budget for individual instruction to help meet needs during the pandemic and hired three new teaching artists. Our teaching artists are meeting with students via zoom each day from schools across Central Texas. We are particularly proud of our Javier Niño Scholarship Award Winner, Elijah Flores, a senior at Crockett High School who is currently preparing auditions and meeting with university professors.

Guitars: Many students do not own their own instruments, and remote learning as a result of the pandemic placed into relief this particular symptom of economic inequity. Thanks to the generosity of many donors, we have been able to provide nearly 250 guitars (over $35,000 worth) directly to students and programs lacking instruments. Read more on this effort online here

Everything Changes At Once: Normally there is an event called Concert and Sight Reading Contest each April involving ensemble performances for six external judges. This is a helpful focal point for programs, a great opportunity for teachers and students to receive feedback, and a powerful mechanism to maintain and communicate district-wide standards. When this event was cancelled in March 2020, we were tasked with coming up with an alternative. Travis Marcum wrote Everything Changes at Once, a hyper-flexible piece for guitar students at all levels, including options for video, photo, and spoken contributions. The piece was designed to be expressive of each person’s experience, and be approachable not only for all levels of students, but even for students who did not own their own instrument. The piece ended up serving not only AISD, but students in twenty-nine cities across the US.

Guitar + Dance: One of our favorite moments came during the last live performance we presented to the public, on March 7, 2020. The guitar and dance departments at Lively Middle School joined forces to make something beautiful together. In fact, the Lively Middle School guitar instructor, Meredith McAlmon, told us she took specific inspiration for the idea from the ACG overall season theme in 19-20 of “together.” From its inception, then, to the performance on March 7 in front of over one thousand people at our International Concert Series presentation of David Russell this beautiful artwork is a stunning example of the “ecosystem” for contextualized arts learning we mentioned at the start of this report.


3) Juvenile Justice System

At the onset of the pandemic we were particularly concerned about the possibility of continuing instruction in our Juvenile Justice System programs. While these programs were some of the last to authorize and implement remote teaching access for our teachers, we are pleased to report that by May our classes at WilCo (Williamson County Juvenile Services) and Gardner Betts (Travis County) were occurring regularly again. Since that time, classes have maintained consistency and even thrived amidst the challenges of online learning. In June, we actually added a third Central Texas program at Phoenix House, a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. At Phoenix House we provide two sections of daily, for credit guitar classes. This program is directed by Jeremy Osborne, ACG’s Assistant Director of Education, and instruction in Williamson County is provided by Ciyadh Wells, ACG’s Director of Individual Giving. 

The ACG daily, sustained, for-credit performing arts model in the juvenile justice system is extremely rare. We are unaware of another similar program of this scope in the State of Texas. We were asked by the Arts Education Partnership (AEP), a division of the Education Commission of the States working alongside the National Endowment for the Arts, for information on our programming. ACG was then featured in the April 2020 national study: Engaging the Art Across the Juvenile Justice System (p. 5). Subsequently the AEP invited ACG staff to give a best-practices presentation alongside AEP and DreamYard staff at the annual Grantmakers For Education conference on November 30.

The groundbreaking nature of ACG’s work in the Juvenile Justice system has led to increasing talks with facility directors and educators across the state. Specifically we have been asked to replicate our program for Dallas County, and are engaged in long-term talks for a special new education initiative related to young adults.

For more insight into ACG Juvenile Justice System programming, we invite you to watch this 90-minute streaming special produced in April, 2020.


4) Curriculum and Teacher Training

The bulk of our technical and development resources since mid-March have been devoted to pivoting both our curriculum and teacher training to online formats. Even so, the team has published four additions to the curriculum library from Mexico: Sandunga, Son de la Negra, Cielito Lindo, and La Llorona. These additions were researched by ACG Director of Operations Salvador Garcia, arranged by Celil Refik Kaya, and finalized by Chris Lee. We have also added a “Special Projects” Section to the website to capture new-format multi-media collaborations like Travis Marcum’s Everything Changes at Once, Ofrendas and more.

At the on-set of the pandemic we made subscriptions to free for six months, pointed users to our already-free resource, hosted roundtable discussions, aggregated solutions, and then announced and offered our 2020 Teacher Summits online for free.

Teacher Summits

Offering our 2020 Teacher Summits online during this time required two major streams of development in June and July: 1) Content 2) Technology.

Teacher Summit Content focused on two major areas: Racial Equity and Remote Teaching. Our discussions of Racial Equity were led by guest speaker Sam Escalante, Professor of Music Education at UT San Antonio, and ACG Director of Individual Giving, and leading voice on Racial Equity in the classical guitar world, Ciyadh Wells. Over the summer Ciyadh was also asked to speak several times on the subject of Racial Equity for the Guitar Foundation of America and her talk Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Guitar Community can be viewed online here. Our second content area of Remote Teaching was embedded into the entire experience because the Summits were, in fact, remote experiences. We discussed techniques for engaging students in welcoming, encouraging, and respectful ways, and focusing on expressivity even through video conference, all laid over smart technical and musical sequencing.

Technology was led by ACG’s Education Consultant, and Director of Guitar at Bedichek Middle School, Phil Swasey, alongside ACG’s Director of Curriculum Eric Pearson. Phil created online classroom environments using the “Canvas” Learning Management System (LMS) thereby developing not only the course through which our remote trainees would learn, but also the model on which they would develop their own units for the fall classes. 

There is a lot here! You are invited to email us for more information on these content areas, technology, or any other subjects in this report.

5) Let’s Play: Braille Lifelong Learning Resource

We are extremely pleased to report that our braille lifelong learning system launched in November 2020 in its first full translation. This new site, which you can visit online here, has been created for use throughout the Balkan Peninsula. 

We are very grateful to our partner in Montenegro, Rados Malidzan, for raising the funds and striking the alliances throughout the Balkans not only to make the extensive audio and text translations, but also arrange for free braille printing and distribution in multiple countries to maximize the resource’s utility. We are also very grateful to members of our team: Jess Griggs, Eric Pearson, Jordan Walsh, and Tyson Breaux who worked for months to implement this system.

ACG Performance Engagement Artist Joseph Palmer and Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Music Instructor Jeremy Coleman created the original sequencing and materials for Let’s Play. Rados had this to say when the newly translated site launched: “I am immensely thankful to Jeremy and Joseph for all their beautiful work they put in these so carefully and beautifully created lessons – everything is there – gradualness, attention to every detail both in music and didactic, dynamics, musicality, and the music, which is beautiful in every single piece! I had many of these pieces singing in my head for days after recordings. I am happy that I have managed to secure the cooperation regarding free printing of braille scores with societies of blind and visually impaired of Montenegro, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republic of Srpska. In my opinion this will help to overcome this significant obstacle to the users, which is present at the moment in all these countries.”

Let’s Play was also an unexpectedly helpful system for many of our school-based teaching partners at the onset of the pandemic with the shift to remote learning. The system is built around a carefully sequenced solo learning track, paired with detailed audio guides, downloadable music scores, and no cost or barrier to access. These unique features made it particularly valuable for teachers with students learning at home.

6) Music & Healing 

ACG Music and Healing is a multifaceted program that serves Central Texans experiencing significant challenge or trauma in collaboration with over a dozen local hospitals, shelters and social service organizations. We began 2020 by hiring and training a group of five Music and Healing Artists, including 3 new musicians to share in creating music that helps our community members tell their story in song. Soon after, at the onset of the pandemic, we found that there was even more need for this type of service and remote interactions actually increased participants’ accessibility to the various projects. So we deepened our relationships with individuals at Dell Children’s Hospital, with new mothers at Any Baby Can through Lullaby Project. We created new songwriting courses and artist partnerships for women at Red Oak Hope serving victims of human trafficking. We deepened our friendships with the medical community, expanding our services to patients throughout Austin as well as working directly with the wonderful med students at The University of Texas at Austin Dell Med School. We added new partnerships with providers at St. David’s Hospital. We also began a veterans songwriting program in partnership with the veterans creative expression organization Resilient-Me. 

Another beautiful example of the crossover between ACG programs throughout the organization was Together, the large community-based production in January. Two participants from our Music and Healing programs at Dell Children’s Hospital and the Livestrong Cancer Institutes were featured in this show. Their voices echoed throughout, intertwined between original works of music composed around their story.


7) Music & Community

As we said at the beginning of this report, the boundaries between ACG Education, Concerts and Services is increasingly and intentionally blurry. As much as we wanted to inspire with meaningful art, and support school-based education, we also wanted to ensure that opportunities for connection for our youth and adult guitar ensembles would continue through the pandemic. We’ll highlight three such projects, in chronological order: Solace, Ofrendas, and Forward.

Each spring for fifteen years ACG has awarded a prize for a new guitar ensemble composition and then premiered the winning work with a large gathering of a multi-state, all-ages, all-levels ensemble at an event called ACGfest. This year’s winning composition was called Solace written by Brandon Carcamo. ACGfest would have occurred in April, and had to be cancelled. But, led by ACG Artistic Director Joe Williams, the project was able to continue as an online collaboration with the dozens of participants who would have been present live.

There is a tradition in Mexico and Latin America called Ofrendas where loved ones who have passed away are honored by placing their favorite foods, drink, or other significant objects on altars. These objects, called “ofrendas” or “offerings”, are believed to help guide and welcome the spirits of our departed loved ones back home to celebrate Día de Muertos. In collaboration with Mexic-Arte Museum, and led by our Director of Operations Salvador Garcia, who joined Joe Williams as the co-Artistic Director of this project, we commissioned 20 short music-video ofrendas from local artists, and received many dozens more from community members. We invite you to experience some of these captivating tributes in the playlist below, or read a story from one of our individual contributors online here.

Over the summer there were questions as to whether or not we’d be able to have our two adult and two youth community ensembles continue in the fall. We asked our members if they would be interested in trying to do something innovative together, and the answer was a resounding “yes!” What emerged, then, was an ACG commission from composer Michael Keplinger to write a forward-looking piece in four movements, each to be created as a multi-media work by our four community-based groups. The beautiful project, called Forward, led by ACG Community Ensembles Director Tony Mariano, Youth Camerata Director Stephen Krishnan, and Youth Orchestra Director Joe Williams, was premiered during our fall finale on December 12.


8) Future

Some exciting upcoming projects for us include the creation of an ACG Education Composer Residency. We will offer a year-long paid fellowship to composers of color specifically to write music for our students in Austin and those using worldwide. We plan to expand our teaching artist staff to serve even more young musicians through our free private lessons program while deepening the experience through mentorship and college preparation services. In Spring, ACG will be making concerted efforts to build artist partnerships with individual schools in Austin, Manor, San Marcos and beyond to help brainstorm, develop, and execute long-term projects (like Everything Changes at Once) tailored to the individual wants and needs of the particular school community. We will be exploring exciting new partnerships with ISDs and juvenile justice centers across Texas to help build inspiring, lasting music programs there. ACG Music and Healing is anticipating doubling services throughout the Austin area in 2021 and we plan on creating a handbook, training manual, and digital archive of all past projects in the coming year. 

In March of this year, the world changed for everyone. But for many of the people involved with ACG Education and Music and Healing, this change has been especially distressing. Students and teachers in our Title I. school programs, patients undergoing chemotherapy, families of color who are experiencing disproportionate loss of life and income. Our first priority is to be with our core Austin community, to listen, and to continue to create opportunities of respite and inspiration for all of us. In 2021 and onward, we will take with us the lessons we have learned, and those we continue to learn in an effort to better teach, create, play, laugh, cry, dream, together. 

I’m hopeful that when we do return to our normal life, we will appreciate each other more, have a stronger sense of community and a deeper, meaningful understanding of life… and how to live that life”

Statement from Albuquerque New Mexico High School Student

ACG’s education programs and social services are made possible through the generous support of many individual and institutional donors, including:

Augustine Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, City of Austin Cultural Arts Division, Kaman Foundation, Bill Wood Foundation, Cain Foundation, Webber Family Foundation, Still Water Foundation, Lucy & Bill Farland, Rea Charitable Trust, Texas Commission on the Arts, H-E-B Tournament of Champions Charitable Trust, Kodosky Foundation, Long Foundation, Shield-Ayres Foundation, the Skeel/Baldauf Family, Louise Epstein & John Henry McDonald, Bill Metz, MFS Foundation, University Area Rotary Club, Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation, Applied Materials Foundation, Seawell Elam Foundation, Sue L. Nguyen Management Trust, Dr. Michael Froehls, Sarah & Ernest Butler, Mercedes-Benz of Austin, Austin Community Foundation, United Way for Greater Austin, Carl Caricari & Margaret Murray Miller, Burdine Johnson Foundation, Wright Family Foundation, 3M Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Texas Bar Foundation, D’Addario Foundation, Strait Music Company, Urban Betty, Inc, PwC, Tesoros Trading Company, Calido Guitars, and many, many others.

30th Season Begins: Pepe Romero

PLEASE NOTE: This concert occurred on September 26th. UpClose Online events are conceived to be unique, one-time, moments of creation and togetherness. 

Ever since his standing-room-only, sold-out, people-in-the-hallways, first performance for ACG on Friday, October 10th, 2003 at the Unitarian Church, guitar legend Pepe Romero has been a huge part of Austin Classical Guitar. He has lifted us over the years with his music, with his stories, with his generosity, and his deep, spiritual presence. Los Romeros’ Father’s Day concert in 2006 marked the beginning of our summer ensemble programming. When we hosted the Guitar Foundation of America and produced sixty five events in six days at the Long Center, the week began with Pepe’s solo recital to a sold-out crowd in Dell Hall, introduced by the UT System Chancellor Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, and live-broadcast by KMFA.

It’s because of this deep connection, that we couldn’t imagine anyone else opening our 30th year. His concert on September 26th at 8pm CT will be free, donations accepted, and beamed from Pepe’s living room into yours. RSVP Here

One of our warmest memories was made on October 13th, 2016, when Pepe graciously agreed to perform and record Vivaldi’s Concerto in D Major with over 80 of our high school students from all around Austin. You can watch the magical video below!

We caught up with two people who were there that night, and asked for their recollections. 

Rey Rodriguez, a student who we met in our local school programs Bedichek Middle School under the direction of Phil Swasey, and Crockett High School under the direction of Ron Hare, was part of the performance in 2016. We asked Rey how that performance was for him, he shared:

“It was amazing and I am very grateful to ACG for the experience. It was a great performance and super fun! I was able to sit front row and see Pepe Romero perform with us. It was also very impressive how he was able to lead that many students and keep their interest through many hours of practicing. It was inspiring to say the least.”

 We were lucky enough to be able to have Rey share the impact of this performance on his future as a musician with us: 

“I had seen interviews and multiple performances of Pepe through youtube prior to the performance, but afterwards I was able to truly see who he is as a teacher and musician. He is incredibly knowledgeable about musical phrasing and was able to convey that to a young 16 year old me who was still figuring out how to truly feel music. I am a second year B.A. guitar major at UT Austin and am currently teaching for the UT string project. I am grateful to have that performance to look back on and take notes from for my teaching.”

Rey also shared how the experience influenced him beyond the surface of being a student, and how it influenced him as an expressive musician and artist. 

“From the performance I learned that if you are truly passionate about what you love, there will always be someone there to listen. I'm sure if Pepe Romero was unenthusiastic and impatient with us no one would be inspired from the experience, but that didn't happen. He showed compassion and was very happy to see so many young guitarists in one place. His passion for guitar is inspiring. I hope through my playing and teaching, I can convey that passion to my audience and students like he does.”

We spoke with a parent who attended the rehearsal and the performance as well. Diane Skeel’s son, Andrew Baldauf was in the ensemble. She recalls,

 “The thing that sticks with me is the amazing energy that was in the room. Having that opportunity to play for and with Pepe Romero, it was like meeting an idol. I remember the nervous excitement, and the exhilaration as the music started to come together. It was particularly fun watching the kids as they went up afterwards to meet him and take photographs."

We are so grateful to have had the privilege of Pepe Romero’s musicianship, inspiration, and presence with us and to have the opportunity to share that with our community. We are so excited for his upcoming performance with us on September 26th. We hope that you can join us for the magic and look forward to experiencing more beauty and music together in our 30th season.

ACG Instrument Drive

ACG turns 30 this year! In celebration, one of our generous supporters is matching every gift up to $50,000 between now and our opening concert with maestro Pepe Romero on September 26th! Make a gift today.

We are hosting an instrument drive for guitar donations!

This drive will benefit local school programs that do not have enough instruments to support their guitar classes this year. This is especially important right now, because students are learning from home and do not have access to classroom instruments.

So, if you have any lonely nylon-string guitars collecting dust somewhere round them up and donate them to an aspiring young musician today!

Due to the structure of our classes, we are not able to use steel-string or electric guitars, only nylon string classical guitars will help at this time. If you’re unsure what you have, email us and ask!

You may drop off your donations at our office address any time during business hours.

5900 Balcones Dr. Suite #240 Austin, TX 78731

In the interest of safety, we won’t meet you at the door, but we’ll be checking for donations regularly.

If you have any questions or concerns, please email Ciyadh Wells at

Thank you for your help in supporting our local students become successful young musicians and experience the joy of music making!