This Week: Spy Kids in GuitarCurriculum

We’re thrilled to announce that, this fall, music from Robert Rodriguez’s global cinematic sensations, Spy Kids, will be added to ACG’s GuitarCurriculum. GuitarCurriculum powers guitar classrooms all across the world, and we can’t wait for students everywhere to be inspired by this fun and exciting music.

This summer, we’re even creating a music video directed by Robert Rodriguez with nineteen amazing young players performing the new arrangement. In June we’re recording audio at Music Hill Studio, before filming at The Long Center. We’ll release the video soon!

We would like to thank Robert Rodriguez and Troublemaker Studios for his incredibly generous donation of both the music and his time, expertise, and film crew to make this project possible.

We’re deeply grateful for the support of Rod Hairston, Reginald Carter, Luke Torvinen, and everyone at Music Hill Studio and Music Hill Ranch. Special thanks to the Long Center and McCallum High School.

The Spy Kids arrangement for guitar ensemble was made by Rick Del Castillo and Matthew Lyons. On the ACG team, huge thanks to Matt Hinsley, Todd Waldron, Tony Mariano, and Jeremy Roye.

Our deepest thanks go to director Andrew Clark and the following amazing students and families: Sebastian Banks, Satvik Chawla, Nathan Dart, Paul Devens, Beck Hartman, Benjamin Johnson, Ethan Kuhlken, Mason Michulka, Ace Pearson, Teddy McCoy, Noah Melendrez, Nima Moin, Emily Piper, Sydney Piper, Juan Rodriguez, Regan Sims, Jaden Tao, and Jianna Zamora. Huge thanks to the film crew: Brian Bettwy, Luis Caffesse, Shiraz Jafri, Todd Smiley, Chris Smith, Joe Vasquez, and Steve Wilson, and to photographer Christina Castro. 

Front Row (L-R): Regan Sims, Ethan Kuhlken, Nathan Dart, Sebastian Banks | Back Row (L-R): Matt Hinsley, Tony Mariano, Rod Hairston, Reggie Carter, Todd Waldron, Robert Rodriguez, Luke Torvinen, Andrew Clark, and Jeremy Roye Photo by Greta Fennelly

2022-23 Javier Niño Scholarship Recipients: Aaron Degante & Juan Rodriguez

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 2022-23 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.


This week we had the opportunity to speak with Javier Niño Recipients, Aaron Degante from McCallum High School and Juan Rodriguez from Crockett High School and learn a little more about them. 

“I started my guitar journey in 6th grade at Lamar Middle School. I had never really been introduced to the instrument before that, I found it on my own. Guitar means a lot of different things to me; It’s one of my proudest skills, a stress reliever, my biggest passion, and much more. Guitar has become a big part of my life and I love it. So many opportunities have opened up to me because of the guitar. Opportunities that I never thought I’d get.

I see the Javier Niño Scholarship as an amazing opportunity to improve myself as a guitarist. I’ll be able to hone my self-taught skills with my teacher and learn new ones too! I’m still shocked about the whole thing and am excited for the new doors that come with it.

When I play guitar, I feel a sort of magical feeling. Like I can feel the music I’m playing, the emotion it’s trying to convey, like the music presence itself. Whenever I play guitar, I empty my mind. I think of nothing but reading the music. It’s really nice not thinking about what stresses me out. 

One day, I want to be chilling on a porch as an old man, and playing the guitar for my grandchildren as they watch in excitement.” - Aaron Degante

Aaron plans on attending Texas State University after his graduation and major in Physiotherapy with a minor in guitar.


“I have been playing the guitar since 6th grade when I signed up for it as one of my electives at Bedichek Middle School and have stuck with it ever since. I really fell in love with the guitar and all its aspects. Being in guitar has introduced me to a whole community of people. I have met my best friends and people that I consider to be family because of the guitar. I am very grateful for the instrument because it has brought me close to wonderful people and experiences. 

Whenever I play the guitar, I feel at home. I feel at peace because I can just have fun and express myself freely. One of my favorite memories with the guitar was when I played a guitar and violin duet at The Rosette last semester. I felt so calm and I fell in love with the piece that we played. Everything that happened that day made me feel so appreciative because it was filled with friendship, fun, and being able to perform the hard work that I put into the music.

I have also been in the mariachi program at school for almost 5 years and fell in love with it just as much. Playing in those ensembles with other people requires communication and creates a musical connection because you need to click together to make the music click. In my case, those connections grew to become my best friends. 

I am very honored to receive the Javier Niño Scholarship because to me, it means that I am being given an opportunity to show who I am and that I have people who believe in me. 

I plan on going to college after I graduate high school. It has always been my dream to pursue something creative and artistic. I plan on studying guitar performance or music education because I love this world that I have been part of.

For me, A perfect future with the guitar would be mainly playing in a band, every weekend, for the majority of my life. I love performing and if I can spend the rest of my life having fun playing my guitar, I think that’d be a fun life.” - Juan Rodriguez

Juan plans to apply to UT Austin, UT San Antonio, and Texas state for guitar and Mariachi performance and music education.

Learn more about the Javier Niño Scholarship here.

Read a beautiful reflection from Live Middle School's Guitar Director, Meredith McAlmon here.


Lively Middle School: A Reflection from Meredith McAlmon

We at ACG believe that music has the power to change the world. Having artists visit our local school programs is one of our favorite things to do when we have the opportunity to. Seeing a great performer can be a life-changing and inspiring experience for both young people and adults alike. Here is a beautiful reflection from Guitar Director, Meredith McAlmon, at Lively Middle School.


On September 22nd Joseph Palmer came to Lively Middle School and gave a presentation and performance of guitar solos ranging from beginning level to advanced. 

He talked to the students about each piece before playing it, gave them a chance to choose pieces from an extensive program, and answered questions. He played for Caitlin Landolt’s Advanced Guitar class and then for my class.

I teach a beginning guitar class made up of fifteen  6th grade boys and three 6th grade girls, and they were spellbound.

Joseph played and talked for an hour and a half, and when it was getting close to the end of class the students all insisted on getting his autograph. They had him signing programs, binders, backpacks, and even a forehead!  

They have not stopped talking about him and keep asking when he is coming back. They talk about the different pieces he played, and they all are looking forward to playing “Epiphany” – a special favorite from the selections. 

I noticed a definite increase in their focus in class after Joseph’s visit. He was so generous with his time, and even stayed to play a piece for my Advisory class  (a non-music class) that meets right after my guitar class.  

Joseph’s visit brought a lot of joy into these young people’s lives. This morning as this class was getting started, one of my students gave a poignant sigh and said “I wish Dr. Palmer was here.  It has already been so long”.  (I will say she gave me a hug after she said that.  All is not lost….)  

Again – my heartfelt thanks go out to Austin Classical guitar and Joseph Palmer for making this happen for my students. You make a difference in their lives!

ACG Education

It’s our 2022 Fall Fund Drive! This year, ACG has a goal of raising $50,000 by Opening Night with Grisha on Sept. 24, in support of ACG Education. It’s because of our community and supporters that we are able to create meaningful connections through music. Click here to learn more about supporting ACG.

WORLD PREMIERE: Do What's In Your Heart with Clarice Assad

We are thrilled to partner with Tribeza Magazine for the live premiere of Do What’s in Your Heart, a mini-documentary chronicling triple Grammy-nominee Clarice Assad’s artist residency during ACG’s 21-22 season.

Tribeza Magazine will be hosting the screening on Thursday, August 18 at 7pm CT live on their website. (Link will not be live until Thursday)

Your questions and comments are welcome through ACG YouTube, Facebook, or Instagram, and will be answered in real time during the event.

Since 2001 ACG has established for-credit guitar education programs in more than 50 central Texas schools, including five juvenile detention facilities and Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. These programs bring music into the lives of thousands of young people every year. In Austin ISD, guitar is now the second highest enrolled music course after band. 

Do What’s In Your Heart shares the story behind the musical work Ms. Assad co-created with 50 students from around the city. The 32-minute film includes a performance of that work by a student orchestra, as well as a reimagined version by guitarist Jorge Caballero and the Miro String Quartet.

Do What’s In Your Heart is a celebration of community, collaboration, musical inspiration, and artistic freedom, created by our community for our community.

Special thanks to ACG’s Artistic Director Joe Williams, Education Director Travis Marcum, Northshore Media’s Kevin Chin, Clarice Assad, all the musicians, parents and students, and everyone else who helped make this year-long project possible.

Clarice Assad’s 21-22 Artist Residency was generously sponsored by atsec information security.

Dream Big: Springfest at Bedichek Middle with Phil Swasey

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 Dream Big spring 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.

Below is a letter from Bedichek Middle School’s Director of Guitar and Mariachi, Phil Swasey, on their most recent performance at their Springfest!

Teaching during a pandemic has challenged many educators to navigate novel and complex issues, ones that still arrive daily in the form of mental health obstacles (teachers and students alike), inequitable outcomes, COVID protocols, when to return to normal program activities, and how to address the impact of separation on our communities. 

With the help of some amazing colleagues, Bedichek Middle planned and hosted a community celebration called “Bedichek Springfest”, with the purpose of reconnecting members of our community (families, teachers, PTA, and local businesses). It’s these connections that are vital to a school ecosystem, and ones that have been recently strained.

One major goal of the event was to reconnect with Alumni; students that had gone on after middle school to do incredible things, and bring their successes back to campus. It was an effort not only to celebrate them, but also to provide our current students and teachers with a vision into what our young learners become after middle school.

I spent the early part of the Spring semester reaching out to former guitar students from the last 11 years of the program. The responses that I received when proposing an Alumni Guitar Ensemble were enthusiastic and committed.

Two of the first people I reached out to were Angelica Campbell (Communications Director at ACG), and Rey Rodriguez (Teaching Artist at ACG), and once they were on-board the ensemble really started to take shape. We rehearsed twice in preparation for our performance at Springfest, and those moments together were filled with laughs, goofing around, reminiscing, and most importantly, really beautiful music making. The ensemble itself consisted of siblings (3 pairs), partners, current and former students, and spanned a 12 year age range.

During breaks in the rehearsal we would have structured conversations based on prompts. Answering the question, “What would you go back and tell your middle school self?”, a high school student’s response was, “I would tell myself not to compare myself to others.”.

The evening of the performance was beautiful, the group played well, and so many other students that weren’t able to participate in the ensemble showed up to support and watch. I’m so grateful for all of the students, current and former, that participated. 

Below is an excerpt from an 8th graders essay, imagining his first day at college. It’s an amazing testament to the impact that we all have on each other, even when not realizing it.

 “I soon realize that college is overwhelming and I have projects already due. I luckily know some people who can help. I go to talk to my teacher, his name is Rey and he tells me about how rough his first day was also. I start to feel better about everything, realizing that I have people to help me get through this.”

– Phil Swasey

Spring 2022 Education Report

Big Picture

At ACG we believe in a 360-degree ecosystem of arts education. 

Our north star is a young person, standing on a stage of any kind, receiving applause, who is proud of a performance they have just given. This could be any student, at any level, on any stage. Over the 20+ years we have been building and supporting guitar education programs in schools, we have taken aim at every conceivable impediment to this shining vision. At the same time, we’ve dedicated ourselves to providing unique creative opportunities for our students that would increase the likelihood of achieving it. 

ACG Education’s services and resources have helped schools address the biggest challenges to successful guitar programs: inadequate curriculum, poor teacher preparation, lack of teacher support, lack of instruments, lack of performance opportunities, financial and cultural barriers. We have enriched our students’ musical experience through guest artist engagements, unique collaborations, opportunities to engage family and community in a meaningful way, student-led creation, and wildly creative, big-vision projects. We believe only with 360-degree support can this ecosystem survive and thrive. 

What does this actually mean on the ground? We hope what you read below in our Spring 2022 Education Report will shed some light on our work and its impact. 

Core Program Support: Central Texas

In March, AISD Director of Fine Arts Alan Lambert informed us that our guitar programs now enroll more students than any other music class in the district besides band. 

Almost all AISD guitar programs have been based on ACG’s comprehensive curriculum since we first published it in 2008. We provide total access at no cost to every guitar teacher in the district. All AISD guitar teachers receive free formal training every summer during our annual Teacher Summits, and ongoing support from our education team throughout the year. In recent years we have extended these core services to new partner programs in Manor, Hays, and Hutto ISDs.

ACG also provides ongoing direct support through team-teaching, teacher consultation, and auxiliary services detailed below. We dedicate strategic support to teachers and programs with the most urgent needs, focusing effort to help teachers who have not taught guitar before, programs experiencing unexpected teacher turnover, or dealing with other sources of instability. 

A typical example of this strategic support is our work with AISD teacher Katie Landolt. She recently told us about the interview that led to her first teaching job in the public school system: 

“I was told that the position was 50% Orchestra and 50% Guitar Ensemble. At the time I didn’t know much about guitar and only knew about playing chords and strumming. I accepted the job and thought I would teach some guitar but really focus on the orchestra program. I quickly realized the guitar program would require a little more work and thankfully I had Travis Marcum and Tony Mariano to help me. I never expected to be teaching guitar, but now I truly love it!” 

Read our full interview with Katie online here

District Support: Central Texas

For the past 10 years, Austin Classical Guitar has organized and hosted adjudicated competitions for scholastic guitar ensembles, including All City, All Region, and Concert & Sight Reading. Events like these have long been an integral part of more traditional music programs like choir, orchestra, and band, helping to promote district-wide standards, provide a focal point for instruction, and build community among students and teachers from different schools. Along with leadership and strategic planning for these events, our team developed a full range of documents and resources to support them, including contest regulations, scoring rubrics, audition materials, scores for sight reading, and more. We hire and pay the expert judges, capture video of every performance, and bring staff members and volunteers on-site to ensure the events run smoothly. 

As our programs have expanded, participation in these events has grown as well. For example, over 40 ensembles participated this spring in the Concert and Sight Reading contest. And among them, for the first time in Texas’ history, were students from our three local juvenile justice programs, who participated through pre-recorded submissions. 

Below is a video of Besa Carney, a Freshman at Bowie High School. This semester during the AISD Concert & Sight Reading competition, Besa’s guitar director had to abruptly leave Bowie, leaving them without guidance for the competition. Besa stepped in and graciously filled this role. Read a story on Besa here.

Performance Engagement & UIL Solo and Ensemble

For more than 20 years, ACG has been bringing guest artists to schools to directly engage with students. This year alone we sponsored over 50 performances by guest artists in AISD schools. 

Eight years ago, ACG Performance Engagement Artist Joseph Palmer began visiting our local school guitar programs to play selections from the UIL’s list of approved pieces for statewide solo guitar competitions. This was part of a special effort we made to increase participation by guitar students from Region 18 (encompassing Austin and 21 surrounding ISDs) in scholastic music competitions. Along with repeat visits to schools, Joseph recorded numerous demonstration videos that we compiled in a playlist to serve as model performances for students to reference. These efforts have paid off: In recent years guitar has become one of the most represented single instruments in Region 18 music contests.

This year, in addition to Joseph’s ongoing work, most of our guest artists engaged with students to some degree. For example, in March, ACG engaged Duo Noire for a three day residency in Austin and Manor ISDs. Artists Thomas Flippin and Chris Mallett visited Northeast High School, Lamar Middle School, Decker Middle School, and Williamson County Juvenile Justice Center where they performed for and composed with students. Photo: Guest artists Thomas Flippin and Christopher Mallet performed for Manor ISD’s Decker Middle School during their visit to Austin.

Juvenile Justice System

ACG and AISD partnered more than ten years ago to begin offering daily guitar classes for incarcerated youth at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center in Austin. AISD agreed to grant fine arts credits to students who participated, which satisfied a key requirement for graduating high school. ACG has provided the instructor and 100% of the funding for these classes every year since 2012. Our work at Gardner Betts was the subject of a national PBS Newshour Story in 2015, and we have since expanded our services to three more sites: Phoenix House in Austin, the Williamson County Juvenile Justice Center in Georgetown, and the Medlock Youth Treatment Center in Dallas County. These programs currently offer the only for-credit performing arts education to incarcerated youth anywhere in Texas, and we have yet to find another example anywhere in the United States. 

Read a May 1 article in the Williamson County Sun about Juvenile Justice System students participating in our Concert & Sight Reading contest. 

This year ACG hired a new Director of Juvenile Justice Services, Hector Aguilar. In a recent interview, Hector said: 

“My childhood experiences, family members, friends, and challenging experiences that I have heard from students are what pushed me in the direction of Juvenile Justice. Most of my family members have been in Juvenile Justice or incarcerated in prison and have not had the support that is needed to break the cycle…I have seen firsthand how music can have a positive impact on a person, and I completely embody that common saying, music saved my life. 

Read the full interview online here.


Braille Lifelong Learning

ACG partnered with Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) in 2010 to develop a new guitar course for TSBVI students. In 2012, ACG curriculum materials were converted to braille to support a braille-based literacy component to the instruction.  

As our students at TSBVI graduated and moved on, they told us about their frustration finding dedicated resources for them to continue their studies in guitar. So in 2016, we set to work developing a first-of-its kind online learning resource that would offer blind and visually impaired students a pathway to lifelong learning in classical guitar. The following year we published the full set of resources, including downloadable braille scores and audio guides to support a complete sequenced course of study in solo guitar, at

LetsPlay has been accessed by thousands of users in more than 20 countries since its launch. The most significant recent development is the first translation of the site for use in the Balkans, Svirajmo Gitaru. We’re thrilled to report that, in spring 2022, this resource was officially adopted by the Montenegrin Ministry of Education. 

National & International Program Development

ACG’s curriculum for classroom-based guitar is used by hundreds of teachers across the world. Over the years we have had the pleasure of working with many of them at our annual Teacher Summits, which we host every summer in Austin and other cities around the United States.. This year’s summits will take place in St. Louis on July 12-14 and in Austin on July 21-23.  

ACG has also developed lasting strategic partnerships with our sister organizations in St. Louis, Cleveland, and New York that have resulted in substantial organization and service growth in those communities. For example, our St. Louis partner organization recently brought on a new Executive Director, Brian Vaccaro, who spent several days with our team in Austin and had this to say:

 “At the beginning of 2022, I took on the role of Executive Director at St. Louis Classical Guitar.  It quickly became apparent to me the level of respect that Austin Classical Guitar has engendered with our organization and others like it. I felt it necessary to pay a visit to Austin in April of 2022 to see if I could learn about any of their approaches to education and programming. I came away with much more than I anticipated including many ideas of how I could expand and galvanize guitar education in the St. Louis area. I am also looking forward to Austin Classical Guitar’s education team coming to St. Louis in July, 2022 to host their Teacher Summit. Not only does this provide much needed direction for St. Louis area guitar teachers, but it will greatly assist me in my future endeavors with the guitar teaching community in St. Louis.”

We believe the expansion of our national strategic partnerships to be one of the best opportunities before us for maximally amplifying the impact of ACG Education. Below, is a performance of “Open” by Travis Marcum, from last year’s summit. 

Individual Student Support

ACG has provided free individual lessons for students in our Title 1 school programs since 2001. This spring our teaching artists are working with over 32 students in 10 schools on a weekly basis. 

We feature student performers at the opening of almost every major concert we present. Here is a video playlist of outstanding young artist performances from some recent events. And here is a lovely article about Juan Itzep from McCallum High School, one of two talented students selected for our Javier Niño Scholarship this year.

ACG also provides hundreds of guitars to programs and students. In 20-21 alone, ACG bought and shipped more than 200 instruments to students in need during the pandemic. Thanks to the generosity of some local collectors who support our work, we have been able to give professional-level, handcrafted guitars worth thousands of dollars to several high-achieving students in our free-lessons programs, in time for them to use at their college auditions. 

Individual Success Stories

It is incredibly gratifying that many former students of ours have gone on to pursue careers in music and education. Several graduates are now guitar teachers themselves in AISD. Here at ACG, three members of our own staff are former students (Tribeza Feature Article), as are several of our contracted teaching artists. Here are some recent alumni profiles: Francisco de la Rosa, Susana Diaz Lopez, Rey Rodriguez

Feature Story 1: AISD Young Artists Quartet

This is one of our favorite stories from this year. It started when four gifted young guitarists from different high schools in AISD met at the November All Region Ensemble event. They recognized each other’s talent and love for the guitar, and decided to form a group together. They are awesome! We supported them with rehearsal space and coaching, and they’ve performed at multiple events for ACG, including two South by Southwest sessions. The students are Besa Carney (Bowie High School), Michael Diaz (Crockett High School), Edan Tapia-Lugo (Akins High School), and Juan Itzep (McCallum High School). Here they are opening a major event at ACG’s new home, The Rosette: 

Feature Story 2: Clarice Assad Residency

We had the tremendous fortune this season of having triple Grammy-nominee Clarice Assad as our Artist in Residence. Unlike typical artist residencies, we asked Clarice to split her time between art-making for our general audience and working with young people from our education programs. She inspired students across the district, and did a deep-dive project with 55 students to co-create and perform a stunning new work called Mosaic Variations. Watch the first part of what will be a three-part mini-documentary below. It’s worth noting that most of our visiting artists in 21-22, including Duo Noire, Isaac Bustos, Ana Vidovic, and An Tran, also visited our local school programs to engage with students.

Feature Story 3: Justice Phillips and Lively Middle School

Last spring, ACG’s very own Director of Customer Experience and Composer Justice Phillips wrote a new piece for Lively Middle School that was performed by their Guitar, Orchestra, and Dance ensembles. Justice is himself an alum of Lively (along with McCallum High School and UT’s Butler School of Music), which made this experience extra special. Watch Justice talk about the piece followed by the students’ performance in the AISD PAC in this playlist.

Feature Story 4: The Rosette As a Hub for Students

In February of 2022 we opened The Rosette, a state-of-the-art concert and production venue located inside of ACG’s new home at the Baker Center in central Austin. As we dream about what this space makes possible, it is clear that being able to provide a top-notch performance and recording venue to our students and teachers will lead to many moments of inspiration and celebration.

Here is a video of the Bedichek Middle School Guitar Quintet performing at our inaugural Student Spotlight concert, in which students from six different AISD campuses came together to perform for a packed house.

Thank You

ACG Education services are only possible because of the generosity of our many donors – people who share our belief in the power of music to positively transform lives. We would like to extend an extra special thanks to the following institutions and individuals for their major financial support over the past year:

National Endowment for the Arts, City of Austin Cultural Arts Division, Augustine Foundation, Still Water Foundation, Webber Family Foundation, The Ben & Nancy Sander Family, Tim & Karrie League, Kaman Foundation, Cain Foundation, Rea Charitable Trust, Long Foundation, H-E-B, The Raley Family, The La Pietra Family, Burdine Johnson Foundation, Applied Materials Foundation, Debra Lewis, Bill & Lynne Cariker, Greg Wooldridge & Lynn Dobson, Shield-Ayres Foundation, Ernest & Sarah Butler, Wright Family Foundation, 3M Foundation, Texas Commission on the Arts, MFS Fund of the North Georgia Community Foundation, Patricia Ann Morrison, Mike Chesser, Whole Foods Market Community Giving Program, Gives, Mercedes-Benz of Austin, Sue Nguyen Management Trust, Rich & Karen Puccio, Karen & Ted Piper, Catherine & David Wildermuth, John Henry McDonald & Louise Epstein, D’Addario Foundation.

Dream Big: Celebrating Music Educators, Susan Ronzac

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 Dream Big spring 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.


This week we’d love to shine a spotlight on music educator Susan Rozanc! 

Susan began teaching in 1994 in Naples, Florida. She taught choir, orchestra, musical theater, music appreciation, music theory, middle school band, and guitar! Truly a jack of all trades.

Susan first picked up the guitar in an undergrad folk guitar class and then didn’t touch it again for 20 years. She picked it back up and began teaching herself and elementary age children when she moved to Texas. When she began teaching at Travis High School shortly after in 2010, she offered a beginning guitar course thinking only a handful of students would sign up but 60 students signed up that first year! That’s when she was directed to ACG and by Fine Arts Coordinator, Greg Goodman. Susan has been at Travis now for 12 years! 

“I was relieved by the community and awesome support they offered.” -Susan

Susan shared a little bit about why she chose to become a music educator,

“As a kid, I never felt like I fit in anywhere. Music gave me a positive peer group, and a sort of ’family’ of other weirdos that liked and appreciated me. It gave me a way to express myself and gave me ways to feel good about myself and my accomplishment.  I went into music because I am passionate about it and I wanted to give others some of the things music gave to me.”

We asked Susan what inspires her to continue as an educator, 

“The kids. (even the obnoxious ones).  I work with low income students.  Poverty can do bad things to people, especially kids.  For some, I get to be a positive voice in their life, I get to show kids that they are smart, talented, special, hard working, cool, nice, etc… My goal in becoming a music educator was to offer  that feeling of acceptance to young people.  After more than 27 years in the music classroom, I can say that I have provided that, and a wide range of other benefits and positive experiences. The music classroom is a place of refuge to many. It is where they come to when they are happy, sad, or struggling.  They are safe in my classroom, no matter what. Now more than ever, when kids are facing trauma at every turn, it is vital for kids to have some place where they feel safe. The pandemic has ripped the bandages off and left gaping wounds in our world.  Music helps my students soothe some of those wounds.”

Music’s ability to heal and bring people together will always leave us in awe. We are so grateful to be able to experience this and share it with the people we care about. Susan shared more about her favorite parts of the job, 

“I love my job!  I have been fortunate to do what I do AND get paid for it!  I could write about the many different musical subjects I have taught, how successful my programs have been, or how I built programs from nothing, but my legacy as a music educator lies within the students I have taught and built relationships with. I have used music education to reach students and open doors to students that they may never have known existed before stepping foot in my classroom.  In my classroom, music has done more than enrich lives, it has saved them. I have an undying commitment to help my students realize, and reach, their full potential; musical or otherwise. My entire career and most of my adult life has been devoted to this mission. I have had students become music educators, performers, and professional musicians.  Most importantly, my students have gone on to understand and value the effect music has on the world and its people.”

We’re so excited to hear more stories from music educators we have the pleasure of working with! 

Read another story about teaching artist, Evan Taucher, here.

Dream Big: A Conversation with Besa Carney

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 Dream Big spring 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.


We are surrounded by greatness at ACG and we couldn’t be more grateful. This week we got to speak with an incredible student, Besa Carney. 

Besa is a Freshman at Bowie High School and is part of their Varsity guitar program. Besa began playing guitar in sixth grade at Gorzycki Middle School and was part of their Varsity ensemble all three years as well. 

This spring, Besa has been soaring here at ACG. She’s involved in our ACG Youth Orchestra, has opened up for An Tran as a soloist and for Duo Noire as part of the Austin Young Artist Quartet, and the quartet also performed for us at SXSW this year! Watch our Live in Austin: Young Artists series here

On top of Besa’s beautiful musicianship, she is a remarkable leader! This semester during the AISD Concert & Sight Reading competition, Besa’s guitar director had to abruptly leave Bowie, leaving them without guidance for the competition. Besa stepped in and graciously filled this role. Besa shared, 

“Two weeks before Concert & Sight Reading, our class found out abruptly that my guitar teacher had to leave Bowie due to medical reasons. Immediately I thought, "if a teacher can conduct, why not I try?" So we asked the class if they still wanted to go to the event and most said yes. We practiced every class period leading up to the contest, and it was such a joy for me to conduct my class. It's like you get a feel of euphoria when the audience starts clapping and you know then, you did a great job.”

Not only did Besa lead the concert portion of the competition she led her class through the sight reading portion. During the sight reading portion, the students are expected to perform a piece of music they have never heard or seen before as accurately as possible, it’s tough stuff! Besa shared,

“When the sight reading portion came around, as a class we had never practiced sight reading, but I very much trusted their judgement and my own as well! Based on my past directors knowledge, I did exactly what they had done before for the first time, and we played through the song perfectly. When I found out we got Sweepstakes (all 1's) I was overjoyed and I was so proud of my fellow classmates. At that moment I knew that there would never be an experience like this one ever again.” 

We asked Besa what moves her passion in music and she said, 

“When I play guitar, I feel sadness and anger leave my body. It is a very good form of therapy. I love when I play because I can forget about everything else that is going on around me. Music has been a part of my life for 11 years, so it is a piece of my heart. Music gives an immense sense of achievement and true satisfaction, especially conducting.” 

We are so proud of Besa and are grateful to be part of her journey. Here’s a video of Besa conducting her Bowie High School guitar class at Concert & Sight Reading. She did an amazing job!

Read another Dream Big story about composer, Justice Phillips, here.