Beijing Guitar Duo

We are delighted to partner with our friends at Austin Chamber Music Center to present the brilliant artists of the Beijing Guitar Duo, Meng Su and Yameng Wang, at UT-Austin's Bates Recital Hall on Saturday, July 20th. We recently had the chance to speak with Meng Su about the origin of the duo, her perspective on performing, and what she loves about the guitar and music in general.

The lives of Meng Su and Yameng Wang existed for 15 years on two parallel - but separate - paths, finally intertwining in the celebrated Beijing Guitar Duo.

Meng Su

Meng and Yameng both began playing guitar in the city of Qingdao, China, at the age of 5. The novelty of guitar appealed to Meng when her mother offered lessons in either that or violin: most people her age were playing violin or piano. Yameng began guitar because her father was an amateur guitarist, giving her little choice in the matter.

Yameng Wang

Guitar lessons easily flowed into a passion, and they both pursued music careers very young.

At age 9, Meng Su’s mother took her to Beijing to study with the renowned teacher Chen Zhi. Being surrounded by so many talented musicians increased her competitive nature, and three years later, she was accepted into the prestigious Central Conservatory of Beijing.

Yameng surpassed contenders three times her age by achieving the winning title of the Tokyo International Guitar Competition at age 12, becoming the youngest champion in its history. After winning a string of international competitions in Italy, France, and Spain before turning 15, Classical Guitar Magazine noted that Yameng already played like a professional.

Yameng Wang, 12 years old, performing Cataluna by Albeniz

She was several years older than Meng, who remembers idolizing Yameng from afar when they studied with the same teacher, Chen Zhi, at the Central Conservatory. (Meng Su, for her part, claimed the first prize title in the Tokyo International Competition as well, adding to her impressive list of international accolades.)

Although they always studied with the same teachers, it wasn’t until they were both studying at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore - Yameng pursuing a graduate degree and Meng working on her Bachelor’s - that their professor, Manuel Barrueco, introduced the idea of playing as a duo.

Meng Su told us, “Our musical ideas were similar when we first started. I think it was just meant to be ... It’s fun to play and travel with her because we’re very close friends. What we hear a lot from our audience is that we sound like one person.”

This uncanny ability to meld sound together as though playing one instrument is partially responsible for the international fame of the Beijing Guitar Duo.


In 2015, Classical Guitar Magazine's Guy Traviss said after their performance in Serbia, "I thought of the Beijing Guitar Duo as truly representing one voice, one sound, and ultimately, the concept of oneness."

The Duo made their international debut on the stage of Carnegie Hall in 2009. The same year, they released an album later nominated for a Latin Grammy for its title work, Maracaípe, dedicated to them by the legendary Brazilian guitarist Sergio Assad. They’ve performed in four continents and in distinguished halls around the world.

Meng Su remembers approaching music competitively from a young age.

“When I was growing up, I always wanted to show ‘I can play this fast. How much could I impress you?’”

Now, however, her approach is more subtle, more sophisticated.

“I’ve been playing guitar for about 25 years. I’m not really into speed now; I’ve been into more tone. You keep experiencing life, love, anger … Now it’s the feeling that I’m after. ‘How can I move people, how I can express my feelings, how I can bring out the composer's intentions?’ The most important [part] for me is to sing every note and express my feelings to move the audience. If they can be touched by any part of the music, then I’m happy. ”

Meng and Yameng have a special fondness for teaching, often conducting masterclasses in conservatories and visiting schools wherever they perform. Meng has some advice to impart upon students:

“Try to play and practice slowly. Playing really fast is not clean, and the rhythm is not accurate. We always want to play the right tempos slowly, and then you can get faster and faster and have a really impressive control of music.”

When asked about performance anxiety, Meng offered this recommendation:

“I do visualization: going through the music in your head, imagining where your left hand fingers would be on the fingerboard and which fingers to pluck on your right hand. You can do this whenever possible, like in the airport, or in the bank; any time. For flexible fingers, I developed this warm-up routine before I go on stage. I used to not warm up, I would just go cold. As a kid I thought that was ok for me, it was like excitement right away. But, I think with a little warm-up it’s better.”

Meng Su told us she appreciates all types of music, but she holds a certain regard for Baroque in particular.

“Every day I have to play a little bit of Baroque just to get that deep interpretation of feeling. Latin and Romantic music are easier to express, but Baroque - there’s more rules to it. It’s more of a subtle, deep, but still very expressive feeling."

She finds Impressionist music especially gratifying.

"Impressionist music works really well on guitar - two guitars even better - because we have so many different colors, tones; the ringing strings really bring out impressionistic feelings. I like Debussy. The Duo just recorded some of his music, and we’re going to release a new recording next year with French Repertoire."

She and Yameng are excited about their return to Austin.

“It’s really nice to be back in Austin. The guitar community is so welcoming, and we admire the guitar education you’ve been doing - it’s very inspiring. It’s great to see so many young people who are not exposed to music normally playing the guitar; the guitar can change them and change their lives. It’s really amazing: you can speak different languages, but you play the same music, and I think it’s a great way to connect people.”

Alex Wright: Rock n Roll Realtor

Alexandrea Wright, a member of our new Young Professionals Council, is a unique blend of passion and practicality: she’s a rock musician and a real estate agent. Her journeys into both were equally serendipitous.

Alex was raised in a home that acted as a landing place to help recovering addicts get back on their feet. She desperately wanted an electric bass, but there was no room in the budget for anything extraneous.

When she was 13, her family surprised her with one on Christmas morning.

“There’s a real embarrassing photo of me crying my eyes out over the bass. I’m just hugging it, because it meant the world to me. I would not let it out of my sight, I played it night and day.”

She became obsessed with music, and practiced constantly. At age 18 she met someone looking for a bassist, and on a whim she auditioned for his band. 11 years later, she’s still performing with them.

“I was planning to go to school for chemistry. Then, much to my dad’s chagrin, I said, ‘I’m going to join a band and tour the world!’ It was the best decision I ever made, I’m so grateful for it. I’ve gotten to go all around the world, and it really helped me feel more comfortable and confident in my own creativity.”

The band, a three-piece rock group called “Ringo Death Starr,” just returned from its ninth tour to Japan. Alex believes their success lies in the longevity of their time together. Other bands they played with at the beginning of their career have already dispersed or formed new groups, but her band is still solid.

Regarding their decade-long tenure, Alex is as amazed as anyone.

Ringo Death Starr

“It’s just me and two other guys. It’s our most extreme passion, we get along really well and enjoy making music with each other. Our ticket revenue mostly covers expenses, which allows us to keep traveling, and sometimes we get to take money home. But mostly it allows us to keep playing together, which is the best thing - I hope I’m 80 and still in this band.”

She said the biggest change in the band over the past eleven years was the birth of the guitarist’s baby. Although they did slow down on touring around that time, they’ve since picked up their old pace. The “Band Baby,” now two-years-old, is a beloved member of their community.

Her close relationship with music is the reason ACG appealed to her. Hearing about how ACG puts instruments in the hands of those who might not otherwise have access to musical instruction really struck a chord with her.

“I used to have issues with stress and anxiety, and playing bass helped me come out of my shell. Music is an amazing outlet. It’s a healing tool, and I think it’s so important to give kids and adults access to that.”

Alex wishes she could have enrolled in an ACG guitar class when she was in school. She always found guitar much more accessible than orchestra or band instruments.

“I think offering guitar opens [music education] up to a whole other realm of people who might have been intimidated by orchestra or band. I love what y’all are doing, and I’m really excited to be a part of it in any way I can.”

Alex had a side gig in retail for a long time before giving in to the advice of her mother and grandmother to enter their field: real estate.

“You know when your family does something, and you kinda put it off …  I put it off as long as I could. I thought, ‘No, I’m not an agent!’”

She explained that she’d always harbored a certain image of a realtor: “a ‘professional woman’ that wore a power suit and stuff.” Self-doubt cast a shadow over any thought of going into real estate, and the worry was always, ‘What if I can’t do that? Do I need to fit in this mold?’

Now, Alex is breaking into the field with determination to forge a new path. “As much as I would love to be that professional power suit person, I’m trying to make real estate feel like me. I’m trying to carve my own niche and find my vibe.”

She recognizes the intimidation many feel for the real estate industry and its inapproachable nature, and has made it her mission to put a friendlier face on it. She wants to share with people afraid of the process that it’s not as scary as they think, and that buying a house is not a luxury for the select few.

Alex got her license at the end of February, and sold her first two houses within the same week shortly after. To her surprise, the flexibility of a realtor’s schedule works perfectly with her role as a rock musician.

“Real estate has so far been really fun and stressful and exciting. It’s a lot of phone calls … and I’m learning how to be organized.”

Alex and her grandmother

When asked which part of her life she sees creeping more into the other side - whether she’s more of a realtor who does music, or a musician who does real estate - she had an immediate answer.

“I hope I will always think of myself as a musician who does real estate. Music has played such an important part in my life, not just with the band, but also with what music has done for me personally.”


Gratitude for Jeremy Osborne's 10 Years with ACG

Jeremy Osborne has spent the last ten years at ACG making magic with music in classrooms. The following is a collection of thoughts and memories from the students, colleagues, teachers, and parents who have been touched by his compassion and spirit over the years.

If you would like to make a gift in Jeremy's honor, click here.

Kim Andersen, the AISD Alt Ed Satellite Campus School Counselor:

Jeremy with the paper guitar, a gift from one of his students at Gardner Betts

"ACG has been a wonderful part of Gardner Betts for about a decade now. What started with Travis passed to Jeremy and most recently to Javier. Jeremy represents everything I've seen in ACG: talent, persistence, respect, and honor. He does his job with a tenacious smile. I can tell you first hand that working with these boys isn't always pretty, but it is always worthwhile. I have never heard Jeremy complain. He always has praise for his boys. In my years at Gardner Betts, I have rarely worked with anyone more deserving of recognition than Jeremy. May we all enjoy what we do as much as he does."

Jack Wolfe, ACG Board Member:

I appreciate Jeremy’s talent, dedication, passion and compassion in his interactions with his students.   He is effective and he really embodies our mission at ACG every day.

Cathy Bennett, Former Director of Guitar Studies at Akins High School:

Cathy, Travis, and Jeremy

Celebrating the 10 years of Jeremy Osborne’s collaboration with ACG. What an amazing gift he is to so many people! His smile is infectious and so is his big heart. Jeremy Osborne is exactly the kind of role model young people need in their lives.

Some words that come into my mind when I think about Jeremy are: compassionate, humble, musician, teacher, friend, listener, patient, loyal, funny, creative, motivator, kind, genuine and the list goes on and on.

Thank you Jeremy, for sharing your love of music and of life with so many young people over the past 10 years. I am truly honored to call you my friend.

Travis Marcum, ACG Director of Education:

Jeremy inspires.

For ten years, Jeremy has (as he likes to say) made a 60-mile loop around the city of Austin, visiting guitar teachers and students, helping them grow. He puts his nose down and works tirelessly. From the very first day, Jeremy shows his students that he would do anything for them. At Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center, Jeremy builds trust with young men that have long decided never to risk trusting again. He shows thousands of students and teachers each year what it means to be an artist and a friend.

Jeremy loves the guitar, but more so ... he loves people. Kindness, integrity, and dedication are the words that come to mind when I think of Jeremy. He has been an invaluable cornerstone to the Austin music education community for 10 years. We are so proud of the teacher and person he is. Thank you my friend.

Some of Travis's favorite Jeremy photos from their two-decade friendship.

Justice Phillips, Music Composition Graduate of UT-Austin:

To say that Jeremy Osborne has had a profound impact impact on my life would be a gross understatement. Obviously Jeremy is an outstanding human being that is kind, intelligent, funny, and very personable. But, I want to focus on how he has impacted me as a musician because as I prepare to graduate college and begin my next chapter in life, I find myself asking how did I get here as a musician? Where did it all begin? Every time I find myself thinking those things, my mind takes me to one person, and that is Jeremy Osborne.

I honestly don’t know if I would even be a musician without Jeremy, and that is a scary thought to have considering a big part of how I identify myself as a human being is as a musician. I remember the moment where my true love of music started, and it was in 7th grade on the car ride to Brownsville, Texas for the Guitar Ensemble Festival and Competition that occurs there annually. I had the fortune of riding with Jeremy on the way to Brownsville, and he was listening to his metal CD’s he brought, particularly the bands Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer. I had never heard music like that before, but to say I fell in love wouldn’t tell the whole story. That car ride is actually one of the most vivid memories I have from that time period because how much it affected me. After the trip I started listening to tons of metal, and trying to learn a lot of the songs I listened to on guitar. Honestly, that was the first time I listened to music that I wanted to listen to, and not just music that my parents or brother played. When I think about that moment, I think to myself that Jeremy literally got the ball of my musical world rolling so to speak. I can’t express in words how much that meant, and still means to me to this day as I still love that music that I heard for the first time 10 years ago.

If that was the only way Jeremy had impacted my life, that would still be huge, but it’s not. Jeremy brought me into the classical guitar world when he started the guitar ensemble at Fulmore Middle. That’s a world where I met the best friend I’ve ever had, where I went to McCallum specifically to improve at the guitar, where I’ve gotten the opportunity to go to the university I wanted to attend since I was in middle school, and a world where I get to work with truly wonderful, kind, and intelligent people at ACG doing what I love to do. It’s crazy for me to think how if Jeremy hadn’t been around all those years ago, I truly don’t know what I would be doing. The way that I see it, Jeremy set me on this path that I’ve followed the last 10 years and words really can’t express how grateful I am.

Liz Cass, ACG Board Member & Armstrong Community Music School Executive Director:

I am beyond lucky to have Jeremy as my dear good long-time friend. He’s one of the most caring, compassionate, hilarious, fun, loving people I know.  He brings an incredible depth of integrity and artistry to everything he does from playing his guitar to teaching his beloved students to all of his interactions with the people in his life. I once heard him describe a friend as “God’s prototype”. I guess it takes one to know one, because the title fits for Jeremy too.

Alex Lew, Former Student:

Jeremy Osborne is an all around incredible person. If I had to choose a single word to describe him, it would hands down be "inspiring". Osborne single handedly steered me into a path that I have grown to love so much, and I feel privileged to have felt his influence in my upbringing; not only as a guitarist, but as a genuinely good person. Of course, Jeremy is a creative, and that should always be admired; but I have always loved the way the he isn't afraid of throwing himself into situations that others may fear, which has made me realize that we are not limited by anything but our own minds. The fact that he is able to touch other people's lives as he has touched mine is humbling, as we should all strive to be like Jeremy Osborne.

Honorable Judge Darlene Byrne, 126th Judicial District Court:

Jeremy has such a heart for kids that have come from very hard places.  In his work at Gardner Betts with our youth there, he provides a platform for kids to shine – maybe for the first time ever.  Through his amazing skill as a musician and teacher, he helps these young people see their potential for growth, helps them find a way to cope with their significant life stresses through music, and challenges them to strive ever harder to be their best selves.  Thank you Jeremy on behalf of the courts, the probation department, the children and their families that you have tirelessly served through ACG.

Elaine Kasper, ACG Board Member:

I am thrilled to write a note to celebrate Jeremy Osborne! I have had the joy of observing him teach several times. Each time, I was amazed to see his calm and confident presence connect with every student – whether it was during the summer working with students for the I/We project, students at Gardner Betts, or at Kealing Middle School.

Students and faculty are comfortable asking for his advice, direction, and suggestions with teaching and learning strategies. His skills are an asset to ACG and we are incredibly lucky to have him!!

Francisco de la Rosa, Former Student:

Mr. Osborne is an amazing person.  I have been very fortunate when it comes to role models in my life and I am proud to say that Mr. Osborne has been one of the most influential people who has inspired the music path I follow today.  

Mr. Osborne is also an inspiring educator, not only because he is passionate and dedicated to music, but because he invests in every student’s life. Not only does he have the outstanding ability to help students feel confident in their musical potential, but is also willing to help with other academic subjects when needed.

The most significant quality is his compassion.  His ability to genuinely sit down with individuals and simply listen to them during the difficult and best of times in their lives, is inspiring.

Francisco (left) and Jeremy dressed as Francisco (right)

One of the fondest memories out of many that I have from our Akins High School ensemble, was when Mr. Osborne surprised all of us at the Fall Festival concert dressed up as me.  It was a humorous and heartwarming experience that someone that I look up to took the time to dress up like me for Halloween.

I congratulate Mr. Osborne on his ten years with ACG, and I know my story is one of many of how inspiring Jeremy Osborne has been in that time frame.


Kendal Gladish, ACG Board Member:

I think Jeremy is quietly fearless, in that he welcomes challenge and approaches large workloads, students at many levels, and teachers who need coaching with a persistent and cheerful determination that inspires confidence and comfort. I cannot imagine this talented man being daunted by difficulty--he believes in himself and ACG's mission--and will simply find ways to help his students succeed. We are all better for having Jeremy as a colleague and friend.

David & Karen Osborne, Jeremy's Parents:

Our dearest son, Jeremy,
So, so proud of you always, and this recognition is so deserved. From the time you were born, music has always been a part of your life. When the trumpet and middle school band didn't suit you (although you were amazing at it), you told us you wanted to try the guitar. So lessons, the Squares, your college experiences all made you into the musician you are today. And much more than that, you are such a kind, loving, talented wonderful person and we are so blessed to call you our son. We can't wait to see how much more the world has in store for you!! With our deepest love and affection, Mom and Dad

Dallas Shreve, Dobie Middle School Guitar:

Jeremy has been such an amazing mentor and friend. When I started the guitar program at Dobie four years ago, I had only taught private, one-on-one lessons.   When I took on the task of having 25 new 6th-grade guitarists at a time in a classroom, I had no clue what I was about to experience.  Jeremy mentored me for nearly two years and helped me take one of the “toughest” Title I schools in Austin to sweepstakes at concert and sight reading.  He is such a kind soul as well, always helping me find things to improve on and leaves me feeling encouraged and inspired, either by his playing or simply his presence in the room.  What a wonderful light he is!

Makena Smith, Former Student:

Mr. Osborne didn’t just teach us how to play guitar. He taught us to work hard for success, to believe in ourselves, how to work as an ensemble, and how to support each other. He gave us challenges and made us proud to be a part of our guitar program. Mr. Osborne is one of my greatest role models and  I will never forget the wisdom, opportunities, and experiences he gave my peers and I. There was not a day guitar rehearsal went by where we weren’t excited to see Mr. Osborne.

A student's depiction of Jeremy conducting Makena to a Villa-Lobos piece.

Miguel Rodriguez, Former Student:

I have known Mr. Osborne since my 6th grade year in middle school. And he had been in my life for those following years until I graduated high school. Through those years he taught me how to enjoy and understand music but he also taught me how to laugh at the small things and how to enjoy life through said music! He was my teacher yes, but he was also my mentor, and my friend who I enjoyed seeing everyday in class. I owe a part of who I am today to him! I will always remember and thank my friend who taught me how play.


Charles & Luz Bundick, ACG Supporters:

We first met Jeremy when we found out about his work with the young men at the Gardner Betts Center. We were so impressed by what he and these young men accomplished. We have continued to return to these concerts put on by his students there every chance we get. Thank you Jeremy for all you do for the young people whose lives you touch.

Bridgette Beinecke, ACG Supporter:

I witnessed Jeremy’s gift for teaching his students at Gardner Betts when I saw the eye contact between him and the student with whom he performed a duet. In the words of Dr. Mel Levine, “find a young person’s ‘ISLAND OF COMPETENCE’ and encourage it!” Jeremy does this with his students and it makes all the difference. Thank you, Jeremy, for 10 years of service to ACG and your students.

Charlotte Cawood, ACG Supporter:

The entirety of the Classical Guitar program is incredible, but the talent and dedication Jeremy contributes to these young people is awe-inspiring.

Tobin Quereau, ACG Supporter:

The work that Jeremy and ACG has done with Gardner-Betts Juvenile Detention Center and our many area schools is inspiring. Here's to another ten years of community service!

Anonymous ACG Supporter:

I respect anyone who can take a kiddo and help them achieve something as beautiful as playing the guitar. I know what Jeremy does gives meaning to the lives of lots of students. What a wonderful thing to be able to do! Ten years is a long time to be involved at that level. Congratulations to him!

Anonymous ACG Supporters:

For the last three years we have been living in Niamey, Niger, but in the time we were in Austin, ACG was one of the highlights of living there. After reading the letter from Matt we wanted to give a token of thanks, however small, to Jeremy to recognize what a gift he has given to his students. His example is a breath of fresh air. Thank you, Jeremy. We look forward to hearing your students on our return to Texas. Wishing you all the best. J & K

The Kupiński Guitar Duo

We're thrilled for the Kupiński Guitar Duo to close our 2018-19 International Series Season! This delightful Polish couple will be making their Austin debut on Saturday, April 27th, and we recently had the chance to speak with them about how they got into music, why they began performing together, and what they enjoy most about concerts.

Soloists Ewa Jabłczyńska and Dariusz Kupiński met at the Polish Academy of Music, and completed their post-graduate studies at the Universität der Künste in Berlin and the Hochschule für Musik in Weimar. They've performed across Europe, the US, Mexico, China and Japan, and they're frequently invited to give masterclasses.

Their paths into guitar performance were quite different. Ewa began music lessons at the age of 7, guitar being a natural choice as it was a less expensive option than piano. She told us there wasn't anything unusual about this, as most children in Poland learned a musical instrument from a young age.

Dariusz's father used to play guitar, accordion, and piano casually, but Dariusz didn't venture into music until much later in life; growing up, he was primarily focused on running. While on summer holiday when he was 17, one of his friends brought a guitar along, and Dariusz became intrigued with it when he and his friends were singing around the fireplace.

Ewa and Dariusz fell in love when they were studying at the Polish Academy, and three years after marrying they had a moment of inspiration.

"We had this idea: how about we play together?" And the Kupiński Duo was born.

Both individually praised and masters of the instrument in their own right, Ewa and Dariusz combine their talents and personal connection in a way that's an absolute joy to watch. You can feel their compassion for each other flowing through the music, their mutual understanding and trust always guiding them through passages of technical complexity with grace and ease.

At the core of their charm, though, is the pure fun they have while playing together: it radiates with a warmth that feels like they're sharing with you something special.

The Kupiński Duo will be giving their Austin debut on April 27th, and they're both greatly looking forward to sharing their passion for music with an audience of more than 1000 people.

"I love performing because the atmosphere, the emotions, everything about it - you can't find in a practice room," Ewa said. "Also, I love the interactions with people after the concert. Every time, you hear something surprising - whether good or bad."


Art From the Streets

We’re so fortunate to partner with local artists for our International Series, and for our Season Finale with the Kupiński Duo on Saturday, April 27th, we're especially delighted to have the work of Art From the Streets on display in the lobby. We recently had an opportunity to speak with the Board President, Samuel Pate, a longtime supporter of the arts and social service organizations in Austin. He’s served as President for the past five years, and he shared some insight into why he's so passionate about Art From the Streets.

Mission: "To provide a safe and encouraging environment in which the positive spirit and creativity of homeless and at-risk people are nurtured through their own artistic expression. These artistic endeavors form a pathway to self- determination by means of the sense of achievement, the social connections, and the income generated through the pursuit of their art."

Art From the Streets is a local non-profit dedicated to providing Austinites experiencing homelessness the space and materials to create art. Through selling their work, the participants gain both financial support and self-esteem. It was founded in the early 1990s by Bill Jeffers, a poet and sculptor, and Heloise Gold, a performing artist, dancer, and T’ai Chi instructor.

Every year, 40-50 artists create original works of art in the AFTS studio. Stocked with paper, paints, brushes, and plenty of volunteers to help, the studio is a safe space to explore creative outlets. The Trinity Center at downtown St. David’s Episcopal Church has kindly opened their doors to AFTS as a studio and storage space. It’s intentionally located just a block away from ARCH - Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. Most people hear of Art From the Streets via word of mouth, and three days out of the week, anywhere from 6-20 people stop in to use the materials for their creations.


“Many of our artists have been fortunate, through the sale of their artwork, to afford a place to live partially throughout the year … as some respite from being on the streets.”

There are many gallery events throughout the year for patrons to purchase the original artwork and to engage with the artists. In addition to events at Violet Crown, St. David’s, Trinity Church, and other churches around town, they participate in EAST and WEST, and also sell prints of the work online. 95% of the revenue sourced from sales goes directly to the artists, with only 5% held for production of the shows.

However, the intrinsic value of participation in these free studio opportunities is not the monetary gain.

“The greatest benefits I see are the sense of optimism, the confidence built, and the social connections. It’s the achievement, it’s doing something. I think we spend more time, energy, and resources creating this program than the artists make by the end of the year. If we just took that money and distributed it, it wouldn’t have the same effect.”

Art From the Streets is in the midst of running a Capitol Campaign with the goal of affording a new space of their own. That would offer them the possibility to have open doors five days of the week instead of only three, and the studio would ideally have art storage and a space for gallery events. They would also like to increase their paid staff in the future; currently, Art From the Streets has only one paid staff member.

"Three" by Bernardo 'Nayo' Martinez

On the cover of our program for Saturday night is the artwork of "Nayo" Martinez, an AFTS participant who passed away late last year. According to Samuel, "He was a great artist. He was extremely talented, very accessible, and now his paintings are being grabbed up as fast as they can."

Kelley Worden, the AFTS Executive Director, said they recently found out that Nayo worked in the circus for many years - perhaps explaining the faces he frequently depicted in his work.

Patti Troth Black: The Nurturing Beauty of Nature

An artist living both in Austin and Santa Fe, Patti Troth Black has been a dear friend of ACG for years, and has always been deeply appreciative of our work in the Lullaby Project. A few years back, she created a collection of paintings in honor of our work with mothers. At the Austin Tango! concert on March 2nd, an exhibit of her work was on display in the lobby before the Bandini-Chiacchiaretta Duo took the stage. We're so fortunate to have spoken with her recently about her artwork, her inspiration, and why she is so moved by the Lullaby Project.

Patti was born in the "wild and rugged beauty" of West Texas. Always in love with nature and possessing an innate aesthetic vision,  she has three degrees in subjects unrelated to art: a double major in English and Classics, a Master's of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, and an almost-completed Master's from the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest. An ongoing shoulder injury prevented her from completing the seminary degree, but she was still able to paint and write poetry.

"I have no training in art. I’ve simply been drawing and painting since I was five, and I’m in love with it."

Her artwork, ranging from prints to paintings to panels of gouache-painted photos, often depicts natural elements breathed to life with vibrant, intricate patterns.

"I am particularly drawn to rich floral and nature motifs on hand-painted furniture, which weave their way into all my tiny detail work. I use a lot of iridescent gold to represent touches of sunlight. Very often hidden in those patterns will be trees, leaves, tiny birds, all kinds of things that make up the concrete reality of life. That is the fabric upon which I build the final impression."

"It’s usually something very close to my heart - I love nature, birds, trees, and light - so those motifs repeat over and over again; they inspire everything."

Her admiration of the Lullaby Project, the program that pairs expectant or new mothers with artists to write a lullaby together, stems from memories of her childhood. Because of events beyond her control growing up, she recognizes the intense bond music can form between a parent and child.

"I was the first child, and my mother wasn't well - she didn’t want me when I was born. My father would come home and find me unchanged and unfed, and he would clean me up and feed me, and then he’d sing to me in both Spanish and English with his guitar. I think he saved my life."

"My first language was music; I thought music was language. I was singing the songs with my father before I could even talk.  In very difficult times of my life, if I can get a song going in my head, it takes me back to that place of a really gentle, sincere feeling of safety, warmth, and nourishment."

Over the past five years or so, her artistic vision has shifted focus toward photography. After falling in love with a 120 film camera she purchased from a friend, she began to print the photographs on heavy German etching paper. She was seeing certain aspects of the photographs stand out, and she wanted to paint directly on the photos.

"I don’t plan things out ahead of time. I can see it in my mind’s eye, but everything tells me what it wants to be."

She's been working for the past seven months on shadow, light, and reflection. The focus of these works is not on the objects themselves, but on their reflections. Similarly to noticing things within photographs that she would highlight through painting, Patti began to see elements leaping out of the reflections, and felt the need to bring them to life.

"There's a photo I did in Santa Fe - light there is different than light here - and I’m holding in my hand a dark, almost sapphire blue bowl. It was so opaque that the reflection didn’t show the blue. But it did get brilliant little suggestions of aqua and turquoise that presented an aura around the scalloped edge of the bulb. As I began to look at it, I saw a tree holding up a city, and it made me think of Austin. The title is 'Nature’s Graciousness,' and it’s about the value of our oaks. No matter how much the city gets built and built, there are still oak trees everywhere. Sometimes they struggle up through things, but they’re still there."

Lullaby, 2014 (first Lullaby Project painting)

Patti's work is an ode to nature and the soul. She believes us all to be incredibly fortunate to live within nature's embrace, and her work draws inspiration from the everyday beauty of her world.

"The earth is our mother: it nurtures us constantly, not only with its beauty, but with the fact that trees and plants exhale pure oxygen. In a city, the trees are constantly counteracting all the carbon dioxide from cars. Our spirits are immensely enriched by the birds. Right now, we have black-belly whistling ducks that come to my feeding area in the backyard - this is the third year in a row they’ve come back - and it’s so fun watching the ducks padding around on their duck feet in the backyard eating birdseed."

Her favorite piece among those she's gathered for the exhibit on March 2nd depicts a mother and child. There's a tree growing alongside them, a tiny city down on the right-hand corner, and two birds carrying in a guitar.

"That, to me, says it all."

Over Twenty Years of Tango: A True Passion

We couldn't be more excited for the Bandini-Chiacchiaretta Tango Duo's return to Austin for their third performance with us. Click here for more information about the Austin Tango! concert on March 2nd at 8pm in the AISD Performing Arts Center.

Each concert, an energetic team of volunteers helps us out with everything from the Box Office to ushering to assisting our food vendors. One of our longest-serving volunteers, Pat Dickerson, has been dancing tango for over two decades. She has a unique perspective on tango in Austin, and why the Bandini-Chiacchiaretta Duo is special.

Pat is a research geologist at the University of Texas - Austin where she serves on graduate student committees, collaborates with friends and colleagues, and leads Smithsonian trips to places such as Iceland, Machu Picchu, the Galapagos, and US National Parks. In addition to geology, Pat's second love is tango.

"It’s one of the most wonderful things I’ve discovered - my passion for tango and geology are pretty close."

Her first exposure to tango was her goddaughter's performance with Glover Gill's internationally renowned "Tosca Tango Orchestra" in 1997. Pat was instantly hooked.

"I heard the music, saw the people dancing, and thought, 'There’s the rest of my life.' It was that visceral, that immediate."

She signed up for a tango workshop and started taking lessons, gradually becoming more enthusiastic about it as time went on.

"Week after week I built on it and became more and more - I don’t want to say obsessed - more enamored of it."

The roots of tango music go back to docks on the port of Buenos Aires. Most tango social dances, milongas, take place in small venues, similar to the Buenos Aires neighborhood dance halls in which they began. Pat started attending milongas, and grew to love the music and culture surrounding tango.

"The dance is total improv, it’s similar to jazz and blues in that way. You learn a few basic steps, and those can be chained together in whatever sequence the music wants you to do, whatever skill level you or your partner has, or how much room you have on the dance floor."

"We dance to a lot of the same music every night, every week, for months and years, and you’d think we’d get bored, but it’s always fresh - it’s a curious thing. You can dance five times to the same song, but it will always be a different dance."

Tango dancing appeals to Pat because it demands her complete attention.

"I love that you have to be engaged. It’s a very cerebral dance. You’re not just learning patterns, it’s not choreographed - for me that’s a huge appeal. You have to be able to read each other’s movements and respond. The connection with the music and your partner is a different level of dancing."

Pat tries to get to Buenos Aires at least once a year, but she also appreciates the tango opportunities available right here in Austin. She finds a milonga to attend almost every evening, and has developed a deep connection with the tango community.

"You can dance every night in Austin. Occasionally people will host milongas in their homes - those are always lovely. Someone who’s even more an addict than I am has built a room off her house just for tango dancing."

According to Pat, tango seems to attract quite a wide range of enthusiasts.

"Our group has everything from aerospace engineers to US Postmen to 28 flavors of teachers. At the moment, I’m the only geologist in the group. It’s a wonderful melting pot, and you can meet people you might not otherwise have a chance to cross paths with. It’s almost like a clan, in a way, but without any blood relations."

Pat is drawn to the universal appeal of tango, finding similarly zealous dancers in her travels around the world.

"I’ve danced in Reykjavik, Oslo, Auckland, Santiago, Quebec, Vancouver, several places in Argentina, and many US cities. It's this shared music we all dance to; it’s a comfortable thing when traveling."

Pat has seen the Bandini-Chiacchiaretta each time they've performed in Austin. She admires their impeccable skill and originality.

"Bandini-Chiacchiaretta carry some of the original feel of the music; they retain the legitimacy of it. Their selection of pieces is authentic, older, more traditional tango - the classics. They play animatedly, it's wonderful."

Oliver Rajamani: A Magical Perspective

Join us April 6th & 7th for a performance unlike anything you've ever seen before: Oliver Rajamani's Flamenco India with Jerónimo Maya! For tickets and more information, click here.

“Life is magical and mysterious. I try to stay in the pure joy of life. There’s an innocence in creating and being in joy … music is part of that, music is joyful. It’s beautiful what people create.”
- Oliver Rajamani

Oliver Rajamani’s unique upbringing contributed to the distinct stylistic and visual palette of his music. Had he not attended an American International school in India, Rajamani believes he would not be who he is today: an internationally renowned artist and the creator of “Flamenco India.”

“Going to that school changed my life. I had this upbringing that was so different from the normal Indian child and way of thinking. I couldn’t connect with my family, or people from my own country, or anyone in American Western culture either. No one could really understand my life; there were times when I just felt alone."

"Because I don’t belong in any one group, I’m able to connect better with everyone.”

Rajamani feels strongly that people should experience cultures outside their own. He moved to New York in 1989, studying in an unconventional college that viewed education as an exploratory time for students to immerse themselves fully in an area of interest, and not to be sequestered into ‘learning from the books,’ so to speak.

“I traveled and got to experience culture and people for their essence, rather than just sitting in a classroom and learning.”

Ethnomusicology was not yet a broad field of study, so Oliver Rajamani pieced together his own version with a dual degree in sociology and music. His study of music actually began much earlier, during his school days in India, when he played onstage with his uncle's band and encountered the folk music of villages. He was also exposed to Western classical music as a percussionist in his school’s band.

After coming to the US, his appetite for music grew stronger.

Rajamani was aimless during his college years; he enjoyed music and meeting new people, but didn’t know what he wanted to do beyond that. An anthropology professor gave him a book about the Romani people, thinking the open field of study relating to his home country might interest him.

“I didn’t go looking out for this Gypsy thing, it just came into my life.”

He first encountered the Romani people during his college years. Rajamani says the Roma are not as secluded as mainstream culture believes: “There are a lot of Roma in the US, but you won’t know because they won’t tell you; they hide it for fear of persecution.”

The Roma migrated from India in waves beginning in the 11th century. They adopted elements from each culture in which they lived as a survival method, but kept very secretive out of fear of discrimination.

The Romani people have been misunderstood for centuries, their persistent seclusion allowing for each group they encounter to create myths and prejudices about their beliefs and behaviors.

Rajamani began playing with a wide range of Roma musicians, along with Non-Roma (Gadje) musicians, in New York. Through those musical connections, he met someone who would have a major influence on his future: Dr. Ian Hancock, the UN Ambassador for the Romani Congress and the world’s head scholar in Romani studies. Hancock connected him with the Romani Congress, where he ended up working for four years.

Dr. Hancock was a linguist and professor at the University of Texas - Austin, the location of the world’s largest historical archives of Roma, and he encouraged Rajamani to move there. He thought Rajamani would benefit from its diverse music scene. The coalescence of Rajamani’s deep connection with Romani cultures, his unique musical flavor, and his move to Austin all provided fertile ground for the birth of Flamenco India.

Through his time spent with Romani people, and his acquaintance with flamenco guitarist Arturo Martinez, Rajamani learned about the Indian roots of flamenco. He was collaborating with flamenco artists and emphasizing its Indian components, such as Indian folk songs, to demonstrate its rich history to his audiences. This innovative approach evolved into Flamenco India.

“The majority of my musical life has been from my family, my own talent, and learning things here and there as I went along, working with different artists and talking with different people.”

Flamenco evolved from the cultural and spiritual identity of the Roma in Spain. Historically called 'Gypsies' by various groups, the Roma were known as 'flamencos' by the Spaniards.

“Most people don’t know the roots of flamenco. The Roma came to Spain at the end of the 15th century during the Inquisition, when the Spanish were trying to get rid of foreigners: Jews, Gypsies, Moors. These people ran and hid in the caves of Granada, which is where flamenco evolved from. Flamenco was a fusion of the time: it has unique similarities to Indian singing and musical styles, Indian dance movements - the hands and footsteps - and the music is also heavily influenced by Arabic Andalusian music. All I’m doing with Flamenco India is highlighting the Indian-ness of flamenco.”

In Flamenco India, Rajamani has brought together Indian musicians, a small string orchestra, Jerónimo Maya - a Romani guitarist - and Indian and flamenco dancers. The flamenco music incorporates Indian and Middle Eastern melodies and harmonies, and the orchestra performs in a style displaying his roots in Western classical music. He acknowledges the influence of place in Flamenco India as well.

“There’s definitely an Austin element to my music: even though it has roots in Spain, India, the Middle East, it’s really an Austin project. Flamenco India was born in Austin, but it has deep roots in all these other cultures.”

Rajamani believes his synthesis of flamenco and Romani cultures merging through shared Indian roots shines “a new light and a new perspective on a beautiful, historic, educational, and passionate show full of fire. It’s a unique experience; there’s not really anyone else in the world doing this. It’s a magical and very colorful show.”

Caitlin McCollom: A Universal Experience of Spirituality

We're so fortunate to partner with local artists for our International Series at the Austin ISD Performing Arts Center. On Saturday, January 22nd, the work of Caitlin McCollom will be displayed in a beautiful and fascinating exhibit in the lobby for Irina Kulikova's concert. We had the chance to speak with Caitlin, and she shared some insight into how she became an artist, what influences her painting, and what she portrays in her work.

How did you become an artist?

I was calling myself an artist even as a little kid. I loved to paint and draw, and I had a super-active imagination and strong connection to spirituality. I grew up in Dripping Springs when it was still rural, so I was very connected to nature and bucolic solitude. I hated school very much; I couldn’t wait for it to be over. When I went to college, I decided to major in painting. It wasn’t a supported talent when I was younger, so getting to study it professionally made it apparent that it was not just a passion, but something that would be my whole way of life.

I started showing exhibits when I was a junior in college, and continued to show all over Texas after graduating. I also ran a little gallery with the intention of supporting other artists, but it was really a way to meet as many artists in the community as possible.

Then, I moved to New York City to get an MFA and pursue my career there.

Shortly after moving, I acquired a chronic genetic disease and fell very ill. I spent some time in the hospital, then moved back to Austin.  I was desperately ill, couldn’t work at all, and didn’t really have any money, since I’d just moved to New York. It all just fell apart - I had to start my life over.

But it was an amazing time to learn what I really wanted out of my life: to be a full-time artist. It took me six months of doing nothing but healing, and then I got back to work once I saved up enough money for art supplies.

As an artist, I have a compulsion to create. The hardest part of the illness was that I couldn’t work for a while.

In New York it’s really expensive, it's a really hard way of life. As a full-time artist, I can live a lot more inexpensively in Austin. I’ve been a full-time artist for a few years now, which was my dream! I don’t know if that would’ve happened in New York. I feel like I’m exactly where I need to be.


Blood Core, Acrylic on yupo

Do you feel that art helped you with the healing process?

When I was finally able to work again, I made this series called “Blood and White,” which was all about the fragility of the body, and the physicality of disease, and trying to make fragility and disease look beautiful. It was made in a stark way, but also in a way that had a very strong aesthetic component. I was trying to communicate to people where I had been the past year ... that was healing.


Did your illness inform your aesthetic sense?

I definitely have a very particular aesthetic sense; I always paint in red, I love the symbology of it. And in my work from 2014, while I was healing, I had this strong urge to use the color blue because I was trying to communicate the idea of water as a symbol of the spiritual realm.

I read this book called the “Cloud of Unknowing,” an anonymous medieval text on early Christian mysticism. In it, there were beautiful, specific instructions for having a mystical experience. It was fascinating. The author talks about this idea that the way to experience God is through entering the cloud of unknowing: with no preconceived notions of what God is, and no knowledge of anything beyond your existence in the moment, God gives you a spiritual experience.

Around that time, I became fascinated by a weather phenomenon in South America called a Garúa: a low-hanging, transparent cloud that can appear suddenly. You don’t know it's there unless you pass through it - it's so dense that your body becomes soaking wet.

The garúa reminded me of the ‘cloud of unknowing’, and I realized that water was a symbol of the spiritual realm. What I try to say in my work is that what's completely real can be absolutely invisible, and you only know it’s there from experience.

What message do you convey in your work?

The red is physical, and the blue is spiritual. You have this physicality, this red blood, and then something happens beyond you, and it’s like the water of the spirit realm mixing in with your blood.

It’s swirling all around you, and you feel the sense of being infused with something beyond yourself. It’s similar to the invisible experience of music causing a strong emotional reaction.

The abstraction of my paintings can purify meaning without confusing the viewer with a concrete subject, but each of my paintings has a specific shape. There are teardrops, orbs, hearts;  these shapes are all Jungian symbols with universal meaning. 

I try to have layers of symbols in my paintings to make them universal, but also very personal, so people can see their own lives and the meanings ascribed to them. What inspires me most is people’s stories about spirituality, and about near-death experiences.

Each painting has its own kind of message, and reveals itself to me in a different way. I can tell if a work is successful or not if someone looks at one and says it means to them the same thing it meant to me when painting it. It’s a visual language, so if it’s not translatable, I feel it’s not very successful. I really try to have a painting mean something attainable.

Irina Kulikova: An Exchange of Energy

Our first International Series concert of 2019 features the fabulous Russian guitarist, Irina Kulikova, whose musical elegance, beauty, and power have captivated audiences around the world. We can't wait for her Austin debut on January 26th!

Irina Kulikova, a daughter and granddaughter of musicians, grew up listening to her mother play cello. She taught private lessons and played in a quartet, and Irina remembers often accompanying her mother to the “Wedding Palace” to hear her perform for ceremonies and receptions.

“I was always there, and always naughty,” Irina recalls fondly.

Her mother had a profound influence on her, musically and otherwise. When Irina was five, she wanted to play either the violin or cello, but her mother insisted she start on guitar because it was “easier to play in tune at first.” To this day, Irina strives for a cello-like sound in her guitar playing, and says she has a strong cello technique.

Her parents in Chelyabinsk, Russia

Irina believes her mother was the anchor of her family when she was little. When Irina’s father lost his factory job during the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was her mother who supported the family, balancing three jobs with caring for Irina and her younger brother. Irina's father pursued his passion of photography, and today has made a career of it.

“When the Soviet Union fell, the women found new ways of survival even as the men were losing jobs.”

Just as Irina's mother introduced her to cello, so too is Irina exposing her daughter to the world of music. Mariëlle is six and a half, and already plays piano, acts, and sings. She's strong-willed and free-spirited: Irina considers it a success if she can choose her daughter's clothes even one or two days a week.

She also sees a lot of herself in her daughter.

“She has a very sharp mind, very bright and very supportive. If she wants something a certain way and I disagree, I make her prove why she’s right.”

Mariëlle is always close by when Irina gives lessons, listening quietly while occupying herself with something tactile and creative, such as drawing or playing with clay.

“She once asked me how many students I had, and after I told her, she said, ‘No Mommy, that’s not right. You have one more - I’m your student.’ Even though she doesn’t really play guitar! She’ll pick it up for a while and learn something, then leave it for two months or so, and come back remembering exactly what I taught her. Sometimes, she corrects the hands of my students - and she’s right! The students become very embarrassed.”

Mariëlle doesn’t travel with Irina during her concert tours, as Irina believes the traveling life of a performer is too hectic. Irina never worries about her while she's gone though, because, "I feel confident that when I’m away, she knows exactly what she wants, and will do fine."

“My main goal in life is to make people happy: I make my daughter happy, I love cooking for my family and friends, and when I play in a concert, I bring a message with my music. People with sparkling eyes come up to me after a concert and say 'Thank you.'  When you see people so happy because of your playing, it’s an incredible exchange of energy, it’s so meaningful and so important."

Though touring can be arduous and lonely at times, Irina admits she’s grown accustomed to life on the road, and at this point, it’s just a fact of life.

“I’ve traveled since I was eight, so now if I’m home for more than two weeks or a month at a time, it feels like a disaster. I want to perform!”

Irina also loves meeting new people, and finds performing greatly rewarding.

“Giving an audience the right food for the mind, the right feelings, is incredible.”

She loves US audiences in particular, since they enjoy contemporary music and always give her amazing feedback after concerts. She did have to get used to speaking from the stage, as that is not customary in Russia, but now finds it easy to break the ice with even the most non-responsive audiences.

Helping a student in an Italian masterclass

Irina, who has never been to Austin, is especially excited for her visits to four local schools, and for the masterclass she’ll be teaching at the University of Texas.

“I had a difficult path - working many jobs, practicing a lot - to pursue my dream, so I understand the struggle of young musicians. I’m grateful for my experiences, because I can share them with passionate people who can learn from me.”