Summer 2013 Education Progress Report

In the last several years we have seen dramatic growth in our education program.  In September 2011 we were serving 14 area schools with around 650 students compared with this past year when our responsibility grew to 30 area schools and over 1,500 students.

The challenge before our education team, then, has been to increase the scale of our services while ensuring delivery of the highest quality educational experiences possible to the children we serve.  Where before we had been responsible for developing curriculum and directing guitar classes in each school, we have more recently needed to effectively train and support educators, and further refine our curriculum support structure, so that more and more programs will be highly successful.

Our approach to this challenge has been to:

  1. enhance our training and team-teaching systems
  2. create and launch an extensive video tutorial and benchmark library (over 50 tutorials launched in August, 2012 at
  3. develop high-quality audio recordings of the music library to serve as examples for both students and teachers (
  4. work with district administrators to develop evaluative systems analogous to those in place for choir, orchestra and band (e.g. District Sight Reading Contest)

It is in this context that I was overjoyed to review the video (available upon request) of our second-ever district Sight Reading contest (April 18th, 2013).  Most importantly there is remarkable qualitative consistency throughout the performances.  Some groups are playing simpler repertoire, and others more complex, but they are sitting with excellent posture, playing with excellent technique, producing robust and clear tone, and performing with confidence and nuanced musical expression.

Student outcomes in these specific forms has been our highest goal since the beginning of our Educational Outreach program, and to see it manifest in so many diverse schools – with both old and new classes – is deeply inspiring.

Also of significance is the fact that so few of the performances were conducted by our staff.  As our responsibility has grown – now to 30 programs – it has become no longer practical for our faculty to directly run all classes like we did five years ago.  This increase in responsibility has driven and tested our curriculum development ( and our training practices.  We provide more than 120 hours of direct service in schools every week, and we are now largely training and team-teaching to leverage our knowledge and materials to ensure student and educator success.

It’s working!  And the result is nothing less than the creation of an entire new arts subject area in AISD that has powerfully attracted and retained thousands of diverse students to arts engagement, while maintaining rigorous educational and artistic standards.

For this report I asked for brief statements from our three full-time educators, who are in the field on a daily basis and have the best perspective on the evolution of our education services.

From our Education Director, Travis Marcum: This semester has been a landmark period for ACGS. The spring is now full of guitar events sponsored by the district, as well as outside organizations, including: All-City Guitar Ensemble, UIL Solo and Ensemble contest, AISD Solo and Ensemble contest, Large Ensemble Concert and Sight Reading Assessment, Individual school adjudicated guitar contests, State UIL Solo and Ensemble, Individual program Spring concerts, and the Hill Country Guitar Ensemble Competition.

These events galvanize the school guitar community and establish standards – in the same way they do for more established fields like choir, orchestra and band.  Helping AISD – and soon the broader Texas community – to establish these evaluative events is a key part of our overall strategy.

This semester, I have been astonished at the quality of playing and teaching that is happening across the board for our programs. Students are engaged in meaningful music making experiences rooted in quality, expressive performance and joyful mastery of our art form. The AISD Concert and Sight Reading Assessment was especially impressive as 14 of our programs performed level appropriate repertoire from in a seamless, well-executed concert full of expression and artistry.  They were also required to sight read a challenging unfamiliar piece in a ten-minute time frame – and performed this test of musicianship skills exceptionally well in every case.

More personally, I have been overwhelmed with pride in my students at Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. The relationships that I have with the students and staff there have become the most rewarding of my career. For many it is the first time they have experienced scholastic success, and after each performance it is truly inspiring to watch these kids stand a little bit taller than they ever have before as they receive a standing ovation from a crowd of 100+ audience members. We have had a number of students from this program successfully transition into external school programs at Crockett, Travis, and Akins High. Just this week a previous student, who is in an on-grounds transitional home, asked me if he could reenter my class as well as continue with his school program at Travis High because he enjoys playing so much and wants to improve.

From our Assistant Education Director, Jeremy Osborne: 2013 began with a mad dash to prepare Lamar Middle School’s performance for the International Concert Series with Vladimir Gorbach.  This was the first time I had ever prepared a middle school in such a short amount of time, and it was quite the challenge for all of us.  Needless to say the students played wonderfully and audience members were surprised to find out they were a middle school ensemble.

The Akins High Intermediate/Advanced Ensemble had a semester filled with a high level of playing and great artistic achievement – as well as some national accolades.  We spent the semester learning a college-level program earning top honors at the AISD evaluation event as well as 2nd place in the Hill Country National Guitar Ensemble Competition.  Not bad for a group of 2nd and 3rd year players!

For Guitars Under the Stars, we decided to try a new format for our student performance.  Before we prepared a short performance by one program, but due to the consistent quality across all AISD’s programs, we felt it would be powerful to showcase several.  This resulted in a 9-member group with the top 3 students from Akins, Crockett, and McCallum high school performing a Bach Fugue that they specifically requested we play.

For the FlamencoAustin pre-show, with over 1300 at the Long Center, we combined students from Akins, Crockett and McCallum into a large ensemble of 26.  They put together a spirited performance of a Telemann concerto.  I was inspired by how motivated and excited the students were to do this, especially so late in the semester.  The performance was perfect, and I cannot begin to describe how amazing it felt to conduct these kids on the Long Center Stage.  It was a moment that I will remember for a very long time.

At the AISD Evaluation Event I heard every performance, and the level of artistry achieved across the board gave me goose bumps!  Each group exhibited characteristics found in all successful programs and you could tell that the kids were enjoying performing, regardless of the evaluation.  It was a testament to the level of teaching achieved by the AISD directors, and a really proud day for our team.

From our Community Guitarists Director, Eric Pearson: A few of my assigned programs stood out this spring.  Dixie Yoder at Webb Middle School is now in her second year running a guitar program and has show herself to be a leader in the district and an outstanding teacher and conductor.  In addition to masterful preparation and outstanding musicianship of her guitar ensembles, she also started an additional mariachi group and organized a middle school guitar solo contest at Webb Middle School this spring in which every single student of the guitar program competed.

No other school has demonstrated the transformative power of rigorous guitar programs this year than Travis High School.  Susan Rozanc has brought that guitar program from a pilot of 20 students to having the largest arts program enrollment in the school!  The guitar ensemble has played for over a half dozen extra events this semester and gets increasing requests for collaboration from the administration and other faculty.

At Travis I have seen many students start to show incredible dedication to music and their studies both in and out of rehearsal.  The guitar room has become the safe haven for many students and the place to come and practice and get encouragement from Ms. Rozanc.  Numerous students have come for advice on getting extra help and tutoring so they can participate in the many music events that require “eligibility” through academic class grades.  There are many instances where a student puts the needed effort into graduating or avoiding truancy after conferring with the music teachers and getting that extra perspective on the necessity of being responsible for their own success.

One student in particular has made a personal transformation before my eyes this year.  Upon entering the guitar class in the fall, he was having extreme personal and family issues, was failing several classes and was demonstrating behavior problems in classes and rehearsals.  Since joining the guitar class he became one of the students that would spend extra time in the music room practicing and doing extra rehearsals.  His attitude in class, and toward school in general, improved immensely and he started taking responsibility for his schoolwork, personal choices, and future.  Since earning the privilege of taking free private lessons provided by ACGS, he has become a positive influence in class, and a leader during rehearsals.  He frequently leads sectionals, comes in for extra help, and offers help to the teachers and staff.  While he was failing out of several classes and admittedly at risk of dropping out of school early in the year, he has pulled most of his grades up to passing, and is on track to graduate with his class.

Conclusion: With national registration, including over 25 elementary educators so far, for our August Teacher Training hosted at UT Austin, recent articles in American String Teacher, GFA Soundboard, Artistworks (online), Texas Exes Alcalde (online), and forthcoming in Music Educators Journal and Southwestern Musician, ACGS curriculum and training practices continue to have impact far beyond Austin.  We are on track to update technology, develop an elementary curriculum unit, develop our Braille adaptation, finish audio recording of our music library, and video tutorial integration.  Our programs in the Texas School for the Blind and Juvenile Justice System are thriving – the latter is a model now for a new program being developed in South Texas.  We have countless stories of personal success, including our annual full-scholarship recipient at ACC.

You make our work possible, and I cannot thank you enough.  I hope we have continued to make you proud.  I’d like to say a special thanks to our institutional supporters: The City of Austin, The Augustine Foundation, The George and Fay Young Foundation, The Webber Family Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts, The Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation, Tobin Janel Levy and Michael R. Levy, The Kodosky Foundation, Austin Asset, H-E-B, Louise Epstein and John Henry McDonald Trust, The MFS Foundation, The 3M Foundation, The Shield-Ayres Foundation, Ameriprise Financial, The Union Pacific Foundation, The D’Addario Foundation, Silicon Labs, Volacci Corporation, The Kinney Company, and the Texas Commission on the Arts.

Please contact us any time with any questions you may have at 512-300-ACGS or email me at [email protected].

With deepest gratitude,

Dr. Matthew Hinsley