Classical Guitar Alive! is a global classical guitar radio phenomenon produced right here in Austin by Tony Morris.  The show airs in Austin on Fridays at 9PM and again on Sundays at 11am on KMFA, 89.5FM, and each week brings insight, interviews and great music with guests that range from composers and guitar intellectuals to up and coming virtuosi to the classical guitar world’s brightest stars.

Classical Guitar Alive! has a wonderful fundraiser coming up on Saturday, October 29th, one I attend almost every year, and I thought I’d try to snag Tony for a quick conversation about himself, his wife – and fabulous flute player – Renata Green, his show, the fundraiser, and more.

Matthew Hinsley: Tell me how you first got interested in producing Classical Guitar Alive?

Tony Morris: I started doing the Classical Guitar Alive radio program in 1993, shortly after graduation from UT with my Master’s in guitar with Adam Holzman. Like a lot of students nearing graduation, I worried about career options.

Fortunately, during my last semester at UT, Adam told me about a guitar teaching job opening at a college in Houston. I applied for it, and had a successful audition. I remember the dean who auditioned me said that he wanted me to keep in touch with him, because he had a feeling that I “was going places.”

I took that to mean that I was going to get the job, so I prepared for the move to Houston, and began brainstorming about how I could establish myself there. I came up with an idea to do a guitar radio program on one of the local public radio stations there. I was devastated when I learned that I didn’t get the job. They hired a local guitarist instead.

Anyway, I picked myself up and realized that the guitar radio program was still a good idea, and that maybe I could do it here in Austin – even though I had absolutely no Radio-TV-Film training… and in those days was painfully shy and hated public speaking. What was I thinking?!


Nevertheless, I started pestering both KMFA and KUT, and KMFA relented first. Scott Dawes, the program director then, agreed to do a guitar show on a trial basis, and the first CGA show aired on KMFA in October of 1993. The opening and closing theme music back then was a piece that I wrote and recorded.  I chose the name “Classical Guitar Alive” because I had read an article in Guitar Player Magazine titled “Is Classical Guitar Dead?” The radio program was and is my rebuttal.

In the beginning, I would go to KMFA, record my commentary on their reel-to-reel tape machine, and then hand them a playlist and stack of CDs. The on-air announcer would play the tape, pause it, and then play a track from the CD according to the playlist. A few months later, I was offered a part-time weekend announcer position at KMFA, and I started doing CGA live. It was terrifying at first, but exciting, too.

MH: I didn’t arrive in town until 1996 – but already Austin was buzzing about the show.  I remember one particularly colorful evening after we had presented Bill Kanengiser in concert, and Bill and I came by the KMFA studio so the two of you could do an interview.  It was after midnight!  The show has certainly grown, Tony, tell me about the growth, what has been most exciting?

TM: The show is now on over 250 radio stations across the US and internationally, which sounds like a lot, but there is still a lot of room to grow. The most exciting thing recently has been that CGA is now finally broadcast in New York City, thanks to the expansion of the WWFM network in New Jersey. I have been trying to get CGA on in NYC for years. We also recently added stations in Philadelphia and Atlanta, both major markets.

MH: Let’s talk about this event coming up for you later this month.  I’ve been many times and love it… what is it, and can folks still get tickets?

TM: Yes! Classical Guitar Alive is having its 6th annual fundraiser event on Saturday, Oct. 29th from 3:00pm-7:00pm at the beautiful Wimberley home of Charlie & Taako Parker, at 300 Loma Vista in Wimberley. Charlie and Taako Parker are great supporters of both Classical Guitar Alive and the Austin Classical Guitar Society. We’re very excited to have Susan McDonald back by popular demand as our special musical guest. Proceeds benefit the Classical Guitar Alive nonprofit organization’s internationally-broadcast radio program, and its community outreach program.  For reservations, folks can call us at (512) 657-1400
 or send an email to [email protected]. You can also purchase tickets online here.

MH: I’d love to hear a bit about Tony Morris the guitarist, and CGA’s performance outreach.

TM: Thanks! Flutist Renata Green, my wife, directs CGA’s Community Outreach program. Most arts nonprofits do community outreach, like ACGS’s wonderful educational outreach, but CGA’s outreach program is unique in that we are the only one that sends our musicians to perform in hospitals, children’s shelters, hospices and more.

I’ll never forget, over a year ago, Renata, oboist Jennifer Bernard, and I performed in the lobby of the Dell Children’s Hospital. There was a little boy about 8 years old with severe burns walking with his grandmother. Despite his injuries, he started marching around in time to the music and got very excited, asked us about the instruments. His grandmother was very happy to see him so enthused, and I was so proud of Renata and Jennifer for their professionalism and for how engaging they were with him.

My first performance in Austin was Christmas Eve, 1990. I had just moved here, didn’t know anyone, and didn’t have family or friends here yet, so I was feeling a little lonesome and sorry for myself. I made myself snap out of it and called a local hospice and asked if I could play (pro bono) for their patients. I played at Hospice Austin’s Christopher House for an audience of two people: a bed-ridden patient in the final stages of full-blown AIDS and his nurse. The patient said, “Oh, a classical guitarist. Know any Albeniz?”  I started doing volunteer outreach when I was an undergrad student for the performance experience, and just kept doing it.

MH: You and Renata are animal lovers.  Tell me about your pets?

TM: We have two dogs, Lucy, Jiggly-Puff, and a 3-legged cat with the unfortunate name of Gimpy (we didn’t name her that). We don’t have kids yet, but if you total our pets’ weight, they’re roughly equivalent to one child, albeit a very smelly and poorly-mannered one!

MH: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today, Tony.  It’s tremendous to get an update on your amazing work, and to learn a bit more about your journey here.  Is there anything else you’d like to share?

TM: Come on out to CGA’s event in Wimberley on Oct. 29th!

And, there are two big projects in the works, a PBS TV program called American Classical that CGA is developing in conjunction with KLRN, which did the pilot for The Antiques Roadshow. The format is part home tour, part house concert with classical guests and stars from other kinds of music.  I told my co-producer that that I was concerned that I had a face made for radio, but he reassured me by saying, “Tony, no one is too ugly for PBS.” Whew! What a relief! He did tell me to drop some weight for the cameras, which I’ve done.

I can’t say more about the second project, other than it is very exciting. I recently had to choose between expanding CGA’s work, doing these two new big projects or continuing my adjunct guitar professor job at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin, TX. I did the unthinkable in the guitar world, which is to voluntarily leave a college teaching job (and on very good terms, I should mention!). CGA’s mission is to promote the love of classical music with the guitar to the widest possible audience in innovative ways which have the deepest impact. The second project is not a CGA project, but it sure does fit its mission.

Tony Morris and Renata Green (with doggie)