Grab your seats, it’s time for ACG’s Top 10 Moments of 2018! The original list had over 20 contenders, and it took some serious negotiating and compromising to pare it down to the ten you see below. But every one of these fills us with joy, and we hope they’ll put a smile on your face too.

If you have a favorite ACG moment from 2018, let us know!

#10 – The Cycle Continues

Our annual gala for ACG Education, Guitars Under the Stars, was an evening full of captivating moments and moving stories, and Grisha’s playing was mesmerizing. But perhaps the most poignant moment for us was the performance by the Alumni Ensemble, a group of four gifted guitarists who graduated from our programs in Austin schools.

One of them was Javier Saucedo, who we first met during his junior year at Akins High School. Javier went on to earn a music degree from Texas State, and this fall we asked him to lead our program for youth incarcerated at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. He agreed, and working closely with his former teacher and Assistant Director of Education Jeremy Osborne, we’ve been thrilled to watch Javier emerge into a capable and inspiring teacher himself.   

“The cycle continues – I had great teachers in high school who helped me get through a rough patch, and now I get to do the same for others.” – Javier

To read Javier’s story, check out this blog.

#9 – Recognizing an ACG Legend

Lloyd Pond has been volunteering in our office almost every week for over ten years. No task is too large or small for Lloyd, but his specialty is repairing the guitars used by students in ACG’s local school programs. When RecognizeGood, an Austin-based nonprofit that shines a light on members of the community, named Lloyd a 2018 RecognizeGood Legend award-winner, we were thrilled – but far from surprised.

Beyond the thousands of hours he has spent here fixing instruments, taking out the recycling, stuffing envelopes, and helping out in whatever way we need, Lloyd’s impact goes much deeper.  As April Long, ACG’s former development director, put it, Lloyd represents “what ACG is all about – joy in community. In his deep kindness and infectious joy, in his commitment to creating community, and in his willingness to help in any way, Lloyd has shaped ACG and has shown all of us what it means to live with an open heart.

We couldn’t agree more. Congratulations, Lloyd!

#8 – A Week of Student Achievement

Our education services began in 2001 in one school as part of an initiative to improve the quality of classroom-based guitar instruction. Today, ACG Education is supporting programs in 60 central Texas schools that reach over 4,000 students every day. There was a week in November that really encapsulated how far we have come in 17 years. On Monday afternoon the Travis High School Advanced Guitar Ensemble performed at the National Association for Music Education Conference in Dallas – they were the only guitar ensemble invited to play! Then on Wednesday night at the AISD Performing Arts Center, we got to see some of the most talented middle and high school students in the city perform together as part of All-City and All-Region Guitar Ensembles. We were just blown away by the quality of the performances, the diversity of the students and schools represented, and the joy that was so evident on the faces of the players and audience members alike.

To see the Travis HS guitar ensemble performance in Dallas, click here.

#7 – Helping Other Communities

We can get so focused on our own work at ACG that we forget other people are watching us, too. So when individuals or organizations from communities outside of Austin seek us out for guidance it is both gratifying and humbling. Two instances of this happened recently – in September Matt was asked to speak about nonprofit leadership in front of dozens of executive directors at the 6th annual Guitar Society Summit in Baltimore, and then in November a U.S. State Department-sponsored delegation of 18 NGO leaders from Africa visited ACG to learn about our approach to community service.

BONUS: Classical Guitar Magazine featured a story about Matt’s presentation in Baltimore! Check it out here.

#6 – ACGYO in 360°

The ACG Youth Orchestra just keeps getting better and better. This select group of talented young guitarists from across the region has already played on some of the biggest stages in Austin, but nothing prepared us for the ACGYO’s performance this past spring on the downtown rooftop of the Contemporary Austin Jones Center. The 360° video speaks for itself – check out how awesome it is to be in the center of such cool music-making!

#5 – Joe Williams named Artistic Director!

A major milestone for ACG took place in September when Dr. Joseph V. Williams II signed on as ACG’s first full-time Artistic Director. Joe is no stranger to ACG, of course. He’s led our youth orchestra since it was founded in 2013, and as Composer in Residence for the past five years, Joe’s been the creative force behind some of the most ambitious projects we’ve ever produced. We’re not the only ones who think Joe’s great – in June, the Austin Critics Table selected the original score he wrote for last summer’s i/we as Best Original Composition for 2017-18.

As Artistic Director, Joe will be curating our concert series and dreaming up new and exciting directions for ACG. He’ll also continue creating deep and beautiful music, and leading the ACGYO to even greater heights. With his passion for great art and a commitment to serving our diverse and growing community, the future of ACG is looking brighter than ever.

#4 – Eclipsing Violence with Music

On a Saturday night in late September, a group of young guitar students traveled with their teacher and parents five hours from Reynosa Tamaulipas, Mexico to the AISD Performing Arts Center to see Ana Vidovic perform for the opening night of our International Series. They had brought along their guitars, in hopes that they might be able to meet and play for Ana before her concert. She graciously agreed, and they all gathered in the black box theater for an impromptu master class! The students – one only six years old, his legs dangling off the chair as he held a half-size guitar – each played short solos while their mothers watched proudly. Ana listened to each one, giving thoughtful feedback while the students nodded, wide-eyed, at their teacher’s translation of her words into Spanish.

The story didn’t end there. Since that night, we’ve been working closely with the teacher, Mario Quintanilla Saucedo, along with his partners in Reynosa and other Mexican communities to help them build their own guitar education nonprofit. They’ve discovered that engaging kids with guitar is a way to keep them safe from the crime and violence that increasingly surrounds their lives.

You can read more about their efforts here.

#3 – “Miles to Go”

Over the past year, ACG Director of Education Travis Marcum has been working with a team from UT’s Dell Medical School to help establish a music-wellness program for the Livestrong Cancer Institutes CALM Clinic. One of the program’s components will be collaborative songwriting, and to explore how it might work Travis met over several months with a Christina, a volunteer who serves on the Young Adult Advisory Council for the CALM Clinic.

Christina is a loving mother, wife, biologist, computer programmer, and athlete living in Austin. She’s also a seamstress extraordinaire, with a lifetime of experience knitting and quilting beautiful textiles for her friends and family. She received her cancer diagnosis 3 years ago, and has been undergoing treatment at MD Anderson in Houston ever since.

Working together with Travis, Christina wrote “Miles to Go.” The poetry and music paints a picture of her frequent drives from Austin to Houston to see her doctors. She describes the experience of waiting for answers and treatment while bearing the weight of the situation, using the language of sewing, quilting, and knitting to convey her message of strength.

The result is a profound and personal expression of Christina’s experience and her spirit. It’s also a beautiful song. Hearing it touched us deeply, and we’re incredibly grateful that she was willing to share it with the world.

#2 – dream

dream, a multimedia concert presented over three days in August at the Blanton Auditorium, was one of the most ambitious projects we’ve ever produced at ACG. It was a concert devoted to the truth and experience of young people, and their desire to be heard, to be listened to, to be taken seriously. Over several months we sat with young people in our community, and asked them to share their thoughts and stories with us. Their voices inspired every part of dream, including a new three-movement work composed by Joseph V. Williams II. Surrounding Williams’ composition were songs and chamber pieces re-imagined by the performers.

This video features the breathtaking interpretation of an Angel Olsen song by Travis Marcum and recent McCallum High School graduate, Ta’tyana Jammer.

#1 – Let’s Play!

In June, after years of dreaming and planning, we finally launched Let’s Play!, a web-based resource designed to provide guitarists with visual impairments everything they need to learn to play classical guitar. Created in partnership with Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired, Let’s Play! includes a progressive series of classical guitar solos, downloadable scores in both braille and traditional music notation, and audio guides focusing on technique and braille music literacy.

We’re blown away by the response. In just six months, Let’s Play! was accessed over 5,000 times by users from almost 100 countries. It was featured in stories in both Austin Monthly (link) and the Texas Standard (link). But what really touched us most deeply was this long-distance email we received two weeks after it launched:

“I am a blind adult with an interest in playing classical guitar. In South Africa, there are not many teachers willing to take on the challenge of such a task. I am writing to thank you from the bottom of my heart for creating this resource and making it available to people like me.” – Hendrik S., Potchefstroom, South Africa


Happy Holidays from all of us at ACG!