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 LetsPlayGuitar.org.

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, Reverb.com/Reverb 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.