It’s hard to separate Austin from images of guitars. Greeted by eight colossal guitar statues at ABIA baggage claim, travelers will likely spend a generous portion of their trip listening to guitarists in bars.
The classical guitar remains underrepresented in this glorification, but as many children have their first opportunity for formal instruction, the way it is taught can play a crucial role in how musicians ultimately find themselves in the live music capital and develop beyond that.
On July 21st, guitar teachers from across the country gathered for the first day of an annual Teachers’ Summit at The Rosette, the official concert and learning center for Austin Classical Guitar (ACG), which develops classroom-based guitar programs and teaches teachers how best to implement the curriculum uses a well-rounded guitar education.
A documentary and instructional manual distributed at the reception provided teachers with five main categories of instructional values: trust, individual importance, perseverance, success and celebration. Two of them in particular, emphasizes Managing Director Dr. Matthew Hinsley, are a source of pride for the organization.
“We look at this daily in every single lesson as well as in the macrocosm,” says Hinsley. “We definitely say, ‘Here’s what you do on day one, and kids move their fingers this way and sit a certain way.’ But there’s also that deep sense of belonging and personal involvement… which is where I think the magic lies.”
ACG also organizes community ensembles and several social work programs in central Texas, with the majority of its efforts still focused on the school curriculum. In addition to managing the information-rich GuitarCurriculum.com and teacher resources, it provides ongoing support in schools, sometimes over the years.
An ongoing project with Hutto Independent School District is sending ACG faculty to the school for hands-on instruction while brainstorming engagement initiatives are developed and assessment standards are established. Students are encouraged to try sight reading in competitions or meet inspiring guest artists; Teachers learn best practices and, over time, internalize how the program is delivered with little intervention.
Another Austin school, East Side Memorial High School, has operated largely independently since its formation in 2005. But with a new teacher arriving this fall, the ACG team returns to greet her with refreshments straight from the source that will continue throughout the year. This type of targeted maintenance keeps things running smoothly in more than 50 programs in central Texas.
Independence hinges on the Teacher’s Guide, the centerpiece of the vast GuitarCurriculum.com puzzle, available to any teacher worldwide, whether their school participates in ACG programs or not. It includes lesson plans with three-part scores, opportunities for social-emotional learning, and Spanish language support (translating musical terms and phrases to encourage better playing posture). In addition to the handbook, the site offers more sight reading, video tutorials, and recommendations for inclusive teaching.
The curriculum also depends on the success of the students who prove it goes beyond producing clean tone and disciplined guitarists. Angelica Campbell, ACG’s communications director, came into orbit with the organization in high school as a student of one of their programs.
By the time she reached her junior year, Campbell decided that she wanted to graduate early and pursue a music degree. A faculty member connected her to Hinsley and ACG Director of Education Travis Marcum, who gave her a guitar, gave audition preparation lessons, and supported her throughout college. Now, as a staff member, she still performs and spends most of her time connecting with communities that ACG serves.
“Our slogan for the methodology is ‘Expressive, beautiful music-making from day one,'” says Hinsley. “If we can do that, young people will get excited, and once young people get excited, there’s almost nothing that can stop them.”
The opening night of the 2022-23 Austin Classical Guitar season will be held on September 23 as a benefit concert featuring flamenco guitarist Grisha. The performance and an al fresco dinner will be held at Jeff and Gail Kodosky’s home and will benefit ACG community services. Tickets ($1,000) and season ticket packages are available at austinclassicalguitar.org.