May
08

 

A Success Story and an Amazing Letter

If only students here could be touched by the divine power of music as I have.

- Twelve-year-old Guitar Student, Central Texas, April 5th, 2012

 

I would like to share a truly remarkable letter I recently received from a 12 year-old here in Texas, along with a wonderful story from my friend Bill Ash at the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society.

Several weeks ago the President of the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society, William Ash, shared a link to a heartwarming TV story with me about his work in guitar education.  Here is the link.  I asked Bill to give me a bit of background:

“We started this program after taking Chris Mallett and Thomas Flippin – Guitar Duo Noire – to visit nine St. Louis City schools.  Both students and teachers responded with terrific enthusiasm! We found three music teachers who told us they’d love to start guitar programs in their schools. We sent letters to all our members and contributors outlining the need, and over 20 of them responded with $4400 to buy guitars! We also got a donation of $5,000 from the local Rotary Club. Our local retail store/sponsor Music Folk got us nice Alvarez RC-12 classical guitars at wholesale ($150 ea, with hardshell cases), and we bought and presented them to the first school, Lyon Elementary. This is the first phase, just getting the guitars in the possession of the schools. The kids and teachers are really excited about it!”

Then just a little over a week ago I was forwarded an unbelievable letter written by a twelve-year-old boy.  It turns out, he had been a student in one of our (The Austin Classical Guitar Society’s) middle school programs here in Austin before moving to a new district.  He wrote this letter to the Director of Fine Arts of his new district in response to the lack of classical guitar classes there.  His mom sent the letter on to me – hold on to your hats!

“I am in seventh grade in one of your district middle schools.  For almost seven years, I have experienced the beauty and elegance of classical guitar.  It has always kept my interest, beginning with private lessons the summer I turned 5 and continuing as a sixth grader in a middle school in the Austin school district, which has a classical guitar program.  The experience has enriched me with the joy of music.  I’m disappointed that no schools in my new district offer guitar classes.  With little sacrifice, the district could bring the benefits of learning classical guitar to its middle schools and high schools.

The Austin Classical Guitar Society makes the program possible in Austin schools.  Its guiding principle is, “Classical guitar is an unusually powerful ambassador for the fine arts.”  The guitar is one of the most universal instruments — heard in most every culture.  Kids everywhere can relate to it.

Why start another music program when kids can choose from band, orchestra and choir?  Classical guitar may interest those not playing an instrument at school now.  Dr. Michael Quantz, a music professor at the University of Texas at Brownsville, explains that “students who really gravitate to a guitar class are not the same ones who like band, choir or orchestra.  (It’s) an entirely new population of students, lots of them, who can be rewarded by the commitment and success that well-structured music classes impart.”

Disadvantaged kids benefit from the opportunity to learn classical guitar.  In fact, 80% of the 22 Austin schools served by ACGS are low-income schools (such as mine was).   The program is now at the Gardner-Betts juvenile detention center, where it is making a difference in the lives of kids who had been hard to reach.  Learning the guitar could help special education students, too.  When Dr. Quantz taught high school, a parent approached him after a spring concert.  “Her son had been in the guitar group for three years; that night she was in tears and could hardly speak.  She told me how wonderful it was that her son, who was in the special education program, was able to participate in anything at school as he had done in his guitar classes.  She had never seen him be so committed, improve so much, or be such a welcomed member of a group that did cool stuff.”

But wouldn’t adding a new music program be expensive?  A classical guitar program would be affordable and easy to run.  ACGS teachers are free to Austin schools because of sponsored funding.  They visit several schools each day, and when they’re not available, the school’s orchestra director fills in.  ACGS started a website — www.GuitarCurriculum.com — to supply all the music, arranged by skill level within the ensemble, for a low annual fee.  Guitars are fairly inexpensive instruments for students to buy or rent.  If ACGS would need more funds to expand the program to our district, parents could help with fundraising.

Playing classical guitar is a wonderful skill and hobby that would thrive in our district as it thrives in Austin.  We live in the “live music capital of the world,” and classical guitar is at our fingertips.  A school program would be affordable, appropriate for everyone, fun and beneficial to growing minds.  If only students here could be touched by the divine power of music as I have.”

- Twelve-year-old Guitar Student, Central Texas, April 5th, 2012

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Dr. Matthew Hinsley is the Executive Director of the Austin Classical Guitar Society.  A graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the University of Texas at Austin, Hinsley has published two books: Classical Guitar for Young People, and, Creativity to Community: Arts Nonprofit Success One Coffee at a Time.

 

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