Matt Hinsley, the director of the Austin Classical Guitar Society, is kind of a whirlwind of advocacy for supporting guitar education in our public schools. He and the ACGS started in Austin and have now gone statewide and are beginning to go national. After meeting him at GFA in Austin this year I knew I wanted to hear more, so we arranged to talk on the phone about the future of guitar education and how to raise money and awareness in less than perfect economic times. Here’s the beginning of our conversation (the rest will be available as an article on the GSI site later this week):

KN – It seems like the trend right now in fundraising is to focus on the very practical benefits of arts education and a little less of the art for art’s sake argument. Do you think that that’s just where things have to be right now because of our economic situation? Are the arts a harder sell right now?

MH – I think that you have to always look as the whole picture. Obviously different people have different types of interests, and when you’re talking to someone who has the potential to fund a program, then it’s important as a fundraiser to figure out what it is that interests them.

But I don’t see this as a negative thing at all. I mean, as an artist, as someone who’s trained as a performer on the classical guitar and who loves the classical guitar repertoire and loves the instrument from an aesthetic standpoint, I don’t see people’s interest in arts education and funding arts education as a means of training the whole person as necessarily a negative thing that downplays the value of the art for art’s sake. I think it’s all part of the same package.

I think it is valuable to note the powers of arts education in assisting people in all of the ways that the arts can benefit those people. Certainly if you’ve read our social impact study, then you can see in their own words how young people react to a great guitar class.

But the part about art for art’s sake comes in in several different ways. The best way to talk about it in terms of education is actually not by speaking about it at all but by seeing young people perform, and hearing the music. Because in a way, to use a metaphor, a picture paints a thousand words, or hearing performers play beautifully says much more than we can when we’re just talking about educating them. And words are a relatively blunt tool when you’re trying to describe artistic quality. It’s hard to convey what the highest level of artistic quality and artistic education is without having a very long discussion about it. It’s almost better to just hear the music itself.

So I think you have to look at these issues of funding as all part of a large whole.  You want the art to be great. You want to connect people with great art. That has to be at the base of any arts education programming – that is quality education and quality art.

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4 Responses to “Matt Hinsley and the Austin CG Society”

  1. Gord Blackburde says:

    I am encouraged when I hear people in positions of authority talk about the relevance of art and music. But, far too often it has to do with the consumer side of things (as buyer/audience). Kids need to be exposed to music and learn to create or imagine themselves as musicians. Then with time and much hard practice they slowly learn the art of music and something about themselves, perhaps. My first exposure to music (classical teaching, if you call it that) put me off the classical form for a long time and, I’m just getting comfortable with the repertoire. Looking back I believe the teacher really loved the music but he was so tightly wound that his curriculum and method were of no use to me. Generally, if people are learning music as a discipline, they must be given a valid reason for the time and effort it requires to learn and excel. So – what I am trying to say is this: music education should expose children to its beauty and excellence without all the priorities of virtuosity and competition. The strictness and rigidity of certain musical disciplines can be very off-putting. Some people would maintain those without the aptitude and inner drive don’t deserve to learn higher forms of music. I say people cannot be excluded but should be given the choice of participation. Unfortunately, lack of funding in music education precludes this argument and creates a huge deficit in nurturing a child’s intellect. Again, this is the natural state of the union for some as it keeps children (adults to be) in their proper place within the economic scheme of things.

  2. Kai says:

    I hear what you’re saying, and I think you could make the same argument about education generally. What I’m learning from talking to teachers is, sadly, that funding will dry up if we don’t present music as either having all these ‘practical’ benefits (‘they’ll be better at math!’) or by proving that we can make kids ‘good’ or ‘legitimate’ musicians. What encourages me about people like Matt Hinsley and Gregg Goodhart is that they’re working the system and getting funding to teach music to kids. Hopefully soon we can argue about what methods of teaching work best – and there probably isn’t one best way for all kids – rather than worry about whether there will be money for teaching the arts in the first place.

  3. Dear Gord,

    What excellent comments! I think there is no question at all (in my mind, at least) that the greatest benefit of music education on any instrument is to connect diverse kids with a vehicle for self-expression. There are many more, of course, but playing music, playing beautifully, freely, expressively – no matter what the technical skill level may be – is what it’s all about.

    In Austin we’re seeing about 750 young people each day in 15 schools. We have a wide range of students, but our priority for each and every one of them is that they enjoy themselves making beautiful expressive music. The cool thing is that this priority does not have to be mutually exclusive from a carefully graded technical sequence. In fact, that’s been our biggest challenge, and one we have taken very seriously! At the same time, as we have strived for a careful and successful technical sequence, we’ve found that students are able to be successful at each stage, and with success comes comfort and freedom, and so long as our music and our teachers stress free expressivity all the time – literally from the very first piece – the students are able to make beautiful, expressive music and get deeply engaged.

    A perfect example, actually, is the performance of 200 kids at the GFA we just hosted last June. We commissioned Austin composer Graham Reynolds to write a groovy piece in 8 parts with widely varying skill levels. As a result we were able to engage kids from 7 to 18 years old, with between 1 and 10 years of study under their belts, all with level-appropriate material at the same time, and all… having a blast!

    The video of the performance is online here: http://www.klru.org/incontext/classical.php

    You have to go to minute 29 to see the kids!

    Thanks again,


  4. Gord Blackburde says:

    Thank you Matt for the link. I enjoyed the piece. Everyone was very much in the moment – creating music together – and that’s always great as a player and spectator!


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