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Classical guitar students get a master class from a Grammy-nominated composer

People wearing masks playing guitars
Still image from Austin Classical Guitar/YouTube
Composer Clarice Assad rehearses a song with students from Austin Classical Guitar.

Around 50 teenagers sat in folding chairs, their feet propped up to raise their guitars. Many were plucking lightly at the strings as they waited for rehearsal to start.

Typically, Austin Classical Guitar instructors go to Austin ISD schools to work with students during the school day. But this semester, the nonprofit created a new opportunity for these musicians.

It arranged for Clarice Assad, a Brazilian composer, pianist and singer to come to Austin and work with the students. Assad has been nominated for three Grammys for her work on an album called Archetypes.

“The opportunity to work face to face with one of the most exciting musicians in the world right now is, I think, the perfect thing for this moment," Travis Marcum, ACG’s director of music, said. Like most things in the last two years, the program was dramatically changed by the pandemic.

“The students that I work with are really yearning for energy in this moment,”
he said.

CLARICE ASSAD in Austin, Part 1: Do What's in Your Heart

Before her visit at the beginning of December, Assad sent the students a musical theme and asked them to submit ideas for a song based on it. The plan was for them to compose a song and perform it together.

“This is the first time I’m working on a project like this,” Assad said, “where I get to write a piece based on the minds of 50 different people.”

Once she arrived, the students met every day after school at the Baker Center, a former school in Hyde Park, to work on the song.

“It’s a really cool opportunity to do something bigger than yourself,” said Michael, a 17-year-old student from Crockett High School. “You’re working with a bunch of other people who sent in their own submissions and getting to see that all come together is really cool.”

It was also a unique opportunity for the students to learn about composing and arranging music — rather than just performing — from one of the best in the field.

“I was kind of nervous,” Sydney, a McCallum High School student, said. “I don’t get to meet artists of such a high caliber all the time. I could tell she was really passionate about what she was doing and very energetic and that was kind of contagious.”

The students will perform the new song with Assad on Jan. 29 at UT's Bates Recital Hall.

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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