Above (L To R): tonebase founder Igor Licthtmann, Austin Classical Guitar’s Matthew Hinsley, Junhong Kuang, Meng Su, Manuel Barrueco, Augustine Foundation president Stephen Griesgraber, and GSS organizer/host Asgerdur Sigurdardottir
BY BLAIR JACKSON | JET LOWE PHOTOS | FROM THE WINTER 2018 ISSUE OF CLASSICAL GUITAR
The historic and picturesque campus of the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, was the scene of the 6th Guitar Society Summit, held the last weekend of September, 2018. This year’s event attracted a record 25 different North American groups for two information-packed days of seminars about running effective classical-guitar organizations, a fantastic concert by current Peabody guitar student Junhong Kuang, and plenty of socializing among the participants, who spanned the continent from Hawaii and the west coast of the U.S. and Canada, to the northeast, and as far south as Florida (with lots in between). The GSS was hosted by the Baltimore Classical Guitar Society (the group’s president, Asgerdur Sigurdardottir, was the chief organizer, aided by BCGS creative director and world-renowned virtuoso Manuel Barrueco), with generous support from the Augustine Foundation and Peabody Conservatory. Most of the participants stayed nearby at the lovely old Hotel Indigo, which also was the site of a big party after Saturday’s conference and Kuang’s early-evening concert.
As was the case with the previous GSS, in 2016, also in Baltimore, the first day’s lecture/workshop was led by the extraordinarily articulate and charismatic president of Austin Classical Guitar, Matthew Hinsley. Now, most people probably don’t think of Austin as a hotbed for classical guitar, but under Hinsley’s skilled stewardship for the past 22 years, ACG has evolved from an organization “that had no articulated budget and no staff” to an operation that took in 1.4 million dollars last year—an almost inconceivable amount for a classical-guitar group.
“I had a strong desire to build a functioning guitar organization,” Hinsley says of his motive for taking on ACG. “I wanted to expose our community to the great artists that I had come in contact with; I thought there was inherent good in that. And I wanted to hire guitar players to do more cool stuff; I was interested in paying artists. But beyond that I wanted to be able to use classical guitar as a means to serve the community.”
The key word, to Hinsley, is “SERVICE,” and it has guided his approach to building and maintaining ACG. What that means is not simply being an organization that puts on a few classical-guitar concerts every year and/or provides a platform for guitarists to meet and exchange ideas and play together—both worthy goals, he notes. Instead, it means being proactive in looking for opportunities to engage in the community outside of the limited confines of the local classical-guitar world, whether it’s taking guitarists into local schools, hospitals, VA, refugee, and senior centers; organizing or taking part in benefit concerts and events; or reciprocally partnering with other local and regional arts organizations (among other ideas).
“While I might have learned to play the Bach Chaconne well in college—which is not true by the way, I never really could play that piece,” Hinsley says with a laugh—“that ability isn’t what a child undergoing chemotherapy in the Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin needs right now. But that child may very well benefit from having music in his or her life. So the question becomes: How far can we go with bringing our gift, our passion, to the people that need it? And the people that need it is everybody. Music is such a central part of every human being’s existence, from even before they’re born. And it’s so magical and so confusing, because it’s nonspecific, so we have a hard time measuring it, we have a hard time communicating that to other people in words. And yet it’s so universally meaningful and it’s so incredibly flexible.
“When we begin to serve a broad community, we can begin to expect interaction with that broad community,” he says. “That interaction includes money—which is a hot topic here, I guess—but it also includes all the meta relationships that beget money: the goodwill, the belief, the satisfaction that comes from being part of a movement that matters, for being a vehicle for goodness. So while we can create beauty of a certain kind with the guitar, when we grow and see that beauty as filling a societal need, it changes the way we speak about that beauty and it extends its reach.”
Hinsley noted many examples of ways ACG has served its community—not the least of which is a program for educating guitar teachers in schools, which has evolved into the nationally successful GuitarCurriculum.com program—and members of other societies at the Summit shared some of their own inspirational success stories about working with constituencies specific to their regions, whether it was military families, the disabled, or refugees.
Over the course of the day, Hinsley went deeply into many other areas, including practical matters such as composing a mission statement, assembling an effective board of directors, strategic planning, fundraising, networking, working with volunteers, and marketing. In every case, he stressed the importance of establishing personal relationships with members of the community—whether they are potential board members, donors, or people who might be able to use the society’s services in some form. The emphasis should be on “people, not products” and “inspiration, not information.” Hinsley is so well-spoken and such a magnetic personality that his encouraging enthusiasm is positively infectious. But I don’t think it was lost on anyone in the room that Hinsley’s unique skills as an organizer and communicator are a major reason he has been so successful—and while his wisdom is no doubt transferrable to others up to a point, I heard more than a couple of Summit attendees say, “Well, if we had Matt working with us…”
It was an inspiring and informative day, so spirits were high going into the “Special Donor Concert” at Peabody’s beautiful, acoustically marvelous Griswold Hall. Well over 100 people were treated to a splendid hour by the young virtuoso Junhong Kuang, featuring a handful of popular pieces including Bach’s Chaconne (an ambitious opener!), Sor’s Mozart Variations, Barrios’ Sueño en la Floresta, Albéniz’s Sevilla, and best of all (to my ears), Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Capriccio Diabolico. A lively evening gathering at the Hotel Indigo (sponsored by Augustine Strings and tonebase) was a nice capper to the day’s activities.
On Day 2, following a short talk by yours truly about Classical Guitar magazine and dealing with the media, the podium was given over to Dan Wiznitzer, an account executive at Baltimore-based Himmelrich PR and an expert on effectively employing social media’s many digital platforms to communicate with the public, drive attendance, and more effectively publicize events. (Wiznitzer has worked with the BCGS to increase their online profile, so he does have some guitar-world experience.)
Wiznitzer challenged the societies and other concert presenters in the room to fully embrace the potential of social media as the natural place to expand the efficacy and reach of their efforts. He went deep on a number of specific practical online tools, including Google Analytics (to accurately measure who is actually utilizing societies’ social media efforts), Mailchimp (the automated marketing and email platform), the Canva graphic design tool, the free GIMP image editor, Evernote note-taking and organization program, YouTube Downloader, and more. All in all, it was a very informative presentation with a clear message that everyone took to heart: Though often daunting, the online world is an essential component of any modern organization.
After a final lunch, the 6th Guitar Society Summit closed with a delicious “dessert”: a casual presentation by Manuel Barrueco, who spoke about classical-guitar concerts from the player’s perspective—the importance of the concert presenter providing a comfortable environment for the guitarist, from living accommodations to backstage requirements to the lighting during the show. Barrueco delivered several humorous anecdotes from different points in his long career to illustrate some of the pitfalls of being a traveling musician over the past four decades. I wish I’d recorded his talk; perhaps he’ll put these misadventures in print some day!
Here are the groups who were represented at the GSS: Austin Classical Guitar, Baltimore Classical Guitar Society, Boston Classical Guitar Society, the Classical Guitar Foundation, Cleveland Classical Guitar Society, Florida Guitar Foundation, Great Lakes Guitar Society (three different subchapters), Knoxville Guitar Society, Marlow Guitar International (Washington, D.C.), Milwaukee Classical Guitar Society, New Jersey Classical Guitar Society, New York City Classical Guitar Society, New York Guitar Seminar at Mannes, Orange County Guitar Circle, Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society, Pittsburgh Classical Guitar Society, San Diego Guitar Festival, St. Louis Classical Guitar, Tidewater Classical Guitar (Norfolk, VA), Toronto Classical Guitar Society, U.S. Classic Guitar (Hawaii/Oregon), Vancouver Classic Guitar Society, Victoria Guitar Society, Western Colorado Classical Guitar Society, Wilmington Classical Guitar Society.