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Spotlight on Alumni: Matthew Hinsley

Matthew Hinsley was in my first class at Oberlin Conservatory (BM 1996). Before his class, there had never been classical guitar there, so he was in the first class of Conservatory guitar graduates. 
While at Oberlin, Matt recorded his first CD. He made a few after that as well. He is one on only three students I have had in over 30 years who could TRULY sing and play at the same time. He gave many recitals performing both traditional and contemporary art song while he self-accompanied.

Matt's second CD, featuring playing and singing both.

In the years that followed the completion of his DMA, though, he turned his attention more to arts management and education. His stewardship of the Austin Classical Guitar Society has become the standard in the industry, the model against which other now measure themselves. In a recent posting at the Society's website, Matt reflected on his years there. He gave me permission to reprint his comments here.
Matthew writes:

"I’m asked a lot about how I came into this job.  When I speak at conferences, arts leaders are often curious to know about my past, patrons like to know if this is my “real job,” if this is what I do “full time,” undergraduate arts students who are staring down the imminent reality of entering the job market, ask if I was trained in management and business and seek advice about how they might pursue a similar path. 

Before Austin
My interest in nonprofit arts organizations began when I was an undergraduate student at Oberlin Conservatory of Music.  Myself, and two others, were the very first guitar students ever at Oberlin.  My teacher, Stephen Aron, encouraged me to start a student guitar club because, as a new department, there were very few resources allocated to classical guitar guest artists.  In three years the Oberlin Guitar Club allocation grew from $500 to over $2,000, to over $5,000.  I quickly learned the power of well-organized arts presentation, of good writing, of timely requests for support, and of documentation.  And most importantly I learned the joy and satisfaction of bringing top-quality arts experiences to the community.

Speaking of writing, Steve saw that I could write, and encouraged me to begin writing not only proposals to the Oberlin Student Council, but also magazine articles for GFA Soundboard.  In all, beginning at 17 years old, I’d write seven articles for Soundboard in the next 10 years.  Writing, be it letters, blog posts, articles, newsletters, ad copy, grant proposals, reports, articles or books, is easily one of the most important things I do on a daily basis – and I’m deeply thankful to Steve for encouraging me in that direction early on.

As a senior at Oberlin, I asked if could write an optional undergraduate thesis under the supervision of an economics professor.  The resulting paper, Classical Guitar and the Art Market, begins like this:
“The classical guitar has the ability to appeal to an incredibly broad spectrum of people.  This remarkable quality is the result of many special features which are truly unique to the guitar.  The features range from the very visual nature of the instrument, to the types of sounds it produces, to the important associations it has with other types of music both past and present.  The classical guitarist does not have to compromise artistic quality in order to capitalize on the wealth of musical heritage associated with the guitar.”
That was spring of 1996, I was 20, and I was about four months away from Texas.

The First Years 
I came to Austin to start my masters degree in classical guitar performance at UT studying with Adam Holzman.  I spent seven wonderful years with Adam and UT earning my Masters in 1998 and Doctor of Musical Arts in 2003.  Within months of arriving in Austin, my past caught up with me and I was handed the corporate documents, and the Board Presidency, of Austin Classical Guitar (ACG).

ACG was a wonderfully small organization with no articulated budget and operations resembling a small club.  There were monthly meetings featuring local teachers and players and the occasional guest artist.  I quickly learned that “Board President” was code for “chief volunteer in charge of most everything!” 

My first goal was to stabilize our programming, create a dependable articulated series (that would soon come to be called our “International Series”), and increase our rate of communication through a monthly snail mail newsletter.  Within months our ticket sales increased and our membership grew.  In just over a year we had more members than ever before.

In 1998 we added our Community Concert Series – 20 free concerts per year designed to “reduce or remove social, economic and geographic barriers to great music.”  It was that year that we began our relationship with the City of Austin.

From 2000 to 2003 I stepped away from leadership of ACG, but continued to run the Community Concert Series.  It was 2001 that the first iteration of our Educational Outreach program began at McCallum High School with 15 students. About the time I finished my DMA in 2003, I returned to leadership as Executive Director at ACG.  A short while later the organization was in a position to pay our first staff members and take the huge leap of renting our first office!

Within 20 months we would be able to look back and count John Williams, Pepe Romero, Manuel Barrueco, the LA Guitar Quartet and many, many more among the artists we’d presented, our education program had grown to two schools with 100 students, and we had become one of the largest classical guitar nonprofit organizations ever in the US.

The Last Ten Years 
2003 to 2013 has been like an incredible dream come true.  With growth has come many struggles, and there will be many more, but struggling is part of dreaming big – and trying to turn those dreams into realities.

Somewhere along the way I learned what I believe to be my most important lesson.  The lesson?  That the primary role of a great classical guitar nonprofit organization is not to play concerts, teach classes, bring guest artists, or compose new pieces.  The primary role of a great classical guitar nonprofit organization is to serve the community. To be sure, I’m incredibly proud of this chart and what it represents, but not because of the money.  I’m proud of it because of the amount of service it represents.

Here are a few of the things over the past ten years that make me most proud of my team’s work here at Austin Classical Guitar:

There has been amazing growth, from 1 to 40 programs, in development and direct support of Austin school guitar programs.  Our programs serve thousands of diverse students in daily for-credit courses, including programs at Travis County Juvenile Justice System and Texas School for the Blind and Visually impaired. 

I’m incredibly proud of the development and 2008 launch of, the basis of all Austin public school class guitar programs and in growing use in more than 400 locations worldwide.  If you haven’t been to the site – I encourage you to visit today -- there's even a video tour!

We’ve had amazing guest artists including John Williams, Christopher Parkening, LA Guitar Quartet, Miró Quartet, Assad Duo, Eliot Fisk, Pepe Romero, Los Romeros, Austin Symphony and so many more – not to mention all the rising stars!  Some of our most exciting moments in presentation have been through extensive collaborations with amazing groups including: Alamo Drafthouse, AMOA, ACMC, ASO, ALO, KLRU, KUT, Cactus Cafe, Conspirare and Texas Performing Arts.

We’ve had six major commissions including: Film Score for “The Unknown” (Avers/Albert 2012), Austin Pictures (Williams 2011), Powerman (Reynolds 2010) and Caprichos for Eliot Fisk and The Miró Quartet (Balada 2006) – and those don’t include the incredible piece Joe Williams will write for us this year as our first Composer in Residence.

We hosted the largest-ever Guitar Foundation of America International Convention & Competition (2010)!  We’ve had two KLRU TV SpecialsAustin Goes Classical (2010) & Austin Pictures (2011), and fourteen Austin Critics Table Award Nominations since 2003, with one Special Award for Excellence in Education (2011)!

And so as I begin my tenth year as Executive Director of Austin Classical Guitar, I am more excited than ever about art on the classical guitar and the potential we have to lift spirits and change lives with our magical, beautiful instrument."

Matt goes on to thank the many people who played a role in the success of the organization and its efforts. I asked him about his books, as they were barely mentioned in this retrospective. He added this:

"I left Oberlin with two main professional goals: two help improve the way young people are taught classical guitar in America, and to enhance the way our instrument is presented to the public.  As it turns out I pursued both of those goals avidly.  I've been fortunate to have wonderful young students over the years, have enjoyed long relationships with many of them; I have had several competition winners in my studio, with three GFA youth-division finalists, and the 2006 winner.  My interest in the field of training young classical guitarists led me to write a book in 2008 called Classical Guitar for Young People -- this book is now heading into it's 6th printing!  As Austin Classical Guitar grew I started getting calls and emails from other classical guitar organizations asking for advice - which I enjoy giving!  I've traveled and assisted arts leaders and boards of directors from Toronto to Washington DC to San Francisco, and assisted countless organizations over the phone.  What struck me was how consistent the questions were, and how common the problems, challenges, and management mistakes were that I was encountering.  So this led me to write my second book in 2010, Creativity to Community: Arts Nonprofit Success One Coffee at a Time.  The word guitar does not appear once in that book!  It's a management book for nonprofit arts leaders about all kinds of important things from Mission and Vision, to Board Development, Organizational Structure, Programming, Publicity and, of course, Fundraising."

Needless to say, I am immensely proud of Matt for all his many accomplishments, for the service he has provided to the Austin community, and to the broader guitar and non-profit communities in general. Wow, Matt, BRAVO!!

Zhuoru (Simon) Lin's Junior Recital

The Student Recital Tour