Austin Classical Guitar's dream

The quality of the music in this concert was exceptional, but what made it special was the quality of the listening

Courtesy of Austin Classical Guitar

One by one, the young people described a similar dream: of being chased by someone or something. The anxiety that could be heard in their voices varied, but it was nevertheless striking to hear these youth all speak about having this particular dreaming experience in the same way, of it being so common. Then, with their descriptions of being pursued still hanging in the air, there came the guitar of Alejandro Montiel playing Franz Schubert's "Erlkönig." There were no lyrics being sung to tell us of the father and son on horseback, racing through the night, of the son seeing a supernatural figure, the Erl-King, riding after them, trying to tempt the boy to leave his father and come with him. We heard only the music, but that was enough to convey the gravity of the situation, the apprehension, the urgency, the sense of a danger closing in, of a haste to escape it, of the chase. If we did not know before that how those young people felt in their dreams, we did afterward.

That sensation occurred over and over during dream, the multimedia concert produced by Austin Classical Guitar and presented Aug. 3-5. Recorded voices of local teenagers who had been interviewed by ACG Director of Education Travis Marcum provided insight into what these young people think and feel, how they view life and how they live it, then their words were followed by music that in some way connected with the emotional content or tenor of their comments, deepening our understanding of them. The format was like that of ACG's 2017 concert i/we, in which the recorded voices of refugees alternated with poetry and musical works, including a new composition by ACG composer-in-residence Joseph V. Williams II. That program was powerful for how it connected audience members who did not know what being a refugee was like to that experience. This program was powerful for how it reconnected audience members who had been young to that time in life, to the weight of it, with the vast landscape of adulthood before you and the many profound decisions to be made. Early on in dream, a 17-year-old said, "I'm totally terrified by the thought of what I want to do for the rest of my life," which brought back to me a feeling I knew but had buried. I recognized it, but it was in the gripping intensity of the music that Williams composed for this year's concert that I truly felt that terror once more.

The music for dream was as eclectic as any teen's playlist (though I'm not sure what teens would have these pieces on their playlists): Williams to Schubert, Meredith Monk to the Smiths. No matter what era they were in, the seven musicians brought remarkable qualities to what they performed – most often a driving forcefulness, as with Jennifer Choi's processed violin solo on Eve Beglarian's "Well-Spent" or Chris Lizak's propulsive marimba on Patrick Long's Dreamscapes: Black Stars, Bright Shadows, but also a rich lyricism, as in the haunting vocals of Ta'Tyana Jammer on a slowed-down version of Buddy Holly's "Everyday" or the delicacy of Montiel and Isaac Bustos' guitars on Debussy's "Reverie."

The performances wouldn't have made nearly the impact they did though without the musical bond to what was expressed by the young people. The music showed how closely Marcum, Williams, and ACG paid attention to what they said, how they honored these young people and their feelings. The quality of the playing was exceptional, but what most distinguished dream was the quality of the listening.


Blanton Museum of Art Auditorium, 200 E. MLK
Aug. 5

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Austin Classical Guitar, Joseph V. Williams II, Travis Marcum, Jennifer Choi, Alejandro Montiel, Isaac Bustos, Chris Lizak, Ta'Tyana Jammer

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