The Lawson Academy of the Arts is partnering with Spartanburg School District 7 and Wofford College to host the nation’s premier teenage classical guitar ensemble, the Austin Bella Corda, for concerts at Spartanburg junior high schools, Wofford College and Converse College.
These accomplished young musicians, none of whom can vote and many of whom don’t even have their driver’s license, are among the nation’s most decorated guitarists. The group consists of eight musicians between the ages of 11 and 17, all from the Central Texas area, who will be participating in their first masterclass and performance tour in Spartanburg.
The Bella Corda’s inspiring repertoire is comprised of original music composed by their director, Kevin Taylor, who founded the national Childbloom Guitar Program. Concert attendees are treated to a range of musical styles, from Renaissance to American Folk, and from World Music to Afropop.
The group has garnered praise from music reviewers such as Jason Boyd, who covered their performance at the Eastfield Festival in Dallas, saying, “Austin Bella Corda were amazing…they blew me away. Their program entertained me more than some of the more renowned classical performers. The young musicians play with an emotional sensibility way beyond their years.” And Professor Mark Cruz, head of the guitar department at Texas State University, says, “It is a rare thing to hear a young and gifted guitarist. To hear more than one is an enormous delight. Austin Bella Corda is an invitation to something fresh and exciting that delivers promise to the future of classical guitar.”
The Bella Corda will perform “teaching concerts” at McCrackin, Carver and Whitlock Junior High Schools on Thursday, March 18. The performances provide an opportunity to introduce students to the guitar, which is not an instrument taught in the public schools.
On Friday, the ensemble will give a masterclass to Lawson Academy students at Converse followed by a performance in the Troubadour Series at Wofford. The Wofford performance will be held at 4 p.m. in the Sandor Teszler Library, and is open to the public with free admission.
On Saturday, the Bella Corda will give a full public concert at 7 p.m. in Daniel Recital Hall at Converse.
The Lawson Academy’s Childbloom program launched in 2005 with 25 students, the largest initial enrollment of any program in the country. Today, it is one of only two programs in South Carolina (the second is in Charleston) and has grown to 106 students ranging in age from 5 – 12. Spartanburg’s program enjoys the highest retention rate in the nation and director Mike Miller was honored as national Childbloom director of the year for the past two years.
As guitarist and teacher, Miller’s career has come full circle. He began guitar lessons at age 6 and by age 14 was teaching classical guitar to friends. He earned a BM and MM in guitar performance at the University of Georgia and has taught guitar at Presbyterian College as well as the Lawson Academy. Miller is also a member of the Miller-Rowe Consort, a classical guitar and hammered dulcimer duo that performs throughout the region.
Kevin Taylor founded the national Childbloom Guitar Program in 1980 at Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX. More than 10,000 students have participated to date and the program has grown to become the largest of its kind. Childbloom is praised widely for engaging children and youth immediately with music, for involving parents in the learning process, and for teaching both solo and ensemble skills. “We want to give the kids a learning victory in the first lesson,” says Taylor. “They don’t want to wait to play music. Can you blame them?”
When Taylor realized that older advanced students had no option for continuing their guitar studies past the age of 12, he established the Bella Corda performing ensemble to fill this need.
The Lawson Academy program also includes a Bella Corda, which has performed at Dickens of a Christmas, FestiFall and the Mary Black Healing Arts series.
Ann Hodge, whose family is helping sponsor the Bella Corda visit to Spartanburg, enrolled her son Troy in the Lawson Academy’s inaugural Childbloom class. Today, at age 13, Troy continues to study guitar as a member of the Lawson Academy Bella Corda. “With all of our four children, I have felt that it was important to have them learn to play musical instruments because of the many benefits that can come from music lessons: discipline from practicing, pride from mastering a skill, poise from performing in public,” she says. “However, the principal motive was to help our children grow into adults whose lives were enriched by an appreciation for music. Through Troy’s participation in the Childbloom Guitar Program and in the Spartanburg Bella Corda, he and I have become friends with some genuinely wonderful, like-minded people and we have enjoyed many hours of beautiful guitar music.”