UT guitar student works with nonprofit, community outreach program

Thomas Boswell

Music education Ph.D. candidate Travis Marcum picked up the guitar at 11 years old and learned his first Iron Maiden song. Since then, he has traded his electric guitar for a classical to influence young musicians in the Austin community.  

Marcum blends his classical guitar training with his music education degree from UT to promote the development of creative outlets around Austin. Along with working as education director for the nonprofit Austin Classical Guitar Society, Marcum also coordinates a community outreach program called the Lullaby Project. 

Marcum began his time with ACG in 2006, just two years after the organization implemented its education outreach programs. He and executive director Matt Hinsley developed a curriculum to incorporate classical guitar learning into the classroom. He said the curriculum served as a tool to present to schools when pitching the program.

“[Hinsley] was actually running the program out of his living room for a number of years,” Marcum said. “We went into these schools and set up the programs ourselves, teaching them for six months out of the year. We now have 55 programs and about 3,500 students.” 

Marcum said he attributes the successful development of the program to his music education degree. The courses he took in college and subsequent research emphasized ensemble-based instruction over solo one-on-one lessons as a more efficient method for teaching instruments. 

“It’s very rare to have guitar-based curriculums at the middle and high school levels,” Marcum said. “There are a couple of pockets around the country where somebody does something right, and it’s always with this ensemble-based approach. It’s not as compelling to teachers and students if it’s taught as a solo instrument.” 

The program’s effectiveness is made evident through the success of its former students. ACG has produced players that have earned guitar performance degrees or play for popular bands such as Mother Falcon. 

“A lot of the kids we get in guitar class haven’t had a whole lot of success in really anything up to that point,” Marcum said. “Guitar serves as a spring board for some of these students to express themselves and go on to use that in other parts of their lives.” 

Classical guitar performance freshman Alex Lew participated in the ACG program throughout middle and high school. He said his experiences in the program inspired him to pursue an education in the instrument. 

“ACG is really amazing,” Lew said. “They develop a personal connection with all their students. They brought classical guitar to public schools, and this has led to an explosion in the classical guitar community.” 

ACG and Marcum have also partnered with Carnegie Hall’s Lullaby Project. This community outreach program works with expectant mothers by pairing them with local artists. The artists meet individually with a mother and the two engage in single or multi-day writing sessions to create and ultimately produce a lullaby for the mother’s child. 

“This is all trying to facilitate connection with a mother and child in a situation that might be difficult for whatever reason,” Marcum said. “The real goal is to have them singing it in a natural setting. We want them putting their child to sleep singing the melody.”

After he earns his Ph.D. in May, Marcum said he plans to work in the nonprofit world of ACG and also developing a career in the academic community. He said he hopes to continue using his education and passion for guitar to provide for the communities around him.

“I think a lot of really great things have happened over the years that have allowed me to work creatively but also philanthropically with the community,” Marcum said. “Once you bring all the focus into the community and find people who don’t have access to creative outlets, you could work for 100 years and still not do all the work that’s needed.”