High schoolers need $200,000 for trip of a lifetime to learn music in LA

Jason Guevara, right, plays guitar in his classical guitar class on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. (KXAN/Chris Davis)
Jason Guevara, right, plays guitar in his classical guitar class on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. (KXAN/Chris Davis)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for music students at an Austin high school, but they’ll need help with fundraising efforts to pay for their spring trip to southern California.

The trip, expected to cost around $200,000 in all, will take Akins High School guitar, orchestra and choir students to Los Angeles. Students are paying what they can, but each will be responsible for about $1,100, director of orchestras and classical guitar Paul Crockett said.

“You know, there are some schools where families can just write a check and that’s easy,” Crockett told KXAN. “For our kids, we’re looking at 70 percent that are economically disadvantaged.”

“My family doesn’t really have enough money to provide our family to have vacations and do things like that,” said Jason Guevara, a junior at Akins. This will be his first trip to California; he told KXAN he was “just completely wowed” when he heard about the trip.

Guevara started playing guitar as a young child, following his dad’s tune. “I’d always see him pick it up and just start playing,” he said. “It calms me when I’m, like, stressed out or, you know, having problems.”

After years of practice, this trip is something of a reward for him and the dozens of others who are planning to go — and not just because they’ll see Disneyland and Universal Studios. “Let’s have fun, but also let’s get this opportunity that we will not have ever in these kids’ lifetime,” Crockett said.

In planning the trip, he and choir director Catherine Ballard reached out to professors at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, widely considered one of the best places in the world to study music. So while they’re in L.A., the students will meet, play for and get advice from some of the best musicians in the world, including Scott Tennant, who literally wrote the book the guitar students use in class.

“He’s such an icon for our kids,” Crockett said. “You mention that name and the students know who he is.”

Orchestra students will meet with Larry Livingston, who’s conducted symphonies and ensembles around the world, including the Houston Symphony. Jo-Michael Scheibe will meet with the choir students; his bio lists collaborations with Elton John, the Rolling Stones and opera singer Luciano Pavarotti.

“To have this kind of experience this young in their lives will have a profound impact on them for a very, very long time,” Ballard said in a video posted to a GoFundMe page that’s helping raise a fraction of the overall cost.

“To be included in this is a privilege,” Angel Morales, also a junior guitar student, told KXAN. He picked up his instrument at a young age, too. “It was really cool as a kid. I was always like, oh, I want to be a rock star.”

Since then he’s gravitated more toward classical music, and the trip is something he doesn’t want to miss. “It’s just an experience that you remember for life.”

Some of the students, though, have had to drop the idea of going, Crockett said, even after making initial deposits. “I know from my program alone I’ve had about six kids that have had to back out of it for one reason or another, and it all comes down to money.”

“A lot of our students work at night to support their families,” Ballard said. “A lot of our students have to watch siblings, so they can’t get jobs.” For some of them, the opportunity represents their first chance to fly on a plane or leave Texas at all.

Classes have raised money by selling popcorn and chocolate, Ballard said, and will continue to host fundraisers through the spring, “but it’s not enough to pay the whole bill. Some of our students can’t afford to go without our help, and I want to make sure that every student that should be able to go gets to go.” They’re hoping to raise enough to help fill the gap for students who want to go but can’t afford to.

For his part, Guevara is working with his dad in a bakery to help pay his own way; it’s an opportunity the guitarist won’t let slip through his fingers.

“I don’t want to ever lose connection with the instrument,” he said.

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