KERRVILLE, Texas (AP) — Elizabeth Maldonado's vocational studies class took a decidedly fine arts turn last week as Austin Ladd Roberts brought his storytelling, guitar-strumming act to Lighthouse for the Blind.
"This type of learning is epic," she said as Roberts wrapped up his performance for special education students. "It offers an authentic experience that creates active memory and recall."
Roberts, 60, is among a cadre of Bard performers dispatched by the Texas Heritage Music Foundation to area schools.
"We're not just hiring people to go sing some songs. They're committed to using stories and songs to make a difference in culture and in life," said Kathleen Hudson, 67, who directs the foundation she created 25 years ago.
"Stories can be motivational, introduce students to historical events, be inspirational or address the creative process," she said at the foundation headquarters, a rock cabin at Schreiner University, where she's taught English since 1986.
Hudson's story collection includes more than 400 recordings of interviews with Texas musicians.
Operating on a budget of about $50,000 raised from donations, the foundation sponsors monthly coffeehouse concerts at the Kerrville university, hosts an annual festival there and provides hands-on experience in nonprofit management and marketing to college students who work in its office.
San Marcos musician Terri Hendrix, who headlined the Texas Heritage Music Days festival in September, said Hudson's organization offers performers a welcome alternative to appearing at bars.
"Kathleen was one of the first people to book me years ago," Hendrix said. "I remember it being one of the first times I played at a place where people really listened to my lyrics. It was a really great experience."
The festival is more than just a concert, featuring storytellers and songwriters, barnyard animals and cultural demonstrations such as chuck wagon cooking and Indian villages.
"Last year they talked about what frontier life was like for early German settlers," said Dee Ann Foley, a teacher at Starkey Elementary School in Kerrville, which sends its fourth-graders each year.
"It's very worthwhile for students because it's much easier for them to learn by seeing than by reading about something," she said.
Since joining Hudson's team in January, Roberts has enhanced the foundation's web presence and helped expand its reach beyond Hill Country schools, reaching San Antonio campuses this year for the first time.
"By teaching kids to tell their own stories, hopefully we can make them better writers and better readers and better citizens," he said. "Schools are cutting back on music and a lot of things that are important."
Using a computer to provide sound effects, Roberts told the Lighthouse students how family photos and Texas lore inspired him to create accounts of what he calls "fictionalized history." Everybody has a story to tell, he said — it's just a matter of finding your voice.
Student Erika Flores was impressed.
"He was a nice guy and he was a good singer," said Flores, 20. "I liked it because he was a great leader."
Schreiner honored Hudson's foundation work with a proclamation declaring Sept. 28 Kathleen Hudson Day.
"Kathleen is one of those people who doesn't just get good ideas, she makes good ideas happen," university President Tim Summerlin said. "She believed in what the music foundation was all about and pushed it and pushed it through lean times, so now it's good to see her celebrate the good times of the foundation and its work."
Hudson, who has also authored two books and writes a magazine column on Texas music, isn't resting on her laurels.
"My dream is to expand the Bard program across the state," she said Wednesday. "We're open to collaborating with other organizations, both on individual events and an ongoing basis."