UNC students serve local kids through music

In an upper room of University United Methodist Church, Melodie Tun, a second-grader from Morris Grove Elementary, and Carolina student Katie Morris have been working on stage presence. As Morris plays Adele’s “Skyfall” and Taylor Swift’s “22” on the piano, Tun sets her shoulders, takes a deep breath and reaches for the high notes.

This fall, Tun and Morris were paired through the Carolina student organization Musical Empowerment, which has given Tun the chance to work with Morris once a week.

Morris, a junior psychology major who sings with the UNC Chorus and the campus a cappella group The Tarpeggios, says Tun is a natural. “From our very first lesson, I knew: This girl has so much talent.”

Tun’s entire family is musical, and they’ve always encouraged her to sing. But the high cost puts private lessons out of reach for many families. Carolina’s Musical Empowerment volunteers offer that same level of expertise and attention free of charge.

Musical Empowerment, which began as Carolina Music Outreach in 2002, pairs musically inclined Carolina students with local children interested in learning a musical craft. Applications for the program go out to area elementary and middle schools, and the group accepts as many students as they have volunteers.

This year 50 Carolina students are sharing their time and expertise with 50 young members of the community. Lessons take place weeknights at the Methodist church on Franklin Street, where classrooms are filled with students practicing trumpets, running scales on violins, learning chords on guitars and warming up their voices. When the 40-minute lesson is up, one pair replaces another until 7 p.m.

For the love of music

Some volunteers are music majors, but not all. Junior Kaitlyn Hamlett, co-president of Musical Empowerment, is a biostatistics major who happens to be proficient at piano.

“That’s the great thing about this group,” says Hamlett. “We’re just students who love music, love kids and want to help.”

For the past three years, Hamlett has taught piano to a pair of siblings, one of whom was very shy. At the youngster’s first Musical Empowerment recital, Hamlett sat next to her on the piano bench for support.

Susan Gleaves is a first-year nutrition major who plays violin in the UNC Symphony Orchestra and turned to Musical Empowerment for a more personal music experience.

“I’m busy, but I can’t imagine my life without music,” she says. “Though I’ve switched roles from student to teacher, I get one-on-one contact with someone else who loves music, too.”

Musical Empowerment gives Gleaves’ student Quinn Lutz, a sixth-grader from Phillips Middle School, an opportunity to stretch her wings outside her school orchestra. “Here, I can just come and play, and if I mess up, I’m not holding up anyone else,” Lutz says.

“Quinn is a great listener,” Gleaves says. “When I tell her one thing she goes home and practices and is ready the next week for something brand new.”

Like many Musical Empowerment volunteers, Gleaves has no formal training in teaching music, but she calls on the finger and bow control techniques she learned as a child and tries to remember what it was like to be Lutz’s age, nervously cradling her first violin and trying to move each finger without moving her whole hand.

“It’s one thing to be able to play yourself, but to be able to pass on that knowledge is a totally different thing,” Gleaves says.

Read more at the University Gazette.

Published March 1, 2013.