Senior Lindsay Player’s 5-year-old student Matthew ran off the stage immediately after finishing his piece at his first piano recital. Now, four years later, Matthew enjoys playing Ludwig van Beethoven and delivers a huge bow at the end of his performances.
Musical Empowerment, a student organization and nonprofit, made this transformation possible. In a world where learning to play an instrument is often a privilege denied to low-income students, the organization attempts to address that while creating a mentorship between teachers and students.
Player, co-president of the organization, said she wants students to be able to have the beneficial arts education that she had growing up, and she sees that in Matthew.
“At the end of every performance now, he gives a big bow, and he's so proud of himself,” Player said. “It's just so easy for him to get up there now. Just seeing that growth is crazy, especially with that first lesson where he was just so shy.”
The organization began as Carolina Music Outreach in 2002, created by then-UNC student Christine Moseley. Musical Empowerment became a nonprofit around 10 years later and expanded to have chapters at North Carolina State University and Wake Forest University with more in the works. Junior co-president Evan Linett said the organization provides unique skills and experiences to the students it serves.
“There's this big narrative of arts versus science now,” Linett said. “I think that we need to look far beyond that narrative because there's art in science and there's science in art. I think Musical Empowerment is all about trying to break down that barrier and giving especially children the opportunity to showcase the hard work they've put together and also have a goal to work towards something with a mentor who really cares about their well-being.”
Emil Kang, Musical Empowerment’s faculty adviser and the executive and artistic director of Carolina Performing Arts, said the organization also bridges the gap between students and the community through its over 130 student pairs.
“Too often, students just come to college, not just at UNC but elsewhere, and don't really have relationships in the community,” Kang said. “The more our own students can have connections with members of the community, it makes for a stronger community and also an understanding of one's own potential impact around us.”
All of the students that Musical Empowerment serves qualify for free or reduced lunch and are referred to the organization by social workers at local schools. Linett, who teaches piano and trumpet to two students ages 18 and 9, knew he wanted to join the organization the day after he received his acceptance letter to UNC when he found the club on the UNC website.
“There are very few things that can really take you outside of this bubble and this world that we've created, especially in Chapel Hill and the rush of everything,” Linett said. “My lessons are definitely one of those times where I kind of forget about any assignments that are going on or any of that crazy stuff and just focus totally on what's in front of me.”
Musical Empowerment will hold its spring recital Saturday, April 7 at 3 p.m. at the University United Methodist Church. The recitals showcase the hard work of students, but teachers in Musical Empowerment gain just as much as them, Player said. But the impact on students can go much deeper than just learning to play an instrument.
“We really believe that there is a powerful combination of music education and mentorship that can really help these kids grow and find themselves and become more confident and really be able to see themselves in college even," Player said. "It's not just about the music for us."
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.