Since 2002, the UNC chapter of Musical Empowerment has been providing free music lessons to students in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district — everything from guitar and piano to voice and saxophone.
Musical Empowerment is a national organization that breaks down financial barriers to music lessons for K-12 students within their local school district. The organization also provides instruments at no cost to students.
Senior Isabel Morris said she found out about Musical Empowerment during FallFest in 2019. She decided to apply to become a mentor.
Morris was matched with a student looking to learn how to play the guitar, and they’ve been paired together ever since.
Prior to the pandemic, Morris said she would meet her student once a week at the University United Methodist Church on Franklin Street for a 40-minute guitar lesson.
“I really like being able to use what I've learned about guitar and teach younger people to have an interest in music,” Morris said. “It's just kind of fun to have someone that hopefully you can not only just teach guitar but also have a relationship with, and hopefully be a mentor for them.”
Like Morris, senior Lauren Kornfeld said she also found out about the organization at FallFest, just a few weeks into her first year at UNC.
Kornfeld said she initially got involved to maintain her love for music, give her something to look forward to each week and become a mentor.
She has been working with the same student for four years. When they met, her student was 5 years old, and now she is 8.
“I teach her voice lessons weekly, but it's kind of more than that,” Kornfeld said. “She's from a difficult background. She's raised by her older grandmother and her parents are not in the picture, so I've really become more of a mentor to her.”
Last year, the lessons were pushed to an online format due to the pandemic.
Kornfeld said watching her student grow in such a pivotal time of her student's life has been special. She said the biggest challenge in her mentorship has been a language barrier, which was exacerbated by the pandemic pushing lessons online last year.
“Musical Empowerment makes really large efforts to try and help that situation, because I know that is a problem a lot of teachers face,” Kornfeld said.
This year, Kornfeld said the club is allowing in-person lessons to start again, as long as participants wear masks and are vaccinated.
“We actually had one in-person lesson last week which was so great to see her face-to-face after all this time,” Kornfeld said.
Senior Abigale Hawkins, co-president of UNC Musical Empowerment, has taught piano to the same student since joining the organization her first year.
As co-president, Hawkins said she helps to train the junior co-president, facilitates and supports the ideas of her executive teammates and works to build strong relationships with community partners.
Additionally, Hawkins said she helps to match student-teacher pairs. Due to the rapid growth this year, there are now 200 pairs through the UNC chapter.
“One of my biggest goals is to keep growing the club and just continue to expand our impact on the surrounding community,” Hawkins said. “It’s especially exciting to have that as a goal when there's a possibility of virtual, because we're not just limited to a certain amount of space.”
Although her role as co-president is something she worked toward for three years, Hawkins said she still finds her weekly one-on-one lessons to be the most rewarding part of Musical Empowerment.
“It's been super incredible to have been paired with the same student since I was a freshman and seeing how she has grown from our relationship and also how I have grown,” Hawkins said. “She’s taught me so much about patience and stopping to smell the roses, that kind of thing."
Students interested in becoming teachers or mentors can apply here.
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