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UNC students play instrumental role in the lives of young musicians

Photo Courtesy of Musical Empowerment's Marketing Team

Lillian Hawkins, a senior at UNC, smiles every time she thinks about her music students’ end-of-semester performances and the family members, mentors and other students who come together to listen.

The recitals are organized by Musical Empowerment, a local service non-profit that teaches music to kids in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro communities who may not otherwise be able to afford lessons. 

On UNC’s campus, students like Hawkins lend a hand in teaching. 

Founded in Chapel Hill in 2002 as "Carolina Music Outreach," the organization provides free weekly one-on-one music lessons to K-12 Chapel Hill-area musicians, providing resources like instruments and lesson space. 

Though the organization has reached a national scale since then, UNC students stay involved at the University's branch of the organization. 

Musical Empowerment consists of approximately 150 mentor-student pairs who meet once a week for a 40-minute lesson. The organization provides both the instrument and the lesson space for the student. 

Some student mentors are music majors, like Ryan Phillips, a UNC senior who is a clarinet teacher and the chair of the Teacher Relations Committee. 

Phillips has been involved in the organization since his first year at UNC. He said that his passion for music motivates him, but the most important aspect of the program is mentorship. 

“It's really nice to know that a lot of the children that we teach are connecting with people that they might be able to see as role models, as well as learning about the things that we're really excited about,” Phillips said.

Many of the other teachers are not music majors, but musicians who want to combine their passion with service, like Hawkins, a teacher and the Marketing co-chair. 

Hawkins teaches ukelele and, like Phillips, she started in the organization during her first year.

She said that in preparation for her weekly lesson, she finds songs that she thinks her student will find fun, in addition to a harder song that has more educational value.

Hawkins has taught the same student since she was a first-year, their time together spanning from the fourth to the seventh grade. She said she has seen him grow musically and personally. Though she does prepare for the lesson, Hawkins said that the most fulfilling moments with him come from the time that is not structured. 

“Both of his parents speak very little English, so they weren’t really able to help with a lot of his homework,” Hawkins said. “So, there was like a month or so that during our lessons I helped him with his math homework and his English sentences. So, it's also showing up for your student like that kind of way too.” 

She has witnessed special family moments at the performances, such as when her student’s mom made him a traditional shirt from their culture to wear for his performance of “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” the song that he sings to his baby brother when he starts crying.

Hawkins said they have been a beautiful and wonderful family to work with.

“I just love them so much," she said.

Parent Normia Vázquez Scales, mother of student Maximo, said that her favorite part of the organization has also been the performances. 

Her son has been involved with Musical Empowerment for nearly a dozen years now, learning piano as well as music production. Vázquez Scales expressed gratitude for Musical Empowerment and what they have provided to her son over his musical journey, which is still ongoing after all of his years with the organization.

“I credit music, the instructors and Musical Empowerment for being instrumental along the way of that journey,” Vázquez Scales said.


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