For many of UNC's musicians, music is more than a craft — it is a way of truly communicating with people.
“Even if you’ve never met someone you can still play music with them," said junior Harrison Carter. "That’s a language you can speak to anyone no matter how long you’ve known them.”
For Carter, that language is spoken through the guitar. And the UNC Guitar Ensemble has given him a chance to speak it.
The Ensemble is made up of Carter and eight other students who share his passion. It’s a class in the music department open to all students who are proficient in guitar and can read music.
“I came into UNC as a chemistry major,” Carter said. “But I realized I was subconsciously prioritizing guitar over everything else. It was taking over my life so I thought why not make something more of it.”
Now Carter is double majoring in psychology and music. He joined the Guitar Ensemble last spring.
“I always make time for it in my schedule,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to go in and play music with your friends. Even if it is structured, it’s still music and it’s still fun.”
Current director Billy Stewart created the Ensemble in 1980 because of a lack of options for classical guitarists on campus.
The Ensemble plays one concert each semester. One of Stewart’s jobs as director is to find songs for the concert that cater to each member’s playing ability.
“Finding pieces for eight to 15 guitar players is not easy,” Stewart said. “I have to keep in mind who’s in the ensemble and what they’re capable of doing.”
With rotating members each semester, Carter said one of the trickiest parts of the Ensemble is starting work with a new group.
“It’s always tough,” he said. “But Billy helps new members develop really quick. He gets you to practice and work hard and do things you don’t want to do. It makes you a better musician.”
Practice for the members includes weekly ensemble practice, smaller group meet-ups, one-on-ones with Billy and solo work.
Sophomore music major Sam Gray said the hardest thing about ensemble practice is not playing the guitar long enough to take direction from Billy.
“He’ll try to conduct us and say something important, but we all have our guitars in our lap and have trouble paying attention,” he said. “It’s a guitarist thing — if you have your instrument in your hands, you're going to play it.”
Not all the Ensemble members are music majors this semester. Senior Brian Becker is double majoring in Global Studies and Chinese.
Becker said his favorite part about guitar is playing the songs he grew up with.
“There are so many songs I heard when I was young that inspired me to play,” he said. “Being able to play those songs now and share them with other people is a huge reason why I play.”
Many of the ensemble members said they are unsure if they will pursue music professionally after college, but they know the guitar will always be a part of their lives.
“I wont be able to drop the music,” said Carter. “It will always overwhelm my life. Even when I’m trying to get a PhD, it will take over my homework time.”
The UNC Guitar Ensemble’s semester concert is this Sunday in Pearson Hall from 2-4. The event is free and open to the public.
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