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Picking with a Purpose


Teacher-Student Spotlight

Since he was seven years old, Harley, an 11-year-old 5th-grader at Carrboro Elementary, has been jammin’ on guitar with Lee Landess. Lee, a senior Music major and Biology and Chemistry double minor, has been teaching Harley to play guitar through Musical Empowerment since his freshman year at UNC. If you were to sit in on a few minutes of one of their sessions, it would not take long for you to notice the fraternal bond these two guitarists have formed over their weekly lessons.


When Lee started teaching guitar with Harley, he taught him in Spanish. One of the truths a new teacher learns is that teaching a skill demands a completely different mindset than learning that skill. Lee spoke about how teaching, especially teaching in Spanish, has truly helped him understand exactly how he plays guitar and why he does the things he does when playing. Lee explains, “one of the best things that I ever got out of a teacher workshop was being able to tell a student not just to do something, but how to.” He elaborated on how engaging and enjoyable his time spent teaching Harley has been, saying, “I found that I liked teaching a lot more than I thought I would.” Lee says he has not only loved teaching Harley and serving as a positive role model, but he has also learned a lot from the experience himself.

Harley is currently tackling the well-known American folk song, “House of the Rising Sun.” When Harley started playing guitar, he knew he wanted to learn songs that he had heard before. Lee, having learned guitar in a similar way, immediately taught guitar classics to Harley such as Jingle Bells and Yankee Doodle. From “Yankee Doodle” to “House of the Rising Sun.” It’s a four-year journey along which Harley has grown, not only in his musical abilities but, just as important, in his commitment.

Not only is Harley a lover of music, but he also loves to study science. In January, Harley won a 5th grade science award at his school. Though he was very humble about receiving this award, it is evident that learning is an important part of Harley’s daily life. His father, Alberto, is very encouraging to Harley and to his motivation with both school and guitar. Alberto told us, “every week, Harley is waiting to leave for his lesson.” He explained how proud he is of his son for enthusiastically engaging himself in these guitar lessons and continuing to strengthen his knowledge in many ways. Alberto never learned to play guitar when he was younger. Since Harley is the only musician in the family, his father is excited to learn some of his skills himself.

Ordinarily, graduation is bittersweet for Musical Empowerment teachers and their students because it's a time to say “goodbye.” And although this is Lee’s last semester as an undergraduate, he told us that he hopes to find an internship or job opportunity in the Chapel Hill area. If so, Lee and Harley’s guitar jam sessions might not have to end so soon after all!


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