“The initial purpose of the program was to make it possible for students who were interested in studying music to be able to win auditions,” says Dr. Rebecca MacLeod, UNC Greensboro professor of music education and Peck Alumni Leadership Program (PAL) director. “But it grew into more than that. Being in a community in which my background is different from my students, I started looking around my teaching profession for role models and saw there weren’t many options that represented the diverse community here in Greensboro.”
Started in 2014, PAL offers free lessons to students in grades 5-12 who would not otherwise have access to private music instruction, thanks to funding from the D’Addario Foundation grant, along with support of UNCG, the Guilford County Schools Lyceum Program, and the Greensboro Symphony.
Along with Heather Lofdahl ‘15, PAL program coordinator and 2023 music education doctoral candidate, and a host of UNCG students serving as teachers, a supportive and thriving music community continues to grow.
Built on Mentorship
The program is designed to provide layers of support and mentorship. The UNCG students help prepare PAL students for semesterly orchestra concerts, run sectional rehearsals with small groups of students, and teach one-on-one private lessons. In turn, the UNCG students receiving these lessons serve as near peer mentors to younger students in the program.
“The mentorship model makes this program so unique,” says Abigail Hughes, junior music education major. “The younger students are learning constantly from the older students and vice versa, while the same model is also present within the teachers in the program with the undergraduates learning from our graduate students, who are learning from doctoral students.”
“This program has allowed me to meet other amazing players around my age, which I had never really seen,” adds high school junior Gabriel Fuentes-Negron, who plays the violin. “We all can grow off of each others’ strengths. Not only that, but we have become amazing friends.”
Fueled by Community
The near peer mentorship has been one of the strongest components to building this supportive and representative music community.
Lofdahl explains, “About 90% of the string teaching profession is white and 60% is female, and the students in our community do not necessarily represent that same demographic. This program allows diverse mentor students to pair with diverse younger students. And it’s really beautiful for a 5th grader to be sitting next to a 12th grader who might look like them or have a similar background and think, ‘Oh wow, I can be like that person one day.’ In turn, the undergraduate teaching cohort here at UNCG has become more diverse over the years, I think largely because of this program.”
The impact of this is not lost on junior music education major and current PAL teacher Daniel Sansbury. “Growing up as a Black violist in predominantly white spaces, raised by a single mother, I didn’t have the opportunity to receive private lessons. I had to work hard by myself with little guidance from professionals to get where I am today. So having the opportunity to provide lessons to students that look like me, students of color, and encourage them to persevere in their musicianship means a lot,” he says.
Triston Broadway ’22, former PAL student and teacher, agrees: “Being able to give back to the community that I grew up in was rewarding. I gained valuable insight into how younger people interact with each other in a multicultural setting, especially when different cultures are presented as valid and equal through the acceptance of their music.”
Impacted for Life
To say the program has had a positive impact on its students and teachers is an understatement.
“Most of my improvement this year is because of the PAL program,” says Fuentes-Negron. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the best musicians. They have pushed my playing abilities and expectations beyond what I could have ever imagined they could be. I am forever grateful.”
Improved skills have led to student success in All State and All County orchestra, seats in the youth symphony, and acceptance into college music programs.
“By opening that one door and providing access to instruments and lessons, it opens up every other door,” says MacLeod.
High school senior and viola player, Yahleona Cruz says, “I am so thankful to everyone in PAL for reviving my love for music and introducing me to a new love of teaching. When I decided to pursue music in college, PAL teachers helped me prepare for my audition, and I’m happy to say that I’ll be attending UNCG in the fall for music education. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Even Lofdahl herself will use her experience with the program as she starts her new role as assistant professor of music education at The Ohio State University in the fall. “On every job interview I went on around the country, I was asked about the program and how I might create something like this at their institution,” she says.
Story by Amanda Saber, AMBCopy, LLC
Photography by Sean Norona, University Communications
Videography by Grant Gilliard, University Communications
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