Alumni: Tess McGrinder

August 15, 2023

Moseley Music Award Winner

The Moseley Music Award: Since 2017, this award has celebrated those with, “exemplary dedication to improving the lives of children through music and service.” Named after founder Christine Moseley, this award honors one dedicated mentor who has served for all four years of their collegiate career. This year, the National Board of Directors selected Tess McGrinder as the winner of the Moseley Award for her outstanding contributions to our existing chapter at UNC and for helping to develop a new chapter at Duke University.”

Tess shares her Experience: My entry into Musical Empowerment was quite ordinary. I found ME in my first week of college, floating aimlessly around UNC’s Fall Fest. Amidst the sea of overwhelmed freshmen, I heard a voice: “Do you play an instrument?!” I turned to find a big smiler in a green t-shirt– a senior named Kelly. A sentence into her “Join the club” spiel, I was sold. We want equity in music, so we provide free music lessons and instruments to low-income families in Chapel Hill.

After an interview by Adrian, a very animated and friendly junior in a boot, I was paired with 9-year-old Isaac. It took a few lessons for me to get a full sentence out of him, but I was persistent, and with a few bad jokes and some research on FIFA soccer later, we were more or less chatting away. I would come to find that as quiet as Isaac is, he loves to have a good laugh and more, to make others laugh. His mom, one of the kindest people I have ever met, would join us for every lesson over the next eight semesters.

A few weeks in, I was invited to apply for the Leadership Team (MELT)– thanks, Adrian! Lacking confidence but fascinated with ME’s mission to promote equity in music education, I applied to the Teacher Relations Committee, clicking ‘send’ a whole three minutes before the application deadline. This would be one of the most influential emails I would send throughout my college career. The Leadership Team became another home on campus for me.

The piano brought Isaac’s family and me together each week. COVID came, and without hesitation but with lots of confusion, our lessons transitioned to Zoom. As it was for most, this was challenging, and naturally, our progress slowed. Each week, however, teaching through a screen became easier as mentors shared resources and tips with each other and as we each were forced to be creative and to adapt to these highly unusual circumstances. I will always be impressed by the mass transition that was made and how nearly 150 teacher-student pairs remained active even after that difficult time.

The more time I spent with leaders and mentors in Musical Empowerment, the more involved I wanted to become. On the Leadership Team, I admired as student leaders spearheaded creative projects for fundraising, recruitment, and engagement – from early on, I tried to follow their lead and put time into my own projects. Moved by the impacts of these leaders, I saw immense value in leading among leadership, setting examples for younger members, and encouraging the new guys to take their own leaps into creative projects. To this day, I am very proud of what’s been accomplished by leaders who had ideas for ME and then made them happen. 

Although we put lots of energy into fundraising and increasing the teacher-student pair count, I sincerely enjoyed the smaller, more personal moments in the program. I loved Teacher Support Groups, training, lesson sit-ins, Kick-offs, and end-of-semester recitals for the space they created to meet and speak with teachers and students. Up-close and friendly interactions with members of ME took me beyond my behind-the-scenes macro perspectives. They reminded me of the individuals in our program – volunteering their time and feeling passionate about their work. My weekly lessons with Isaac similarly reminded me of the importance of the quality of our lessons and the greater, long-term purpose behind what we do. 

Legacies and long-term projects aside, I hope to leave mentors with a certain message of gratitude. I will reiterate what I told ME, teachers, in my ‘goodbye’ Slack message:

Within ME I have found family (Isaac’s and on the Leadership Team). I hope all teachers find much-deserved joy, confidence, and fulfillment in this program. I am blown away by the collective impact of ME’s mentors and hope each mentor recognizes the importance of their efforts. As sad as I am to leave the program, I am incredibly confident in the future of Musical Empowerment, thanks to teachers, student leaders, Nationals, and the rest of the ME community.

Thank you, Kelley, Katie, and the rest of Nationals, for your unconditional and hefty support of the Musical Empowerment chapters, including the new one at Duke. Thank you, families, donors, and other supporters, for your part in supporting ME and in making children’s music education possible. Thank you, MELT, for your creativity, dedication, and the long, hard work you have put into expanding and sustaining ME. Finally, thank you, mentors, for your ceaseless compassion and commitment to your students and the program.

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