Classmates find comfort through music
Upperman High School (UHS) in Baxter, Tennessee has had more than its share of tragedy the past couple of years. This close-knit community has suffered the loss of 3 high school students; one from a devastating tornado that ripped through the town last March and 2 in tragic car crashes. All of which has left emotional scars on the people.

UHS Choir Director Emily Phillips remembers these students fondly and finds it difficult to hold back the tears when speaking about them. One student held such promise musically and had a talent for playing guitar.

"Catie Scott, who had just turned 18, died in a car crash on Christmas Eve in 2020," Emily says. "She was a natural musician, enjoyed songwriting and was the 'band sweetheart' for homecoming."

Emily is known to be an upbeat person, so she wanted to find a way to lift the spirits of her students. Music has long been a huge part of her life and doesn’t know where she’d be today without it. This is the reason she teaches it at Upperman High School, she says.

“Back in August, I wanted to start a guitar program,” she says. “I could teach out of a textbook as I have that option but really putting an instrument in somebody's hands, to be honest, it's going to change someone's life.”
Starting a new music program takes instruments and equipment; something UHS didn't have much of other than cheap second-hand guitars or plastic buckets used as substitute drum kits. Emily knew much more would be needed.

“I found Guitar Center Music Foundation online and filled out an application asking for some guitars and ukuleles,” she says. “I was hoping they would give us even just a few as it would be better then what we had, which was not much.”

The Foundation is honored to have supported Emily and her music class with an instrument grant that includes guitars, drums, keyboards, ukuleles, risers, plus all the necessary accessories and equipment.

“I know that there are kids out there that would never have the opportunity if I didn't put this guitar in their hands, this piano or drum sticks,” she says. "For some of them, it's the very thing they didn't even realize was missing in their lives. Last year has taught me not to take the kids for granted so our guitar class will be named in Catie Scott's memory.”
Communities find ways to come together through tough times and UHS student Zachary Hutchison knows this firsthand. Although he survived the tornado, his home and favorite musical instrument did not.

"I was just an empty vessel for the 2 weeks after the tornado hit. Then after COVID-19 quarantine started, I kept wondering why this was happening to me," he says. "The piano was the one thing that distracted me from the sadness I felt every day. When that was taken away from me, it was one of the positive things in my life that just got shattered."

Once the local press wrote about the Foundation's contribution to the Upperman music program, a Baxter resident wanted to get involved by donating a piano. Emily believes this opportunity is much more than a coincidence.

"Sometimes situations just cross paths at the exact perfect moment and I have multiple reasons for believing this was one of those moments," she says.

Zach hadn't been to school for weeks because of remote learning. He just stopped by to take the ACT. Emily recalls the phone call with the donor and feels this may have been divine intervention.

"I knew exactly what to do and I asked her permission before offering the piano to Zach. She was more than happy to give it to him and is even going to hang onto it until his house has been rebuilt," Emily says.

It's what people do who have a love of music in this community.

"I haven't felt that kind of happiness in so long. It's been a year since I've touched a piano," Zach says. "When I heard someone was willing to donate one to me, I felt truly blessed."
Guitar Center District Manager of Bluegrass, Reed Williams and store associates joined Emily and her students to help with the unboxing and setup of instruments.

Sales from Guitar Center customers through its in-store Roundup and Top Off online programs helped fund this grant with proceeds from purchases rounded up to next dollar.

"Thank you Guitar Center Associates for asking customers to roundup and thank you to the customers for doing it because it really does make a difference," Reed says.
Musical Mischief
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