“Ashur, it’s easier if you hold the guitar like this.
“OK, we’re doing the tune-up song. Sender, your turn. Everyone listen to Sender, see if we can hear it.
“Way to adjust, man! Perfect!
“Jaden, you remember how to play the one-hand song? Carlos, you remember how to do it?
“Yeah, that one! Very close – that was good though, because you went down and back up. Good job!”
Sean Maroney, who you might recognize as CBS North Carolina’s weekday evening anchor, instructs his final guitar lesson of the summer at the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club of Durham on Alston Avenue. It’s a volunteer effort he’s led since the summer of 2015. “[CBS] partners with this group to give them toys at Christmas,” Sean explains, “and I got invited to speak for the fundraising breakfast years ago. I met the executive director at the time, James Johnson, and I told him, ‘You know, I’ve always wanted to do something like Big Brother, but I just don’t have the time commitment.’ I told him about Guitars Not Guns [a nationwide group that provides free instruments and free lessons to at-risk youth], and he was a musician, he played bass, and he goes, ‘Just come and teach lessons.’”
Three years later, and Sean has been able to fund – either through donations of money or instruments – nearly two dozen guitars for the kids to use to practice. “I’ve got friends who are guitar repairmen,” Sean says. “For instance, this guitar was gonna be scrapped at a Guitar Center, but my buddy who’s a repairman there, he fixed it up, gave it to me last night for free.” At the end of the summer, Sean gives away many of the guitars to promising students who stick with each session. So he did on this day, taking a few in the group – who dubbed themselves “The Salvation Army Rock Stars” as they posed for pictures – and sending them home with their very own instrument. Sender Martinez, 10, is obviously touched by the gesture, and gets very quiet. “I’m so happy, I could cry,” he says.
“Seeing how much they can improve is incredible,” Sean says. “But really the most rewarding thing, even if I only have a kid for one class, when you see their eyes light up when they realize, ‘Hey, I pressed a string and it sounds like music,’ or, ‘I strum it all together and it’s all dead and sounds terrible,’ but then you just make this slight adjustment and it rings out, their faces light up.
“I encourage folks to look at opportunities within their own community to help, especially the next generation,” Sean adds. “It doesn’t take much money, it just takes a little bit of time, attention, that’s really all it is. And if people wanted to reach out [to me] to donate, guitars, money – I mean, everyone knows someone who has a beginner’s guitar collecting dust. Put it to good use.”
Photography by Briana Brough