The keys of an old electric keyboard clack and stick as Melody Jackson gently strikes each, in the front office of Victory Christian School.
Her voice accompanies the melancholy notes she plays. The tune is fluid and her voice is smooth and steady, but her music echoes in the small conference room where she is playing for fun. Several of her teachers listen quietly. One starts to cry.
“I’ve been doing this for years,” Melody, 17, says with a big smile when she finishes. “It offers a release sometimes for my emotions.”
The young musician spends her spare time singing with a Christian band called MIC. The teen band performs in low-income neighborhoods in Gastonia and at local churches where they typically draw audiences of about 30 people.
She has also performed at UNC-Chapel Hill during Camp Carolina Scholars, and for hundreds from the Carolinas and Georgia during a Victory Christian Center lock-in.
She says she draws inspiration from the Bible and life struggles for her songs: Psalms offers colorful imagery, while writers in Proverbs offer deep wisdom, suitable for lyrics.
The song she played for her teachers that Wednesday is called “Learn to Love.” It’s about bullying, and though she says she’s never seen or experienced that, “I can empathize with what they go through.”
Music has always been a part of Melody’s life. She began playing piano at age 3, and played her first classical piece at 6, though she had to stand up to play it because she couldn’t reach the pedals sitting down.
“I remember being in the car and singing with my dad,” who performed with the ’60s R&B band, The Zodiacs, she says. At times, though, she feels pressured by his musical success.
“In second and third grade, I wanted to be doing anything other than (playing piano),” Melody says.
“I wanted to be sitting in a corner reading a book ... but I didn’t want to disappoint my dad. He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.”
Eventually, she grew to love the instrument, she says, and now spends up to 10 hours a week practicing.
Melody has a 4.2 GPA, has logged 840 hours of community service and is a planner in the school’s LOVE team, which sends money each month to a young girl in Thailand to help purchase school supplies and clothing.
“If she keeps putting the same energy into everything she tries, (Melody) will always have people behind her,” says school spokeswoman Ramona Patterson.
As Melody thinks about college, she says she knows she wants to explore two different career paths – music and computers.