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Best gift of all - Winright gives music

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Courtesy photo
Hill Country Elementary students Abrham Gonzalez, Michelle Calbat, Jett Diggs, Caitilin Gollnisch, Connor Calbat and Briana Vega join singer/songwriter Lee Winright for some Christmas music.

Singer songwriter Lee Winright has spent most of his life in Bandera County and he is grateful for everything the area has given him. Recently, he decided he needed to share something of himself to make this little corner of the world a better place. His selfless giving sets a beautiful example for the season.
Winright first met Hill Country Elementary's Functional Living teacher Carla Mata when she was organizing a fundraiser for the Challenger Special Needs baseball team in Lakehills. "We called it a 'concert on the mound' and Lee was happy to perform," said Mata. Ever since, Winright has been very supportive of the program and actively working with the kids.
"It's just been wonderful," said Mata. "The kids love it when he comes to visit. He even went to the home of one former student who is now in junior high and spent an hour with her."
Mata has 12 students in her functional living program, designed to help students with disabilities that impede their ability to be in a general education classroom full time. They work on reading, math and writing skills at their level. In addition, they learn to do laundry, wash dishes, and other skills that allow them to be functional in the community.
Winright first visited the class around Halloween. "I did some thinking about what I could do that would be fun," he said. He had each child write a word that had to do with Halloween on a card. "I began playing around with those words and eventually put them together in song. The kids really got it and started calling out their words when we sang them in the song!"
Winright said he truly believes that music can break through all kinds of barriers, mental, physical, emotional. When his grandfather was in a coma, Winright went to visit and started playing his guitar. Amazingly, his grandfather woke up!
At Hill Country, he let the kids strum his guitar, too. "I played the chords and they strummed," he explained.
As a sign of their gratitude, the students invited Winright to join them for their Thanksgiving dinner. "I don't have any family around here, so that really meant a lot to me," he said.
He looked forward to visiting the class again just prior to Christmas break. "There aren't too many Halloween songs, but I have a lot of Christmas songs to choose from," he said.
Winright feels that sharing his music offers new opportunities for these children. "I can't do much, but I can play the guitar. It's giving them a different door to open."
At times in his life, Winright has lived elsewhere, including Austin. But no matter where he went, "I always found my way back [to Bandera]. I like having a quiet place to go."
He has toured with such notables as Robert Earl Keen and the Dixie Chicks. He spent a recent weekend out with another Bandera talent, Charlie Robison, who he has been playing with for 10 years.
One of his best known albums is "Nobody Saw it Coming," and he will release a new album, "Time Between Times," in January. Winright's music is available on iTunes.
Inspiration for his songs can "come from anywhere," he said. "I might hear a conversation and a phrase will catch my attention. I also use my personal experiences. It can be therapy."
Winright encourages everyone to think about sharing their skills with children. "Everybody should take a little time, it's sort of like career day. It takes 30 minutes and they're happy as can be!"