Erin Harper loves helping families bond through music

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 23, 2011

By Katie Scarvey
Parents of young children often say to Musikgarten teacher Erin Harper, “Oh my child is so musical!”
Erin’s response is always: “Of course they are!”
All babies are musical, says Erin, who has been a certified Musikgarten instructor for three years now, but that instinct needs to be nurtured to see its full expression.
“The more you introduce to them in the first five years of their lives, the more musical they’ll be,” she says.
Now a new mother to four-month-old Knox, Erin is joyfully practicing what she preaches in her Musikgarten class.
Musikgarten, according to its website, is an educational program that “helps infants, toddlers, and children develop a deep love of music and the ability to express it.”
It’s similar to Kindermusik, Erin says, except that Musikgarten uses folk music from around the world, giving it another educational dimension.
Erin loves sparking in others the passion she has for music.
On Thursday afternoon, you can see how much Erin enjoys leading Family Music Class, designed for children from birth through age 5, in a small room in Catawba College’s Hoke Hall.
Today’s class is small: just Erin and Knox and Catawba faculty member Margy Stahr with daughter Liza Chan, who is one. Erin tailors this session to the age of the participants.
The focus generally, Erin says, is on matching pitch and keeping a steady beat.
“You don’t want them to be 30 and not able to clap to the beat,” she says.
The class incorporates dance, and rhythm sticks, maracas and scarves keep things interesting.
Thursday, the class started with “She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain,” with Erin and Margy bouncing their babies on their knees as they say.
“It’s all about them feeling that steady rhythm,” Erin says. Parents should tap the rhythm on the child’s body or bounce them rhythmically so that the child will feel the beat of the music.
With young children, the focus is on interaction between parent and child, through eye contact, bouncing the child on the knee and peekaboo.
Erin says she sometimes demonstrates how everyday objects like spoons, pots and pans can be made into musical instruments. Or she’ll sometimes take a bowl and pour water in it, and toss items like pebbles in it so that children can hear the different sounds that different things make.
Some of Thursday’s activities are focused on chanting rather than melody:
“Here are Liza’s fingers; here are Liza’s toes; here is Liza’s belly button; round and round it goes.”
“The most influential voice children will ever hear is their parents,” says Erin, who points out that music has many benefits to children beyond the fact that it’s simply fun.
“We all know that music makes SAT scores go up and helps their math skills and organizational skills,” she says.
“Starting them (with music) at the beginning is one of the greatest gifts parents can give to their children,” she said.
Much of what Erin does in class is designed to give parents the tools and confidence they need to bring music into their children’s lives daily.
“Parents just need to be willing and open. It sometimes feels a little silly when you’re dancing around, but the more free they are, the more free their child will be.”
Margy appears to be on board with the “music at home” concept; she mentions to Erin that they sing “Splish Splash” when Liza gets a bath — and even looked up the lyrics and taped them on the bathroom mirror.
Erin plays a CD with a piece by Strauss, and the moms and babies swirl around the small space as if it were a ballroom in Vienna. As she whirls Knox around, Erin occasionally plants a big loud kiss on an uncomplaining Knox, who is probably accustomed to these bursts of affection.
Knox is used to her singing and dancing with him every day, Erin says, so he’s comfortable in class. Sometimes babies who aren’t used to such activity get a little overstimulated at first, she says, but that passes.
“You have to take it slow and give kids time to get used to being in that type of environment,” she says.
Erin’s musical involvement extends far beyond babies.
She has an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in piano performance from Wingate University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro respectively.
She directs the Community Music Program at Catawba and teaches all the program’s group piano classes, as well as private and semi-private lessons. She’s also the lead piano teacher at Catawba College.
In addition to a busy schedule at Catawba, she’s also the elementary and middle school music teacher at North Hills Christian School.
Erin loves music, no doubt, but she says she’s realized, “kind of late in life,” that for her, it’s more about people.
“People are my love,” she says simply.
“I just like being around people of all ages Being around adults and their children is the best of both worlds, having that connection.”
She laughs.
“Now that I have a kid, I say all these corny things all the time.”
For more information about Family Music classes, call Erin Harper at 704-881-1565.