It started in 1984 with only 12 students enrolled in a Music and Movement class using Orff-based music concepts. Now, as it marks its 25th anniversary, Catawba College's Community Music program has grown to serve more than 100 students each semester and to offer a Musikgarten program, vocal ensembles for children and youth, instrumental ensembles for youth, songwriting classes, piano classes, drama classes, and private instruction on almost any instrument.
Elizabeth "Libby" Carlton, founder of the Community Music program and professor emeritus of music at Catawba, was there when the program was born. "I'm most proud of the link between the college and community that the program created," she says. "Music is something that touches your life forever and when I think of all of the parents and students and families who have been touched by Community Music through the years, I feel blessed."
Fred and Mary Lou '76 Williams of Cleveland enrolled both of their children, Jonathan and Devon, in the program. Devon, in fact, was only three or four years old when she started with Libby Carlton in the Music and Movement class. Both Devon and Jonathan, now college graduates, also took piano and guitar lessons through the program, with Jonathan going all the way through his senior recital. Devon stopped her lessons in high school to pursue another interest — softball — which earned her a scholarship to the University of Maryland.
Today, Mary Lou Williams still sees the influence that music has on her children's lives. "The intention was to get them well-rounded and to allow them to have all sorts of experiences so they would be able to decide what they wanted to do with their lives. It was a positive outlet that kept them busy and they were willing participants, even though at times, practice was hard. What tickles me now is that Jonathan has a piano in his home and when my children come home, they open up and play the piano in our house."
Franklin and Brenda Geter of Woodleaf enrolled their three children, Kimberly, Jeremy and Joshua, in classes offered through Community Music. This fall, Joshua, who took the Music and Movement Class, as well as piano and saxophone lessons, will enter Catawba as a freshman music performance major.
Twenty-three-year-old Kimberly Geter, the oldest of the three children and a 2008 UNC Chapel Hill graduate, says those music lessons helped her concentrate on her studies and become a better multi-tasker. "When I read the music, I'm processing it in my mind and then bringing it to life with my fingers," she explains. "Starting off, we didn't have a choice about whether or not to take the lessons — my parents thought it would be a good opportunity for us. Looking back, it was a great opportunity."
Kimberly Geter, who is classically trained on the piano, continues to play on the weekends and for special occasions with brother Joshua.
Erin Harper of Mocksville, who serves as lead keyboard instructor for Community Music, recalls coming to Catawba College to observe a class piano session offered through Community Music while she was an undergraduate student at Wingate University. "At that time, I had never seen class piano and was amazed at the encouragement the students got from each other," she notes. "In similar classes today, we not only give the students musical knowledge, but also allow them to have fun. It's all about community here — the students perform for each other, advise each other and that makes all of the difference in the world."
Dr. Renee McCachren, chair of Catawba College's Music Department, explains that Community Music is one the ways that her department can fulfill part of its mission. "The outreach that the College can provide through Community Music and similar programs enhances the cultural quality of life in the Salisbury-Rowan community," she says, adding, "but there's another component to it. It provides hands-on laboratory experience for Catawba music majors."
McCachren notes that when the program began, the idea was to provide music education majors with that hands-on experience, but now it has expanded to provide that same experience to other students in different music concentrations. "Some of our students who are qualified are able to provide private instruction through the program."
When Libby Carlton retired from Catawba in 1997, she passed the baton for Community Music into the capable hands of Catawba College Professor of Music, Dr. Julie Chamberlain, who had served as a piano instructor in that program. Under Chamberlain's 12 years of leadership, Community Music has continued to grow and a wider variety of offerings are on the horizon for it thanks to a new academic structure in place at Catawba which places both the theatre and music departments under the umbrella of the School of Performing Arts.
"Current opportunities through the Community Music program, from choral ensembles to musical theatre and songwriting classes, are reflective of the strengths and vision of both the Music and Theatre Departments within the School of Performing Arts," Chamberlain explains. "From Bach to the Beatles, Community Music provides a musically inclusive curriculum and quality music education for every age from babies to senior adults.
"Although our keyboard classes and lessons have always been our most popular course offering, the addition of a new Yamaha Keyboard Lab this year will allow Community Music to offer keyboard instruction that is highly innovative, integrating tradition and technology, with an emphasis on creativity and active learning. We are also extremely excited to offer new opportunities for students who have a passion for singing through the Catawba Children's Chorale (ages 8-14) and the Catawba Youth Chorale for high school students."
To mark the 25th anniversary of the program, members of the Salisbury-Rowan community are invited to an Open House scheduled for Sunday, August 30 at 3:00 p.m. in Hoke Hall on campus. At the Open House, they can meet with instructors in the program and mingle with its students, past and present. Demonstrations of available instruction and performance opportunities will also be presented. As a special benefit to attendees, the annual registration fee will be waived for those who enroll in Community Music classes during the Open House event.
Meanwhile, registration is currently underway for fall classes which begin September 14. For a complete listing of Community Music course offerings and information about the instructors in the program, visit the Catawba College website at www.catawba.edu/communitymusic.
PHOTOS: Community Music