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Justin Harper to lead 'Musical Explorations' at ESC
Justin Harper teaches a music class at the Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby in 2019. Harper has teamed up with the ESC to offer "Musical Explorations" classes throughout 2021.

Classes are now underway for a new music series offered by the Earl Scruggs Center (ESC) in Shelby. But the classes aren't new at all -- they are the continuation of a series, titled "Musical Explorations," that provides children with music development opportunities and instrument lessons, and that also introduces them to various musical styles and cultures.

Offered on the first and third Saturdays of each month, "Musical Explorations" programs are free for child participants and one accompanying adult. For the next several months, lessons will take place via Zoom on the ESC's website www.earlscruggscenter.org/events.

The teacher for "Musical Explorations" is no stranger to the ESC or to Cleveland County. Justin Harper is a county native who graduated from Crest and from Gardner-Webb University (GWU) and will earn a Master of Divinity in Intercultural Studies from GWU in May.

Harper has strong family ties to both the area and to music. Harper's paternal great-greatgrandfather, Henry Clay Sisk, was a traveling singing evangelist who started churches in Cleveland and Rutherford counties, and Harper's greatgrandfather, Carlos Walter "Peter Rabbit" Sisk, was the oldest in the Sisk Quartet, a quartet gospel group based in Shelby.

"I am very blessed to have had a family that supported my music at a very young age," says Harper. "My maternal grandma was very supportive of my music - buying me musical instruments and accessories and paying for my guitar lessons at Shelby Music Center."

Harper's parents were "listeners of great music," he says. "I was blessed to have my parents expose me to a variety of music. My dad played the electric guitar when I was very young.... And, although my parents were not serious musicians,= I remember music being a part of our daily lives."

Harper remembers that his dad bought him a guitar at a very young age, which he tried to play without success. But then when he was in the 5th grade, his new music teacher Rod Mauney played "Dream On" by Aerosmith on the acoustic guitar to demonstrate the instrument for the students.

"I was blown away! I went home that night with a renewed interest for that old guitar that my dad had bought me," says Harper. And as he practiced and improved and eventually moved on to an acoustic guitar, he and his friends soon started a band. This would be the first of several bands that Harper would participate in throughout his high school years.

Harper's continuing love of music led him to earn a Bachelor of Music at GWU. He then headed on to a career in the Cleveland County School system, first in elementary schools and currently at Crest Middle School where he serves as director of orchestras and teaches a guitar/ukulele class.

But Harper's work in music isn't limited to just the school work, which is how he came to be involved in the ESC.

"The 'Musical Explorations' program started as an extension of my musical outreach into the community with my small business brand, SongHarper. I started this business in 2013 to expand my musical lessons to a bigger audience. I have since bought a number of drums to host groups of people with little to no musical experience to empower them. to make music in an event called 'drum circles,'" says Harper.

Beginning in 2019, Harper, through SongHarper, partnered with the Earl Scruggs Center to host various musical events for youth and children, and the "Musical Explorations" program was born.

"The 'Musical Explorations' program is funded by a grant from the Dover Foundation and has allowed me to teach a program at least once a month at the ESC," says Harper.

For more information about future programs visit the Earl Scruggs Center's website and social media pages. For more information about Harper, visit his website at www.songharper.com or his YouTube channel at www.youtube. com/user/jjustinharper.


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