Dr. Harris: Within Packer’s Walls and Beyond
By Lucy Bernstein and Lila Dominus
Known for her infectious enthusiasm and encouraging disposition, Dr. Esther Harris has been a beloved Packer teacher for over ten years. Her talent as a teacher, however, goes much further than Packer’s walls.
Dr. Harris, in addition to being Packer’s choral teacher, conducts Juilliard’s pre-college choir. She also teaches a graduate class at NYU twice a week, which she has taught for the past 15 years, and an acclaimed four week teacher training program at NYU.
Though Packer students now see Dr. Harris as a confident and outgoing faculty member, when she was a child, these were the qualities that isolated her.
“I was a bit too outspoken for [Hong Kong] and in my time… I talked too much. I asked too many questions,” said Dr. Harris. When she was just ten years old, she asked her mother to start saving money, so that she could leave Hong Kong. Then, at the age of 16, her mother had finally saved enough to send to her a school in Canada for foreign students.
After studying music and choral conducting in college, Dr. Harris still was unsure of the career she wanted to pursue. So, she briefly returned to Hong Kong to work as an investment banker.
“But it didn’t speak to me, I didn’t find meaning in it. So I told my parents after a couple years, ‘I need to go back to the States, I want to get my Masters,’” Dr. Harris said.
Returning to get her Master’s Degree was a pivotal moment in Dr. Harris’ professional life, in which she realized her unconditional love for teaching and music– a love that since has only continued to grow and evolve.
“I always love to think about things that I don’t know and figure out why. I always love to keep searching and get to the bottom of things,” Dr. Harris said, alluding to her constant desire to broaden her knowledge.
This dedication most recently led her to get her PhD from Columbia. “I feel that I have a much bigger responsibility to continue writing. I have only one article published… I wish to continue doing that… and also propose a different model for other music educators in the classroom to offer more support,” said Dr. Harris, discussing how her new degree has impacted her.
She has developed a unique teaching style which emphasizes the value of instructing students to interact and interpret visually, orally, tactilely, and auricularly.
These methods have seen positive reactions from the student body. “Dr. Harris has a clear goal for every class… Every single day she walks into the classroom ready to teach with excitement and enthusiasm,” said Grace Enger (‘20), one of Dr. Harris’ choral students.
Dr. Harris looks forward to continuing to teach her choral classes and further developing her teaching style.