Norka Harper de Castillo

1949 -

Norka Castillo, a singer and pianist, is director of the music department at the University of Montemorelos, a position she has held since 1995. A natural and multi-talented musician, she sings often, plays frequently on the piano, and also is proficient on the marimba and accordion, which she plays occasionally.

Although Norka was born in Zuleta, Las Villas, Cuba, most of her childhood was spent in Santa Clara, Las Villas, Cuba, where Antillian College was located before it was confiscated by Fidel Castro, and in Alajuela, Costa Rica, location of Central American Adventist College. Her father, Therlow Juan Harper Navarro, who was director of CAAC, later served as rector or president of Montemorelos Vocational and Professional College, now the University of Montemorelos.

Norka's mother, Maria de la Luz Gonzales Chavez de Harper, had studied at a conservatory in Cuba and was very active in playing and accompanying for many years. Norka studied with her and others who came to teach at the schools her father directed, but not in a sustained fashion. She graduated from the academy in Montemorelos in 1966 and then completed a degree in elementary education from the Montemorelos Vocational and Professional College, now the University of Montemorelos, in 1969.

During her years in the academy and collegiate levels she had continued to play piano and occasionally competed in campus competitions. A sensitive and respected pianist, she also gave lessons to other students during that time.

In 1971 the college hired Olga Schmidt, a pianist and organist, to start a music program. In spite of limited resources, she persevered and within six years had established a music department. Norka became part of the program that led to that achievement when because of the demand for piano instruction, she and three other students were selected to teach other piano students. Each Sunday, Schmidt tutored Norka and the other student teachers on how and what they should teach in the following week.

Later, when a music building became a necessity, Norka and three other students formed a marimba group that traveled with the church pastor, Ernest Marinkovic, who was from Chile, and his wife on a 6,000 mile tour in the U.S. to help raise funds for the project. She subsequently became director of the conservatory (preparatory) music program at the University of Montemorelos and built it into a flourishing, well-defined program with seven levels of achievement.

Norka's success with that program led to her appointment as director of both the collegiate and conservatory programs. During her time as director, she has taken several initiatives and presided over a number of curriculum changes. One of these initiatives was the offering of a master's degree through an extension program with Andrews University, beginning in 1999. Fifteen students, including Norka, completed the program before it ended in 2005.

In 1972 Norka married Ismael Castillo Osuna, became president of the university in the late 1980s. They have three children, one of whom graduated with a music degree from UM in 2007.


Sources: Information provided by Norka Harper de Castillo and Ruth Ann Wade, February 2008; personal knowledge.