Archive for July, 2020

Virtual Lessons Bring National Reach for Walker|West

Virtual Lessons Bring National Reach for Walker|West

We are incredibly excited about our new initiative, “Walker|West without Walls”. Part of this new venture is pursuing new ways to gather, grow and explore through music. Our world moves with the use of technology. We’ve seen an uptick in virtual music learning because of COVID19. Through donor support and because of the hard work of our instructors, we have been able to reach students in different parts of the US. One such student is Erin Skillon.

Erin, a 17 year old piano student has been playing and perfecting their craft since the age of 4 years old, a total of 13 years! Erin’s mom, Doneka is the former Vice Chair of the Walker|West Board. They have been living in Oregon for four years, still in connection with our organization, Doneka was thrilled to enroll her child –allowing Erin to continue music education with us virtually!

Erin and Doneka connected with Benny Moreno from our staff to answer some questions about virtual music lessons as Erin is working with co-founder and instructor Grant West. 

Where do you live in Oregon?


Doneka/Erin – what made you (virtually) return to Walker West?

Doneka: Erin had been taking jazz lessons from Mr. West for about five years before we relocated to Eugene, Oregon in 2016. I had served on the WW Board of Directors for approximately five years prior to our move (vice president during the final year). Although we no longer lived in Minnesota, I still receive WW communications. So when I saw that WW would be offering virtual lessons because of the pandemic, we quickly signed Erin up for lessons with Mr. West again!

Erin – you mentioned that you had been studying classical piano over the past 4 years – how is the transition back to jazz?

The transition back to jazz has been slightly tricky, yet rewarding. Since my foundation is as a classically-trained pianist, when playing jazz, I have to play in ways that aren’t necessarily intuitive, most notably improvisation. On the other hand, studying classical piano has improved my listening skills, understanding of the chord progressions, and the theoretical foundations found in jazz.

What do you enjoy about working with Mr. West?

Mr. West is an amazing pianist and a great teacher. I enjoy his teaching style and that we rarely use sheet music, which improves my ability to improvise and is a departure from classical music study. Instead I learn different jazz standards and gospel songs by listening to him play, which has greatly improved my ability to play by ear. If I struggle with a section, he gives me additional guidance and incorporates jazz theory to help me better understand the piece we are working on. I feel so accomplished when I have learned an entire song.

How are online lessons going? and do you intend to continue after the pandemic?

The online lessons are going extremely well. I wish we would have thought of this four years ago! I look forward to working with Mr. West every Thursday, and I intend on continuing my lessons even after the pandemic.

What has been the benefit/ importance of music education in your life, (specifically in these times)?

Music is an integral part of my life; it is my passion. 

I began playing piano when I was four years old. When I was younger, I only practiced as much as my piano instructor requested. I hadn’t learned what it meant to truly be dedicated to practicing not only for improvement, but also for self-satisfaction. I remember the first time that my instructor showed me an extremely difficult etude and his intention for me to play it one day. I didn’t believe that I would ever have the skills necessary to perform such an advanced etude. It was at this time that I realized my desire to play piano at a higher level.

However, it wasn’t until the beginning of high school was when music became a true passion. I started to enjoy demonstrating my skills to others and even the unglamorous hours of grueling practice. I loved being able to add my own unique style and expressions to pieces that were otherwise very basic. Most of all, I loved to move others with my playing. One moment that stands out is the joy expressed and the tears shed by the residents of a retirement home I was playing for. 

I have dedicated many of my school electives and co-curricular activities to music performance. I play piano for my school’s jazz band, oboe for the wind ensemble, and I am also co-conductor and drum major for the South Eugene High School Pep Band. Outside of school, I am the first chair oboist for the Eugene-Springfield Junior Orchestra. I received an electric guitar for Christmas last year and have been teaching myself how to play. In addition, I am sitting for the Level 10 piano performance exam with the Royal Conservatory of Music this month.


Our capacity to work with students outside of the physical walls of our facility or geographic boundary is made possible due to the support of our community. Enroll your student, or yourself in our quality music education programming today. Don’t forget we offer a free trial lesson, so there is no risk –but all of the reward.

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Why Walker|West: Wacheke, Mukuhi, and Wangari

Why Walker|West: Wacheke, Mukuhi, and Wangari

Njoroge Family

“Walker|West Without Walls – At Home,” our social media series, gives us access to the many layers of our community. Families, in particular, are foundational to our work. From Grant West and Tom West to Debbie Duncan and Mr. Duncan (her brother), to the Hashel sisters, and more –we’re used to seeing siblings instructing, learning, and growing with music.

Violinists Wacheke (14), Mukuhi (12) both began studying string instruments when they were young. Wacheke and Mukuhi are both members of the Minnesota Youth Symphonies, and Wacheke, who will enter Roseville Area High School in the fall, was just one of five 9th graders accepted in the more advanced upper grade orchestra. Wangari (4), the youngest of the three sisters, is just beginning her music education journey.  

We recently spoke with their family about learning during these challenging times. 

The two eldest siblings note the positive impact of Walker|West. They enjoy the perks of being Walker|West students, especially right now. “During COVID, music education gives us a way to express ourselves while most things are unavailable. Walker|West Music Academy has allowed us to experience different opportunities that were not previously available, like meeting Roderick Cox, and going to the Minnesota Orchestra.” 

The quality of Walker|West programming and instruction is of the highest importance to students and families. Frustrated in the beginning, the Njoroge sisters took time to adjust to the format of virtual lessons and recitals. They particularly like the fact there is no commute to virtual classes, and they don’t have to take too much time to prepare. They really appreciated the time allotted to rehearsing before the virtual recitals. “It was great that we could be broken up into small groups to rehearse.” Wachecke and Muhuki have a great level of confidence in their violin instructor, Earl Ross. “Working with Earl is great because he is patient with us. He really takes his time with teaching us and understands when we are struggling with something. He makes sure we get it at our pace.”

In the photo above, the girls pose with their instruments wearing bright colors and dresses made of cloth from their parent’s community in Kenya. Ndugi, their mother, says:

“Growing up in Africa, we were raised by very strong Gikuyu men and women in a community setting with lots of love and in a very socially nourishing environment. We had a very stable foundation rooted in [our] African culture. As the country opened up to western media and other western influences we saw our community change right before our very own eyes“

Over time, she explains,  the impact of colonialism had a very deleterious effect on how Kenyans perceived themselves as well as how they perceived black America. When it came time to raise their children (all born in the US), it was important that they find a community that embraced and celebrated the histories and cultures of the peoples of African descent. Walker|West is one of several organizations the Njoroge Family found in Saint Paul that does just that.  

Ndugi talks of her family’s “love for self, African heritage, and African Community” grown from involvement with community organizations in African diaspora communities of the Twin Cities. Walker|West is rooted in the historic Rondo neighborhood, which held one of the largest and richest collections of African Americans in Minnesota. A neighborhood which was famously dismantled with the construction of 94W. Though historic Rondo was forever changed, the spirit of that community, and it’s musical traditions is at the core of the Walker|West method. 

“The Walker|West family continues to nurture our dear daughters beyond our expectations. The community here has given them a place they can confidently feel safe to be who they are, are welcomed, included and supported.” 

We’re always pleased to tell the stories of our students and their families. Follow our social media series “Walker|West Without Walls – At Home” on facebook and instagram.

Facebook: @WalkerWestMusic
Instagram: @WalkerWestMusic

To become a part of the story, enroll in our programming today with instructors like Earl Ross, and others who make music education fun for students of all ages.

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And to help Walker|West sustain our work, reaching more students like the Njoroge sisters please join our donor community by making one time or recurring gift of any size


Walker|West 2020 Founder’s Awardee – Ariam Hashel

Walker|West 2020 Founder’s Award Recipient – Ariam Hashel

Each year, Walker|West Music Academy acknowledges our graduating seniors for their commitment to their music education. This year, we honor the Class of 2020 for their perseverance through the Covid-19 Pandemic and moments of community unrest in response to systemic injustice. Additionally, the Walker|West Founders Award is presented to one student who has shown exemplary musicianship and dedication to their music training.

Picture of 2020 Honors Awardee Ariam Hashel

We are pleased to announce violist Ariam Hashel as our 2020 Founders Award recipient.

At 9 years old Ariam was excited to learn an instrument, when seeing her older sibling taking violin lessons at Walker|West. Her musical advancement speaks loudly, and she attributes her academic success to the tools she obtained through individual lessons and as an assistant for our Summer Music Camp. During her near decade of study with us, Ariam has also participated in numerous well known music programs such as the Artaria Chamber Music School and Sphinx Performance Academy. She exemplifies the mission of Walker|West, which is to gather, explore, and grow through music.

Her instructor Earl Ross, shared a few notes on Ariam’s dazzling and community-centered musical career:

In the time I’ve worked with Ariam, I’ve watched her grow from a beginner student tentatively drawing her bow across strings for the first time to an accomplished young violist playing Bach, Schubert and Hofmeister.

Even as Ariam has participated in music activities, she has maintained an outstanding academic record throughout the years. But perhaps as important or more important, has been Ariam’s commitment and ability to foster community. At times shy and self-effacing, she has been that student who offers to help younger less confident students work through a particularly difficult passage or technique. Or finds a way to make a new student feel more comfortable. Often, it is her voice cheering the loudest when a student completes her/his piece during a string recital.

Ariam will attend Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN this fall. She plans to participate in “a plethora of music programs at the Blair School of Music.”

Congratulations Ariam from the entire Walker|West village. Thank you for making our music learning community strong.

2020 Founder’s Award Honorable Mentions

We are also incredibly proud of our Founders Award finalists, Elijah Awada and Benjamin Bauer, who have both shown a high level of commitment to their music education, and have grown tremendously in recent years. Both of these students are enrolled in individual lessons and participate in various Walker|West Jazz Ensembles. Their instructors wish them continued success.

The 2020 graduating class of High School Seniors include:
(View Student Spotlights on our facebook page by clicking their names)

Ariam Hashel, (viola) Individual Lessons, Summer Music Camp assistant

Elijah Awada, (piano) Individual Lessons, Jazz Ensemble
Ben Bauer, (bass) Individual Lessons, Jazz Ensemble, Summer Jazz Intensive, Summer Music Camp assistant

Max Walker, (saxophone) Jazz Ensemble
Colin Karp, (saxophone) Jazz Ensemble
Eli Soss, (saxophone) Jazz Ensemble
Elliot Wall, (drums) Jazz Ensemble

Eli Zukor-Zimmerman, (bass/drums) Individual lessons
Sergo Amanuel Abraha, (piano) Individual Lessons
Stella LaCroix-Dalluhn, (piano) Individual Lessons

These students add to the legacy of Walker|West Music Academy, showcasing the impact of our programming and power of our community. We are proud of each of them for reaching this milestone, and wish them success in their future endeavors. Congratulations, Class of 2020!

To join our donor community and make music education possible for more students like these visit: