April Newsletter


Big Changes for Everyone

Suddenly life has changed for us all. Now music and community seem even more essential than they did just weeks ago. We remain dedicated to bringing you hope, healing and joy through the power of music.

While we are glad we can continue to teach lessons remotely, we miss seeing you in person. We miss your smiles and laughter, the closeness and the hugs. So we’ve sprinkled some virtual smiles and hugs throughout the newsletter from Walker|West to you.

Founders Grant West and Rev. Carl Walker

Thank You Students, Families and Faculty

Most of our students have continued to take lessons. We cannot thank you enough for standing by Walker|West while we made the transition from in-person lessons to remote learning. The heroes behind that effort are Earl Ross and Ernest Bisong of our string community. They helped us quickly pivot to remote learning by training our teaching artists to use the technology and troubleshooting problems.


How You Can Help

It is a challenging time for Walker|West. Several families have dropped out of lessons. In addition, some funders are reassessing their priorities.

Our priorities are:

• Keep the organization financially solvent
• Increase the tuition assistance fund so we can continue to make music education accessible to all

We believe our programming is helping students of all ages remain engaged and actively learning during this time of social isolation.

Please consider supporting Walker|West to help us keep bringing exceptional music education and enrichment to students of all ages and backgrounds.

• Donate via PayPal or GiveMN
• Click the donate button on the website
• Mail us a check
• Inquire whether your employer will match your gift
• Contribute now, rather than at the end of the year

Other Ways to Show Your Support

Tonya Gregory and Grant West

• Go to https://smile.amazon.com/ and select Walker West Music Academy as your designated nonprofit. The Amazon Smile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to Walker|West at no cost to you.
• Recommend Walker|West to your friends and family directly or over social media. Remember, we can now enroll students from anywhere in the country.

Thank you for doing what you can to help Walker|West during these uncertain times.


New Approaches

We are developing new techniques and approaches to making 2020 a successful year for our music learning community despite all the challenges. Following are some examples of what we are doing to stay close while at a distance:

Grant West playing guitar

Checking in: Earl Ross of our string community is keeping string students and their families connected. He holds weekly group meetings via Zoom. The group comes together online to talk about how they are feeling and coping with our new reality. At the first meeting, many people said they felt scared and frustrated. By the end of the call, most said they were feeling more hopeful. We plan to roll out this practice to other departments.

Exploring options: We are working with MacPhail Center for Music to create online programming for infants, toddlers and their parents. We’ll keep you posted on developments. In the meantime, read this article in Insight News about the early childhood music education program.

Getting social: Let’s keep in touch online. Please follow @WalkerWestMusic on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Post photos or short videos of you or your children practicing or performing and tag us in your post. Or tell us what Walker|West means to you. Stay tuned for some special online musical challenges!

Taking free “porch portraits” and videos: Walker|West’s favorite photographer, Benny Moreno of Helios Photography has offered to take free family portraits from a safe social distance.

Children with instruments

You can pose with your family and instrument(s) on your porch or in front of your house while Benny shoots from the sidewalk. You can download your high resolution portraits online for FREE if you grant us permission to post them online. Benny will even take a cell phone video for you to post to social media. To arrange your own photo/video mini session, contact Benny.


Upcoming Programs

Register for Session 4 Lessons

Boy plays piano while instructor looks on

Session 4 begins Monday, April 27 and runs through June 27. Why not get ahead of the game and register for lessons today?

Do you know of people outside the Twin Cities area who would like to take lessons with a Walker|West instructor? Now that our lessons are offered virtually, anyone can enroll. Please spread the word to anyone you think might be interested.


Summer Camp

Three children playing violin

July 6-24 from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. 

Our summer music camp is an opportunity for 30 students ages 5-12 to learn five different instruments during the morning and participate in movement classes in the afternoon. The program culminates with a performance for parents. Breakfast, lunch and snacks are included. Instruments include piano/keyboards, a wind instrument, violin or viola, African drum, and chorus (voice). Register online, email us about the camp or call 651-224-2929. Tuition assistance is available. For more information, check out an article about last year’s summer camp in the March issue of Minnesota Parent.


Summer Jazz Intensive

Young trumpet player and instructor

August 3- August 7, Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m.

Our Summer Jazz Intensive is for middle school and high school beginner to advanced jazz musicians. Classes include improvisation, theory, ensemble and master classes as well as individual instruction. Lunch is provided and tuition assistance is available.

There is a selection process for SJI. Interested students should contact Tonya Gregory at 651-789-1685 or tonya@walkerwest.org for more details.


2020 Highlights

Babatunde Lea Performance

Babatunde Lea quintet performing at Walker West

At least 50 hard-core music lovers battled one of the biggest snowstorms of the season to hear the Babatunde Lea Quintet and the Selby Avenue Brass Band kick off the Martin Luther King Holiday weekend January 17. Thanks to everyone who came and enjoyed the show.

Walker West exterior in a snow storm

Special thanks to the Twist Davis Group for providing delicious food and beverages, and to those kind-hearted volunteers who shoveled the sidewalks several times during the evening.


A Masterclass with Paris Strother

Paris Stother and Grant West playing keyboards

In January, our Digital Goes Live students were treated to a masterclass by producer, composer, arranger, Grammy-nominated musician, MOOG synthesizer representative and former Walker|West student, Paris Strother! Thank you so much, Paris, for coming back to teach and inspire the next generation!

Digital Goes Live is a collaboration between Walker|West and St. Paul’s High School for Recording Arts (HSRA). HSRA students have been learning instrumental music and basic music theory at Walker|West. They also have the opportunity to learn from industry leaders like Paris.

The program is funded by a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Minnesota State Arts Board logo




A Visit from Acclaimed Conductor Roderick Cox

Roderick Cox shakes hands with Braxton Haulcy

Last fall, The Roderick Cox Music Initiative/Film North awarded Walker|West $10,000 to provide funding for music instruction, instrument repair and replacement, and summer camp opportunities for youth in our string program.

In February, Roderick Cox visited Walker|West to learn more about our program and meet some of our remarkable students. Above Walker|West Executive Director Braxton Haulcy greets Mr. Cox and Yvonne Cheek, a director of the Minnesota Orchestra who facilitated the gift and visit.

Roderick Cox and Walker West string students

After taking a tour of the facility and hearing a program overview, Mr. Cox listened to performances by several of our students. Later he talked with them about their goals, discussed their favorite composers and assured them that at a certain point, practicing actually becomes fun.

Roderick Cox was Associate Conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra for the 2016/2017 and 2017/2018 seasons. He is now based in Berlin, and conducts orchestras throughout Europe and North America.


A Masterclass with Amir El Safar

Amir El Safar gives a masterclass at Walker West

About 40 brass players and music lovers turned out to hear Iraqi-American composer and jazz trumpeter Amir El Saffar present a masterclass Tuesday, February 11. Mr. El Saffar was in town to lead an ensemble at the Ordway in the performance of an original work commissioned by Ragamala Dance Company. He said he enjoyed teaching the class and especially liked “the vibe” at Walker|West.

We plan to present virtual masterclasses with other noted artists in the future.


In the Community

Youth Jazz Ensemble Performances

Youth jazz ensemble at Orchestra Hall

The Walker|West Youth Jazz Ensemble performed at the Mall of America January 20.

The group also performed in the Atrium of Orchestra Hall Saturday, February 8. The room had seating for about 200 people and, at times, it was standing room only. An Orchestra Hall representative told ensemble directors Kevin Washington and Jack Breen that she had never seen as big a crowd at a youth performance.


Faculty Members Perform at Capella Tower


Peter Goggins playing sax at Capella Tower

Faculty members provided lunchtime entertainment to those passing through Capella Tower in downtown Minneapolis each Wednesday in January. Thank you to Ernest Bisong, violin; Babatunde Lea, African drums; Grant West, piano; and Peter Goggin, saxophone; for sharing your artistry and brightening the days of everyone who heard your music.


In the News

Minnesota Parent Magazine Features Walker|West’s Summer Music Camp

Summer campers playing recorder with instructor Jack Breen

Walker|West’s Summer Music Camp was featured in the March issue of Minnesota Parent Magazine. The article, which starts on page 26 of this issue, sparked the interest of dozens of parents who called to inquire about the camp.
In the article, Program Director Tonya Gregory discusses how the techniques Walker|West teachers have developed over the years allow students to learn amazingly fast. Walker|West Summer Camp instructor Jack Breen discussed the need to develop a trusting relationship with the students and to be able to go with the flow. Sometimes “we just have a little dance party,” he said.

Grant West and Tonya Gregory at Summer Camp Fair

MacPhail/Walker|West Collaboration Featured in Insight News

Insight News published an article on the Sing Play Learn with MacPhail Early Childhood Music Program that’s been offered at Walker|West.

“Teaching awakened a curiosity I have about child development in particular in communities of color,” said the instructor, Ivory Doublette. “How we are developing, how it may be different, and how the arts can help us with the achievement gap. Music should be used practically in everyday life; that is very much how our community started.”

Doublette notes that the program helps develop school readiness, language skills and the ability to follow directions. And a parent/participant discusses how the class has changed her young daughter’s life for the better. Read the full article.


Ernest Bisong Featured in MINN Post

Ernest Bisong performs violin at Capella Tower in Minneapolis

Violin, jazz band and digital music program instructor Ernest Bisong was one of several music teachers from around the Twin Cities featured in an article in MINN Post about moving music lessons online.

“Music is at the core of who we are as humans,” he said. “And socializing is a huge part of what that is. I hope this all passes in time, to get back to what we were programmed to do as humans.”


Good bye to Walker|West 2nd Sundays

Thanks to everyone who came out to support this delicious Walker|West fundraiser that started last fall and ended March 8. We appreciate the generosity of the Twist Davis Group of restaurants, which gave Walker|West 100 percent of the profits made on the second Sunday of each month.

Revival and In-Bloom, like all Minnesota restaurants, are facing hard times. In-Bloom and Revival Smoked Meats in St. Paul’s Keg and Case Market building have closed.

The St. Paul and Minneapolis Revival Restaurants are offering take out and delivery.You can order online, use their new app, or call the numbers below. Please consider supporting these folks who have done so much to support Walker|West.

Take care, Twist Davis Group friends. We look forward to the day when we can sit down at one of your tables together again.


Let Music Bring You Healing and Comfort

We hope our world will be a bit more settled by the time our next newsletter is published in July. Until then, please stay well, be kind and, when life seems overwhelming, take time to listen to some music or, better yet, make some of your own.


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