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“You Think You Can Handle It?”, Elijah Awada Says Thanks

“You Think You Can Handle It?”, Elijah Awada Says Thanks

Our instructors are the backbone of our work, bringing the healing power of music to Walker|West students each year.

Here Elijah Awada reflects on the impact of his time learning from Walker|West faculty member Mr. William Duncan:


Dear Mr. Duncan,

I am writing to you today to bid you a proper farewell and to express my immense gratitude for all the wisdom, encouragement and guidance you have offered me in my years as your student. You have always said that I am a man of few words. My quiet, introverted nature has often prevented me from adequately conveying my ideas and emotions, especially in moments of great significance. With this letter, I hope to express how important your influence, along with that of Walker|West has been in my growth as a musician and as an emerging adult.

When I first came to Walker|West at the age of 9 or 10, I was about four and a half feet tall with a giant mound of hair on my head and an eagerness to be a musician. I remember my first few lessons with you and how amazed I was by your effortless touch and firm command of the piano. I would smile from ear to ear as I tried to keep up with your hands as they danced on the keys and made sounds that I had never heard before. All I wanted, really, was to watch you play, but you made sure that I was the one playing for the majority of each lesson. In those early days, you planted a seed in me that turned my interest in music into a passion. I told myself that one day, I would be able to play and understand music on the same level that you did. That aspiration holds true today, although I’m still far from achieving it.

Today, I am 18 years old, six feet-two inches, and I have tamed my hair a bit. Looking back on these years, all the lessons, recitals, and home practice sessions, I can say that under your instruction, I have come a long way. You have introduced me to an incredible variety of genres and composers, we have worked on pieces from the likes of J.S. Bach, Mozart, and Rachmaninoff, as well as Herbie Hancock, Vince Guaraldi, and Jean -Lue Ponty. You have instilled in me a respect for fundamentals, etiquette, and mechanics, while also stressing the importance of truly feeling and hearing what I am playing. You have worked me tirelessly on scales and fingering, which after a long while, I have become very grateful for.

You have brought me to every corner of the Walker|West building to receive valuable feedback from many different musical perspectives. You have given me the historical context to all of the music that I have played, including explaining to me the role of the african american community in pioneering a vast majority of what we consider American Music. You have even given me the tools to find my own sound and composition style. Like I’ve said in the past. “It’s all your fault!” What I really mean by that, is thank you. Thank you for your wisdom, humor, patience, and care as you lead me through each theory concept and piece of music. Your interactive teaching style has developed me as both a performer and observer of music. I now understand the difference between knowing how to play something versus knowing what it is that I’m playing. It has drastically expanded the limits of my abilities.

To conclude this letter, I would like to say one final thank you and goodbye. I am incredibly grateful for the support you have shown me in my work at Walker|West, as well as in my personal endeavors. Your belief in me is empowering. It is very difficult for me to part with something that has had such a profound impact on my being, but the gift of music I’ve received at Walker|West will last me a lifetime. In times of joy or suffering, music will always be there to offer me comfort. The road ahead is bound to throw many obstacles in my way, but each time I am met with a challenge I will hear your voice saying, “You think you can handle it?” And to that, I will reply, “Yes, I can”.

Thank You, Mr. Duncan. I will keep in touch, and will be back to visit Walker|West often.

Forever your student,
Elijah Awada

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

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Sax Player Kitana Metcalf Competes at Amateur Night at the Apollo

Former Walker|West Student Competes at Apollo Theater in New York City

Last week, saxophonist Kitana Metcalf competed in Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater in New York City, winning her initial round. Watch her playing Straight to the Heart by David Sanborn.  A former student of Felix James, Katana will be a junior at Mounds View High School this year. Her father wants her to continue lessons at Walker|West as soon as her schedule permits.

Congratulations, Kitana!