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Walker|West 2021 Founders Award Recipients

Congratulations to Asla Hashel – 2021 Founders Award Recipient

Asla Hashel

ASLA HASHEL, 2021 Founders Award Recipient

Viola, 10 yrs

High School: Woodbury High School
Instructor: Earl Ross

Share a favorite memory from Walker|West.
Playing with the hip hop duo Black Violin at the Ordway.

Musically ( and generally ) what are your plans going forward?
I plan to attend Emory University in the fall, and hope to participate in both lessons and the orchestral programs offered. I am currently undecided on my major, but I hope to follow the pre-dental track during my time at University.

What has been the benefit/ importance of music education in your life?

Music education has allowed me to perceive the world in a colorful manner. Everything we experience can be connected or traced back to music, from the daily mundane chores of our lives to the exhilarating events that map our existence. The training I have received has allowed me to see those connections and make sense of them, making my day more vivid and exciting.

Any words of encouragement or advice for those who are just beginning their own musical journeys?
Making sure you implement a daily regimen of scales and etudes is critical in achieving the most optimal results. Scales and etudes can absolutely feel boring, but your technique will improve immensely and difficult solo pieces will soon seem a lot easier. I, myself, still struggle with upkeeping these skills, so I would recommend starting early and creating good habits in your fingers.

Testimonial from Earl Ross:

To say that the years pass seemingly with the blink of an eye is cliché. And yet that’s exactly how it feels when I think of the years getting to know Asla. Like her older sister Ariam who graduated just last year from high school, I’ve known Asla since she was a toddler. Three years of age to be exact. And though she started viola lessons formally at Walker|West as a 4th grader, she was preparing to do music long before then. As the third Hashel to study a string instrument and the second violist in the family, Asla had something to prove and would bristle at the notion of “following” her sisters. In fact, one of the earliest decisions I had to make was to ensure that whatever her sister Ariam played, Asla was not interested in doing. I had to come up with a parallel set of pieces for viola that would aid in her progress as a violist but would not overlap (for the most part) with what her sister was studying. That independence coupled with her maturity and curiosity remained constant in the nearly 9 years of working with her. She’s probably the only viola student in the area to study the Cambini Viola Concerto which was a result of me having to pull out lesser standard works to satisfy her request to not study the same things her sisters studied. This desire to follow a path less traveled, sparked an extraordinary interest in the works of 20th century composers. Asla would light up talking about such composers as Rebecca Clarke and Max Reger.

Recently, during one of our remote lessons, she remarked about the beauty of works by black composers, like Florence Price, and how that interest was instigated while participating in Sphinx. Nope… no baroque for her, at least not too much. Save that for her sisters!

The sibling rivalry between she and her sister Ariam didn’t end with the music. As members of the Minnesota Youth Symphonies, the viola sisters were placed on the same stand once (i.e., they were made to sit next to each during a semester and concert). When I heard about this arrangement, I thought, this could be WW III in the making! Fortunately, the folks at MYS learned from their misstep and never did that again.

Asla’s music accomplishments are quite long. In addition to her membership in MYS (at all levels), Asla has been a long-time participant in the Ataria Chamber Music School where her quartet placed in the Saint Paul String Quartet Competition and participated in the Sphinx Performance Academy for three years in a row, performing at Cleveland Institute of Music and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. At Sphinx, performed in two masterclasses, including one with the President of Curtis and internationally acclaimed violist, Roberto Diaz. She is a Roderick Cox Music Initiative Fellow and was selected to participate at the Brevard Music Institute and Festival in North Carolina. When she is not practicing her viola, Asla can be found playing the clarinet for her high school band which she has done for the past four years or studying for her advanced level classes. Any one of these accomplishments would make any teacher proud. However, what I will cherish most is watching the beautiful deeply curious and fearless human being I first met when she was just 3 years old grow into the thoughtful mature, humble young adult she has become. As Asla heads off to university, our string community will miss her musicality but can’t wait see what she does in the part of her journey. Congratulations to you and all the best for your future endeavors!


Congratulations to Rowan Peters – 2021 Founders Award Recipient

Rowan Peters

ROWAN PETERS, 2021 Founders Award Recipient

Piano, 8 years

High school: Edison High School, Minneapolis
Instructor: Mr. Duncan

Share a favorite memory from Walker|West. Getting to practice on the Grand Piano in the performance room.

Musically ( and Generally ) what are your plans going forward? I’m going to UW Stout for Computer Science with a focus in Game Design, and I plan to continue playing piano in my free time.

What has been the benefit/importance of music education in your life?

Learning to play the piano has allowed me to compose some of my own pieces and better understand what I’m playing as well as how to play it.

Any words of wisdom/ encouragement for those just beginning their musical journey? Don’t let the complexity of a song deter you from trying to learn it. Continue to push yourself beyond your comfort zone and keep practicing!

Testimonial from Mr. Duncan:

Rowan Peters began his journey of piano studies here at Walker West Music academy when he was 12 years of age, (approximately 6 1/2 years ago. He was rather shy but talented and showed a great interest for classical music. Over a period of time, we began to explore different genres of piano and piano literacy as he shared with me a great interest in video game music.

Often, he would come to his lesson and would play for me various kinds of music that he obtained from either a video game or a new song from a movie that he had seen. since his tenure began, he has played at every recital that Walker West has had encountering various genres of Music, such as Vince Gueraldi’s Cast Your Fate to the Wind, Mozart’s Turkish March, Chopin’s Prelude in E Minor, and more recently, Eric Satie’s Trois Gymnopedies and Sergio Mendes’s mas Que Nada. Rowan has also done 2 Honor’s Recitals within the past 3 years, (minus 2020 because of the pandemic). he has also performed for us virtually the song, ‘That’s The Way It Is’ by Bruce Hornsby. While in high school, he expressed that he had a chance to play in his High School’s Rock Band as one of the known community activities that he has shared with me.

I have watch this gentleman grow not only as an up and coming musician, but also as an outstanding and highly intelligent young man who will be an asset to any college he attends. His musicianship has continually maintained excellence since his beginnings.


Congratulations to Miles Pretel and Erik McCready (Honorable Mentions)

MILES PRETEL, Piano, 10 Years

High school: Open World Learning Community

Instructor(s): Jacob Dodd has been my primary instructor since I first started at Walker West, but I’ve also learned from a lot of great teachers through the ensembles and summer camp. Felix James, Kevin Washington, Jack Breen, and Kavyesh Kaviraj to name a few.

Share a favorite memory from Walker|West.

Around when I first started taking lessons here, I went to see the senior recital for the graduating class. For the last song the ensemble did a rendition of Charles Mingus’ song Moanin’ that really moved me. That was a really big inspirational moment that showed me the power of music and motivated me to keep working at it. By the fall I was playing in that same ensemble (not because I was any good but because the old piano player had graduated), playing alongside and learning from some of the same people I was inspired by.

 Musically ( and Generally ) what are your plans going forward? I am going to Columbia College Chicago in the fall to continue my study of piano and music production, with a possible minor or double major in something else. No matter what I end up doing beyond college I hope that music will always be a big part of my life. 

 What has been the benefit/importance of music education in your life? Music education has given me a creative and emotional outlet that has become a passion of mine. I’ve learned a lot about work ethic, perseverance, and have become a part of a positive and uplifting community.

Any words of wisdom/ encouragement for those just beginning their musical journey? Keep putting in the work and it will pay off.

Testimonial from Jacob Dodd:

I’ve had the honorable pleasure to work with Miles since the beginning of his adolescence. He has blossomed beautifully into a well rounded musician. From a classical background transformed to jazz, he has developed his own sound to be set apart from the usual. I’m very excited to see where his talents will take him. I’m looking forward and expecting to hear great things from Miles!


ERIK MCCREADY, Drums, 4 years

High School: Central High School, Saint Paul

Instructors: Kevin Washington, Solomon Parham, Gerard Ahlgren, and Ernest Bisong

Share a favorite memory from Walker|West. I was in a jazz ensemble for 4 years and then I started taking drum lessons with Kevin. Kevin encouraged me to join their digital goes live program where I learned about music production. 

Musically ( and Generally ) what are your plans going forward? There were some times at walker west when my instructors would just provide insight into life. Specifically in the digital goes live program. I learned so much from my teachers about feeling in music and just how to be thoughtful in life in general. 

What has been the benefit/importance of music education in your life? I plan to continue making music wherever I go. Whether it is playing drums, or music production or just listening to music. Music is such a big part of my life and I don’t ever see that changing.  Currently, I am planning on attending the University of Denver in Colorado. 

Music Education has most obviously taught me how to be a better musician, but also through my music-making I have had incredible experiences playing with people, and just hanging out making music. I learned a lot just from being around music. 

Any words of wisdom/ encouragement for those just beginning their musical journey?

For people who are just starting out with music, I would say that music is an amazing thing. I think that music can be really hard sometimes, especially when you can do everything you want with it. Eventually, if you put in the time you can get to where you want to be and have the experiences you want to have. whether that is just playing a song you want to play, Being a professional musician, or just being able to feel what it is like to be a part of something so special. Music can bring you so much joy.

Testimonial for Kevin Washington:

I’ve had the great pleasure of giving private drum lessons to Erik McCready over the past two years. Erik has grown tremendously since the first time I met him. He has a hunger and passion to learn multiple styles of music. It has made my job easy to educate him. Erik represents what Walker|West is about.

In addition to private lessons, Erik plays the piano, participates in a jazz ensemble and is part of the Digital Music Production program. He’s become a good composer in that class. Now, Erik will take his talents to the University of Denver in the fall, where I know he’ll excel because of his dedication and well rounded musical foundation.


Catch more features of our 14 other graduating seniors social media: Follow Walker|West on Facebook and Instagram for more stories like these.

To support the work of Walker|West join our giving community: https://www.walkerwest.org/our-music-school-community/how-to-donate/

Roderick Cox meets with Walker|West RCMI Fellows 

Roderick Cox meets with Walker|West RCMI Fellows

Even during these unusual times where face masks, social distancing, and remote lessons are the new norm, German-based American conductor,  Roderick Cox and Walker|West RCMI fellows still find ways to connect.

On March 24, Maestro Cox and students from our string program participated in a  meet-up on Zoom. The meet-up was an opportunity for the students to chat with the world-renowned conductor about a wide range of topics centered around music education and performance.

This is the second time the former associate conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra has met with the students. Two years ago Walker|West established a partnership with the Roderick Cox Music Initiative (RCMI) to encourage BIPOC students underrepresented in classical music to consider the path of orchestral training.  Students selected for the program are provided with an array of support that helps smooth the path and mitigate the cost of lessons, instruments, music camps, and other enrichment opportunities.  The RCMI fellows (Walker|West has six currently) and potential future fellows shared with Roderick Cox the pieces they are working on and asked questions about living in different countries and preparing for performances. During the conversation, Roderick shared that he was back in the states for several months preparing Rossini’s opera, “The Barber of Seville” with the San Francisco Opera Company. The performances will take place at a drive-in instead of the opera house.

As Roderick said, “This is something I’ve never done before, but I’m looking forward to the experience”  He explained that the production had to be changed due to COVID. Even the cast, who were supposed to be international, had to be re-cast with American singers to limit COVID risks to the performers.  The opera which is typically sung in the original Italian will be performed in English. This led to a discussion about learning multiple languages when you are young.  The students shared some of the languages they are learning in school and seemed to share Roderick’s appreciation for knowing multiple languages, even if it is hard to do… at any age!

The conversation moved on from there. When asked by a student what the hardest music he’s had to learn, Roderick offered the Dr. Atomic Symphony, by the American composer, John Adams.  The symphony, which is a comment on the development and deployment of the atomic bomb, is hard to describe musically. At one point he shared his screen to play a portion of the “Panic” from the symphony. The students were in agreement…. the music sounded really hard.

Programming such a difficult piece has to be balanced with more familiar, less challenging works to keep the orchestra musicians from revolting. As Roderick explained, “You don’t want the musicians hating you before you even start working with them.”  The students learned a lot about what it takes to be a conductor and musician in classical music. They also learned that even professional musicians can have memory-slips during performances and that things could go awry, but just as we say when preparing for recitals, you keep going on, and often the audience doesn’t know you made a mistake. Roderick Cox, who has performed throughout the USA and in other countries reminded these students that it’s important to practice and to prepare well for your performances, whether they are in the world’s greatest concert halls or in a  Walker|West recital. The hard work of preparing will make a difference in how you perform, but we are all still human, and things happen.

Music can be humbling.

At the end of the meet-up, Roderick offered his continued support to the students and their goals. “I and your teachers want you to be able to dream big and we are here to help you meet those dreams.”

The Roderick Cox Scholarship is used to mitigate the barriers that so often prevent students of color from considering careers as composers, conductors and / or musicians of professional orchestras. The initiative launched in 2019 to create scholarships for Black, Latinx and Native American / Indigenous students who may want to become composers, conductors and/or musicians of professional orchestras.

Read more: roderickcox.com/giving-back

“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!