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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:

Two Hashel Families, One Musical Offering to the Community

Two Hashel Families – One Musical Offering to the Community

by Earl Ross, Walker|West Faculty

Each year the Hashel Family of string players are asked to perform for the Christmas pageant at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in St. Paul. The church, which sits on the North side of interstate 94 just East of Lexington Avenue, exists as the oldest predominately African American Catholic Church in Minnesota. The Hashels’ have attended St. Peter since their parents emigrated from the East African country of Eritrea in the 1990’s. The girls have grown up in the church, with several attending the church’s elementary and middle schools. From a very early age each of the Hashel girls have performed in the Christmas Pageant. For nearly 15 years, starting with Saliem, a member of the Hashel family has provided music for the event at the historic church. Christmas pageants are a tradition in many churches, but they are especially poignant in black churches, when one stops to consider that enslaved Africans were not allowed to worship together in their own churches in many parts of the South. The formation of African American churches stems from both a rejection by white congregations and a desire to worship in spaces that value the contributions of black culture.

This year at St. Peter Claver, like many churches, synagogues and mosques who celebrate the season within their traditions, has had to recalibrate how they gather. Things are necessarily different because of the coronavirus pandemic. What would normally bring families together in the warmth of the church to watch another generation of young people reciting the Christmas story and singing carols, has been suspended. We experience the holidays through the camera lens of our computers and phones these days. Music performance is more intimate and personal, less communal and collective. It doesn’t really feel quite like Christmas for many of us.

On Saturday, December 19th, 2020, the Hashels brought their violins and violas to the church to record music for the season. The sanctuary was empty except for their parents, a few cameras’ Benny Moreno, Walker West’s photographer and ( myself ) Earl Ross, their string instructor. Donned in their masks, sisters Saliem (22), Ariam (19), Asla (17), Rahel (13), and their cousins, Ream (15) and Senhit (13), played holiday favorites ranging from “Carol of the Bells” to “Angels We Have Heard on High”. The recordings will be shared with members of St. Peter and Camphor United Methodist Church, another predominately African American church located in the historic Rondo neighborhood. The Hashels have performed at Camphor for many years too and have been adopted as members of their worship community. Even in an empty sanctuary, magic was being made. There hadn’t been any time to rehearse together. Some of the students were sight reading their parts. Although I had shared some of the music, I warned them that I would be bringing additional music to “read through”. As their string teacher, I watched them, recalling how each of them struggled to hold the instrument and draw the bow across the strings for the first time. Here they were, their own unique beautiful wondrous personalities reflected in their playing.

One of the holiday pieces they recorded, is a medley of “I Wonder as I Wander” and “Rise Up Shepard and Follow”. The publisher titles the work as “Two Spirituals”. The work begins with a viola solo ( Ariam ) playing the haunting melody of “I Wonder as I Wander” unaccompanied. The ensemble then comes in with the melody picked up in the violins. When repeated, some of the violins play the melody an octave higher creating multiple registers that build to a climax that transitions from 3/4 to 4/4 time for the more jubilant, “Rise Up Shepard and Follow.”

Many may be unfamiliar with these two holiday songs. While described as a “Spiritual” in some publications, “I Wonder as I Wander” was actually “discovered” in 1933 by the folklorist, John Jacob Niles during his travels in the Appalachians of North Carolina. He only heard a fragment of the song. He later completed the additional stanzas and published the poem. Interestingly, Langston Hughes, the African American Poet, would later title his autobiographical journey of this same name in 1956. “Rise Up Shepard and Follow” was first published in 1891 as an embedded part of the fictional tale, “Christmas Gifts” by Ruth Stuart. Some years later, Hampton University ( Virginia ), published the song in their student journal, “The Southern Workman” ( February 1902 ). The school, a historic black college, was known for it’s collection and authentication of musical expression of the African in North America.

Befitting the history of the Rondo Community, the black churches established in this neighborhood and Walker West Music Academy, the Hashels provide their rendition of of these beautiful, but little-known Christmas/ Holiday songs.

All of the Hashels began their violin and viola training at Walker West. All are members or alumnae of the Minnesota Youth Symphonies and several have been participants in the Artaria Chamber Music School. Saliem, Ariam and Asla are also alumnae of the nationally acclaimed Sphinx Performance Academy. While in MYS, Saliem traveled to Cuba.

It is a rare treat to have all of the Hashels together. Saliem is a senior at St. Olaf College (MN) studying pre-med and music, and Ariam is a first year at Vaderbilt University (TN), studying computer science and music. Asla is in her senior year at Woodbury.

Here at Walker West we look forward to bringing music to our community again. Our strings students have a tradition of performing holiday music in the December recital. This year, it too was conducted remotely. And though it was still special, we missed surrounding our audience in the Performance Hall for our finale. As we say goodbye to 2020, enjoy this offering. Walker West and The Hashels will look forward to seeing you next year – hopefully in person!

In gratitude to our community of string students and families, and all who support music/ arts education, Happy Holidays!

Earl Ross

Watch the entire holiday performance via youtube.

Give To The Max 2020

Walker|West is Ready for Give To The Max

This year the big day is November 19th. You can make your gifts over the next 3 weeks to help us reach these 3 goals:

Goal #1 – Raise $5,000 by November 19th

Music helps us grow, music is culture, and music has the power to heal. Whether we seek justice and solidarity, or share a moment with family and friends, music is ever present. Our work is about bringing the benefits of music to all music learners. You can help us do that, as we raise 5k for #GTMD20 with a one-time or monthly donation.

Goal #2 – Enroll 20 new students by November 19th

From our “Music For Families” early childhood education partnership, to our regular 10-week lessons, or our lessons for older adults –we provide music learning for students of all ages. Due to COVID-19 we’ve had to expand our virtual offerings, which means you can take lessons from anywhere. In these times, necessity has sparked innovation – and we’re ready for all those who wish to start (or re-start) their music learning journeys with us.

Tuition Assistance is available.

Goal #3 – 10 new monthly donors by November 19th

Donors who give monthly help provide sustainable, regular income for organizations like ours. Making a monthly gift is easy, and convenient for those who wish to make a meaningful gift over time. Whether you give monthly, annually, or just one time – all donors help us deepen our mission. We want to offer you a different way to give to our work.

Become a monthly donor today and help us reach our #GTMD Goal:

Music for Families: An Interview with main instructor, Ivory Doublette

For Our Youngest Music Learners –Virtual Learning Has Its Perks

Benny Moreno, photographer and social media manager for Walker|West had a change to catch up with Ivory about what’s new with our Music For Families program as we look forward to 2021.

Enrollment is way up for the virtual Early Childhood program, why do you think this is the case?

“I was so shocked to see how quickly classes filled up this time! I think many families are searching for a way to keep some routine and predictability in their lives and the lives of their children. I also think having the option of not commuting for extracurriculars during MN winters is also a bonus!”

What is the importance of music/music education in these times?

“Music and music education is so important all the time. Even when we are not in a pandemic! Music supports brain development in young children. Music can help with identifying and regulating emotions and music creates new opportunities to bond with our family.”

How are the online classes going? How have you had to adapt your teaching style?

“Classes are going really well. We are learning that even during a pandemic life can still be so busy. Being able to have access to YouTube versions of class as well as Zoom sessions helps keep families engaged in a way that works for them. Technology hasn’t been too bad either! There are definitely changes I have to make after each lesson.

If I realize a song or activity is well received over Zoom I make plans to keep it in our lineup! If there is something that doesn’t go over well, (sometimes our books/stories are not helpful to our Zoom class) I make plans to try something new! Just like in person classes I want to encourage flexibility and for the students to lead while the grownups follow! ”

Any memorable moments?

“Whenever we are ending class and my students or their families don’t want it to end I think we are creating memorable moments, moments we want to hold on to! ”


Our early childhood program, in partnership with McPhail is currently enrolling. Tuition assistance is available. Learn more and register your student today:

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.

Free Lesson

Give Early to Give to the Max Day

Give Now to Walker|West’s Give to the Max Day Campaign

Give to the Max Day, Thursday, November 14, is less than two weeks away, but you can make your donation count now as part of the Early Giving period! Simply visit Walker|West’s Give to the Max day page and contribute any time between now and November 14!

Early Birds May Get a Golden Ticket

All gifts made during the Early Giving period are eligible for daily $500 Early Giving Golden Tickets, and a $10,000 Super-Sized Golden Ticket drawn at midnight as soon as GTMD19 is over! These GTMD prizes are ways to make your contribution go further.

There are many ways to contribute to Walker|West, but Give to the Max Day makes it easy. Thank you for considering making a donation so we can continue to bring quality music instruction and events to our community.



Update on Walker|West Alumnus DeCarlo Jackson

DeCarlo Jackson tours internationally with the band Hippo Campus, but when he’s back in town, he performs with the quartet Arlo. DeCarlo, who  started his musical journey as a student at Walker|West, was recently featured in the Local Current Blog.

We are proud of DeCarlos’s success as a person and as a professional musician and grateful that he took the time to come back to Walker|West last month to honor his roots. At the Ashley DuBose concert in September, he talked about how Walker|West helped him become not only a better musician but also a better human being.

Thanks, DeCarlo!


Terence Blanchard Ensemble Master Class

 Terence Blanchard Ensemble Master Class

Jazz Trumpeter Terence Blanchard

Friday, October 25, 2019
6:00 PM

Walker|West Performance Hall
760 Selby Ave.

Free and open to the public.

Grammy Award winning trumpeter/composer Terence Blanchard will conduct a master class for Walker|West Youth Jazz Ensembles. The ensembles will perform and receive feedback from Mr. Blanchard. This event is sponsored by The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. Please contact Tonya Gregory at or 651-789-1685 with any questions.

About Terence Blanchard

Terence Blanchard started his career in 1980 as a member of the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. He would later perform with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. An acclaimed composer of more than forty film scores, Mr. Blanchard won his first Academy award in 2019 for Best Original Score for Spike Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman.

Since 2000, Blanchard has served as artistic director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. In 2011 he was also named artistic director of the Henry Mancini Institute at the University of Miami. Mr. Blanchard was appointed visiting scholar in jazz composition in 2015 at the Berklee College of Music and in 2019, The Metropolitan Opera announced it would stage Blanchard’s opera Fire Shut up In My Bones, with a libretto by Charles Blow, for their 2021-2022 Season.

Walker|West 2nd Sundays

Walker|West 2nd Sundays at Twist Davis Group Restaurants

A Delicious way to Support Walker|West Each Month

Come join us each second Sunday of the month for great food sponsored by The Twist Davis Group’s Revival and In Bloom restaurants. The restaurant group will generously donate 100 percent of profits made on the second Sunday of each month to Walker|West.

Upcoming Dates:

January 12

February 9

March 8

April 12

You can support Walker|West while enjoying a meal at any of the Twist Davis Group’s fine establishments:

Revival offers fried chicken and other classic Southern comfort foods served in a stylishly relaxed surrounding.

In Bloom is a fine dining concept featuring seasonal and wild ingredients expressed through fire. It is located on the historic grounds of the iconic Schmidt Brewery.

Thank you for helping us take full advantage of this delicious opportunity made possible through the generosity of the Twist Davis Group. We are profoundly grateful for their ongoing support.

Twist Davis Group