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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