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?

Eugene

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.

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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.

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