Blog Newsletter


Photo by Benny Moreno

Notes from the Walker West Music Academy String Department

During National Black History Month, we celebrate the contributions of African Americans. As the oldest music school founded by African Americans in Minnesota, every month gives us a reason to celebrate the contributions of Black / African American music. In the String Department this month we highlight the musicians who perform jazz on bowed instruments.

On Wednesday January 31, 2024, we discuss the legacy of string instruments in jazz with our very own Ernest Bisong (upper strings instructor) and members of the Minneapolis String Project. This panel discussion is part of the Rondo Community Music Series moderated by Earl Ross. The goal of the discussion is to provide a deeper understanding of the history of bowed instruments in a musical genre not often known to include violins, violas, and cellos. When most audiences think of jazz and bowed instruments, they think of the double bass, a standard component of the rhythm section of jazz bands. The discussion will explore how the upper strings have been used in jazz dating back to its earliest days and how these instruments have continued to push boundaries beyond the Western classical music canons. If you haven’t already, register today for this online discussion

On Saturday, February 3, 2024, the Minneapolis String Project performs in concert at Walker West Music Academy, 760 Selby Ave at 7 pm. If you can’t make it in-person, you can stream the concert live. The concert is FREE, but you must register HERE. Minneapolis String Project is a high energy trio that’s breaks boundaries through eclectic pop/funk covers and genre-defying original works. Ernest Bisong (violin), David Feily (cello), and Greg Byers (guitar) performed in diverse spheres of the Minnesota music scene before forming their unique musical partnership.

As for our students, Kamoinge Strings will perform the National Black Anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing for the opening of the Timberwolves game at the Target Center on Friday February 2, 2024. This is a first for Kamoinge Strings. They’ve performed for judges, lawyers and county commissioners, but never for the NBA. The students are excited to play their arrangement of the anthem as they set the tone for Black History Month in front of fifteen thousand basketball fans. It is apparently a first for the Timberwolves and the NBA. Normally the song is sung. The team has never had an instrumental version of the anthem performed. Talk about being pacesetters! Our students and string department continue to make history.

Ten of our current Walker West string students participate in the Minnesota Youth Symphonies (MYS), Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies (GTCYS), and/or Artaria Chamber Music School (ACMS). In February these students perform in their respective orchestras and chamber groups in winter concerts of these highly competitive organizations. On Friday, February 2, 2024, Rahel Hashel (violin) and Kamau Rodriguez-Pegg (viola) comprise two members of a string quintet performing Dvorak’s Quintet in G op. 77 for two violins, viola, cello and bass. Patty Ryan, a member of the Artaria String Quartet and cello instructor at Walker West coaches their chamber ensemble.

On Sunday, February 11, 2024, MYS performs at Orchestra Hall, and on February 24 and 25, GTCYS performs at Orchestra Hall. Check out the respective websites for these organizations and support our students!

Looking ahead… be sure to add to your calendar, Saturday March 9, 2024. Kamoinge Strings performs its winter concert, Stringocracy at Prospect Park UMC in Minneapolis. Students perform works from the Baroque period to Jazz and Hip Hop.

Blog Newsletter

Walker West String Department

With the New Year comes opportunities to share great news and inspiring stories about the work we do and the students and families we serve. Starting with the January Newsletter we begin a new feature, called String Stories highlighting the activities of our Walker West String Department.

For generations the academy has been known for its Keyboard, Wind, Vocal and Jazz Programs thanks to its co-founders, Rev. Carl Walker and Grant West, legendary pianists and music instructors in the Twin Cities particularly adept at Gospel and Jazz music. And band music teachers like Felix James and the late Tom Zosel who established the academy’s first jazz ensembles. The jazz ensemble program includes now Walker West alumni, Jack Breen (horns) and Kevin Washington (drums and percussion), with their other gifted jazz teaching artists-colleagues, Kavyesh Kavyraj (piano), Solomon Parham (trumpet), Ted Olsen (bass) to name just a few.

Although classes in string instruments were offered in the first few years, its program was often overshadowed by the other departments. Many in our community never knew that Walker West offered lessons in violin, viola, cello and the double bass. Most still do not know that the academy has a string department. This new feature seeks to rectify this oversight by providing information about students, recitals, concerts, and our string ensemble. If you read the December 2023 Newsletter, you would have seen two items about recent performances by Kamoinge Strings: a pre-concert performance for Sphinx Virtuosi at the Ordway, and gallery performances at the Bell Museum for the opening of their new planetarium show, “Secrets of the Forest”.

Each month, we will showcase brief stories from our String Department in the newsletter and direct you on occasion to longer pieces on our Walker West website. We hope to inspire you as you learn more about what we do with our students and families. And we hope these stories will encourage you to attend string department events featuring our students, staff and alumni. Our String Department currently is comprised of four instructors – Earl Ross (violin/viola), Ernest Bisong (violin/viola), Patty Ryan (cello) and Ted Olsen (bass). Our accompanists are Franco Holder and Jack Barrett.

Now onto the news…oops…music…


Why, Kamoinge Strings, of course!

As we look forward to 2024 events, we can’t forget the incredible performances of our string ensemble, Kamoinge Strings during the holiday season. The last half of November 2023 through December provided several important opportunities for our string students to showcase their talents at high-profile events.

On November Saturday 18, Kamoinge Strings performed at The Fillmore in the North Loop section of Minneapolis, near Target Field. The ensemble was invited to perform at the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers (MABL) Scholarship Gala. The theme was “Celebrating Black Excellence”. With nearly 1000 bedazzled guests, the Kamoinge performed music as attendees arrived and networked. An organization established to promote and support the professional development of Black lawyers, judges, and law students in Minnesota, it has deep ties to the area’s legal community and the state’s largest law schools. The event was a blast for the students who hung out it the upstairs green rooms and marveled at the names of performers on the wall backstage who’d played at the Fillmore. If we play there again, we’ll have to see if Kamoinge Strings has been added! According to the folks at the event, Kamoinge Strings lived up to the gala’s theme.

Twelve days later, on Thursday November 30, Kamoinge Strings regaled guests at the National Association of Counties (NACo) Executive Committee convening in Saint Paul. County Board of Commissioners from across the country including an especially enthusiastic commissioner of Kamoinge’s performance from Montana gathered on the fourth floor of the historic Landmark Center. The coordinators of the event sought out Walker West to provide entertainment by youth musicians. The ensemble was happy to do it. Kamoinge has performed in the past at the Landmark, but in the Atrium on the first level. For this event, the ensemble performed in one of the courtrooms. To perform in an old courtroom with beautiful wooden floors and high barreled ceilings is a dream for a sting ensemble. The resonance of the rooms is made for this instrumentation. Kamoinge represented the school and Ramsey County well. The students performed an array of music from its extensive repertoire that almost always includes, We Shall Overcome or Lift Every Voice and Sing. These specific songs are performed by the students to honor the mission and legacy of Walker West, an institution, founded by African Americans. The commissioners were “wowed” by the poise and sound of the ensemble. As Ramsey County Commissioner Mary Jo McGuire, current president of NACo stated in her thank you note, “You are all amazing! I really appreciate you and your music!” Thank you, Commissioner McGuire and all of the Ramsey County Commissioners who represent our community. We appreciated the opportunity to share our music.

We ended the year on Saturday December 9 at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in St Paul where we performed our annual Holiday Concert. This year was the first time we featured Kamoinge Strings almost entirely. In past concerts, solos and duets would open the first half and Kamoinge performed selections in the second half. For our December 2023 concert, we had just one student provide a prelude selection and the rest of the concert were works performed by the ensemble.

When the lights went down in the Sanctuary, the students lined up along the outside of the pews and commenced with the Ukrainian holiday favorite, Carol of the Bells. The audience was surrounded by the sound of strings. From there the students moved to front of the where the assembled to perform Bach’s, Jesus bleibet meine Freude (Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring) accompanied by Franco Holder on the pipe organ. The lights were still down, allowing the just the glow of the blue-lighted Christmas Tree to shine in the sanctuary. The concert was magical! Kamoinge Strings continued with Corelli’s Christmas Concerto Grosso with violin solos by Rahel Hashel and Kamau Rodriguez-Pegg, Astor Piazolla’s Ave Maria, a Klezmer piece, and A Christmas Song with jazz improvisation solo by Ernest Bisong, to name just a few. The concert was filled with familiar and not so familiar works for strings. Something for everyone. When concluded the concert as we do every year with arrangement of Silent Night where the audience gets to participate These concerts are among our most popular and most fun. Students and teachers wear holiday hats and reindeer horns as they play to humanity for peace, joy and good cheer!

We hope you had a wonderful holiday season. And we will look forward to seeing you at our future concerts!


  • Kamoinge Strings at the Ordway Music Center | MLK Reception (January 15, 2024)
  • Kamoinge Strings | Winter Concert (March 9, 2024)


Congratulations to the Walker West String Department which received a grant from one of the premier music schools in the country.

The Paul R Judy Center for Innovation and Research at the EASTMAN SCHOOL OF MUSIC will provide support funding for a project designed by the department to feature Kamoinge Strings, called Stringocracy.

The project will assist in building momentum and support across communities of color, especially the Black communities, to participate in voter registration and the presidential election. The featured ensemble, Kamoinge Strings, highlights and re-enforces the programmatic ideas of identity, democratic expression, social justice, and activism through the power of the ballot box. The project will most impact our students through their understanding of how music can be used to support civic engagement. We will know that we have been successful when our students and community are motivated to participate more directly in the election process and to correlate this work with the creative process of music. The skills engendered through this immersive process, we think, will teach participating students important tools for how to use their unique voices to affect change in their respective communities. Rehearsals for the first big event on March 9 will start in January. Students and instructors will work to create a program that includes music from the baroque period to hip hop that will convey the democratic musical expression of call and response and improvisation.


Ribbon Cutting Event

You’re invited

for music and a presentation from

Walker West Music Academy & Representatives from Schmitt Music.

Join us for a very special ribbon cutting for our new


on July 7th, 2023 from 7 pm-8 pm

It’s all happening at the

Walker|West Performance Hall, 760 Selby Ave, St. Paul, MN 55104.

This is the first time in the history of Walker|West, that the organization has obtained brand-new pianos for instruction and performances. The expansion of our organization calls for new energy & instruments that become a part of the stories of our students and staff!

Be the first to hear the fresh notes of our brand-new pianos from our world-class piano instructors! Join us for this one-time event, and find out how you can support the permanence of these instruments at Walker|West. Light refreshments will be provided. This is an all-ages event. No RSVP is necessary.

NOTE: This is a fundraising collaboration with Schmitt Music to support the recent lease/purchase of several Steinway pianos for the school


MetroNOME Brewery Gives to the Max for Music Education at Walker|West

Our lowertown neighbors, MetroNOME Brewery are making a big impact for our Jazz Ensembles this year for Give To The Max. Earlier this fall the cozy and cool venue hosted a performance by Wynton Marsalis as an addendum to his recent Orchestra Hall appearances. At this event donors raised nearly $4,000 for music education and MetroNOME decided to split the amount between us and our neighbors to the west, Hopewell Music Cooperative North. 

The generous gift is just in time to help us reach our #GTMD22 goal which is focused on getting our accomplished Jazz ensembles gig ready. Our Youth and Adult ensembles have opened for international musicians at the Twin Cities Jazz Fest. They have graced the stage of the Selby Avenue Jazz Fest, performed at the Landmark Center –and recently they opened for (the very same) Wynton Marsalis at Orchestra Hall. ⁣

Our Program Director Tonya Gregory and Founder Grant West went for a tour of the brewery last week. We caught up with Bill Eddins, (Co-Owner, Chief Design Officer, Assistant Brewer and Music Director Emeritus of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra) for a short interview.

How was MetroNOME, a for profit organization with a mission dedicated to music education, conceived?

The year 2020 hit. Come the middle of March –everything I was involved in had disappeared. All my gigs, gone. My wife and I were doing Thai-Yoga massage at our studio, gone. I was a tennis judge, gone. Everything disappeared.

For the first time in my life I found myself with nothing to do. And then in May, we had the riots. My third set of riots. Miami in ‘89, LA in ‘92 and now here. About a month later, I found myself in the shower on a beautiful late June day, getting madder and madder and madder. From the shower window I looked out, through the anger thinking, you should brew today, it’s a perfect day and you should brew today!

The other half of my brain was saying, Bill, you just went through your third set of riots. Why are we fighting the same fight that we were fighting 30 odd years ago? Nothing has changed. Being a musician, my next thought was –we’re not investing in the things that make our society better. Like music and music education. Why are these the first things on the chopping block? It makes no sense. I sat there in the shower, staring at one tile for at least ten minutes. Something clicked. I got out, sent an email to Matt (MetroNOME co-founder/co-owner) and said, Here’s my idea: We’re going to found a brewery and once we’re profitable, we are going to take our proceeds and fund music education for underprivileged youth. 

I sent that email out and didn’t hear from that guy for like TEN DAYS! No call, no text, no reply –I was tempted to drive by his house to see if there was a “For Sale” or “SOLD” sign out in front. Like maybe he disappeared off the face of the planet, to get away from this crazy idea I’d pitched him. 10 days after that he got in touch and said, “yes, this could work.” We started working on MetroNOME from there.

How was the connection to Walker|West made?

Dude, I’m in music! I’m a musician and there is no such thing as 6 degrees of separation in our business– it’s never more than two– so as soon as any little connection gets made, it’s like the neurons are firing. It was utterly inevitable for us to be connected with Walker|West. I’d heard of Walker|West through the years. Before I was involved in building MetroNOME, I’d been hearing about Walker|West. The Twin Cities is a very musically active area, there’s a ton of music going on. It’s one of the big reasons that I like living here.

On the importance of supporting music education:

As much as the Twin Cities is a very active scene, there is a section of society that insists that these things –the arts, music education–that these things, things that make us better as a society are not important. That they are superfluous, are add-ons. Some ask why we would even waste money on these things. This enrages me on every single level because why would you not want to invest in things that make society better? 

It’s as simple as that in my book. Is the money that much more important than living in a civilized society? It’s become my mission to turn that around and to ensure that any kid who wants to learn and study music has the opportunity. When it comes to music education, I will absolutely throw money wherever it can go!

I know that like 4%-5% of these kids may end up in the MN Orchestra (my background is in the classical genres) and that’s fine. I know the other 95% will either play in rock bands, or do jazz, or world music, or may not even do anything musical past high school, but they get that experience. They will understand why music is so important. The fun of it, the joy of it, and the fact that it makes our society better because it brings us together as human beings. 

The whole thing about music, from a sociological standpoint, is that it forces us to interact with one another. Music builds community past racial, gender, sociological barriers and that’s the wonderful thing about it for me!

Is there any common ground between brewing beer and playing music?

Brewing beer is easy, anyone can brew beer. Brewing good beer is pretty easy as well. But brewing a beer that’s good today, good tomorrow and again and again going forward –that’s hard! What we are trying to do is eliminate variables and that’s the same thing you do when you are practicing an instrument. The technique is the same day after day, after day, after day. It’s just that you can use what you’ve learned differently. What if we put the emphasis here, what if we change the amount of an ingredient there. Subtle differences. 

We thank Bill (and Matt) and MetroNOME Brewery for their wonderful gift towards this year’s GTMD goal. Help us get to the goal by November 17th. Gifts of any size whether one-time or recurring make an impact.



We all start somewhere.

Walker|West started in a small room with a few instruments. Music for students in Rondo in 1988, wasn’t available nor accessible. This is still the case for many African-American students, students in our neighborhood, and students from low- income households.

Just as Rev. Walker and Grant West stepped in to fill a gap then, we are continuing the essential work of opening music education access for students of all ages. What’s a better setting than local schools?

Our Walker|West Without Walls initiative, is central to our strategic direction. Students participate in weekly classes with one or more of our teaching and performing artists, for about 8-12 weeks. Regularly culminating in a final performance at their school for friends and family to enjoy.

Can you recall a time where the study of music was required, and a necessary part of your education? You may have chosen an instrument–like the snare, or trumpet, or maybe even the clarinet. You enjoyed coordinating your fingers and breathing to play those first notes of the scale. Or you might remember how it felt to hit the major milestone of mastering your part in a song. Finally getting that piece of music down pat, from start to finish.

Music creates a powerful, positive mindset when you listen and especially when you learn it. Music education helps build a foundation for future success, something that all students should have access to.

Over the years, Walker|West with support from community and funding partners have been working to change the trajectory of young people through music education. This is the cornerstone of our mission, and we’re ready to keep it going!


• 2019-2020 School Year: 34 students at 2 Sites
• 2020-2021 School Year: 262 students at 1 site (online)
• 2021-2022 School Year: 170 students at 2 sites



Muhkuhi (center) is an active member of our youth violin ensemble, led by instructor Earl Ross.

When you want to know about the future, we feel it’s best to ask those who will help shape it. We checked in with accomplished youth violinist, budding photographer, and long time Walker|West student Muhkuhi about where she thinks we’re headed.


I’m excited to work with new people. We (string students) have gotten to work with some great composers and musicians.


Before the ensemble it used to just be playing solo on the strings recitals, with the ensemble we play together. We get to perform in new places with new people and I didn’t have as many opportunities to do that before. I get nervous playing solo because… well, that’s just me, but in Kamoinge everyone is playing something different. But then it all comes together as one piece.


During the school year we are mostly all practicing on our own. We all have different schedules, but once in a while–like in the summer when we are practicing for the youth symphony we will work together. Sometimes it’s annoying and they don’t listen, but
other times it’s nice to hear what we can play together.

Sometimes we’ll play old duets that we’ve played before. We can always hear each other practicing and it really motivates me to keep practicing.

Walker|West youth ensembles like our Youth Jazz Ensemble and our Kamoinge String Ensemble have opened for, and accompanied professional musicians at the Twin Cities Jazz Fest, Selby Avenue Jazz Fest, Landmark Center, and other local
places. Most recently our youth string ensemble accompanied PaviElle French at the world premiere of “The SOVEREIGN Suite”, an original work which debuted in 2022.



Ernest Bisong, long time Walker|West teaching artist (who originated our Summer Jazz Violin Workshop), stopped to chat with us about all things Walker|West.


Long before I came here, I was teaching classical violin in Nigeria, but really wanted to branch out and see what else was out there. I wanted to check out other methods that were non-traditional, especially for string teaching. And so that’s how I wound up here. I had an uncle that was living in Virginia and I came to do a workshop with Dan O’ Connor – I just had to pay for the airfare.

I auditioned at McNally-Smith and they said we’ll pay for you to come study with us. That’s how I got connected to St. Paul. From there, I connected with Solomon Parham, and he introduced me to Walker|West. From there I started teaching individual lessons and teaching at summer camps.


I think the next chapter is going to be a game-changer. I’m super excited about our Digital Music program. As a team we take a very innovative approach, incorporating beat-making, songwriting and the use of “real” instruments. I’m looking forward to our students and teaching artists having access to more professional
grade equipment and programs for making their own music–something tangible to bring home.

Another thing is more master classes and concerts to bring in and support the best talent around!

With the Summer Jazz Violin camp, I’m really focusing on highlighting string players across the Twin Cities–we’ve got people doing some really cool things.


There’s a few things I’m spearheading, on the different teams that I’m involved with. For the strings program, I’m working on creating a repertoire, a master list of compositions for students, just a huge well to pull from. I’d love to continue growing the jazz violin program into a huge thing that everyone wants to be a part of. There’s just so much to explore in using improvisational styles and techniques on this classic instrument.

This is the second year of the workshop, it was 3 days the first year–but this year, it’s going to be a whole week of broadening the possibilities on violin. I’m hoping to help grow our programs
into something with greater recognition both statewide and nationally.



Since this photo from our “At Home” series, the Webber’s have welcomed new little ones, bringing their number up to 10.


Octavia remembers passing by Walker|West at the old location often as a child. It wasn’t until she was invited to a recital years later, that she discovered all the great things happening inside. “It was just a really warm welcome,” she recalls, “Everyone was so inviting and interested in our family, especially the kids– and it just felt like home.”

Though the Webbers now live in a nearby suburb, Octavia and Jordan see the commute to weekly lessons and summer programs as a key part of their family’s music learning journey. Everyone in their crew who can hold instrument is learning how
to play.

“Giving the children the chance to explore with teachers who bring out the best in them feels so important – those teachers become family, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and mentors – and you need to nurture and nourish relationships with good people!”


The Webber Family is excited about their family and children staying involved and connected as students, volunteers and community members. They hope to see more masterclasses
and concerts, like the Terence Blanchard Masterclass in 2019 and the Desean Jones concert for the Rondo Community Music Series in 2020.

Walker|West is committed to providing music education access for students of all ages, from infants to elders. We started in a duplex on Selby offering lessons for K-12 students and now at 760 Selby we have programs for early childhood education, elders and older adults. Our expanded programming is mission centered bringing benefits of music education to more people in our community.

There’s something for everyone, at Walker|West



Susan and Patrick Stevens have been part of the Walker|West community since its earliest days. Their son Brian was a student and volunteer at Walker|West as a teen who needed a break from playing sports. Jennifer married into the Stevens family, and learned about Walker|West her first date with Brian. Their children (Elliott, Graham and Patrick) are now students of Walker|West having done recitals and camps with us. It’s safe to say, the Stevens are here to stay!

We checked in with the Stevens family, just as they pledged a $250,000 lead gift for the Walker|West Capital Campaign (which is currently underway). The Stevens feel a responsibility to invest in this music learning community, because they believe in Walker|West and want to honor what Susan calls, a heartconnection to our mission.

When Susan first heard Grant West’s music wafting out of Dayton’s, he happened to play a favorite song of her parents – this struck her right away. She needed to know more about the “2 guys teaching piano” on Selby Ave.

When Susan learned about how Rev. Walker & Grant West were revered community members, she could feel that Walker|West was a special place.

“Music is the language of the soul,” this is an adage Brian remembers seeing and hearing in his time as a student of Rev. Walker (and later Grant West). And while Brian is moved by our mission, he adds that “it’s the feeling inside the building that Rev. Walker & Grant West and so many others bring,” that makes the difference moving the mission forward. A mission and vision that has always been centered on impact for our neighbors, those near and far.

Susan’s consulting group signed on to help Walker|West create our first business plan in the early ‘90s. A plan that raised over $400,000 and helped move Walker|West to its next chapter at that time. As Walker|West is entering its next 30 years, the Stevens see this moment as a time to deepen their commitment as a family.

The large gift is unique among their charitable giving. It’s a stretch. But one they make enthusiastically, to support how our work is expanding and changing under leadership of Braxton Haulcy, our current Executive Director.

Walker|West’s teaching style is different from other places, Brian and Jenn agree. “It’s one thing to play and read music, they note, Walker|West offers something even deeper than that.” Jenn is a music educator, she studied music theory in college. As she recalls it, though she learned a lot the way she was taught theory didn’t live in her fingers or notes the way it does for Walker|West students. The sense of self expression, growth of confidence, interplay of chords and notes–not simply reading or doing pieces by rote, are things that stand out for Jenn and Brian.

Jenn notes the first time she came to a recital to see one of her children play. Recalling how our way of encouragement and support were unmatched. Students are often accompanied by teachers, which lifts the notes they know how to play, and turns it into something big! Family and friends sing along, calming any jitters that students may have. For Jen, this is a notable and welcome contrast from how she remembers recitals.

Music connects us, from East Saint Louis, to Wyoming, to Denver, to Mendota Heights, to Nebraska where Susan’s family is from. In uncertain times, music can communicate things we struggle to find words to process. Whether it’s our family singing show tunes when gathered together, or protest music carrying us through times of unrest – music comforts, heals, soothes and unites.

Along with healing, music sparks joy! We asked the Stevens family what they were most excited about for Walker|West and they had this to say:

Jenn: The idea for this gift started when we wanted to host a friendraiser to get all of our friends to experience what Walker|West can offer. Because of COVID we had to change those plans, and when the new building came up, a specific need
became more apparent. We’re excited to support the new building. And as an educator, I’m excited about the expansion of programming, especially early childhood music education!

Brian: The new building will really allow Walker|West to evolve and be more flexible in how it evolves. Music is changing. How people want to learn music is changing, like with digital music production. It’s such a great time for the academy. We wanted to
get in early, and we hope that others will join to help carry on the work of Walker|West into the next 50 years.

Susan: Ditto.

To make a major gift, or to support our capital campaign, contact Braxton Haulcy, Executive Director

For more about the Power of Music to Heal our Community Campaign visit: