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Notes from the Walker|West Music Academy String Department

Summer is coming! Before long those of us in the upper Midwest will enjoy what, I think, is the most beautiful time of the year. Some are already spending weekends at the cabin. And students are counting the days until they are free from school, and finals and AP exams and year-end school projects. In the meantime, we celebrate high school graduations, Father’s Day, and Black Music Month. Our ensembles, including Kamoinge Strings, perform at the annual Twin Cities Jazz Fest this year, one of the largest FREE civic jazz festivals in the region. June also represents the time in which we commemorate Juneteenth – Freedom Day, and the contributions of LGBTQIA+ history-makers.  

So congratulations to our high-school graduates!  Thiis year the string departments sends two of its students off, Wacheke Njoroge (violin) and Oliver Conrod-Wouvcha (cello/guitar). Happy Father’s Day to ALL the dads, granddads, uncles, and “bonus” dads! Happy Pride to ALL who identify with, and lend support to, LGBTQIA+ causes! And celebrate American history and the people who honor Juneteenth as a day of freedom and liberation! 

On May 19, Walker West presented its annual Honors Recital. This recital showcases the academy’s most accomplished students and honors its graduating seniors. This year, two solo pianists were selected, and the remainder of the program comprised performances from the Advanced Jazz Ensemble and Kamoinge Strings. The recital was held at our longtime partner location, Camphor United Methodist Church in St. Paul. The church hosted our very first Honors Recital in 2012 and subsequently has been a generous host for these recitals several times in the last two decades.

Instead of the normal solos by students of our string department, this year we combined soloists in a single work that featured four of our students accompanied by Kamoinge Strings. Rahel Hashel (violin 1), Jakob Wilson (violin 2), Kamau Rodriguez-Pegg (violin 3), and Wacheke Njoroge (violin 4) performed the complete Concerto for Four Violins – Movements I, II, III- by Antonio Vivaldi.  Patty Ryan, Walker West instructor and member of Artaria String Quartet, performed the cello solo, and our department accompanist, Jack Barrett rounded out the ensemble on keyboard.  In addition to this monumental baroque work, Kamoinge Strings played beautiful string arrangements of the Spiritual, Wade in the Water, and the Irish hymn, Be Thou, My Vision.  They concluded their performance with the moving Gospel anthem, Total Praise, by Richard Smallwood. Willam Duncan, Walker West teaching artist and arranger, accompanied the ensemble in its tribute finale. The music was dedicated to the academy’s Board Chair, Barbara Doyle, PhD who was an extraordinary supporter of Kamoinge Strings and the String Department. Sadly, she died two days before the Honors Recital on May 17. Compassionate, generous, gifted, gentle, kind, persistent, funny, humble, loving, community-matriarch, friend-to-all, faithful, singer, Rondo-centered, mother, sister, aunt, are just a few of the words that describe Dr. Doyle.  We will miss Dr. Doyle’s gentle presence, who always had a kind and encouraging word for our string students and Kamoinge Strings. Rest in Power! 

Save the third week of June for multiple events with Kamoinge Strings and other Walker West student performers!

On Wednesday June 19, Rondo Center of Diverse Expression (RCODE) hosts its 4th Annual Juneteenth Observance at the Rondo Commemorative Plaza, 820 Rondo Ave. St. Paul. This year, the RCODE honors Walker West Music Academy and its founders, Re. Carl Walker and Grant West with the Distinguished Community Leadership award. Activities include outdoor performances by Kamoinge Strings, vendor booths, food trucks and exhibits for children.

A couple of days later, on Friday, June 21 at 4 pm, Kamoinge Strings performs a jazz set at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival in Saint Paul. Walker West teaching artist and jazz violinist, Ernest Bisong will lead the ensemble in this mini concert on the jazz youth stage at Saint City. In partnership with Minnesota-based CodaBow, students get the chance to perform on carbon fiber bows. With this sponsorship by CodaBow, we hope to establish an ongoing partnership with the academy.  Look for details about other performances by Walker West at the Twin Cities Jazz in other sections of the June 2024 newsletter. 

If you have not considered summer programs for yourself, your children, grandchildren or just people in your life with an interest in music, add Walker West’s array of summer music camps and workshops to your options. Registration is open now.  From August 5 -9, Ernest Bisong will conduct the Summer Jazz Violin Workshop. This intensive 5-day camp for youth grades 9th -12th takes place daily 9am-noon.

Finally, we again congratulate our two high school graduates in the String Department, Wacheke Njoroge and Oliver Conrod-Wouvcha.

Wacheke graduates from Roseville Area High School and will attend the University of Saint Thomas in the fall. She has been a violin student in Earl Ross’ studio for nearly 8 years. In her time at Walker West, she performed many concerts with Kamoinge Strings and was first violin in the Minnesota Youth Symphonies Repertory Orchestra. In her senior year, focused on her jazz performance skills by guest soloing with the Swing Sisterhood Big Band and jamming with the Women in Jazz events at Walker West. Wacheke is one of two Walker West Founders’ Award recipients this year for exhibiting the highest level of musicianship and musical exploration by a senior.

Oliver, cellist and guitarist, graduates from the Saint Paul Academy/Summit School and will attend Carleton College in Northfield. He participated in the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies for many years. Oliver has studied with former cello instructor, Jessica Theis and most recently, has been a student of Patty Ryan. He performed the Prelude from Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suite #2 at the April 27th string recital.

On behalf of the Walker West String Department, we wish Wacheke and Oliver all the best in their next chapter. Don’t be a stranger. Visit always and often! And remember to keep music in your life!


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