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Walker West Music Academy:
teaching music, sharing music, creating community

From its earliest origins, music was always meant to be shared. In that spirit, Walker West Music Academy has utilized music as a means of creating community, both for its home in the culturally diverse Rondo neighborhood of Saint Paul, but also for the greater Twin Cities and state-wide community.

musicians on stage

As one of the oldest non-profit music schools inspired by the African-American experience of music, Walker West provides individual, group, and ensemble instruction every year to students of all ages, from 5 to 105. In turn, the performers share their talents with thousands of Minnesotans around the state.

Last summer, a packed Midway Stadium crowd enjoyed young Ruth Franklin’s “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” sung during the seventh inning stretch of a Saint Paul Saints baseball game. The eleven year old has been studying voice and piano at Walker West since she was eight years old.

“The crowd loved her,” says Peter Leggett, Walker West Music Academy’s executive director. “They really enjoyed seeing a student so young with such a big voice. It has been amazing to watch Ruth grow and develop as a young musician.”

Jack Breen first learned to play saxophone through Walker West’s three-week summer camp for students age five to twelve. Now a sixteen year old student at Saint Paul Central High School, he is a member of Walker West’s top jazz combo, performing regularly in public. Last summer, the combo was the only student group to perform on the main stage of the Twin Cities Jazz Festival and they were featured at the 2012 Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

“Jack performs so regularly in public for audiences of all ages, he easily has developed into one of our finest improvising jazz musicians,” says Leggett.

musicians on stage

These community-shared musical experiences, and many more, are possible thanks to a Community Arts Schools and Conservatories grant Walker West received from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Part of the Legacy Amendment funding, the grant offers operating support to organizations that provide open access to arts learning opportunities for people of all ages and abilities.

“This is a time when access to music is in jeopardy in schools and where family resources are strained,” explains Leggett. “Investments like this in arts and culture within communities is critical to the success of people of all ages.”

With support from the grant, Walker West provides musical education inspired by the African American experience to a broad cultural and socioeconomic student base nearly unmatched in Minnesota.

About This Grant:

Walker West Music Academy is a FY 2011 Community Arts Schools and Conservatories grant recipient. This grant program is funded by the Minnesota State Arts Board through the arts and cultural heritage fund as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the Legacy Amendment vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.

“For young people, access to artistic and cultural experiences like ours helps support the development of their intellectual and emotional intelligence,” says Leggett. “Music really helps shape them to be global citizens.”

Throughout its twenty-three year history, Walker West has impacted the lives of hundreds of students and thousands of community members and audiences around the state. Today, Walker West is more than simply a music school. It stands as a vital cultural center for Saint Paul and beyond.

“The Legacy Amendment is an unprecedented opportunity for the citizens of our state to experience and participate in the arts,” says Leggett. “We must remember that it is more than the art itself that makes this investment so critical. It is what that art does to those who create it and to all of those who experience it.”

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