Music to my ears

Amazing Grace Chorus

Music enhances the education of our children by helping them to make connections and broadening the depth with which they think and feel.  If we are to hope for a society of culturally literate people, music must be a vital part of our children’s education.  Jessica Peresta

Passers-by could hear the familiar sounds of piano key scales coming from a second floor opened duplex window.  The year was 1988.  The city was St. Paul, Minnesota.  Gifted musicians Rev. Carl Walker and Grant West’s vision was to provide a safe place that was ‘positive and life affirming’ in the Summit University neighborhood of St. Paul on Selby Avenue.  “We were teaching piano and building self-confidence in children who often didn’t have many people encouraging their success, West wrote.  Sounds like a familiar scenario in today’s academic battles to rise out of apathy and hopelessness with youth of color.  The two gentlemen implemented a technique where students experienced immediate success having learned a simple melody in their first lesson.  It would be a plus if all students could walk out of classroom or complete 15 minutes of research on the internet or a book and learn something new every day. 

Walker-West has grown through providing music education and far more to any student who wants to learn and offers a variety of lessons for all ages and skill levels.  Like so many organizations struggling to stay afloat during the recession and then an almost two-year on-going pandemic and anti-vaccine rebellion (over 60 million still not vaccinated), a committed board of directors, a tenacious and dedicated executive director and staff, and caring and generous donors helped to move the company into a newly developed 6,000 square foot music, learning, and performance center in 2014.   Four years later, the renovated exterior was dedicated.

Along with a plethora of program offerings for ages pre-school to 55 and over with a variety of vocal, instrumental, and career interests, Walker-West has enhanced and changed the lives of thousands of students, including St. Paul Mayors Chris Coleman and Melvin Carter who attended.  Many went on to receive degrees from some of the most prestigious music colleges in the country.  The popular Rondo Community Music Series sponsored by the Harlan Boss Foundation for the Arts will be performing virtually through the end of the year. In the early 1900’s, the Rondo African American community experienced an economic, cultural, and social boom where music, theater, successful black-owned businesses, churches, and academic institutions contributed to a strong and thriving community.  Between 1956 and 1968, the construction of Interstate 94 intentionally cut the community in half, displacing more than 700 residents dismantling the health and growth of quality lifestyles.  The music of the series pays tribute to those who paid the hefty price of hatred and intentional bigotry. 

Amazing Grace Chorus, currently led by Carl Clomon, invites singers from the age of 55 and over, to come to a comfortable setting among those seniors possibly suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s.  Some don’t want to talk about the changes happening through the process of aging and isolation which makes matters all the worse.  “They find joy in singing and for many, the cultural and faith themes have brought them through some tough times.  They internalize the songs.  They feel the words they’re singing, like they are keepers of their beliefs and our culture in stories and memorable narratives,” said Clomon.  He tells the story of one popular member who would need her cane and a little help to get on the stage.  But when the music started, and she started singing, she drew power through her engagement with the lyrics. She puts down her cane and grabbed on to all the energy she needed.  “It became personal, he said, transcending, vessels, more than themselves, and creating and telling a story with the African American experience flavor and style.  For that short period of time, one could forget about their problems.  It’s like some songs just show up when needed.  ‘I Got Joy Bells Ringing in My Heart. Victory is Mine.’  How well I know as I listen to the message, Hold On, as people pray to be lifted out of hurt, despair, aloneness, and difficult circumstances. The chorus members communicate without judging, they listen and engage with one another (following safe CDC COVID guidelines), and they show love helping those they may not realize need just a smile.  The host would add a memory of marching songs coming from the Canterbury House at Morehouse College. “Freedom Now” gave the protestors power and joy. 

Beverly Propes is often referred to as ‘The Nurse of the Nation’ who speaks on the need to explore the level of Alzheimer’s in the Black community.  “It just hasn’t been a priority in health care as reflected in the disparaging black-white statistics.  Cognitive symptoms might include high blood pressure or hypertension, a family history, or obesity.  Those affected are often hesitant to claim the language, but we have to start reading, researching, and working hard to see how we can age healthy and happy. 

When asked about the surge in youth violence. Propes is sadly disturbed by the ‘I really don’t care’ attitude. “I would hate to think it might be too late; that intervention just didn’t happen soon enough and now they’re at war with each other. We’re in a spiritual war crippling and denying our humanity.  We need more trained mental health and social work specialists, and more medical teams who look like the community where they reside to explain the pros and cons for the COVID19 vaccine,  keeping their children and families safe.

For further information on becoming a student or learning more about the programming and performance schedules, feel free to contact:  Shana Moses, MN Board of Aging, Gale-@walkerwest.com  (763) 238-4071

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