Arts and Culture

‘A straight-up blessing’: St. Paul music school gets big gift

Students gather in a classroom
Students learn at Walker|West Music Academy in St. Paul. The community music school has received a $4 million gift that officials say will allow it to acquire and renovate a new, expanded facility.
Courtesy of Walker|West Music Academy

Walker|West Music Academy in St. Paul has received a $4 million unexpected gift that leaders will use to help acquire and expand facilities. 

The academy’s Executive Director Braxton Haulcy said the gift from Pat and Gary Sauer will help the 35-year-old music school move to a new level.

“We're going to build a state of the art 200 seating capacity concert hall,” Haulcy said.

Once renovated, a building the school recently acquired, will offer a much larger and updated space than the old location, he said. The building on Marshall Avenue, will include two performance halls, digital labs, larger rehearsal space, a recording studio, administrative space, instrument storage and safer parking and pick up/drop off options.

“It’ll be free and open to the public. And so, we can really bring the joy and healing power of music to our community,” Haulcy said. “Especially in this present moment when there's so much chaos and conflict.”

Walker|West is believed to be one of the oldest community music schools in the nation established by African Americans. It teaches all styles of music, including classical but is especially well-known for teaching jazz and gospel.

A rendering of a new performance hall
A rendering of a new performance hall planned for Walker|West Music Academy in St. Paul. The community music school has received a $4 million gift that officials say will allow it to acquire and renovate a new, expanded facility.
Courtesy of Walker|West Music Academy

The Rev. Carl Walker and Grant West — both musicians — opened their first building along Selby Avenue in the late 1980s to help redirect kids from the drug scene to music.

“Where Walker|West is located right now, the Pioneer Press called ‘crack street,’” Haulcy said. “And both Rev. Walker and Grant West literally put their music school right in the middle of ground zero of crack street to literally get the kids off the street and into music and into something more productive.”

Haulcy said the gift from the Sauers will allow the community music school to speed up renovation plans with construction now likely to begin before year's end. It will also help cut down on a waiting list of about 200 people who want to take part in the programming.

“We're really excited,” said musician Lawrence El Grecco Waddell, who began lessons with Walker before Walker and West opened their school. He now oversees adult instruction there.

El Grecco Waddell said he and his colleagues have a lot of work ahead of them.

“It's a good problem in a way,” said El Grecco Waddell. “Because we are expanding where we have a new building that has much more space, so that we can have much more room for teachers to teach and for students to learn and grow. So, it is a challenge, because we have that waiting list, and we want that waiting list to be zero.”

The Sauers declined to be interviewed about their $4 million donation, but Pat Sauer said they “care about the Rondo community” and they want the community to shine bright amid the “doom and gloom of our society.”

Student musicians perform on an outdoor stage
Students perform outside Walker|West Music Academy in St. Paul. The community music school has received a $4 million gift that officials say will allow it to acquire and renovate a new, expanded facility.
Courtesy of Walker|West Music Academy
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