In the Spotlight

Amirah Stewart

Amirah Stewart is a violist and saxophonist born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Amirah is a Walden alumna who spent four summers at the Young Musicians Program. She has also attended Juilliard MAP and Face The Music. She has a Bachelor of the Arts in Music from Hunter College. Throughout her 12 years of playing, she has performed various genres of music including classical, contemporary, r&b, and rap. She has performed at venues such as Carnegie Hall, The Symphony Space, The Queens Museum, WQXR, Alice Tully Hall, and many more around the New York City area. Amirah’s true passions are creating, performing, and sharing her music with world.

How and when did you relationship with Walden begin, and what has been your involvement since then?

I had a cousin who went to Walden, and my aunt and I went to pick him up at the end of the summer. I saw the campus, and I was in love with it, and everyone looked like they were really happy to be there and happy to be alive. When I got home, I told my mom it was something I would be interested in, and so the next summer, the summer of 2011, was my first summer.

I haven’t been as involved with Walden since being a student, which is sad, but it’s challenging to juggle school and work and other things. Now that I’ve finished school, I hope to be more involved, going to composers forums and other events in New York City. The get-togethers we would have in the winter are some of my favorite winter memories, seeing my Walden friends. We all had different things going on during the year, but we put that time aside to be together, and also see other students, faculty, and staff from outside New York who would come to the gathering.

Could you describe a favorite memory from your time at Walden?

I think the dances are some of my favorite memories. At Walden, you have the opportunity to be who you want to be for five weeks, but particularly the dances are a time to be as weird as you want to be, create your own costumes from tinfoil and whatever else you can find, and everyone embraces that. The staff and faculty perform live, and even though you know how talented they are, you don’t often get to see them showcase that the way they do at the dances, and being playful and weird along with us. The songs Do You Love An Apple and the Tennessee Waltz are songs to this day I listen to and get a little emotional, because I miss that time. You dance with close friends, and also with students you haven’t necessarily spent a lot of time with and connect with through the dances, and faculty and staff are always there to jump in or to teach you the steps.

How are music and/or creativity part of your life now?

I went to college and studied education, but the program I was in required another major to complement the education major. Many people in the education program pair it with history or sociology or English or math, and I do love those, but I have been doing music since I was a baby, so why not take the chance to extend my knowledge? So I studied music and education in college, and now I teach music to babies and young children, 4 months to 5 years, and that work is so fulfilling. At Walden, I always wondered how the faculty felt teaching us, and it seemed like they found it really fulfilling, so now I get to combine my education degree and my love of music.

In terms of creativity in general, I like doing things with my hands, which is part of why music is such a good outlet. I still play viola and saxophone, and I try my best to keep up with piano. For my job, I’ve gotten the opportunity to learn the basic of many instruments. Just last week I got a guitar. I feel stagnant if I’m not doing something creative. I also crochet and have been making sweaters and hats over quarantine, and I’ve started doing punch needle embroidery. For punch needle, you use a hollow needle that you draw yarn through, and then you poke it through monk’s cloth, and that leaves a pattern. All of these things keep me going and keep the creative juices flowing.

What is something from the past year you have been excited about?

I graduated from college. Graduation was on a Zoom call, but it was still a graduation. My mom was present for that, even though it was via a separate Zoom call in the living room. I’ve been excited just to see what the future holds after graduation. Some people graduate with a job alright lined up, others don’t, some don’t know what they want to do. I was in that uncertain place, especially with COVID, but things have a way of falling into place, and I feel like I’m on the right track now.

Is there a hope or dream for Walden’s future you could share?

I had a dream once about Walden being overseas in the mountains of Switzerland, in the summertime. It was gorgeous. We had morning meeting and the birds were chirping and there was water running–it was amazing. Of course, then I woke up to New York City, but it would be amazing if Walden were international. I think when some organizations expand, they lose the heart they started with, but the concept of Walden is so deeply ingrained that it couldn’t be lost.

It would be great for people to have access to Walden in more places. Walden became an oasis for me during high school that I needed in the summers. I think so many people need that space, and don’t know that there is somewhere they can go. You don’t have to be a maestro at Walden–if you enjoy music and you want to be there, the faculty will see that potential and work with you. I love that about Walden, and I think that would be great in more places. So “Walden around the world” is a dream I have.