Musical encore: MusicLink Foundation helps family of prodigies grow and bloom


Call this an encore of sorts, this update to Wednesday’s post about kids making music even though their families have a tough time making ends meet.

We told you then about kids who love music but don’t necessarily excel at it. We tell you now about a family of musical prodigies. How can I not tell you about Katie Daniels and that she once sold her car to pay for her three children’s music lessons? And how the eldest of them, Alastair Witherspoon, 13, will play his viola at Orchestra Hall tonight, in a pre-concert event before the Minnesota Orchestra performance?

(Even if she did get back to me way after deadline?)

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“These children are amazingly talented,” said Sue Wege, a longtime music teacher and Midwest and Minnesota coordinator of The MusicLinkFoundation, a nonprofit aimed at helping lower-income kids play music.

Alastair plays viola and violin with the Augsburg Galaxy Quartet. His sister Imala, 11, plays violin, and their brother, Nygel, 8, plays cello and will perform with the Suzuki Youth Orchestra of the Americas at the Minneapolis Convention Center Sunday. Imala has the weekend off.

The Witherspoon children are so darn good, they receive lessons from teachers at the University of Minnesota and Augsburg College, at about 20 percent of the usual fee. The lessons and their instruments are thanks to The MusicLink Foundation and generous teachers. For several years, they’ve received scholarships to the Bravo summer string camp program at the University of Minnesota as well.

At age 4 or 5, Alastair saw a cellist play and told his mother he wanted to play that instrument, she says. “Money has always been tight, so it was like, ‘How are we going to do this?’ ” Daniels said. She was a stay at-home mom; her husband, the children’s father, was general manager of a restaurant that closed. The marriage failed, but the children’s love of music lasted.

All three hope to become professional musicians. “Their teachers tell me with their level of playing that’s what they will probably do,” Daniels said.

They “whip through material and love to practice. They practice several hours a day,” Daniels said, attributing the children’s skill to their father’s aunt, jazz singer Shirley Witherspoon, and to her own piano studies and to the children’s grandfather being a fiddler.

“They really blow me away. We just have to do what we can to nurture [their talent],” their mother said, which includes doing online schooling at home so there’s more time for music.