June 29, 2020 at 1:00pm
Kalli Farmer '20

Millikin experience helps pianist become a better musician and performer

Leon Lewis-Nicol's story is one of dedication. A native of Freetown, Sierra Leone, the West African native taught himself the piano for 10 years before moving to the United States in 2016 – an accomplishment he's very proud of because "it shows that nothing is impossible regardless of one's background," he says.

After moving to the U.S., Lewis-Nicol chose to enroll at Millikin University to study piano performance and to better understand the music industry.

As an undergraduate majoring in commercial music, he spent hours of his time playing the piano and creating his own compositions. He developed his skills and showcased his growth as an artist through a number of performances.

"The idea of a commercial music program that would allow me to explore whatever I wanted as a pianist was very attractive to me," Lewis-Nicol said.

Flash forward; Lewis-Nicol is now a 2020 Millikin University graduate, and even though all campus events, including his music performances, were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic this spring, that did not stop his drive to continue to improve himself as a pianist. He continues to spend many hours practicing his craft, applying all of the skills that the faculty in the School of Music have taught him during his time at Millikin.

"I was devastated when I found out about all of the changes to the rest of our semester. I was working extremely hard towards my last competition at Millikin, The Hollis Prize, as well as my senior recital," Lewis-Nicol said.

Lewis-Nicol added, "Performance Learning was different because all of the classes were online, however, it should be dynamic and thankfully the internet makes that possible. Other than having to prepare myself mentally for the new transition to online learning, everything was fine because the faculty worked extremely hard to ensure a smooth transition."

Among his many accomplishments at Millikin include performing alongside the Millikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra (MDSO).

"Performing with the MDSO was a huge honor for me because I was able to play with amazing musicians," Lewis-Nicol said. "The experience pushed me to be a better musician and performer. It shows that hard work pays off and it's just the beginning – there is always room for improvement."

Lewis-Nicol now looks forward to the next chapter of his life as he pursues a graduate degree in jazz piano performance at either the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Indiana University Bloomington or University of Northern Colorado. Whichever program he chooses, he feels more than prepared for it.

"Millikin has equipped me with top-notch training, skillsets, connections and experiences that have prepared me for this next step," said Lewis-Nicol. "My short-term goal is to become a composer/arranger of commercial music or a performer. In the long run, I dream of going back to Sierra Leone to create a music environment for kids who grew up just like me with few opportunities."

Lewis-Nicol is extremely grateful for his time as part of the Big Blue. Other than missing the endless hours he spent in the practice room in Perkinson Music Center, he is going to miss the warmth and friendless of Millikin's campus.