From TV to Reality

A spotlight on Leon Lewis-Nicol

Moving to the United States was not that big of a change for Leon Lewis-Nicol. Growing up watching American movies and tv shows, Lewis-Nicol was not extremely surprised by what the U.S had to offer when he moved. He thought it looked almost the exact same as it was shown on the tv screen, except now he was a part of the American system.

The Junior Commercial Music major grew up in Freetown, Sierra Leone, a developing country where there are no traffic lights or smooth roads. He lived there for 15 years and then moved to Ghana in 2010 to escape some of the poverty. “It was a lot more developed than Sierra Leone, but not as developed as the U.S. is [since] it’s a first-world country,” Lewis-Nicol said.

He and his family moved to the U.S. so he could go to school and settled in Champaign, Illinois. Once in the country of the American Dream, he transferred to Millikin University in 2017 to pursue his passion and love of music. Millikin offered him more scholarships than other universities, so he decided to attend and study commercial music. “The late Dr. Stephen Widenhofer also convinced me to come here,” he said.

Since he has been at Millikin, Lewis-Nicol has had a lot of opportunities to perfect his music. He started playing the piano when he was 10 and he is a self-taught musician. He first wanted to play the piano because he felt left out among his classmates in school. “I’ve always been very competitive, so I never want to not be able to do anything. So I hated that I couldn’t do it.”

Once he started to learn piano, he grew an interest and passion for the instrument. He now composes his own songs and is always trying to practice on his craft, thanks to his competitiveness. His competitive nature definitely drives his music. “I see what others are doing and I don’t want to be left behind at all so I look at people I aspire to be like and get to their level,” he said. “When I see someone better than me, it pushes me to practice harder so I can be better.”

Some of his biggest musical influences are jazz pianist Oscar Peterson and classical pianist Arthur Rubinstein.

Nicol’s favorite aspect of music is how it speaks to people differently. He likes that he can connect to the music and the audience then feel that connection/emotion and can interpret it in their own way. “Music is a very powerful thing that we don’t pay a lot of attention to but it’s all around us.”

Lewis-Nicol recently got the opportunity to perform with the Millikin Decatur Symphony Orchestra after being one of three winners in a music competition. He was extremely nervous, but he did not let the nerves get the best of him. It was his first time that he won a music competition and performing with MDSO was a fun and unforgettable time.

If he is not in the practice room focusing on his music, he is in the gym, perfecting his other craft of working out. He likes to go to the gym to relax and escape from the business of his studies. Like music, working out is another safe haven for him. He applies his competitive drive into his workouts just like he does in his music.

Lewis-Nicol goes through his life using his competitive nature and optimism to his advantage. Teaching himself how to play music was not easy, but his drive to learn and succeed pushed him to become the musician he is today. “When you have the drive to do something, you make a way,” he said. “Nothing is impossible for me to do since I’ve taught myself how to do so much.”

Once he graduates, Lewis-Nicol wants to get his master’s degree and become a professional pianist. His competitiveness and hunger to be the best musician he can be will continue to drive his passion for music. He had wanted to see the United States and experience the world he only ever saw on tv, and now that he is here and gaining opportunities in his music, he will continue to work hard for his future where one day he may be playing on the tv he once watched as a child.