People come to music from all different places mentally. You settle down with it, dance to it, sing along with it…all depending on the mood you’re in. There were hundreds of students in the Chapel on Friday to hear the first performance in our Bicentennial Recital Series, and each one of them likely had their own disposition as they gathered in the pews to listen to The Keigo Hirakawa Quartet, featuring our very own and very accomplished alumnus, Keigo Hirakawa ’96.

For all the different states of mind in the pews, one thing seemed universal from the start: this group of musicians is really good. Introduced by friend, mentor and Fine & Performing Arts Department faculty and Parents Chair for Distinguished Teaching Midge Karam ’79, Hirakawa (piano); Joshua Smith (saxophone); Connor Smith (bass); and Jeff Mellott (drums) gave the WRA community an springtime treat that started with George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” continued with Hirakawa’s own compositions including “Pixel,” the title track from his most recent album, and turned the Chapel into a coveted little jazz club. Watch a recording of the full performance here.

Hirakawa, who attended WRA as a day student from Hudson, broke at times to talk to the audience about a life of dual passions, of day and night jobs, and about the reality that all of it is possible. With a phrase that could be a song title of its own, he said of people with a true passion, “we do it because we can’t help it.”

Hirakawa’s drive took him from WRA to Princeton to study engineering, where he regularly snuck into New York City to indulge in the jazz performances that he was dreaming up in his own mind and practicing. Ultimately Hirakawa achieved his Masters in Music at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and his PhD in Engineering at Cornell. 

Now 20 years a professional jazz pianist (and University of Dayton professor of electrical and computer engineering) with seven full-length album appearances and a world-class roster of mentors and collaborators, Hirakawa gives credit to Karam for his trajectory and for widening his eyes to his true passion. After his junior year, Karam encouraged Hirakawa to attend the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY for a summer program that was transformative. She continued to mentor Hirakawa through his senior year and is now his teacher turned friend and fan, attending his performances whenever possible.

Jazz, like life, offers long and winding riffs and roads. We hope our Pioneers enjoyed a Friday diversion from the typical track. They are fortunate to attend a nearly 200-year-old school that values culture, provides immersive experiences, is composed of teachers who are inspirational, produces students who are exceptional, and offers artistic oases — and springboards to life — all from Hudson, Ohio.