The piano teacher was honored alongside dozens of other North American educators.
Naoki Hakutani recalls first learning to play the piano as a young child living in northeast Ohio. Today he’s passing his musical knowledge on to others as an associate professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Hakutani has been named a 2021 Steinway & Sons Teacher Hall of Fame inductee in recognition for his work as an educator.
“I felt honored, there’s so many deserving people,” he says.
Hakutani is one of 44 teachers from the United States and Canada honored at special events this fall at the historic Steinway factory in New York City. Each inductee was nominated by a Steinway & Sons showroom in the teacher’s home region and their names are now displayed on a commemorative display wall inside the factory. This year marks the second class of honorees, following the Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 2019.
Growing up, Hakutani also played clarinet and enjoyed “the camaraderie of music” while participating in band and orchestra. Receiving encouragement from teachers played a big role in pursuing a music career for Hakutani who considers himself “a first generation musician.”
“I didn’t really know any family members that were musicians, but it was something that I enjoyed doing,” he says.
Now a teacher himself, Hakutani provides instruction and encouragement to his students who take classes at UA Little Rock or private lessons. Students’ skill levels vary and over the years, they’ve ranged in age from five to well into their 90s. Hakutani loves the variety and says it keeps him current with what’s going on in the world.
“To me, wow, it’s like I can teach and almost span a century of approach or outlook and so that keeps me excited,” he says.
With the growth of the internet, learning an instrument can be a different process than it was for Hakutani who recalls having to go to a library to check out a piece of music that he would then listen to through headphones. After a quick online search, today’s students can easily access several versions of the same piece of music, but that increased access can have its drawbacks.
Seeing so many talented performers on YouTube, for example, can discourage students from trying because they believe they’ll never be that good, Hakutani says. This is when having an instructor can be beneficial.
“It’s good to have a real rapport with your own teacher so that you know where you stand not just from self-judgement,” he says.
Hakutani has conducted master classes throughout Asia, Mexico and the U.S. In addition to teaching around the world, he is also an international performer who makes frequent joint appearances with his wife, pianist Jaeyeon Park. As a performer, Hakutani enjoys engaging with the audience.
“It’s exhilarating to perform and it’s always nice when you can finally produce or perform something that you’ve worked on a long time,” he says. “Sometimes multiple performances happen and so in that case it’s fun to see how maybe you could do things differently the next time or do better.”
In the spring, Hakutani plans to travel to South Korea for a series of performances including a concert with his wife.