25-year-old Keitaro Harada is a conducting fellow with the Tucson Symphony, the Arizona Opera, and the University of Arizona, but when we first met him seven years ago, we knew him as a fantastic young saxophonist, who had recently entered Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan.
Before attending Interlochen, Keitaro (who goes by "Kei" and hails from Tokyo, Japan) was entirely self-taught, learning mostly from "play-along" books and CDs. Interlochen not only revolutionized Kei's saxophone playing, it was also where he discovered conducting.
During the summer of his junior year after taking a conducting class, Kei won an opportunity to conduct a piece. "It was a life changing moment," says Kei. "I can't describe the sensation I felt." He knew then and there what he wanted to do with his life.
Kei found, though, that the road to becoming a conductor was anything but straight. In fact, when he shopped around for undergraduate programs in conducting, he learned that there weren't any!
Kei decided to move forward with saxophone, entering the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he would study with renowned saxophonist Debra Richtmeyer. "During my breaks I went to St. Petersburg, Russia to attend master classes and study conducting with teachers at the conservatory there," says Kei.
On one of these breaks, Kei was given the opportunity to conduct a concert in St. Petersburg, and Adrian Gnam, the music director of the Macon Symphony Orchestra in Georgia, was so impressed that he invited Kei to become his assistant conductor.
It was a wonderful opportunity, and Kei jumped at it. During his tenure there, Kei also founded the Mercer/Macon Symphony Youth Orchestra.
"In the way a pianist needs a piano every day to practice, a conductor needs an orchestra of his own to get better," he explains, "so for me it was through building a youth orchestra." He spent a summer going to music schools and talking to teachers to spread the word, and was thrilled when 34 young musicians showed up for his first audition.
Kei's experience with the youth orchestra eventually led to the exciting combination of conducting opportunities he now enjoys in Arizona. "Right now I'm a fellowship recipient at the University of Arizona," says Kei. "I'm teaching, conducting and doing international conducting competitions!" He will spend the summer at tthe Tanglewood Music Center as a conducting fellow.
Kei is just about living his ultimate dream but has one more wish to make it complete.
"In my career, I'd love to present a professional orchestra in front of an audience of kids who are not exposed to classical music every day," he says. "If I could have even a single kid walk home and say, 'I really loved that, and I want to start playing an instrument' then that would fulfill my life!"