Pursuing music with a message: new concert choir director Joy Hirokawa shares vision for choir

Danielle Mullan

Joy Hirokawa concluded her first semester at Lafayette College by asking her class, “What is important to you…what do you want to make a statement about?”

Hirokawa joined Lafayette College’s music department this semester as director of the school’s Concert Choir, and the choir had their first concert under her leadership last weekend.

With a vast musical background, Hirokawa brings decades of experience to Lafayette. She taught music in public schools for twenty years, founded the successful Bel Canto Youth Chorus, and taught musical education at Moravian College for ten years.

However, this semester was her first time conducting a college choir.

“There were some adjustments, but honestly we work really hard with my youth chorus to really excel and be very diligent, and those same principles apply no matter who you are working with. Maybe the complexity of the repertoire might be different, but in terms of expectations and the kind of work you want to accomplish, I think that remains the same,” Hirokawa said.

Despite her positive attitude, Hirokawa admitted that the semester was “a bit of a stab in the dark” at first since she did not know the students, their interests or the music they like.

Through conversations with choir members and the guidance of director of choral activities Jennifer Kelly, Hirokawa organized a program this semester that she believed to be representative of the choir.

Music choice is very important to Hirokawa, as she considers it to be a way to explore difficult topics in a way that cannot be done in other situations.

“I really believe that especially as choral musicians, we have an opportunity to make a statement and to say what we believe and what we think about,” Hirokawa said.

This semester, the choir focused on the importance of water and protecting the environment through their music.

The program included works such as “Earth Song” by Frank Ticheli, “Take Me to the Water”, by Rollo Dilworth, and “Famine Song” by Matthew Culloton.

According to Hirokawa, the choice in theme was somewhat universal and safe. Because it was her first semester with the choir, she aimed to pick a more apolitical topic.

“Not everybody is going to have the same strength or feeling or opinion about women’s rights or LGBTQ rights or inequities of one kind or another. Everybody is on the spectrum of what they think. And so on one hand you can make a statement but you also have to be sensitive and careful to what the differences of opinion are within the group,” Hirokawa said.

Now that she has gotten to know the students, their abilities and their ideas, Hirokawa hopes to continue her work with the choir next year.

Kelly, who has conducted the choir in previous semesters, helped Hirokawa acclimate to the choir.

“I ran everything by [Kelly] and discussed everything with her before we finalized our repertoire,” Hirokawa said.

Kelly expressed Hirokawa’s enthusiasm for the concert choir.

“Every time I saw her this past semester, she talked about how much she enjoyed working with our students in Concert Choir,” Kelly wrote in an email.