Grammy Honors Beckon Hirokawa

Micah Hirokawa. Photo by Amy Burvall.

As a youth, Micah Hirokawa was told he might never graduate from high school, based on his diagnosed dyslexia and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. But then he took up playing trumpet in his intermediate school band.

“At King, I couldn’t read, except the notes of music,” recalled the Kaneohe native, who has since mastered ukulele, guitar and piano. “It was a huge cure for me. It was 100 percent pivotal. I attribute everything to that moment.”

Now Hirokawa teaches music at Le Jardin Academy and in his own music school, plays traditional Hawaiian music professionally, and is on the short list for the Grammy Foundation’s first-ever Music Educator Award. He’s the only quarterfinalist from Hawaii (among 217 music teachers across the country) and is awaiting word this month on whether he makes the top 10.

“I’ll be happy either way,” he said, noting that he regards himself as a music applicator, rather than a teacher. Wherever he can, he uses music as a means to uplift children who struggle as he did. He is writing curricula that apply his methods in the classroom. He’s working on an autobiography. And he devotes after-school and weekend time to his private music school, the Wide River Academy of Fine Arts, where music is the tool to unlock his students’ so-called learning disabilities.

At home in Kailua with his wife and two young daughters, there is no television – just sports, reading and music. “I hope they have it (dyslexia and ADHD),” Hirokawa said of his girls, but was quick to explain: “There are attached abilities to dyslexia, like mind-ordering, and a harnessing of focus with ADHD.”

A 1994 graduate of Kalaheo High, with a degree in ethno-musicology from UH Manoa, he’s the eldest of five siblings who all play music. He entertains with his brothers and his dad, veteran entertainer Roy Hirokawa, and is recording an album with fellow LJA teacher Joshua Masagatani – they perform as the band Hi’ipoi.

Also this summer he directed an LJA music theater workshop for grades 2 to 9, which presented three ambitious plays as its finale. (“See? I told you ADHD is an ability!”)

“I can’t imagine life without music,” he said, “and I try to give back to the community wherever I can, to repay what music has done for me.” That includes Kaneohe Elementary, his alma mater, which continues a music program that he established as a volunteer teacher several years ago.