Ken Hakoda directs the Salina Symphony at Symphony at Sunset held on the Eisenhower Presidential Library campus at a recent performance.

Ken Hakoda, music director and conductor of the Salina Symphony, has resigned from the Salina Symphony and from his teaching position at Kansas Wesleyan University, effective Monday.

Hakoda said he plans to retire from music and move back to his native Japan to work on “a new dream.”

Hakoda was named Salina Symphony music director and conductor in 2004. During his tenure, the Salina Symphony increased the number of musicians in the orchestra, doubled its number of performances and experienced substantial growth in ticket sales, according to a release from the Symphony.

Under Hakoda’s leadership, the Symphony’s Youth Education Program expanded from one orchestra into a comprehensive education program involving more than 200 students.

Hakoda has ties to Abilene with Meta West and Kyle Campbell serving on the board of directors of the Salina Symphony and Abilene residents Steve Henry and Denise Blehm are among the musicians.

In 2011, Hakoda initiated the popular Symphony at Sunset in Abilene on the first Saturday in June as part of D-Day celebration on the Eisenhower Presidential Library campus.

The concert is expected to continue in Abilene.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to Maestro Hakoda and Eisenhower Library’s former director, Karl Weissenbach, for their vision in creating the Symphony at Sunset,” said Adrienne Allen, executive director of the symphony. “This annual concert has become a family tradition for many area residents to attend. It will absolutely continue through the Salina Symphony and Eisenhower Presidential Library partnership. It’s our orchestra’s favorite concert of the year.”

At Kansas Wesleyan, Hakoda taught choir, music education and music theory classes.

The Ken Hakoda Endowed Conductor Chair was established for the Symphony through the Greater Salina Community Foundation in May 2014.

In a recent letter he wrote to the musicians of the Salina Symphony, he said, “I left my family in Japan when I was 16, have lived in the United States for 30 years (16 of which were in Salina). My parents are getting older and have battled major illnesses in recent years. I feel this will give me opportunities to spend time with them and also learn new skills for my next step. Yes, I am retiring from music. I gave everything I had for the Salina Symphony and also KWU, and I have nothing left in me as a musician. However, I am excited for new opportunities and a dream in Japan.”

Matt Thompson, president and CEO of KWU said in a statement, “For more than 15 years, Dr. Ken Hakoda has made major contributions to the university and the Salina community with his leadership of the KWU music program. With our talented faculty and a new director, we will begin a new chapter, building on the shoulders of those who left their legacies and taking the program to a new level.”

Hakoda praised the Salina Symphony and the opportunities it gave him to grow as a musician.

“The Salina Symphony was my life and life work since I was appointed as the music director in 2004,” he wrote. “The Symphony was my love. The Symphony made my dreams come true as a musician — conducting many major symphonies and works and giving me the tools to create/produce special concerts like the Christmas Festival and Sunset concerts. I have nothing but gratitude for all of you.”

Hakoda was unusual as a conductor because he led both choral and orchestral works. He also has composed more than 20 works.

The Salina Symphony board has named David Littrell as interim conductor for the 2019-20 season. Littrell, of Manhattan, retired in 2018 as a distinguished professor of music at Kansas State University, where he conducted the University Orchestra and taught cello and double bass.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.