Pianist Randolph Hokanson  listens to the applause from the audience, including friend Judith Cohen (sitting). Photo by Eric Mandel
Pianist Randolph Hokanson listens to the applause from the audience, including friend Judith Cohen (sitting). Photo by Eric Mandel

Most people are lucky to see their 100th birthday. But most people don’t mark the occasion like Randolph Hokanson, the Bayview Retirement Community resident who hit the century mark on June 22 and, two days later, celebrated with a piano recital in front of approximately 100 people.
Hokanson, a Bellingham native and resident of the retirement community (11 W. Aloha St.) since 2008, is an internationally recognized pianist and former University of Washington professor.

The renowned soloist shuffled into Bayview’s performance center using his walker, which he sat in while introducing himself to the attendees, many of whom were his peers and others who came from out of state.

He explained that he would primarily play Bach pieces because it required a more limited range of motion that suited the nerve damage in his right thumb.

“I don’t have trouble with Bach,” he said.

But “limited” in Hokanson’s world is brilliance in most others.

Hokanson guided the attendees through the history and subtleties of each piece prior to playing, dropping in jokes and relaying a story or two, but keeping it professional throughout.

After the performance, he greeted many well-wishers, ate birthday cake and autographed CDs of his past recordings.

At one point during the performance, he played in tandem with a violinist, tickling the ivory with his arthritic joints, clicking the keys with the same harmonious spirit as he’s done for more than 90 years.

“Amazing,” said Duane Funderburk, 61, a professional musician from California who has been taking lessons from Hokanson since 1976. “His mind has not changed at all…the way he thinks and the way he describes it has not changed.”

Hokanson debuted in New York in 1947 and London 15 years later. He taught at the University of Washington from 1949 to 1984. And he’s not done.
Hokanson said he’s started composing his own classical pieces. He doesn’t know anybody else who has played to 100, but he assumes there must be someone.

“That’s part of history I’m not conversive with,” he said.

Hokanson gave more than 100 performances during his tenure at UW, including the complete cycle of Beethoven sonatas. Still, Hokanson admitted that he’s “never without nerves” prior to a concert: “There’s a great deal of excitement and anxiety to get into it to the point where you don’t have to think.”
But anxiety did not appear to be part of the act during his celebratory performance, as the most difficulty Hokanson had was using the microphone to speak to the audience.

“I have to have lessons on that,” he said, smiling.

Another of his longtime students, Judith Cohen, a professional pianist who lives in Queen Anne and visits her mentor weekly, turned the pages for him during the concert. After, she, too, couldn’t help but be in awe of his continued brilliant and relaxed technique.
“He’s in a class by himself,” she said.

Bayview resident and friend Stuart Barker, 89, said he had trouble keeping his tears back during the enchanting performance, asserting that the deep passion for music is what has kept Hokanson alive for so long.

Hokanson laughed when told of Barker’s comment, saying that having a “great passion,” whatever it might be, is key: “I think that helps you live.”
Hokanson started playing piano at age 8 and was introduced to Bach and classical music by what he described as a sea captain who played the cello. It led to a celebrated career that included studying in London with legendary pianists Harold Samuel and Myra Hess.

Hokanson said music has changed a great deal over the decades and “not for the better.” He said he has trouble hearing when people speak to him, but music is a different story.

“I’m not deaf to music,” he said. “But I’m deaf to speech.”

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