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Royal Hawaiian Band plays at `Iolani Palace, 1999
Royal Hawaiian Band plays on the grounds of the historic 'Iolani Palace, April 30, 1999. Photo: Ed Michelman

Royal Hawaiian Band

The first brass band in the Pacific, the second oldest community band and the only full-time municipal band in the United States, the Royal Hawaiian Band was formally organized in 1836 by King Kamehameha III and is one of the few remaining links to the Hawaiian monarchy. In 1848, after signing a pledge to abstain from intoxicating drinks (presumably beer), Wilhelm Merseburgh from Weimar assumed leadership of the Royal Hawaiian Band. Merseburgh was indicative of the growing European presence in Hawai`i during the 19th century; Hawai`i had close contacts with a number of European countries during its monarchy era and sent diplomats to major European centers.

In 1872, at the request of King Kamehameha V, who had requested the services of the Prussian government to update Hawai`i's national band, Heinrich Wilhelm Berger of Potsdam arrived in Honolulu. Giving heed to the twin polestars of Hawaiian life -- the expression of respect for ali`i (leaders) and aloha `aina (love of the land) -- Berger quickly gained favor and wound up serving as Bandmaster of the Royal Hawaiian Band for 43 years. During that time, "the Father of Hawaiian music" conducted more than 32,000 concerts, arranged more than 1,000 Western and 200 Hawaiian melodies, and penned 600 compositions, many becoming some of Hawai`i's best-loved songs, including Hawai`i's national anthem.

The current Bandmaster, Aaron David Mahi, has served in his position since 1981, and, like Berger, crosses easily between the musical worlds of Hawaii and the West. Mahi notes that "In Hawaiian music, the most important aspect is the mele (text). The Western approach of developing the melodic line can actually enhance or reinforce the mele...." Along with classical music, marches, polkas, schottisches, and waltzes, the Band plays famous songs of Hawai`i in their traditional arrangements: Aloha 'Oe, Hawai`i Pono`i, Hilo March. The Band, an agency of the City and County of Honolulu, plays every Friday at the `Iolani Palace, every Sunday at various venues while their park bandstand is being rebuilt, and plays approximately 400 special events each year. When event is open to the public, the Band does not charge admission, in deference to keeping alive Hawai`i's cultural traditions. Traveling first to the mainland (California) in 1836, the Band has since traveled to other points in the continental United States, Canada, Japan and Europe. In 1988, they realized a long-held dream with a sold-out appearance at Carnegie Hall.

Project documentation consists of a ten-page written report, twelve 8 x 10 color photos with descriptions, a promotional flyer, and two CDs: "The Royal Hawaiian Band - Live at Carnegie Hall" and "The Royal Hawaiian Band - Live at Kapi`olani Park."

Originally submitted by: Daniel K. Inouye, Senator Daniel K. Akaka, Senator Neil Abercrombie, Representative (1st District) & Patsy T. Mink,Representative (2nd District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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