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
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).
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.