It’s not a parade in Hawaii without the Royal Hawaiian Band. Founded in 1836 by King Kamehameha III, it is the only band in the United States with royal roots. It is also the only full time municipal band.
The Royal Hawaiian Band considers part of its mission to be keeping Hawaiian music part of every day life on the islands. Many of the pieces it plays were composed during the days of the monarchy, either by the monarchs themselves or by bandmaster Henry Berger. Berger led the band during the reigns of King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani. According to the band website, “He introduced and stylized Hawaiian melodies in a variety of European musical forms, such as marches, polkas and waltzes.” The band has also incorporated pieces of “Hapa Haole” music — Hawaiian music with English words — such as “Waikiki,“ “Sophisticated Hula,“ and “Hukilau.”
The band is now part of the City and County of Honolulu and is composed of 40 full time musicians. As with many city services, it can be imperiled by budget cuts. Recently, a newspaper article suggested that the band might lose its funding, which prompted protests including a “Save the Royal Hawaiian Band” Facebook page.
The band performs and marches in over 300 concerts and parades each year. One might expect it to show up at official government functions, which it does, but it also plays at schools, community centers, retirement communities, graduations and private events. It’s a part of the Hawaii community. In September alone, the band performed at over 20 functions, including a Queen Lilioukalani Memorial Service at the Royal Mausoleum, a Military Service Memorial at Punchbowl Cemetery, and concerts at local malls. It regularly performs on the Iolani Palace grounds at noon on Friday and in the Kapiolani Park Bandstand most Sunday afternoons.
Hearing the Royal Hawaiian Band in one of its free performances is always listed as a top thing for visitors to do on the islands. If you can’t visit here, there is a book on the legacy of the band that includes a musical CD.