The Royal Hawaiian Band in U.S. Newspapers
One of the most influential music organizations in Hawaii, the band widely disseminated Hawaiian music through performing in Hawaii and the U.S. mainland.
Newspapers heavily covered the band, providing news, performance programs, and most of the interviews with Berger known today. The Hawaii newspapers serve as a primary source of information about the band as they contain most of the historical data.
The band performed Hawaiian and European music around town in theatrical performances and concerts. The band regularly performed at Emma Square for years and a grand concert at the Kawaiahao Church. However, after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy in 1893, the government prohibited the band from performing Hawaiian music and renamed it the “Government Band.” Its musical programs immediately reflected the political change.
In 1898, on the morning of August 12, 1898, the Royal Hawaiian Band performed during the ceremony of the U.S. annexation of the Republic of Hawaii. The day before, saddened by the annexation, all fifteen Hawaiian band members asked Berger to be excused, and he granted their request. The remaining eleven musician performed “Hawaii Ponoi” during the symbolic lowering of the Hawaiian flag:
“Another signal and the Hawaiian band struck up ‘Hawaii Ponoi.’ Chas. Kreuter then sounded ‘RETREAT’ on his cornet. There was an interval of a minute or so and as the hands of the Government building clock pointed at 11:57 o’clock, Corporal H. F. Kilbey lowered the Hawaiian flag for the last time. The scene was a most solemn one and on the main platform as well as throughout the remaining seats for spectators, many a moist eyes was noticed.”
Two years later, the band performed during the Admissions Day Ceremony of Hawaii on June 14, 1900, when the Hawaiian Organic Act of 1900 was established. Right after the inaugural speech of Sanford B. Dole as the first governor of Hawaii, the Royal Hawaiian Band performed the Star-Spangled Banner, the U.S. national anthem:
“When the inaugural speech was finished the Government band, which was resting at the head of the parade a half hundred feet Waikikiwards, struck up ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ and the police moved back the people in front of the stand to give room for the passing of the soldiers.
“The band had taken part in many gay and otherwise affairs, and Kappellameister Berger had led many a gallant rout. Never did his baton move faster than yesterday, and never did his musicians blow with more vigor.”
On the mainland, the band spread the Hawaiian culture musically through performance. Mainland newspapers also covered the Royal Hawaiian Band, announcing upcoming performances, reviewing the band’s performances, and running ads. The band often played Hawaiian and European music, with singer accompaniment in the songs. Typical music included “Star-Spangled Banner,” “Hawaii Ponoi,” and “Aloha Oe.”.
“Talk about versatility! The most remarkable organization in the world, in that respect, must be the Royal Hawaiian band, which began an engagement of three weeks at the Lewis and Clarke Exposition yesterday afternoon before hundreds who had not heretofore found interest in music at the fair. . . . People can hear a brass band any day—but they cannot hear music like this more than once in a lifetime.”
The oldest municipal band and the only full-time band in the United States continues to perform today, although it exerts less influence than before. However, the legacy of Berger remains. As “Aloha Oe” and “Hawaii Ponoi” are among the most famous Hawaiian songs today, “Hawaii Ponoi” continues to be sung as Hawaii’s state song, and “Aloha Oe,” for visitors to Hawaii.
Notes: Berger preserved Hawaiian music, that is, ancient oli (chants) and mele (songs) through listening to what the Native Hawaiians sang and composing musical arrangements. He westernized Hawaiian music by incorporating Europeans genres such as the march, the polka, and the waltz. As a close friend to Queen Liliuokalani, he assisted her with composing “Aloha Oe” and Kalakaua with composing “Hawaii Ponoi.” Throughout his career, Berger arranged more than 1,000 Western music compositions and 200 Hawaiian songs, composed 75 Hawaiian songs and 500 marches, and had 100 of his works published.
The band has performed music in historical events since Kamehameha III started the “King’s Band” in 1836.
Articles on Chronicling America:
The Hawaiian gazette., June 15, 1900, Image 5
“Our Own Native Band”
The Independent., October 12, 1896, Image 1
“A Treat to St. Andrew’s Sunday School Children”
The Daily bulletin., December 31, 1886, Image 2
The Hawaiian gazette., November 09, 1870, Image 2
“Berger Honored at Commercial Club”
The Hawaiian gazette., May 28, 1912, Page 7, Image 7
“Berger’s Band” (newspaper editorial)
The Hawaiian gazette., July 25, 1877, Image 3
“Berger’s Band Has Made Great Hit in Portland”
The Hawaiian gazette., September 08, 1905, Image 1
“Capt. Berger Says ‘Aufwiedersehn’ on Eve of Departure for Berlin”
The Hawaiian gazette., May 31, 1912, Page 7, Image 7
“Dismissal of the Band”
The Daily bulletin., February 03, 1893, Image 3
The Daily bulletin., October 08, 1892, Image 2
“National Band at Sans Souci”
The Daily bulletin., January 20, 1894, Image 2
“Bandmaster Henry Berger and the Royal Hawaiian Band” by David Bandy in the Hawaiian Journal of History