story by Dave Choo
photo by Dana Edmunds
In a corner of the Iolani Palace grounds, under the wide, leafy canopies of kapok and monkeypod trees, Hawaii’s anthem begins to play: Hawaii Ponoi/Nana i kou moi … and so begins downtown Honolulu’s most graceful and melodious lunch hour. Every Friday at noon—weather permitting—the thirty-five-member Royal Hawaiian Band, joined by vocalists and hula dancers, performs an hour-long concert that is a little bit royal, a little bit touristy but all Hawaii.
“Our programs tend to feature more waltzes and marches than most bands normally play because of our European roots,” says Wayne Oshima, the Royal Hawaiian Band’s assistant administrator. “However, our Palace concerts showcase Hawaii music. No two programs are alike, but they have one thing in common: They begin with Hawaii Ponoi and end with Aloha Oe.” Recent other selections include the Kohala March, composed by longtime Royal Hawaiian bandmaster Henri Berger; the European-influenced waltz Waialae; and Kui Lee’s 1960s Waikiki anthem, I’ll Remember You.
The Royal Hawaiian Band was founded in 1836 by King Kamehameha III, modeled after bands half a world away that played for European monarchs. The Hawaii band accompanied Hawaii’s royals on their frequent trips throughout the Islands, even serenading the residents of Kalaupapa, Molokai’s leper colony. Today it is the only full-time municipal band in the United States, and it performs and marches in more than 300 concerts and parades each year: at schools, community centers, retirement communities, graduations and private events. In addition to the weekly Iolani Palace concert, the band also performs most Sundays at 2 p.m. at the Kapiolani Park Bandstand.
Both concerts, which are free to the public, were started in 1964 by the Royal Hawaiian Band’s seventeenth bandmaster, Lloyd Krause, who thought that his wind ensemble needed to increase its outreach to the community. Says Oshima, who plays baritone saxophone and has been with the band since 1976, the concerts have changed very little over the decades. “Something new this year? Oh, gosh, I hope not,” he says. “It’s just all about connecting people to the music of Hawaii.”