A Bright Moment for Hawaii’s Band

Bill Mossman
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November 09, 2011
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Royal Hawaiian Band bandmaster Clarke Bright Jamie Poliahu photo

If ever there was a band that played on and on, it would be the iconic community institution known as the Royal Hawaiian Band.

From January through December, the country’s oldest and only full-time municipal band is a constant blur of activity, entertaining scores of music lovers with a regal collection of Hawaii’s most beloved melodies, current and historic, at concerts and parades both here in the islands and abroad.

“We average anywhere from five to 15 jobs a week. Over the course of the year, we’ll do approximately 30 to 35 parades and about 300 concerts,” says bandmaster Clarke Bright, the latest in a long line of conductors to wield the state’s most famous baton.

“So, yes, we’re very busy.”

And band members are about to get even busier. The group will celebrate its 175th anniversary with a two-hour concert Our Legacy Lives On at 7 p.m. Nov. 22 at the Farrington High School Auditorium. The event will welcome many of Hawaii’s musicians and personalities, including Raiatea Helm and Karen Keawehawaii, on stage to honor the band by remembering important moments in its rich history. Standard tunes Aloha ‘Oe, Hawaii Pono’i and Kalakaua March, as well as a new symphonic piece commissioned for the band, will be played along with other marches, polkas and waltzes, and past bandmasters Michael Nakasone and Aaron Mahi are expected to temporarily retake the baton and lead the band in a few of their favorite numbers.

Everyone, of course, is invited, and tickets may be purchased by calling 1-800-838-3006 or visiting brownpapertickets.com.

Created in 1836 under the direction of King Kamehameha III, who, according to Bright, “wanted a band of European influence for his own,” the band has long served as a musical cornerstone for Hawaii as it transitioned from monarchy and U.S. territory to statehood. From its earliest days under the direction of the group’s first conductor, a man known only as Oliver, and later under its most influential bandmaster, Henri Berger, the Prussian kappelmeister who arranged numerous classics, including Hawaii Pono’i, to today’s medley of 40 full-time, foottapping musicians who collectively operate as an agency of the city, Royal Hawaiian Band remains both relevant and instrumental in celebrating Hawaii’s unique culture even after 175 years. “Isn’t that amazing?” says Bright, who prior to being appointed by Mayor Carlisle to the band’s post last January worked for 13-plus years as band director at Kamehameha Schools. “It’s very rare that any organization today can say it’s been around for that long.”

Musical Notes caught up with the ever-hustling, ever-positive bandmaster earlier this week and asked him to put down the baton just long enough to talk about his new gig.

MN: So how does the 22nd bandmaster for the Royal Hawaiian Band spend his days?

CB: Most of my time is spent researching music and preparing programs so that everything is appropriate for an event. But a bandmaster must also be a visionary in understanding where the band is at and what its strengths are. Also, Hawaiian culture is a big part of the job. I’m constantly meeting people and trying to learn about our past history while finding correlations between the songs and the event.

MN: What’s the one thing you now know about the Royal Hawaiian Band that you didn’t realize when you took the position almost a year ago?

CB: Well, I knew the music would be great. And I knew the players would be phenomenal. But what was a surprise to me was the number of events the band plays in each year. To be honest, I didn’t even know some of these events existed. I’m in awe at the amount of service the band has done over the years for various community groups.

Ken Makuakane

MN: What’s the most enjoyable part of your job?

CB: I think it’s being a part of this treasured history that allows Hawaiian music and the art of making music to bless the community. I didn’t realize how much of an impact it has. But it’s an amazing organization that has been able to withstand the past 175 years, and I’m honored to be a part of it.


As one of Hawaii’s most prolific songwriters, Ken Makuakane has penned well over 1,500 compositions, including the everrecognizable E Waianae, Pili Mau Me Oe and the Hawaiian contemporary hit I Miss You, My Hawaii. And yet, you’ll never find the 12-time Na Hoku Hanahano Award winner taking credit for his creations. In fact, Makuakane, who’s also an accomplished producer and sound engineer, sees himself more as a medium between the past and present. “As a songwriter, I know that I didn’t write the song,” says the Big Island-born entertainer, whose fifth solo album, ‘A, is expected out before the end of the year. “Songs are already written and they’re just looking for people to come through. So, for me, I never have to labor at writing.” Weather permitting, you can catch this human conduit of beautiful mele at the next kamaaina concert series, Na Mele No Na Pua, scheduled for 5 p.m. Sunday at Plaza Stage along Waikiki Beach Walk ... From one songwriter to another, vocalist and rhythm guitarist Kainalu Busque has released his self-titled debut album featuring 11 easy listening originals, including noteworthy tracks Everyday, Loves On The Track and Thief.Assisting Kainalu he performs under his first name only on the album as coproducer and bassist is Kapena DeLima. This stirring collection of music can be heard at kainalumusic.net ... Finally, check out the just-released compilation CD Island In Your Eyes, which showcases many of Hawaii’s legendary musicians. Available exclusively at ABC Stores across the 50th State, the disc contains songs from The Brothers Cazimero, Bruddah Iz, Kealii Reichel, Amy Hanaialii, Jake Shimabukuro, Raiatea Helm and more.


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