By The Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings
Photograph Courtesy Hawai'i State Archives
A Band Of Brass And Steel
In August 1883 the Royal Hawaiian Band of HRH King Kalākaua sailed from Honolulu to San Francisco to compete in the Masonic Order's Triennial Conclave of the Knights Templar Brass Band Contest. In the foggy streets of San Francisco they would compete with the best brass bands from across the United States.
From Battlefield to Bandmaster
The band was led by a Prussian Military bandleader named Henry Berger. Sent in service to the Hawaiian Kingdom by German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm I in 1872, Berger had distinguished himself in the Franco Prussian War by leading the troops into battle with his brass band. In between battles, Berger and his bandsmen would double as the medics, dragging wounded and dying soldiers from the battlefield.
Henry Berger portraitThe Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings
Bergers youth was spent immersed in the study of the musical arts. He had been abandoned by his mother at age 4, and had been adopted into the family of the music director of the town of Coswig. By age fourteen he had developed a thorough understanding of music theory and was accomplished on the tuba, trumpet, and oboe, as well as piano, and organ. He would continue his musical education as a musician in the Prussian Army, ultimately attaining the prestigious rank of Bandmaster, or "Kapellmeister".
Upon arriving in Honolulu in 1872, Berger was tasked with increasing the ranks of the Royal Hawaiian Band to a full 40 member Prussian style Military Brass Band. With the support of King Kamehameha V, Berger turned to the Keoneula Boys Reform School, a home for orphaned, abandoned, and convicted boys aged 7-17.
Berger would become musical partner to several Hawaiian monarchs, including King Kalākaua and his younger sister Lili'uokalani, spending hours in collaboration, arranging the many compositions of the royal family, and transcribing the many melodies that surrounded him in his new home.
A Band Fit For A King
King Kalākaua, an accomplished musician and composer was famous for his love of song and string. His patronage of the musical arts fostered a musical renaissance throughout his kingdom that would have a profound influence on the evolution of modern music.
Honolulu 19th cent copyThe Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings
The Cosmopolitan Crossroads Of The Mid- Pacific
By 1883 the port of Honolulu had gathered an unprecedented diversity of musical cultures to its shores.
Iolani PalaceThe Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings
'Iolani Palace, Honolulu Hawai'i
The Royal Hawaiian Band played daily at the ʻIolani Palace performing works by King Kalākaua and his three royal siblings, William Pitt Leleiōhoku, Miriam Likelike, and Liliʻuokalani known collectively as “Nā Lani Ehā”, or “The Heavenly Four”. The bands repertoire also included the popular compositions of European composers such as Bach, Verdi, and Johann Strauss Jr., who Henry Berger had studied with in Vienna before arriving in Hawaiʻi.
Hula Dancers With Ipu Heke (1886)The Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings
It was here in the shadow of the palace that the sacred music and dance of Hawaiʻiʻs Hula traditions met the Western Classical repertoire during festivities like the Jubilee Birthday celebration of HRH King Kalākaua.
Hula Dancers and Musicians (1886)The Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings
A Union Of Traditions In King Kalākauaʻs Hula Kuʻi Style
A new style of Hula ensemble formed in the latter decades of the 19th century under the patronage of King Kalākaua, a style he dubbed, "Hula Kuʻi", meaning Hula "joined". This style added stringed instruments to the traditional Hula ensemble and was featured prominently at King Kalākaua’s coronation celebration held on the palace grounds in February 1883.
A Battle Of The Bands
Kalākaua an avid member of the Masonic Order was invited in 1883 to bring his Royal Hawaiian Band to San Francisco to compete in the Triennial Conclave of the Knights Templar Brass Band Contest, competing against the best brass bands in the United States.
Honolulu Harbor with ShipsThe Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings
Steam and Sail Ships in Honolulu Harbor
Residents of San Francisco and Honolulu had been visiting each other for decades by the latter 1800s, the trip took just over one week by steam ship and twenty days by sail.
Honolulu Harbor with Spear FisherThe Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings
Honolulu Harbor circa 1885
Visitors arriving to Honolulu Harbor from San Francisco would have heard the sounds of Berger's Royal Hawaiian Band proudly playing for the gathered crowds and welcoming new visitors.
Jubilee celebration 1886 (19th Century)The Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings
Royal Hawaiian Band and Reform School Boys Led by Mr. Berger
Berger had turned to the kingdoms Reform School to recruit and train members of the Royal Hawaiian Band. A generation of convicted, abandoned, and orphaned boys age 7-17 were trained in the musical arts of composition, harmony, and theory.
Royal Hawaiian Band at King Kamehameha stature (19th Century)The Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings
Henry Berger and The Royal Hawaiian Band, Honolulu 1883
By 1883 the Reform School boys had swelled the ranks of the Royal Hawaiian Band to a full size 40 member Military Style Brass Band, and they were ready to face the best the United States had to offer.
Royal Hawaiian Band in San Francisco (19th Century)The Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings
They Royal Hawaiian Band, San Francisco August 1883
While quarantined in San Francisco harbor awaiting medical examinations, they learned that their new silver and gold embroidered uniforms had accidentally been shipped to South America. Sewing uniforms from Burlap sacks, the band was cleared to march in the Battle of the Bands.
San Franciscans Crowded The Streets
Crowds gathered by the tens of thousands to hear the best brass bands from the largest cities in the United States compete.
1883 10 March on market st.jpgThe Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings
The Best Bands From Across The United States Marched
But out of all the brass bands assembled there, there was something different about the Royal Hawaiian Band.
They had a timbre and rhythm in their ensemble style unlike anything California had ever heard, and in addition to the power and punch of their brass they had the strength of strings to match their voices, and the songs of their king and queen sung proudly for all to hear.
Newspaper reports at the time described the Hawaiian musicians as being the best California had ever heard.
Encore followed encore, and of all the bands in San Francisco, the Royal Hawaiian Band was crowned victorious.
1883 8 crowds in SF.pngThe Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings
San Francisco went wild for the Royal Hawaiian Band.
Aloha 'Oe Sheet Music (19th Century)The Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings
"Aloha 'Oe" Composed by HRH Queen Lili'uokalani
This timeless song famous today around the world is one of the songs performed for San Francisco by the Royal Hawaiian Band members, several of whom had been mentored directly by HRH Queen Lili'uokalani while students of the Reform School.
Aloha 'Oe (19th Century)The Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings
Handwritten Copy of "Aloha 'Oe" from HRH Queen Lili'uokalani
This handwritten copy of the song from the Queens manuscript collection is inscribed at the bottom:
"Composed at Maunawili 1878. Played by the Royal Hawaiian Band in San Francisco August 1883 and became very popular." - HRH Queen Lili'uokalani
Years Later, A Bandmember Reflects On The Tour Of 1883
In 1916 band member Samuel K. Kamaka'ia recalled the tour of 1883 in a letter to the Hawaiian language Newspaper Nūpepa Kuokoa:
Royal Hawaiian Band on steps Emma Square BandstandThe Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings
“In 1883 the band sailed for California to join in a grand tour for the Freemasons Society that was being held in San Francisco, and 40 was the number of members in the band that went at this point if I am not mistaken."
“And amid all the tug of war of all the various heads of the Freemasons groups... regarding the band that would lead at the head of the parade on that great day it went to the band of Hawaii... and this is a foremost position of honor, o native people of Hawaii." -S.K. Kamakaia
Mahalo Nui to the Hawai'i State Archives: https://ags.hawaii.gov/archives/about-us/photograph-collection/
Letter from Samuel Kamaka'ia translated by Puakea Nogelmeier: 1916, 5/19 — Ka Nupepa Kuokoa (Kamakaia history of RHB) KA OIHANA PUHIOHE O HONOLULU NEI, E HOOPAU IA ANA ANEI_ — Ka Nupepa Kuokoa 19 May 1916 — Papakilo Database