David Nape was born into a musically-oriented family in Hilo, yet his innovative talent at musical composition might never have come to light, but for a series of childhood misfortunes. Young David lost his father when he was only two, and his mother was sent to Kalaupapa when he was six.
Over the next two years, the family who then took charge of his upbringing moved between Honolulu, Maui and Hilo. By the time David was eleven, he was regarded as "unruly and irresponsible" and a runaway. Thus, he was sent to Reform School in Honolulu, where he actually began his musical training in the school's excellent brass band.
Luckily for him, this was a place frequently visited by Capt. Henri Berger to recruit musically-gifted boys for The Royal Hawaiian Band. In 1883 Capt. Berger asked that 14-year-old David be allowed to play in the Band on its goodwill concert tour to San Francisco. He continued with the Band, so far as is known, until at least 1908, with a few years out to teach music. As a band member, he was in the company of such noted composers as Mekia Kealaka`i, Peter Kalani, Joseph Ae`a and the Monarchy's "Royal Four" - Kalakaua, Lili`uokalani, Leleiohoku, and Likelike.
There are only several known photographs of the David Nape taken with the Band, and little has been written about his life. It is the musical intricacy of his compositions that has earned the respect of the generations of musicians who have succeeded him. Royal Hawaiian Bandmaster, Aaron Mahi, describes it best:
"What captivates us about David Nape's music is his sense of space over time, his rich and innovative harmonies (of the time), and his expansive nondescriptive melodic lines which intentionally give way to the gentle yet profound shift of harmonies greater enhancing the melody's safe and even passage."
Bandmaster Mahi points particularly to the song "Pua Mohala", written for David's daughter. Of it, he says "... perfect example of (Nape's) harmonic shifts. Under an ever-soaring and moving melody, the harmony undulates, coloring from major to minor, diminished to enharmonic...giving a sense of wonderment that such a ' cherished blossom' should even exist." David Nape is best described as a composer who brought to balance the poetry of Hawai`i and the sophistication of Western harmony -- a true Romantic." David Nape's classic compositions, in addition to "Pua Mohala", are "Ku`u Home" (Old Plantation, lyrics by Mary Jane Montano), "Ku`u Ipo", and "Ku`u `I'ini". These memorable tunes are favorites with traditional Hawaiian musicians, and are regularly performed today.