Kamehameha Schools - A Musical Biography
The Kamehameha Schools musical experience spans more than a century of time. Princess Bernice Pauahi, the school's benefactress, loved music and its performance. Although not as closely associated with music as her hanai sister, Queen Lili`uokalani with whom she was raised in a loving, respectful relationship,
Pauahi was well schooled in music at the Chiefs' Children's School. She could read music, and was an accomplished pianist. She taught young students to play; she led the school choir. In later years, she often sang with community groups.
Quite literally, the foundation for music education and performance at Kamehameha Schools is a legacy of these cherished ali`i which continues today, extended throughout the Islands and more alive than ever.
In the early years, Kamehameha was boys' school. The first music teacher was Theodore Richards, who, in 1889 organized the now famous glee club. He, along with the Principal, William Olefson created the enduring school song "Sons of Hawai`i", borrowing the melody from a Yale Glee Club song. Music at Kamehameha was also an academic subject teaching appreciation for other peoples' customs.
Charles E. King (an early Hall of Fame Honoree) was a member of the first Kamehameha graduating class in 1891. He went on to write several songs for the school, and taught music there from 1900 to 1902. Another student, also a Hall of Fame Honoree, was steel guitar inventor Joseph Kekuku. He attended the school in 1892-93.
Another Kamehameha long standing musical tradition, Song Contest, presented its first Boys' School performance in May 1921, and the 8th graders won first place.
Kamehameha Girls School, which opened in 1894, offering music classes in its academic schedule, gave its first Song Contest in June, 1922. Among the singers was talented Helen Desha . Again, the 8th graders won, led by Harriet Beamer, the daughter of Helen Desha Beamer (another Hall of Fame honoree.)
From the 1920's, when Kamehameha initiated and graduated its first high school class, through the 1940's, the schools' music activities expanded. The Bishop Memorial Choir was organized and sang for Chapel as well as Kaumakapili and Kawaiaha`o churches. The String Instruments Club, organized in the 1930's brought `ukulele, six string guitar and steel guitars together to kani ka pila.
Over the years, Kamehameha Schools' reputation for excellent choral singing has never wavered. As the tenor of the times began to change with Statehood in 1959, members of the glee club, under the direction of Robert Springer, began to take Hawaiian music and Hawaiian history on tour to the mainland. At the end of a 1970's tour, the "KS Concert Glee Club Select Ensemble" made the KS recording at Capitol Records in Los Angeles.
Kamehameha students of the '60's who joined the commercial entertainment scene in the 1970's transformed Hawaiian music into a dynamic cottage industry and a recording and performing phenomena, as part of the cultural upheaval now recognized as the "Hawaiian Renaissance." They adapted popular American music styles, infusing them with traditional Hawaiian motifs, thus exposing contemporary Hawaiian music to larger non-traditional audiences.
The tide of change brought into focus the historic background of compositions and their kaona (meanings); arrangements, instead of focusing on the melody line alone, became increasingly romantic in style with mood setting introductions. Among the prominent young KS arrangers were Robert Cazimero (Class of '67), and Randie Kamuela Fong (KS '78).
The list of KS graduates from the late '40's through the '70's who are among today's best known and most enduring Hawaiian musicians and composers, is a long one. Their influence, both in Hawai`i and overseas, has had a profound influence on the perpetuation and performance of traditional Hawaiian music in the Hawaiian language. Student performances for Pacific Islanders during the first voyage of the Hokule`a, was proof to all Polynesians that Hawaiian culture was alive and well.
It is no wonder that Kamehameha Schools' long history of teaching and performing Hawaiian music meets and surpasses the rigid criteria by which the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame Advisory Selection Board selects traditional Hawaiian music honorees.
[Reference: "Lei Mele No Pauahi, Music Past and Present at Kamehameha Schools," Kamehameha Schools Press, 1997.]