KAILUA-KONA — You’ve seen them at the Fourth of July and King Kamehameha Day parades. If there’s a community event, chances are they’ll be there. Like next week, when they’ll help open Kona’s famous, annual Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament.
Besides all the big events, the West Hawaii County Band is quite prolific, performing once every month at Hale Halawai Park on Alii Drive.
Comprised of former professional musicians, teachers, military members and amateur musicians from all over the country, the band has a long-standing tradition of performing on the island.
It’s a history that stretches back to the 1800s, while the very existence is guaranteed as written into the county’s rules.
“It’s fun to rub elbows with people from different walks of life in a diverse setting where you’re all coming together and bringing your own thing,” said Jessica Dahlke, a French horn player who has been playing with the band for eight years. “You kind of shed those other lives at the door and come together to play.”
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the West Hawaii County Band’s origins began during King Kamehameha III’s reign, when the Prussian government sent band director Henri Berger to the islands. With Berger’s help, the Royal Hawaiian Band formed in 1836, and is still active on Oahu. This also led to the formation of the Hawaii County Band, which was established in 1883 and still performs today on the east side of the island. The West Hawaii County Band, currently under the direction of Bernaldo Evangelista, is a subset of that group.
“The formation of our band — the Hawaii County Band which we are a part of — is actually in the County Charter,” Peter Anderegg said. “Which means the County Council can’t cut us out. They can not fund us, but they can’t say we’re not a part of them anymore. So we’re technically a part of Parks and Rec. Which is very unusual.”
The West Hawaii County Band now practices weekly at the Kealakehe Intermediate School band room. Anderegg, who also plays French horn with the band, said another unusual aspect of the group is the amount of performances in the band’s schedule every year.
“A normal community band, they’ll give one, maybe two concerts,” Anderegg said. “Our band is incredibly active, much more than most community bands. Most community bands will spend a couple months working on music and then give one concert. And they have other problems that we don’t have. Selling tickets is important to them. We can’t sell tickets, and we don’t want to anyway. Our job is to provide a service to the citizens of the county.”
This month, due to scheduling conflicts with Hale Halawai, the band will be performing at the West Hawaii Civic Center at 6:30 p.m. Friday. On Aug. 4, the band will help open the annual Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament by playing the national anthems of each country involved in the tournament.
Friday’s performance at the Civic Center will feature music from children’s movies and television shows such as “Rocky and Bullwinkle” and “Pocahontas,” as well as music from the films “Hawaii” and “The Wizard of Oz.” Each monthly performance is free, and Evangelista said he picks the music to play each month based on what’s happening in the community at the time.
Anderegg said anyone who is interested in playing with the band can volunteer to join, and the band is a mixture of talent levels. The majority of the music played by the band is described by Evangelista as high-school level.
“It’s a great deal of fun to play with all these other musicians, and I didn’t understand when I got started that I would be playing with some of these guys that have very serious backgrounds,” Anderegg said. “Why I play, it’s something I’ve always done, and for these other guys it’s something they’ve always done too but at a different level. For me, this is more of the same, but for them, they’re helping out by adding this wonderful sound to the band and helping those of us that don’t have as much experience as they do.”
Evangelista said the different abilities of each player in the band is the biggest challenge he faces as the director.
“We have some people here who are retired orchestra, we have retired music teachers and then there are people who the last time they played was in high school. So it’s different,” Evangelista said. “Every time we play something new, I kind of have to test the waters first.”
One of the reasons Anderegg and his wife chose to move to Kailua-Kona from Alaska a few years ago was the large artistic community located on the island. While the band has no trouble finding members from Hawaii Island’s retired population, Anderegg said he would like to see younger musicians and students involved as well. He believes more support for music programs in the island’s schools would help the band reach that platform.
“The lack of support for the arts in the schools is troubling to me. I’m a music director, so I have a slight bias, but I see what those things can do for kids,” Anderegg said. “It hits us as well. For our band, what that means when you have music programs in schools, you’re selfishly training those people who may eventually play with the county band. But you’re also training your audience. People who like music and and enjoy it and are exposed to it. I think it’s a valuable part of life.”
Info: For more information on the West Hawaii County Band and to see a schedule of the band’s upcoming performances, visit westhawaiiband.com.