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July 2004


The Hawaii County Band:
121 Years Old and Still Going Strong

By Rodney Wong
County Band member

The Hawai`i County Band has served the Island of Hawai`i (the Big Island ) continuously for 121 years. It was formed as a family band in 1883 by brothers, Joaquin and Jules Carvalho, immigrants from the Azores Islands, who made their living as barbers in Hilo. On concert days, they closed up the shop; Joaquin would take the baton to lead the band while Jules played the cornet. After the concert, they would re-open the barbershop and go back to cutting hair.

During the 41 years that “Professor” Joaquin directed the band, he established the now standard Tuesday and Thursday evening rehearsal schedule, which amounts to over 11,000 rehearsals after 121 years.

The band was known as the Hilo Band during the Hawaiian Monarchy and the Republic of Hawai`i. After annexation and the formation of local counties, the band officially became the Hawai`i County Band in 1900. Mo`oheau Park Bandstand, dedicated in 1904 by Hilo businessman Admiral George Beckley, has been the band’s performing home for the past one hundred years.

After Joaquin died in 1924, the band had several directors until 1943, when Urban Carvalho, son of founder Jules Carvalho, became bandmaster. Urban was also the director of the Hilo High School Band, resulting in the recruitment of the best high school players for the band. Urban’s term ended in 1963 when the job of band director became a politically appointed position.

Andres Baclig was the first appointed director and held the position for 11 years. He was succeeded by Armando Mendoza and then John Hursey who was also band teacher at Ka`ū High School. Since 1981, the band has performed under four different directors: David Lorch, Wayne Kawakami, Randy Skaggs and Paul Arceo, all outstanding musicians and high school band directors.

With the exception of the director, who is full-time, the musicians are part-time employees of the County of Hawai`i and receive a small stipend. Day jobs among band members include chimney sweep (yes, with the top hat,) fruit farmer, astronomer and funeral director. One trombonist, retired trucking executive Wendell Leite, has 57 years of continuous service!

For 121 years, the Hawai`i County Band has been performing and providing free music for public ceremonies, festivals, parades and concerts with a repertoire representing the rich and diverse interests and cultural background of the Big Island .

Rodney Wong has retired from teaching but not from music. He has been with the County Band (but not continuously) since he studied with Urban Carvalho at Hilo High School. In addition to the trombone, he plays the piano, the `ukulele and anything else he can get his hands on. He also composes and arranges music that has been played in Hawai`i , Japan, China and Europe. You will find him playing and singing at weddings, funerals, anniversary parties, baby lu`au, yakudoshi… He lives in Hilo with his wife Pat, who informs us that he also sings in the shower.

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