“Music serves to enliven many an hour of sadness, or what would be sadness otherwise. It is an expression of the emotions of the heart, a disperser of gloomy clouds.” (Juliette Montague Cooke; Punahou)
Hawaiians devised various methods of recording information for the purpose of passing it on from one generation to the next. The chant (mele or oli) was one such method. Elaborate chants were composed to record important information, e.g. births, deaths, triumphs, losses, good times and bad.
In most ancient cultures, composing of poetry was confined to the privileged classes. What makes Hawai‘i unique is that poetry was composed by people of all walks of life, from the royal court chanters down to the common man.
“As the Hawaiian songs were unwritten, and adapted to chanting rather than metrical music, a line was measured by the breath; their hopuna, answering to our line, was as many words as could be easily cantilated at one breath.” (Bingham)
The Pioneer Company of missionaries (April, 1820) introduced new musical traditions to Hawai‘i – the Western choral tradition, hymns, gospel music, and Western composition traditions. It was one of strophic hymns and psalm tunes from the late-18th century in America.
The strophic form is one where different lyrics are put to the same melody in each verse. Later on, with the arrival of new missionaries, another hymn tradition was introduced was the gospel tune with verse-chorus alternation. (Smola)
The missionaries also introduced new instrumentation with their songs. Humehume (George Prince, son of Kauai’s King Kaumuali‘i) was given a bass viol or ‘Church Bass’ (like a large cello) and a flute that he have learned to play well. He returned to the Islands with the Pioneer Company. Later, church organs, pianos, melodeons, and other instruments were introduced to the Islands.
Bingham and others composed Hawaiian hymns from previous melodies, sometimes borrowing an entire tune, using Protestant hymn styles. In spite of the use of English throughout Hawaii, the Hawaiian language continues to be used in Bible reading and in the singing of hîmeni (hymns) in many Christian churches. Himeni still preserve the beauty of the Hawaiian language. (Smithsonian)
The first hymnal in the Hawaiian language was ‘Nā Hīmeni Hawaii; He Me Ori Ia Iehova, Ka Akua Mau,’ published in 1823. It contained 60 pages and 47 hymns. It was prepared by Rev. Hiram Bingham and Rev. William Ellis, a London Missionary Society missionary who was visiting.
On June 8, 1820, Rev. Hiram Bingham set up the first singing school at Kawaiaha‘o Church. He taught native Hawaiians Western music and hymnody. These ‘singing schools’ emphasized congregational singing with everyone actively participating, not just passively listening to a designated choir.
By 1826, there were 80 singing schools on Hawai‘i Island alone . By the mid-1830s, church choirs began to become part of the regular worship. This choral tradition partially grew out of the hō‘ike, or examination, when the students being examined would sing part of their lessons.
“For more than 100-years, love of the land and its natural beauty has been the poetry Hawaiian composers have used to speak of love. Hawaiian songs also speak to people’s passion for their homeland and their beliefs.” (Hawaiian Music Museum)
Next time you and others automatically stand, hold hands and sing this song together, you can thank an American Protestant missionary, Lorenzo Lyons, for writing Hawai‘i Aloha – and his expression of love for his home.
Na Lani Eha
In 1995, when the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame selected its first ten treasured composers, musicians and vocalists to be inducted, ‘Na Lani Eha’, (The Royal Four), were honored as the Patrons of Hawaiian music.
‘Na Lani Eha’ comprises four royal siblings who, in their lifetimes, demonstrated extraordinary talent as musicians and composers. They were, of course, our last king, Kalākaua, his sister, Hawai‘i’s last queen, Lili‘uokalani, their brother, the prince, Leleiōhoku, and their sister, the princess, Likelike, mother of princess Ka‘iulani.
In August 2000, ‘Ka Hīmeni Ana’, the RM Towill Corporation’s annual contest at Hawai‘i Theatre for musicians playing acoustic instruments and singing in the Hawaiian language, was dedicated to missionary Juliette Montague Cooke, the Chiefs’ Children’s teacher and mother.
John Montague Derby, Sr., who accepted this honor for the Cooke family, said. “(it is) with gratitude for the multitude of beautiful Hawaiian songs that we enjoy today which were composed by her many students.”
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