Hop On The Bandwagon
Gwen Nakamura and the multifaceted University of Hawai‘i Bands program are planning a spirited centennial celebration.
To many, Gwen Nakamura is easily the most recognizable face in the University of Hawai‘i Bands program. For years now, the assistant director of bands and Pep Band director has attracted the attention of fans because of those creative balloon hats she wears at just about every volleyball and basketball game.
She began sporting the head coverings at the suggestion of a band student’s parent who gladly made them for her at each event. The tradition has continued thanks to an alum, who now crafts the hats for her.
“It’s just a fun thing to do, and they’re all different,” says Nakamura, adding that her hats range from rainbow-themed ones to those shaped like Mickey Mouse ears.
These days, Nakamura and a multitude of others are feeling as festive as her headgear thanks to the UH Bands program’s planned centennial celebration this year and next.
The program has grown in the past 100 years to its current state and the school has auspicious plans for the future. It marks a thrilling milestone in history this year with a series of activities celebrating a century of tradition, pride and aloha spirit that has enriched the lives of students, athletes, alumni and fans across the islands. As part of the commemoration, there will be 100 performances throughout a yearlong series of events.
Founded in 1923 as an 18-member drum and bugle corps, UH Bands entertains more than 400,000 spectators annually at football, basketball and volleyball games, concerts and campus events. More than 300 students make up the Rainbow Warrior Marching Band, three concert bands, five pep bands and several chamber ensembles. They come from all across the Mānoa campus, representing dozens of majors and every college there, as well as several community colleges and UH West O‘ahu.
Besides Nakamura, others from UH-Mānoa Department of Music leading the effort are Jeffrey Boeckman, director of bands, and Adam Kehl, associate director of bands and director of UH Rainbow Warrior Marching Band.
“This year,” notes Kehl, “we will have for the second year in a row the largest marching band in the history of the University of Hawai‘i … We’ve gone from a very small band and now we’re going to hit our 100th year as big as the university has ever seen, so we’re excited about that.”
The marching band also debuted new uniforms for the first time in 22 years at its first performance of the season at UH’s football home opener against Stanford on Sept. 1.
Boeckman notes that UH ensembles have regularly collaborated with a wide range of guest artists, performers and composers throughout the years. This list includes Raiatea Helm, Henry Kapono and, prior to his death in 2020, Willie K, as well as acclaimed Honolulu-born trumpeter Eric Miyashiro, who’s now living and performing in Japan, and famed trumpet player Doc Severinsen.
Boeckman emphasizes that locally, UH Bands has also developed relationships with middle and high school band students and directors by means of frequent school visits/clinics; shared concerts; increased professional development opportunities for music teachers; and a biennial UH Conductor’s Workshop.
Recently, the program has also blended an awareness of social issues into its curriculum and performances. It includes an emphasis on outreach efforts, including performing and doing service work at several Hawai‘i correctional facilities and the Institute for Human Services shelters.
According to Boeckman, the school will receive proclamations from the city and state to mark the centennial. Naturally, everyone associated with the program is eagerly anticipating an array of upcoming festivities to commemorate the occasion. (See separate article on this page.)
“It’s an opportunity for us to honor and celebrate the history of this band program, all the people that have been a part of it, all the things we’ve done these last 100 years and for us to look forward to the next 100 years of this band program,” he emphasizes. “We’re going to have brand new uniforms this year. We’ve got a lot of brand new people in the band program. We’re going to be doing some new music that we’re commissioning specifically for this. We’re going to be welcoming a lot of alumni back over this entire year.”
UH has a long tradition of family members following in each other’s musical footsteps at the school.
“Another really fun part about this band program— and I think it’s pretty unique — is we have so many inter-generational members of the band program,” Boeckman adds.
“People sometimes think that all of our students are all music majors or all UH-Mānoa students,” he continues. “Very few of the students here are music majors. They come from all across campus. I think the largest representative we have is actually in engineering.”
Among those who will be drumming up excitement for the special occasions is UH senior Dane Pinell. He’ll be one of hundreds of musicians helping to mark the centennial.
Pinell’s duties as a drum major for UH Marching Band include conducting and leading performances, rehearsing and marching routines, keeping up band morale, and serving as a direct line of communication between students and leadership.
A love of music also happens to be a family legacy for the music education major, because his mom, Sandra, dad, Roger, and older brother, Blake, also played instruments in the program before him.
“Enjoying the experiences, the people that were in music with me and all the lessons that I’ve learned through music, I think was really important to me,” Pinell says.
“It’s really exciting hearing how my parents grew up with UH Bands and the things that they were doing and how things have evolved,” he adds. “I think being in a position where I can influence things more is exciting for the future.”
“There are many of our band alumni that are in the Royal Hawaiian Band,” notes Nakamura. “Among them is their conductor Clarke Bright. He’s been bandmaster of the Royal Hawaiian Band for a decade now. Practically his whole family are alumni of the UH Bands.”
Boeckman also acknowledges the contributions from previous leaders of UH Bands.
“Looking back, there are a lot of people that we owe our success to in this bands program for these last 100 years,” he says. “Certainly the students are first and foremost. And then, after that, we’ve got really two big lions back in our history. Richard Lum was director of bands here from 1960 to 1985. He really is kind of the father of the UH Bands program … the reason this band program is what it is. He set us off on our course. After him, Grant Okamura was director of bands here from 1985 until 2010 — so two people were here for 25 years.”
Lum and Okamura also previously served as band directors at McKinley High School. UH now offers scholarships to each student in the program, including the Richard S. Lum Endowed Scholarship.
“I was a graduate assistant with the band because of Mr. Lum. A lot of my musical background and upbringing in my college years is due to Mr. Lum. He had a big influence on all of us,” Nakamura says. “Later on, I became an assistant band director with Grant Okamura.”
Filled to the brim with school spirit on the eve of the centennial, Boeckman, Kehl, Nakamura and Pinell are clearly ready to get the party started, as evidenced by their hearty shout of “Go Bows!”
“We are all going to be celebrating and marking this anniversary,” Boeckman says, adding with a chuckle, “it’s going to be all bands on deck.”
UH BANDS MARKS MAJOR MUSICAL MILESTONE
The University of Hawai‘i Bands program will celebrate its centennial throughout the coming year with the following special concerts, performances and campaigns:
• The UH Rainbow Warrior Marching Band will revisit some of its most iconic shows from the past decades, and feature a number of guest artists and performers at home football games.
• A friends and family cookout for UH Bands alumni, friends and supporters will be held on Sept. 17 in the UH music courtyard.
• A special UH alumni band performance will take place Oct. 28 at the homecoming game.
•A centennial gala, featuring special guests and performers and including dignitaries, will be held on April 27 at the UH-Mānoa Campus Center ballroom.
• A UH Bands aloha concert with special guests, performers and conductors, including a 100-member UH Bands alumni band performing a specially commissioned new work, will take place April 28 at the McKinley High School auditorium.
•˚The UH Bands “100 for 100” campaign will take place throughout the year, with key events and campaigns. It will include 100 performances throughout the year;˚100 saxophones performing The Star-Spangled Banner and Hawai‘i Pono‘ī at an athletic event; obtaining a hundred $100 donors in 100 days to help reach their goal of $100,000 to support the current and future needs of the UH Bands program.
“If folks are so moved that they want to help us with a gift, we’re grateful for that,” says UH director of bands Je˛ rey Boeckman.
For more information, visit uhbands.org.