HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND
By Kelly Moran
Save the Band!
There’s been an official island band here, continuously, since the days when Kalakaua was king and it was called the Hilo Band. It’s been the Hawaii County Band since the turn of the last century, however, when the bandstand at Mooheau Park, on the Hilo Bayfront, was built for them. And they still play a free monthly concert there. And they still march in parades and play for many festivities.
Thirty-four of the musicians live in East Hawaii, eleven on the West side. The bandmaster, Paul Arceo, first joined in 1983, when he was a teenager – and that’s not unusual. Many of his band-mates also joined when they were young, perhaps having gained prowess in their high school bands. Others may have come to it as grown-ups. But when you consider all of the local musicians, over the last twelve decades, who have passed through its ranks, there’s a multiplier effect at work. The Hawaii County Band has inspired countless numbers of other folks, young and old – but especially young – to take up an instrument and maybe join a band themselves.
And yet, the Hawaii County Band could be out of the County budget next year.
We, here on Big Island, pay close to $350,000 a year to have a band of our own (it’s in the County’s Department of Parks and Recreation). But our mayor has just proposed to strike it off the books: there’s no item for it in his new budget. Such a cut would be a hardship for the musicians, of course; but a cut would have its own – and rather unpleasant – multiplier effect.
How will we generate the next wave of musicians? Where else, here, can you experience the magic of a live concert, or of a marching band on parade? Those are educational experiences! School budgets have been short-changing music (well, all of the arts, really), for years. School bands can barely sustain themselves: or should the County Band also have to hold bake-sales and raffles, or go out and wash cars, to make it to their next gig?
There will always be more listeners than players, but a lot of people don’t even try. (Count the ear-buds around you, next time you’re on the street or in a bus.) Learning to play music is hard. It takes practice, and it takes purpose: a reason to practice, something to aspire to.
There is simply no better way to encourage musicianship than to see and hear live music being played. And even if you never attend their concerts, you can’t live here without acknowledging that it’s a good thing to have a County Band.
Indeed, the local newspapers have been running letters-to-the-editor about this, and not one has taken the side of the cut in band funding. There are several petitions going around (one is at http://www.petition.fm/petitions/savetheband/0/14/), and the band has a Facebook page with more than 1,300 “fans” (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hawaii-County-Band/336187876716?v=wall). Dozens of folks have been waving hand-made “save-the-band” signs along Kam Avenue, for the past two weekends.
So the County Council will take up the issue on March 22. There is reason to hope that the Councilors and the Mayor can find the money, somewhere, and save the band. I, for one, certainly hope – and frankly, I expect – that they will, in the end, do so. It’s not about saving a piece of our local history. It’s about saving something immeasurably important for our future.