Wind bands at UH can be traced back to 1923 when an eighteen-member drum and bugle corps was organized; it soon expanded to a twenty-six-member extracurricular band by adding woodwinds and more brass. Director of the band was Dewy Robbins, a trombonist who also played with a Hawaii Theatre jazz orchestra and in the newly reorganized Honolulu Symphony. This extracurricular band was active at concerts, football games, and pep rallies. In the 1920s and 30s, a music department had not yet been established at UH; however, as early as 1927-28, band became a course for which credit was offered. It was at first open only to male students; practice took place weekly on the benches of the swimming pool locker room. This group was directed by McKinley High School band director Paul Sanders, the first of several McKinley band directors who moved to UH to teach large music ensembles; others were Richard Lum, Director of Bands from 1950 through 1985, his successor Grant Okamura (from 1985 through 2009), and director of the UH Orchestra Henry Miyamura (from 1979).
When Military Science was established as a department at UH in the 1930s, the course in band was offered as a listing in that area; later it was offered as a listing in the Teachers College. The band room was located in Farrington Hall. The last performance of the band before World War II was at a football game with Willamette on the evening of December 6, 1941, just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Band was reactivated after the War, but was listed as an ROTC activity for cadets who preferred to carry an instrument instead of a rifle. However, instruments used by the band before the War had disappeared. Norman Rian (now retired but living in Hawaii), who had been hired to beef up the music program at UH after World War II, and Colonel Honan, professor of Military Science, located banged up instruments stored away by the military in an old structure stacked to the ceiling with them -- it took several hours to find twenty-four in playing condition. A band was quickly established -- Rian was willing to take many students who did not play very well. "At first they really sounded awful," he said, "but they had spirit and determination." They played very simple marches along with a few pep songs. Within three weeks they were ready. To swell the ranks, Rian added six flag girls. Women were also accepted as members of the band itself. Rian had four good trombone players who were placed in the first row. The music and marching was simple -- keep in step, stay in tune, if possible.
The Band had about thirty-five to forty members during the 1950s. Richard Lum took over as director of the band in 1960. A trumpet player, Lum had been a choral major at UH in the late 1940s, since at that time a major in instrumental music was still in the future. Lum worked quickly to increase the quality and stature of the program. By 1968, nationally acclaimed artists such as Rafael Mendez, Paul Tanner, and Doc Severinsen appeared with the Concert Band. In 1967, Lum founded the modern marching band, the first UH band also began to increase in size, and by 1972, a second Concert Band appeared in the Spring Concert alongside the first group (now called the Symphonic Band). In the late 1970s, three groups performed regularly: The Symphonic Wind Ensemble, the Symphonic Band, and the Concert Band. When Richard Lum retired, three-fourths of the public school band teachers in Hawaii had been trained under him.
Grant Okamura, also a former band director at McKinley High School, served as Director of Bands from 1985-2009, continuing and expanding on the fine traditions of the Lum era and ushering in several new directions for the UH Bands program. Under Okamura's direction, the UH Wind Ensemble traveled and performed extensively, winning wide accolades, including several invited performances at the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA) Conference. Okamura and the UH Bands served as host for the first-ever joint conference between the American Bandmasters Association and the Japan Band Directors Association in 1994.
Under the direction of Director of Bands Dr. Jeffrey Boeckman, Associate Director of Bands and Marching Band Director Dr. Gabriel Arnold, and Assistant Director Gwen Nakamura, the UH band program now boasts over 300 students playing in three concert bands, six pep bands, two jazz bands, and the marching band, which performs at eight to ten home football games each year. Pep bands now play for about forty-five basketball and volleyball games yearly. The marching band has featured local artists such as Loyal Garner, Nina Kealiiwahamana, Teresa Bright, Karen Keawehawaii, Frank DeLima, and others. The concert bands also fulfill their commitment to encouraging creation of new works for band by providing premiere performances by Hawaii composers. UH can be proud of its bands; we hope that students and teachers involved with them will continue both to bring fine band music to Hawaii and educate new generations in the knowledge, the discipline -- but also the joy -- of music making.