Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 18, 2004

Strike up the band for Henry Berger

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

Coswig/Anhalt, Henry Berger's hometown in Germany has discovered him. The town archivist recently uncovered new information about Berger's boyhood and there's going to be a two-day celebration on June 25 and 26 in honor of one of Hawai'i's most famous musicians.

The town fathers got up a silk streamer to put on his grave in the Kawaiaha'o Church Cemetery and Mayor Jeremy Harris will receive an ironware platter sent by the lady mayor of Coswig, Frau Berlin.

Coswig special representatives Ulf and Jane Burgmann, who live six months of the year in Kahalu'u, the other six in Berlin, made a trip to my office to make sure you have all the details.

Royal Hawaiian bandmaster Aaron Mahi, middle, helps Ulf and Jane Burgmann decorate the grave of Henry Berger in the Kawaiaha'o Church Cemetery. The Burgmanns represented Berger's hometown of Coswig, Germany, which will hold a celebration to honor the musician who arrived in Honolulu in 1872 to lead the Royal Hawaiian Band.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

As you know, Heinrich (Henry) Berger is the person who put the Royal Hawaiian Band on the map. From the moment he stepped ashore in Honolulu on June 2, 1872, the modern musical history of Hawai'i began. Legend has it that he played a piano concert the day after he arrived and gave his first band concert a week later.

So where did all this musical energy and talent come from? Here's what Karl Schmidt, director of the Coswig Town Museum, discovered in the archives:

Berger was born in Berlin on Aug. 4, 1844. His father, a revolutionary, demonstrated in favor of a new constitution. The king called out the troops. They fired into the demonstrators. Berger's father fell dead. Berger was 4 years old.

His mother took him to live with an uncle, Albert Koenig, in Coswig. This Albert Koenig turned out to be the town musician. "In his family lived not only his children ... but also the helpers," according to Schmidt. "These were musicians, (who) together with Albert Koenig, formed the town band.

"The band played at official occasions, ecclesiastical celebrations and also for societies. In these musical surroundings, Berger grew up and was already integrated as a little boy. He was talented and obviously this was great fun for him. At the age of 8 years, he could already play difficult pieces."

He also sang in the St. Nicolai Church Choir.

Next, the Koenig family sent him to become a military musician in the 2nd Infantry Regimental Band based at 107 Friedrichstrasse, Berlin. Berger served under regimental bandmaster Wilhelm Wieprecht, the famous father of German march music.

Berger played the bass tuba but also learned to play every instrument in the band. He couldn't have had a better musical education. The band toured in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. In 1871 a letter arrived from Kamehameha V of Hawai'i asking the king of Prussia to send a bandleader. Berger won the competition over 11 other musicians who were judged in all phases of music.

In Coswig in June, the Police Band of Saxony will play Berger's arrangements of "Hawaii Pono'i," the "Kalakaua March" and the "Huki March." A plaque will be placed at the music school Berger attended, and dancers from the Cook Islands will perform the hula.