By Bob Krauss
Today I will tell you a story about a pipe organ on which Queen Lili'uokalani learned to play from a sailor who liked gin too much. The congregation cooperated to keep him sober long enough to teach her.
This was the first pipe organ in Honolulu. It came around Cape Horn in 1863. "Hundreds of people were at the wharf to meet the organ when it arrived," reported the Pacific Commercial Advertiser in a story that appeared on Aug. 2, 1901. "As workmen put it together, they were surrounded by throngs of the curious."
The organ had been ordered after much deliberation by the members of Kawaiaha'o Church to replace the melodian that preceded it. The reason for deliberating so long was that nobody in the Hawaiian Islands knew how to play a pipe organ.
Contributors gave money on condition that some of it be spent to purchase a smaller organ that was easier to play.
It appears that the new pipe organ may have been a silent spectator at its dedication on Christmas Day. The Advertiser reported, "The big, stone church was packed to overflowing, the ceremony being very impressive, King Kamehameha V and all the great dignitaries of the day being present."
According to The Advertiser, soon after the dedication, a sailor off a whaling vessel landed at Honolulu. His name was Hart and he drank too much of what you could buy in square bottles.
"When it was discovered that he could play the church organ, he was immediately in great demand," The Advertiser wrote. "The entire congregation joined efforts to keep him sober long enough to teach pupils."
One of the pupils was a talented young lady named Lili'uokalani who became church organist for a while. She made the pipe organ peal mournfully for funeral dirges and in joyful tones for wedding marches and baptisms.
The only organist better than Lili'uokalani was Lizzie Kapohi, who played for services after Lili'uokalani got too busy being queen. Lizzie played for many years, according to this very informative article. Henry Berger, leader of the Royal Hawaiian Band, played the organ for a while.
Then came A.T. Atkinson, after Kawaiaha'o stole him away from St. Andrew's Cathedral. He later became superintendent of schools. Other organists followed.
The organ was played for the funerals of King Lunalilo, Queen Emma, Queen Dowager Kapi'olani and Princess Kaiulani. Over the years, it received hard usage. Rats got inside and chewed it up. A fire almost gutted it. But somebody always put it together again.
After 37 years of splendid service, it was retired for a new organ. But the congregation loved it so much, they didn't want to throw it away. So they painted it white and gold and gave it to the Mother Rice chapel, later a kindergarten.
Reach Bob Krauss at 525-8073.