A Retrospective Glance at Anniversaries Significant to Music at UHM

by Barbara B. Smith, Professor Emerita

The year 2007 marks not only the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Centennial and the Music Department’s 60th anniversary, but also some other five- and ten-year milestones significant to the place of music on this campus. The University’s first choral group, an extracurricular men’s glee club, was organized 90 years ago; its first offering of a credit course in music, band, 80 years ago; and its first professor of music appointed 70 years ago. It was Dorothy Kahananui’s teaching of music methods for elementary schools—from the early 1920s in the Territorial Normal School, following its merger in 1931 in the UH College of Education, and after its establishment in the Music Department until 1960 when she retired—that bridged the pre– and post-World War II activities in music. The University’s naming the Music Education Wing for her is significant not only to the Music Department, but to the entire campus, being the first—and to date the only—building to bear the name of a native Hawaiian member of its faculty.

In 1947 music was established as a department in the College of Arts and Sciences to meet the needs of both recent local high-school graduates and the Territory’s young men returning from service in World War II who wanted to study music at the college level but could not afford to go “to the States” do so. However because filling the need for music teachers in the Territory’s public high schools offered the most reliable source of post-collegiate employment, the majority of the earliest students who chose music as their focus enrolled in the College of Education with music as their teaching field, while others—especially those aspiring to a singing career in Waikiki or on Broadway, or in teaching piano—pursued the new BA in Music.

Choral music – initially the large chorus, the select choir that before the end of the 1950s had toured Maui, the Big Island and Japan as well as it and its members having been central to the department’s first production of a Broadway musical show and an opera, and more recently with the Hawaiian Chorus that celebrates its 35th anniversary this year—holds a prominent place in the Department’s program. Band music is another prominent component—both the marching and concert bands having received national attention beginning in the 1960s. Performance of orchestral music developed later because, initially there were too few performers of the violin family available—opportunity to learn to play these instruments having been negligible in the Territory. Indonesian gamelan music, the department’s fourth large ensemble performance tradition, was also a later addition.

In response to recognition that many of the department’s students—almost all of whom were of Hawaiian or Asian ancestries or mixtures thereof—felt ashamed of their identity because they were learning only Western music and ideas, a period of research and study of the traditional musical heritages of these students led to the introduction of a course on traditional Asian music 50 years ago. Although courses on Asian philosophy, history and the graphic arts were already well established at UH and some universities elsewhere, it was one of the first courses on Asian music offered in any American university and quickly led to development of additional courses in and about Asian and Hawaiian music and dance, establishing the University’s reputation as having one of the nation’s first programs in the then emerging field of ethnomusicology.

Also in 1957, a festival of 20th century music and art was initiated at the Punahou School which moved two years later to the University where, beginning 45 years ago, through co-sponsorship by the East-West Center’s Institute for Advanced Projects it brought distinguished composers—one Asian and one American—to campus each year as Visiting Artists in Residence and commissioned them to compose new works. The festival not only increased opportunities for performance of new works by faculty and students, but also greatly expanded both the Department’s and the community’s interest in contemporary music—including that of both of these geo-cultural areas—recently becoming a special focus of the Department’s offerings in music theory and composition.

As the department grew and developed, the MA degree in music proposed in 1960 became fully operational 45 years ago. Up to that time the department’s student enrollment had been largely of local students, except for post-Statehood summer sessions that had attracted many students from other parts of the country. Since then it quickly became more international as a result of the establishment of the East-West Center, whose Institute for Student Exchange funded both graduate and undergraduate students from Asia to study either Western or Asian music, and American graduate students to earn the MA in Ethnomusicology. The year 2007 also marks the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the PhD degree in Music.

Initially housed in an abandoned army building with no sound proofing, it took 12 years for the Department to get an appropriately designed building constructed for music classes, studios and practice rooms. Then 45 years ago its physical facilities were expanded through a wonderful gift—the first and to date the campus’ only building funded entirely by a donation of a single person—from the husband of a former opera singer, of the auditorium that bears her name, Mae Zenke Orvis. With additional wings added later, its present seven-building complex includes specialized facilities for band, electronic music, gamelan and Hawaiian performance.

This glance at events that occurred at five– and ten-year intervals from before and after the Music Department’s establishment 60 years ago, although not inclusive of all significant aspects of its history, offers a brief time-lapsed view of its development of a multi-cultural and multi-faceted curriculum in service to its students and contribution to the community of Hawai‘i, as well as to national and international fields of music study and research since the University of Hawai‘i was founded a century ago.


UHM Music Department Celebrates Fiftieth Anniversary

by Dale E. Hall, Professor of Musicology, ret.
(Originally published in the Friends of Music Newsletter, 1997)

The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Music Department (UHM) dates its founding from the establishment of a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in music in the College of Arts and Sciences in 1947. However, music courses had been taught at the University of Hawai‘i (UH) before this time. Men’s and women’s choruses were organized as extracurricular activities before 1920. A drum and bugle corps, the ancestor of the present-day bands at UHM, was organized during the 1923-24 academic year. Dorothy Kahananui and the composer Fritz Hart were two distinguished faculty members who taught at UH before the Music Department was established. Mrs. Kahananui began teaching at the Normal School, a forerunner of the School of Education, in 1923; she continued to teach at UH up to her retirement in 1960. Hart taught at UH from 1937 to 1942.

Norman Rian, who arrived to teach at UH in 1946, served on the music faculty at the Mānoa campus to 1968. He recalled his discouragement at the makeshift music rooms in use when he came, rooms far inferior to similar facilities in Honolulu’s high schools at that time. He located a surplus army building in 1947 and had it moved on campus to serve as a home for a Music Department. A new music complex constructed during 1958–59 at a cost of $285,000 attested to the growing importance of music at the University. It included faculty offices and studios, practice rooms, and a large choir rehearsal room. Faculty and students moved in late in 1959. Three years later Mae Zenke Orvis Auditorium was opened, a $180,000 building seating 409 and named for the wife of the donor, Dr. Arthur E. Orvis, a retired New York stockbroker and philanthropist.

UHM was one of the first institutions in the U. S. to include courses in non-Western music in its curriculum. Barbara Smith, who joined the music faculty in 1949 as a teacher of piano and music theory, became interested in ethnic musics because of her students’ diverse cultural backgrounds. She collaborated with the late Dorothy Kahananui Gillett in devising Pacific and Asian Music in Education, a course first given during the 1959 summer session. Through her pioneering work, UHM became a leader among U. S. institutions in offering courses in the musics of other cultures, especially those of Asia and the Pacific area.

Smith and Gillett brought bearers of the traditions of the appropriate cultures to their classes. In the years that followed, many of these visitors were appointed as lecturers to teach their specializations. The Music Department soon won national and international recognition for its integration of multiculturalism into the training of teachers. Smith encouraged her students to become performers in the music of Asia and the Pacific, becoming herself a role model by taking up the Japanese koto in 1955. “Getting inside the music” another culture was also illustrated in the $10,000 purchase in 1970 of a Javanese gamelan (percussion ensemble) of twenty-five pieces. Javanese musician and ethnomusicologist Hardja Susilo was appointed ensemble director.

Meanwhile, new kinds of Western music were also being heard on the UHM campus. The late Marian Kerr started a Festival of the Arts of This Century at Punahou School in 1957. She moved to UHM as full-time faculty in 1959 and brought the Festival with her. From then until her 1972 retirement, the Festival was a major showcase for 20th-century music of U. S. and Asian composers. Altogether, the Festival presented 473 compositions, 100 of them world premieres, by 234 contemporary composers of twenty different nationalities. In the 1960s the Department created a small studio for the production of electronic music. Pianist Peter Coraggio and his students produced compositions in the new medium.

Armand Russell, Allen Trubitt, and Neil McKay, who joined the faculty in 1961, 1964, and 1965 respectively, contributed greatly to the growing reputation of the Department through their compositions, many of which were premiered locally. All three men have retired in recent years. Russell chaired the Department from 1965 to 1972 and was a key figure in securing accreditation through the National Association of Schools of Music and in the construction of the Dorothy Kahananui wing of the Music complex, completed in 1975.

By 1962–63, Master of Arts degrees had been established with concentrations in ethnomusicology and musicology and a Master of Fine Arts in composition and performance (the MFA degree was later changed to a Master of Music). Dance ethnology (1968) and music theory (1970) were added to MA fields.

When the Music Department started to expand in the late 1940s about ten students were majoring in music; by 1958 the number had risen to sixty; in 1978–79 the number had risen to 272, probably an all-time high. Enrollment fell during the 1980s, just as it did at most U. S. universities. It stood at about 200 during Spring Semester, 1997, including about fifty graduate students.

In 1992, the Board of Regents approved the Ph.D. program in music. Allen Trubitt and former Dean of Arts and Humanities Robert Hines played an important role in getting it adopted. Its heavy emphasis on ethnomusicology and research in cross-disciplinary areas of music, dance, drama, and Asian and Pacific studies reinforced the UH commitment to its historic role as a bridge between East and West. As of Spring, 1997 the Department had a total of seventeen doctoral students in the areas of ethnomusicology, musicology, music education, and composition.

The budget for the Music Department has unfortunately been curtailed during the last few years, as have budgets of all University departments. In this climate of austerity, we can only look forward to the coming of better economic conditions and continue to make what contributions we can to the musical community.