The Hawaii County Band, a 127-year-old institution on the Big Island, has been singled out for elimination in the county budget, expected to be unveiled on Monday. The news was announced tonight to stunned musicians and volunteers by Bob Fitzgerald and Clayton Honma, director and deputy director of the county parks department.
Budget cuts are hardly uncommon given the current economic landscape, but this cut lands painfully close to heart of the Big Island’s cultural and artistic identity. The Hawaii County Band’s 40 or so members and numerous volunteers are a fixture at community events, from parades to veterans’ ceremonies and funerals, in addition to monthly free concerts for residents and visitors alike.
The move is akin to attempts to extinguish the 174-year-old Royal Hawaiian Band here in Honolulu, a proposal that was met with fierce opposition and a surge of public support. Now, Big Island musicians are hoping for a similar outcry, even though Honma and Fitzgerald apparently told the band that their decision was final.
Band members note that their programs are also one of the last beacons of hope for music students in Hawaii county, given that arts in education funding has long been scarce. Teachers work with, and bring students to, the Hawaii County Band, as it affords a rare opportunity for real-world experience in performing and collaborating.
Perhaps most galling to the musicians, the band was not offered a reduction in size or salaries, or furloughs, like other county programs. It’s an outright slashing of the entire program, and apparently the only program with such a dire fate in the forthcoming budget.
“We’re the only ‘county employees’ laid off ‘as of now,’ tweeted band member Sandra Sato. “127 years of Hawaii’s history, gone.”
And what does the county get for this move? Savings of about $360,000… or about one percent of its total budget.
“I can’t believe a 127-year-old tradition, a part of our community’s soul, isn’t worth one percent,” another musician told me tonight.
Since the budget won’t be introduced until Monday, band members and volunteers hope they can get the word out and find enough support in the community to save the program, or at least find a less drastic fate. As a guy who’s always had a soft spot for high school music and band programs, I’m happy to back them up. I hope I’m not alone.