Hawaiian hymns have their roots in the American psalmody brought to Hawai‘i by Calvini st missionaries. Members of the non-denominational American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) evangelized by learning the Hawaiian language, then teaching Hawaiian people to read and write, so that Hawaiians would be able to read the Bible. Practically the first Hawaiian-language book produced by the mission press, however, a mere three years after their 1820 arrival in the islands, was a hymnal with 47 hymns translated from English to Hawaiian. In 1834, a primer teaching the rudiments of reading western staff notation through Hawaiian language appeared. These and other volumes that went through multiple editions stand as evidence of the popularity of hymns, and the widespread ability among Hawaiians to read western staff notation. Why else, after all, would the missionaries have produced thousands of copies of each edition?
In an academic article published in 1996 titled “Beyond Bibliography: Interpreting Hawaiian Language Hymn Imprints,” I analyzed the corpus of hymns used by the ABCFM missionaries and their modern-day successors, the United Church of Christ. My analysis revealed that the hymns went through two different repertoires. The repertoire introduced by the very first parties of missionaries to arrive in the Hawaiian Islands were hymn and psalm texts that could be sung using a mix-and-match system of tunes. Through tunebooks published in 1834 and 1844, the names of tunes are key to identifying the specific musical repertoire that missionaries introduced.
Around mid-century, however, a new style of hymns came into vogue. These hymns, which were widely referred to as “gospel hymns,” used a format of multiple verses alternating with a chorus refrain.These hymns were gained popularity through their use in revival meetings across the United States continent, and came to Hawai‘i particularly through the championing of Reverend Lorenzo Lyons. This body of hymnody has virtually replaced the earlier hymns. In the 1970s Jack de Mello produced an LP of the earlier repertoire, sung by Nina Keali‘iwahamana and accompanied by light orchestration; other than that, listeners have had little opportunity to encounter the earlier repertoire, as the later repertoire has dominated the hymnals since.
To the playlist:
1. “Pohaku Kahiko.” This selection is representation of the earlier wave of hymnody introduced by the earliest parties of missionaries, beginning in 1820. There are three stanzas, each sung to the same tune. In the 1844 tunebook, this hymn text is paired with the tune “Zadoc.” The performance here is by The Rose Ensemble, a professional a capella vocal ensemble based in St. Paul, Minnesota. Extensive historical research was combined with close attention to linguistic elements of pronunciation.
2. “Nu ‘Oli / Glad Tidings.” Bishop Memorial Singers. Nā Leo Hawai‘i Kahiko / Voices of Old Hawai‘i. Bishop Museum Audio-Recording Collections ARCS-1; reissued on CD as The Master Chanters of Hawai‘i (Mountain Apple MACD-2043). In contrast to the first selection, this himeni alternates between a chorus with one tune, and multiple stanzas having a different tune. First published in the 1878 tunebook Ka Lei Alii, it has been included in every edition of the hymnal through the most recent, Nā Himeni o Ka Ekalesia (1999).
3. “Nu ‘Oli / Glad Tidings.” Eddie Kamae and the Sons of Hawaii, Christmas Time (Hawaii Sons HS-4004). This is an example of a Christian himeni moving into the guitar-based performance style associated with secular (non-Christian) Hawaiian songs. Is this an example of how Hawaiian people had embraced Christianity such that himeni could be sung outside of chuch as well as during worship? In other words, is this a case of himeni crossing the sacred/secular line? Or is this an example of Hawaiian musicians crossing the sacred/secular line, by taking himeni outside the church? Or is this an example where the analytical line between sacred and secular is not meaningful to musicians and audiences?
4. “Maika‘i e launa me ‘oe,” performed by Kawaiola. Ho‘oheno i ka Pu‘uwai (MDL 6429). Another example of a Christian himeni, published in 20th-century hymnals, appeared in the repertoire of a group of young adults in the 1980s.
5 and 6. “Hawai‘i Aloha,” performed by The Kawaiahao Church Choir. Hawaii Aloha (Mahalo MS-4008). This himeni was composed by Rev. Lorenzo Lyons, and has always been a longtime favorite among Hawaiian churches. In the 1970s, Hawaiian groups began singing this himeni publicly at the conclusion of public gatherings, and the himeni has since gathered the status of an anthem. The Kawaiahao Church Choir recorded the song as widely performed–verse one, chorus, and repeat chorus. Anyone who would like to learn to sing the second and third stanzas may refer to The Rose Ensemble, who recorded the himeni in its entirety.