About Song Contest
The Kamehameha Schools Song Contest is a time-honored tradition at Kamehameha Schools Kapālama. Held annually at the Neal Blaisdell Center, it is a choral competition between the graduating classes of the high school. Students participate as a graduation requirement, performing a cappella choral arrangements of Hawaiian songs with their entire graduating class. The program, held on a Friday evening in March, lasts about two and a half hours and features ten choral song performances and an exhibition of hula and Hawaiian music.
Each Song Contest has a designated theme that guides song selection and the hōʻike performances. A theme might focus on songs sharing a particular motif, pay tribute to a renowned Hawaiian composer, or celebrate the anniversary of an important cultural event. For example, the 2012 Song Contest celebrated the 125th anniversary of the Kamehameha Schools, while the 2011 Song Contest honored the compositions of Irmgard Farden Aluli.
With the exception of the freshmen, each class performs three pieces: a men's song, a women's song, and a co-ed song. Each song is chosen by a student director, who is elected by members of their class. Songs are chosen from a pre-selected pool of songs related to the contest theme. The director leads the class in rehearsals and conducts them in their Song Contest performance.
After being selected by a director, songs are arranged for mass choral performance. Songs that have been performed at a past Song Contest sometimes re-use the old arrangement instead.
The freshmen only perform a co-ed piece, as they must learn the "mass numbers" that the entire student body sings as part of the program, such as the state anthem, Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī, and the school song, Sons of Hawaiʻi. Incoming students are required to briefly sing in front of music department staff to assess their vocal range. Students are then assigned as sopranos, altos, tenors, or basses, and attend rehearsals for their voice part.
Students begin mandatory rehearsals in mid-January, which continue until the morning of Song Contest. Students spend about two hours a week rehearsing their songs, with extra rehearsals scheduled for the week of Song Contest. Rehearsals are conducted by music department staff, in conjunction with song directors.
The mass numbers performed during the program include:
- Hoʻonani I Ka Makua Mau, the Doxology
- Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī, the state anthem
- Kamehameha March and Kamehameha Waltz, school songs which alternate yearly
- I Mua Kamehameha, the school fight song
- Sons of Hawaiʻi, the alma mater
The program typically proceeds as follows:
- Oli Hoʻokipa: An oli hoʻokipa, or welcome chant, is performed by a student.
- Pule: A student speaker offers a pule (prayer).
- Hoʻonani I Ka Makua Mau & Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī: Student directors lead the student body in Hoʻonani I Ka Makua Mau (the Doxology) and Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī.
- A student speaker offers the ʻōlelo hoʻokipa, or introductory remarks, and introduces the judges.
- A student speaker introduces either the girls' or the boys' competition. The girls' competition is first in even years; the boys' competition in odd years. Each competition is introduced by a speaker of the opposite gender. The speaker then announces the order of performances, which is drawn at random.
- Each class' song is introduced by a student speaker. The class then performs their song.
- After the girls' and boys' competitions, a student speaker (traditionally a freshman) introduces all four co-ed songs, then announces the order.
- Each co-ed song is performed without an extra introduction.
- There is a short intermission.
- Student directors lead the student body in I Mua Kamehameha and either Kamehameha March or Kamehameha Waltz, which alternate yearly.
- The hōʻike, a narrated exhibition of mele and hula, is performed. The end of the hōʻike is usually a mass number performed by all hōʻike participants.
- A student speaker then begins the awards, introducing each award and award presenter. Each award is presented by a different person.
- After all awards are presented, the co-ed song directors collectively lead their classes in Sons of Hawaiʻi, the alma mater.
Five judges, who are prominent figures in Hawaiian music or language — including two music judges, two language judges, and an overall judge — score each performance based on certain criteria. Music judges evaluate each song's musical quality and interpretation. Language judges evaluate the pronunciation and flow of each song's use of Hawaiian language. The overall judge scores both categories. These scores are tallied to determine the winner of the six awards, which are presented after the hōʻike.
After the songs are performed but before the awards are given, student performers participate in a narrated exhibition of Hawaiian music and hula called the hōʻike. The hōʻike features live music and performances of hula ʻauana (modern-style hula) and hula kahiko (traditional-style hula). The hōʻike typically features a story that links the performances together, a medley of performances related to the contest theme, or a medley of songs from a Hawaiian composer's repertoire.
Six awards are presented to the class groups that score highest in certain categories. Three awards are given to the highest scoring men's song, women's song, and co-ed song. Two awards recognize the songs with the highest music and language scores. The final award "recognizes the student director who has made the most significant contribution to the class in organizational ability, leadership, assistance to others and persistence." In the case of ties, both groups share the award.
- Louise Aʻoe McGregor Award: Given to the student director who exhibits the strongest leadership qualities throughout the Song Contest season. This award is presented by a descendant of Louise Aʻoe McGregor, for whom the award is named.
- Richard Lyman, Jr. ʻŌlelo Makuahine Award: Given to the group whose song earned the highest Hawaiian language score. This award is presented by the Headmaster of Kamehameha Schools Kapālama.
- George Alanson Andrus Cup: Given to the men's group whose song earned the highest score. This award is presented by a vice principal.
- New England Mothers' Cup: Given to the women's group whose song earned the highest score. This award is presented by a vice principal.
- Helen Desha Beamer Award: Given to the group whose song earned the highest music score. This award is presented by a representative from one of Kamehameha Schools' regional alumni associations.
- Charles E. King Cup: Given to the co-ed group whose song earned the highest score. This award is presented by the high school principal.