UH band marches to a new beat with local director

By Kelli Miura

The University of Hawaiʻi Rainbow Marching Band has a new leader — a local, UH almnus who has returned to the same position he held over 20 years ago.

It’s really nice to work with some of the same directors and a very capable and enthusiastic student staff, said Keith Higaki, the new associate director of bands. Leading the 220-member marching band is familiar to Higaki, 49, who served as director from 1983 to 1989. His role now includes being a music professor, which requires him to teach music major courses, such as conducting.

New associate band director Keith Higaki directs the band during summer band camp.

Local style

After receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education from UH, Higaki taught at various schools on Oʻahu and brings nearly 30 years of teaching experience to the program. Higaki is a Castle High School graduate and is the final touch to a now all-local band faculty. The marching band’s last two directors, Dan Kalantarian (2003-2005) and Brandt Payne (2005-2008), took over after the departure of Thomas Bingham in 2003 and were both from the Mainland.

“There’s a link, and I feel there’s just a closeness to the band family on the island,” Higaki explained. He said he believes he has a connection with local students and directors and that it's important for him to work with Hawaiçi students, who he has knowledge of and experience. His career includes teaching band at Kaimuki High School, Kalani High School and most recently, Punahou School. He was also president of the Oahu Band Directors Association, which made him familiar with many of the band directors in the state.

“I think when I go around recruiting, I can relate to the students,” he said, noting that many marching band members remembered him when he was named their new director. “I think that’s good if they recognize me – they feel comfortable with that. I think that would be a good, positive recruiting asset.”

Band members said Higaki’s "local style" creates a connection with his students, which helps them to relate to each other.

Back to basics

Higaki works with the tuba section during the marching band's seven-day camp.

Marching band students had to learn slightly new basic skills in this year’s seven-day camp, which took place the week before fall semester began, to incorporate Higaki’s concepts and style.

“I’m trying to bring in a little bit more sharpness and snappiness in the marching to match the kind of drill work that we’re going to do,” Higaki explained. But, time is one of the biggest challenges for the marching band, which meets as a regular, one-credit course on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 3:15 to 5:45 p.m.

“My philosophy in designing shows is I want to make it challenging and visually interesting enough and highly teachable because we have time limitations between our shows,” said Higaki, who choreographs the band’s shows on a self-designed computer program called MicroChart2000.

But, Higaki knows there is also the need to appeal to the band’s audience. UH football fans want to be entertained and are different from people who attend marching band competitions to look for the latest tech and design concepts, Higaki said. The audience wants to have a good time and see the band play something they recognize. They also respond to shapes like the “U” and “H” that the band forms during its pregame show, he said.

Band members speak up

“Mr. Higaki is quite personable and will take the time to address his students,” said senior trumpeter Chris Adachi. “He seems to keep his cool and he is trying to put more of a collegiate feel back into the band.”

Adachi said changes in leadership pose several problems because the band is unable to settle down because marching and teaching styles vary with each new director. Although he would prefer to a different style of marching, Adachi said Higaki has taught the band well and that his way represents one of the more collegiate styles.

Drum major Marcus O’Connell said adapting to a different marching style every time the director changed was a problem, but that it helped the band to use the good points of every style and apply them to the one used today.

“I think Mr. Higaki is a good director and a great person to work with,” said O’Connell, who has worked with four directors throughout his seven-year marching band career at UH. “He is always open to suggestions from his students and works well with his staff.” Higaki has a great understanding of the UH band and how it is run, especially since he has been in this position in the past, O’Connell said.

Season prospective

The band’s second halftime show of the season set for Sept. 27 will feature selections from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Higaki described the show’s design as “very simple” as opposed to some of the intricate kaleidoscopic movements done by corps-style bands.

“When the trumpets have the melody, they’re up in the front and they’re coming towards you and hopefully you get chicken skin just because the sound is coming at you like that,” Higaki said. “They’re just coming straight at you and then they go off to the sides and another section might be coming towards you if they have the melody, and then we make some other interesting designs.”

The band feels additional excitement this year with new head football coach Greg McMackin, who spoke to the band during camp about its involvement in games. At his request, the band will play “Hawaii 5-0” outside the tunnel as the team runs out before kickoff.

“We hope that this will bring back a lot more of that collegiate feel and just more of that rah-rah – that college atmosphere,” Higaki said.


Click here to view photos of the 2008 University of Hawaiʻi Rainbow Marching Band and listen to an interview with band director Keith Higaki.


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