Arts & Entertainment

Acclaimed Easter Island pianist struggling to keep music school afloat

By Javier Martin

Easter Island, Chile, Dec 1 (EFE).- Mahani Teave, a classical pianist of Rapa Nui descent whose debut album captivated listeners worldwide and reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Traditional Classical chart, now is doing her utmost to ensure the survival of her dream project: an eco-friendly music school that she launched a decade ago on Chile’s Easter Island.

The 39-year-old Teave, who was born in the US state of Hawaii and spent her early years on Easter Island, where she was first introduced to the piano, is the daughter of an American mother and a Rapa Nui father.

As a young girl, Teave began studying her instrument under the tutelage of a retired German violinist and music teacher and also was inspired by Chilean concert pianist Roberto Bravo, who heard her play during a visit to the island and recognized her talent.

Bravo later helped sponsor the family’s move from that remote Polynesian island in the South Pacific, where cultural opportunities were scarce, to mainland Chile.

She began to study at the Austral University of Chile’s Music Conservatory in the central city of Valdivia and later earned a Master of Music degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music in the US state of Ohio.

In 2011, Teave returned to Easter Island to establish a School of Music and the Arts that would provide free instruction to children and adolescents.

The challenge has been daunting.

At the outset, funds and instruments were sorely lacking and few piano teachers were willing to relocate from the Chilean mainland to a windswept piece of paradise located nearly five hours by plane from Santiago and one of the most isolated inhabited spots on Earth.

The dream only began to take shape two years later, after she had co-founded the non-governmental organization Toki Rapa Nui and raised funds from different sponsors, including emergency community assistance organization Desafia Levantemos Chile, Chilean telecommunications company Entel, the Municipality of Easter Island and others.

The building housing the school is the creation of architect Michael Reynolds and was constructed with 12 tons of recycled plastic, 12 tons of cardboard, 2,500 discarded tires, 40,000 tin cans, 25,000 glass bottles and other waste that had accumulated over a period of six years on the island.

It uses solar panels to generate electricity, catches and stores large amounts of rain water and has a system to clean up sewage, according to Toki Rapa Nui’s website.

“I think the greatest challenge is being able to combine our original dream, which was to give free classes to all, with the reality of maintaining a place without having stable financial support,” Teave, whose debut album, Rapa Nui Odyssey, soared to No. 1 on the Billboard Traditional Classical Chart in March 2021, said in an interview with Efe.

The financial situation eventually became so tenuous that Toki Rapa Nui had to start asking the students’ parents for money last year.

“I think that was the biggest shock for us because we (provided) eight years of free classes in which our team practically didn’t sleep to keep it going, applying for projects, knocking on doors, looking for sponsors,” Teave explained.

The pianist said her greatest concern is how to ensure the project survives and continues to provide benefits to the local population far into the future, even after her own death.

The school also provides instruction in the Rapa Nui language and Easter Island traditions, as well as training in recycling and other subjects aimed at preparing youth for the challenges of the 21st century.

“These kids are the ones who are going to have to make decisions that we never even imagined. Our work today is to make it possible for them to have a good foundation, to be human beings who can express themselves,” Teave said.

“And, yes, if music is the path for them to do that, wonderful. But it’s not only a music school. It’s a school for life that also strives to recover local traditions,” she added.

“We’ve (carried out the project) with a lot of care, with lots and lots of dedication and because we believe in these children, because we need kids who develop their potential, their talents, who have good self-esteem, who believe in their values,” the pianist said. EFE

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