World class pianist Mahani Teave returned home to Easter Island to teach children. This is an extraordinary story of love, compassion and the lure of home.
As pianist Mahani Teave was poised to launch her international career, she remembered the moment when the first piano arrived on her remote island. It was 1992, she was nine years old and the instrument landed on Rapa Nui, or Easter Island as it was named by Europeans. Best known for its mysterious, sentinel-like stone statues, the island lies some 2000 miles off the coast of Chile.
"I had to go, break all the rules, and just go straight to this lady's house and see this piano," Teave told filmmaker John Forsen, who directed Song of Rapa Nui, a new documentary about the pianist and her mercurial career. Teave took her first lessons on that piano. They cemented her love for the instrument and inspired the young musician to eventually leave her island home for years of study and dreams of becoming a star soloist.
Teave's departure for the mainland, just a few months after those lessons, came at the suggestion of Roberto Bravo, a well-known pianist from Chile who visited the island and heard her play. Still just nine years old, she enrolled in the Austral University of Chile in Valdivia.
As a teenager, awards began to roll in, and after nine years, Teave went on to study in the US at Cleveland Institute of Music, before heading to Berlin to build her performing career.
But after four years in Germany, Teave began to feel the island tugging on her heart and her head. She began to think of giving up a promising career that was barely off the ground. "There was this umbilical cord connecting me to the island and saying, 'Mahani, you had all these opportunities. There are lots of other children who are waiting to have them too, and you only can do this.'"
The memories of her youthful hunger to learn music haunted her. She recalled the pain felt when good teachers appeared on the island, then suddenly left. "It would get cut off and cut off and it was breaking children's dreams over and over again," she says.
With donated land, a pair of upright pianos and crowd-sourced funding, Teave, along with her partner Enrique Icka, a construction engineer, broke ground on their Toki School of Music in 2014. From the start, they envisioned a sustainable, yet stylish building - "an earth ship in the shape of an eight-petaled flower." Eighty volunteers from around the world came to help build the structure.
In 2016, the Toki School of Music officially opened. The island's children learn more than just Mozart and Beethoven. Teave includes her island's traditional music and dance in the curriculum. "I find great joy when I see the children learning and sharing amongst each other," she says.
"And when I think of this space, it's a space we would have liked to have had as children to study. How many kids will remember this as a highlight of their youth, and maybe they'll continue on."
Teave, at age 37, may have given up a successful career as a concert pianist, but through her hard won ambition she gained something more - the satisfaction of supporting the dreams of children, hungry to learn music.