“Take Note: Gifted young pianists head for prestigious competition in New York”
June 16, 2008
By Nancy Arcayna

T.J. Keanu Tario spends his Sunday afternoons tickling the ivories at local retirement homes.

It’s a really good feeling when I play for the elderly because they really appreciate my playing, even if I make mistakes,” he said. “After I finish playing for them, I just feel very warm inside. It feels very rewarding.”

All that extra practice, along with formal lessons with Ellen Masaki, have landed 14-year-old T.J. a spot in the New York Piano Competition next week. He is one of just 22 teens, ages 14 to 18, selected to compete nationwide at the Manhattan School of Music. The Kamehameha School student is also one of just two students chosen to represent the United States in the Piano-E-lnternational Competition in early July.

The road to such accomplishment is hard fought. T.J. began studying piano at age 5. When I had school, on the weekdays I tried to fit in three to four hours a day of piano, and on the weekend, maybe five or six hours…But now that school is finished, I try to practice eight to 10 hours a day.”

Tario has big dreams for a career in music. “I hope to become the first part-Hawaiian classically trained pianist to one day play at Carnegie Hall, go to Juilliard School and compose a symphony, concerto or opera that best represents Hawaii. And, to share my music with the world.”

Maile Cha, 17, another of Masaki’s students, will be competing alongside T.J. in New York. “They have high standards for the competition,” Masaki said. “lt’s extremely difficult to be selected. You need to be very exceptional.”

Maile already has a long record of achievement. At age 14 she performed a Mozart piano concerto with the Honolulu Symphony. She won first place in the Music Teachers National Association Senior Performance competition twice, and recently appeared on the public radio “From the Top” program, in a five piano ensemble with other students from Masaki’s studio.

Maile became serious about piano when she began working with Masaki at age 8. As a home-schooled student, she has more time to practice, Maile said, and has great freedom to travel. “Last year I attended the Seoul International Music Festival and Academy in Korea. I was selected to perform in an honors recital before a large audience. It was interesting to compare myself to other kids participating there. The Korean kids are very good musicians.” Cha is juggling career choices of music and medicine. Even if I pursue medicine, I’m planning to continue with music as well. I simply want to go as far as I can, learn as much as I can and enjoy my music in the process.”