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Young pianist is passing on her passion

When students learn young, they become the best. When they learn from a gifted teacher, they outdo themselves.

Mahari Conston, 16, is a talented pianist who has brought in-home piano lessons for affordable prices to the south Charlotte area - but she's also bringing more.

"I'm bringing a greater appreciation to classical music," she said.

Conston also found her passion for teaching through music.

"When I was 13, I baby-sat at a neighbor's house," she said. "We were bored, and from that moment I started teaching the girl how to play the piano."

Instead of hanging out with friends on weekends, Conston has found excitement in dedicating her Saturdays to teaching piano lessons to residents near her Arboretum home.

"When I was in elementary school, we would go to music class once a week, and that wasn't enough," Conston said.

Conston started playing piano at 6 years old.

"I learned everything I know about music by playing the piano, and that's what I'm doing for the kids that I teach," she said.

Her students' ages range from 6 to 9; the primary requirement is that the child can read, said Conston.

"We have one Christmas recital per year, held at my church. Each student performs two Christmas songs and one general song," she said.

The recital pieces include "Jingle Bells," "Carol of the Bells," "Oh, Holy Night" and pieces from "Mary Poppins" and "The Lion King."

"In order to play pop music and R&B music, you have to learn classical music, and you have to start young," said Conston.

Conston charges $8 for 30 minutes - roughly a third of what some others run. She holds private lessons Monday through Friday, 5:30 p.m.-8 p.m., and Saturday 8 a.m.-1 p.m.

In addition to teaching, Conston performs at birthday parties and at Providence United Methodist, Covenant Presbyterian and St. Mark's.

Conston's piano playing has won her awards with the Student Musician Certification Program from 2004-2007. In 2008, she was awarded the rank of No. 1 soprano in North Carolina for her choir performances at Providence Day School, where she attends 11th grade.

Conston performed for years with the Charlotte Children's Choir, the Choir School of St. Peters and the North Carolina Honors Choir.

Today, she performs both with Providence Day and Providence United Methodist Church Choir.

Marcia Conston said she noticed her daughter was gifted when Mahari was 7.

"I knew she was talented. ... I went out and invested my money into buying her a piano," she said.

"As her parents, we don't push her into being something she doesn't want to be," Marcia said. "We support and encourage her in a very positive way."

Catherine Newman is a neighborhood parent whose daughter Meredith Newman, 8, has received lessons from Conston for two years.

"My daughter knew her as a fun person around the neighborhood, but once she saw other kids walking to her home for lessons, that got her going, and she has enjoyed playing."

Conston "is an incredibly talented pianist who is very dedicated to these children," Newman said.

"My goal is to attend college and pursue music, then become an internationally renowned performer," said Conston; however, "I will always share my gift of music with young people through teaching and mentoring."

And she has some advice for others who have the same drive to pursue music.

"Go out there and just do it," she said. "Take lessons, learn the technique, practice, stick with it, and if you have a concern, tell your teacher."

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