On a chilly afternoon in early December, Maite Herrera donned a hard hat, protective goggles and lime green vest so she could play piano at the under-construction I.M. Terrell Academy.
A small group of onlookers — construction workers and school district staff — smiled as they recognized the song, “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” when Herrera touched the piano keys.
“To me it feels — it just feels like something I need to do,” Herrera said. “It feels good to inspire others with my piano playing.”
The next time Herrera performs at Terrell — from the stage of the school’s 900-seat auditorium — she’ll be playing a grand piano instead of an upright piano typically used in music classrooms. And she won’t be wearing a hard hat.
The 18-year-old South Hills High School senior recently traveled to New York City to help choose a new concert grand piano for the I.M. Terrell Academy.
The school has already become part of Fort Worth’s downtown skyline near Interstate 30 and Interstate 35. The new campus will include a state-of-art building and a renovated I.M. Terrell, a historical structure that was once a school for African-American students during segregation. When classes start next fall, the academy will offer 200 freshmen specialized programs in STEM and visual performing arts. Each year, a new incoming class will be added.
The academy will also have a new $136,000 Steinway.
“Steinway is the very best you can have when it comes to a piano,” said Christina Walk, executive director of visual and performing arts for Fort Worth schools.
Walk said I.M. Terrell’s grand piano, which will be delivered in May, will be used by thousands of students “over the next 100 years.”
‘She loves to practice’
The grand piano, a Steinway D, was chosen at New York City’s Steinway & Sons, a company that has been hand crafting pianos for more than 100 years. The district purchased it with money from a 2013 bond program.
But before the district could finalize the piano purchase, they needed a student pianist to test the keyboards.
That’s how Herrera entered into the district’s piano selection process. She was chosen out of a pool of student pianists recommended by school district music teachers. The selection process included interviews with Walk and Buddy Bray, pianist with the Fort Worth Symphony.
Ethelyn Beck, a nationally certified piano teacher who has been teaching Herrera since fifth grade, said the 18-year-old performs at piano festivals. That experience helped Herrera developed keen skills when it comes to using different pianos, she said, adding this talent is important when buying a piano.
“Every piano has its own personality,” Beck said.
Beck said she is proud Herrera’s contribution will be part of the school for many years.
“I am so excited. I feel honored to be her teacher. She is such a fun, fun student,” Beck said, adding: “She loves to practice and I love to teach her.”
‘A girl who believes in herself’
Herrera’s journey to New York City was featured in Superintendent Kent Scribner’s December video message. The video weaved Herrera’s experience, the piano selection process and new school into a story called, “Miracle on Interstate 35.”
“It’s about a girl who believes in herself,” Scribner said in the video. “Big goals and dreams and things not yet seen.”
In the video, she is playing a piano at the construction site while Scribner narrates using the poem, “The Night Before Christmas.” It also shows Herrera and Bray playing pianos at Steinway & Sons.
“It was like Candy Land. I wanted to play every piano,” said Herrera, who had never been to New York City before.
Herrera’s New York City trip included a visit the piano company’s factory. She also watched a Broadway production of “Hello, Dolly!”
“This experience was great,” Herrera said, adding that she was most impressed by New York City pizza.
The district plans to produce a follow-up video of Herrera playing the grand piano when the auditorium is complete. At the next video shoot, she will likely be wearing concert attire.
Herrera said she long dreamed for piano lessons as a small child, but her family had limited resources. She was able to start when she was about 11 and hasn’t stopped practicing since then.
Herrera, who plays piano for her church choir, recently used her piano skills at South Hills High School for a Christmas concert. She also plays the flute in the marching band and wants to study nursing and minor in pinao pedagogy in college.
“Music has always been there,” she said. “It is the one thing I am good at.”