Wai Wai piano set for tune-up
-British team giving medical care

Stabroek News
November 17, 2002

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A British team which includes three piano tuners led by retired British Colonel John Blashford-Snell is currently in the deep South Rupununi visiting the remote Wai-Wai tribe.

This is not the first trip for the eleven-member team as two years ago they transported a grand piano to the tribe's village of Masakenari after leaders had seen a picture of one in a magazine. Team member and lawyer, James Orme, said that apart from tuning the piano the objective of the two-week mission was to advise the community on the establishment of a research centre for forest conservation and development.

The team also includes dentists and medical practitioners who will treat and advise residents on health care issues. They are bringing along medical equipment and medicines.

Blashford-Snell had some years ago, prior to taking the piano to the deep South, led a Raleigh International Expedition to the Wai-Wai community then at Konashen. On that occasion he had taken on the challenge of taking a piano to the community at the request of Elijah, the chief priest of the Wai-Wais.

The village was subsequently flooded out and the 200 residents moved to higher ground at Masakenari where they now live. Blashford-Snell told the BBC's World Today on Wednesday that he was leading the team to the Wai-Wai community in order to re-tune the piano.

Blashford-Snell said when the request was made he did not think that the Wai-Wais would ever be able to play it but after Elijah had remarked that the tribe were a musical people and that God moved in mysterious ways, he took up the challenge.

Blashford-Snell, who is the founder of the Scientific Exploration Society which has organised the current trip, secured the donated piano and had it air-freighted via BWIA to Guyana.

After transporting it by light aircraft from Georgetown to Gunns Strip, Blashford-Snell used a mahogany sledge made in the city to drag the piano through the savannahs to a big river where it was placed in a large dug-out canoe and taken upstream to the new village. The piano has been placed in the village church.

The BBC World Today quoted Blashford-Snell as saying that within 10 minutes after the piano was taken out of the crate, the Wai-Wais began playing it, "because they are naturally musical people - they have tremendous rhythm."

Though tired from their journey from London, Blashford-Snell said the piano tuners were "up for the challenge."

He has brought along a keyboard on the current trip, which he said could make future trips for piano tuners unnecessary while still allowing the people to enjoy their music.

He said he was also working on a pedal-powered electrical generator and trying to "build some sort of treadmill so that the (Wai-Wais) can get on this and pound round whilst their piano plays tunes in the church."

In May this year, Guyanese culturalist, Dr Michael Gilkes after seeing a television documentary on the grand piano went to Masakenari in the company of accomplished Guyanese pianist, Ray Luck, with the help of Major General (rtd) Joe Singh.

Finding that the piano was still in good shape but basically a `white elephant,' Luck together with members of the community, who obtained some on-the-spot training took apart the piano and repaired and replaced broken pieces. They also taught the Wai-Wais how to tune the instrument.

Dr Gilkes told of two young men in the village being very good at playing.

During the visit Luck also taught some of the young people to play and Dr Gilkes began to make a film on Guyana titled

The Heartland in which the piano is featured in a segment called `Concert in the Rainforest.' (Miranda La Rose)

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