Mari A. Funabashi is proof that you can take the woman out of Ahwatukee, but you can’t take Ahwatukee out of the woman.
Even if you’re a musician, composer and conductor who has lived around the world since sophomore year of high school.
A 2017 graduate with honors from Columbia University in New York City, the 24-year-old daughter of Chang Lin of Ahwatukee and the late Kazuto Funabashi, recently picked up her masters of screen composition from the prestigious Royal College of Music in London, where she is still living.
Yet, South Mountain and the streets of Ahwatukee are never far from her heart.
“No matter what, it’s always home,” she said, adding she recalls her parents telling her what Ahwatukee was like when they moved here 30 years ago.
Mari left the nest at a relatively early age.
After her freshman year at Desert Vista High School, she spent the next three years at the Phillips Academy Andover in Massachusetts on a full-ride Arizona-Torrey Bicentennial Scholarship.
“In all honestly, the experience was very difficult and challenging in so many ways — being away from home at such a young age — but it prepared me for a lot of things later on.”
“Later on” was four years in New York City, where she flourished academically and musically.
She was a two-time Richard Rapaport Named Scholar, a recipient of the Andreas Cortes-Comerer Senior Music Prize and received the Derek Bermel Director’s Award for Commitment and Achievement.
Spending four years with the New York Youth Symphony Composition Program under Dr. Kyle Blaha of Juilliard, Mari in 2015 got a Columbia University Rapaport Summer Music Fellowship and the next year she interned for the Music & Soundtracks Department headed by Mitchell Leib at Walt Disney Studios, where she also was part of a film-scoring workshop.
At Columbia, Mari also was the music director and conductor of the Columbia Pops Orchestra, arranging and performing major films scores.
Music has been in her veins since she was 3.
“Piano was my first, I began at age 3 at the Yamaha School of Music in Mesa. To this day I find that whenever I’m musically stuck, I return to the piano. I think as your first instrument the touch, the sound, the familiar comfort — somehow brings an emotional calm that translates into a useful creative freedom.”
She didn’t stop with the ivories.
“I’ve been very fortunate and privileged to have parents who so highly valued my music education. I took lessons in piano, guitar, flute and pipe organ when I was younger, then additionally learned the French horn and clarinet later on.”
Yet, she rates herself as “really only good at piano, guitar and pipe organ.”
Mari, whose sister, Naomi works in Los Angeles and is the author the Pink Elephant children’s book series, attributes her musical drive to her late father.
“My dad was a huge classical music fan,” she said. “I don’t recall a time when music wasn’t in the house. We had a lovely piano that he played on — he was self-taught and didn’t read music well, but I’ll always remember the sheer enjoyment and pride he got from just playing on the keys.”
“I feel so lucky and blessed to be able to have had a musical upbringing like that,” she added. “I don’t take it granted for a second. I hope that one day every child will get to have moments and memories like this.”
In London, Mari has composed for numerous films, working with directors from all around the world.
In February, her film “Just Josie” won Best Drama at the Royal Television Society London Student Awards 2019.
Mari has experience conducting, leading, and producing recording sessions, having recorded at the Belle Shenkman Studio and Air Edel Studios.
Her master’s degree is specifically for film composition — “which was always my dream,” she said.
“It was really exciting to study a course that was so specifically tailored to my interests, and I’ve really appreciated and enjoyed my time here at the Royal College of Music,” she added.
“It’s been completely amazing,” she added. “I’ve learned so much and really felt like I’ve developed as a musician and a person. London is such a great city, it’s the perfect mix of that metropolitan atmosphere, and quiet, calm greenery. The public transport system is incredible, it’s pretty easy to get from place-to-place.
“In just an hour you can go from the heart of the city to the gorgeous British countryside. Nature has always been extremely important to me, so I think that’s why I’ve felt more at home in London than I ever did in New York City.”
And she’s no wallflower when it comes to nature.
A certified open water scuba diver, Mari also is a triathlete and recently completed two half Ironman competitions that included 56 miles of cycling, a 13 mile run and 1,900-meter swim.
A member of the National Audubon Society and the World Wildlife Fund, Funabashi, she said she “enjoys bird-watching and traveling to new places to race.”
But music — specifically conducting — remains her number one love.
“I’m a composer first and foremost. I love to create and film music is my most important passion,” she said.
“I think conducting is particularly important because it forces you to really study and understand music on a deep level. You bond with the orchestra and have the intimate understanding of the piece that you’re conducting, so to give someone’s piece of music that attention, it’s both really educational and inspiring.”
“Music makes the world a better place. It makes us human, finds us at our most venerable and lifts us up so we can tackle anything that life throws at us,” added Mari, who is now largely doing scores or re-scoring for films.
Her recent score for a film called “Dry Lights” is a soothing yet scintillating piece about a “fantasy desert” that echoes her continued love for the desert that she lives so far away from.
Her work takes her to different places, sometimes her makeshift studio and other times with directors or in a professional recording setting.
“There is a ton of variation, and I think that’s what makes my job so fun and keeps me interested and on my toes,” she said.
She hopes to remain in London and secure “a little studio and a few solid relationships with directors that would allow me to have consistent and fulfilling work.”
And yet, she isn’t ignoring Ahwatukee.
“Family is really important to me, and no matter how far I end up, I’ll always come back home for holidays and whenever I can. The Arizona sun lives in my blood and I really do miss the scenery if I’m away for too long. As a triathlete, Arizona also offers some great training grounds. Silent Sunday on South Mountain is always a favorite.”