All Together Now

T he sounds of a small orchestra drift down from an open window above one of the parking lots at Erector Square. It’s Friday afternoon, and already the light is fading. But upstairs at Music Haven, the fun is just getting started. 

Friday is a big day at Music Haven. Most of the program’s 75 kids are there for group classes in music theory and music history (with a time travel theme), small ensembles and—the source of the music heard from outside—the top-notch Harmony in Action chamber orchestra, made up of 18 of Music Haven’s most accomplished youth musicians on violin, viola, cello and upright bass. Conducted by Philip Boulanger, himself a cellist, the group is rehearsing Mozart’s Quartet No. 4 in C Major.

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The Yale School of Music presents Louis Hayes

These young artists come from 23 different schools and several “promise zones” throughout New Haven—areas designated as having high rates of poverty—for lessons, classes and loaned instruments all free of charge. But inside the walls of Music Haven’s homey space, with its worn wood floors and lofted ceilings, differences across neighborhoods and schools and race and class disappear, Music Haven executive director Mandi Jackson says. “One of the most important things we see is what it looks like when you create a community where people come together around a common interest and do it in a way that really feels like family and where they know that people care about them,” Jackson says. Music Haven helps these kids “to know what their best self looks like.”

While Friday may be the busiest afternoon at Music Haven, plenty of kids are there Tuesday through Thursday as well, when private lessons are taught by members of the acclaimed quartet-in-residence, Haven String Quartet, which includes cellist Boulanger, violist Annalisa Boerner and violinists Yaira Matyakubova and Gregory Tompkins. Even when they don’t have lessons, many students show up to practice (with or without their “practice buddies”), hang out, do homework and just be, Jackson says. School buses bring them, and those who need a ride home as well are served by a shuttle provided by nearby senior care center Mary Wade in exchange for performances and free concert tickets for its residents. That partnership alone has made it possible for about 15 kids to attend Music Haven who otherwise would be prohibited by lack of transportation, Jackson says.

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The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

As students arrive on this particular afternoon, bowls of fresh fruit are up for grabs on a table near the entry. One of several high school fellows is setting up chairs for rehearsal, while other kids are playing board games and messing around together—it’s Friday, so no homework! Eventually, everyone settles into their four o’clock class. Jackson’s office becomes the theory classroom, where Boerner leads young students in a rhythm clapping exercise. Across the hall, resident musician Patrick Doane’s small class of violinists stands facing him, vigorously bowing their way through an exercise. A complex calendar grid posted on the wall of the staff workspace tells the story of a vibrant organization with lots of moving parts.

Music Haven has been around since 2006, when it was founded by Yale School of Music graduate Tina Lee Hadari with help from donors, volunteers and a group known as the Vinca Quartet. But the move to Erector Square in 2017 marked a sea change. Until then, rehearsals and lessons had been held at two New Haven schools—Wexler-Grant Community School and John C. Daniels School of International Communication Interdistrict Magnet—and at a small shared space on Whalley Avenue. Now, with its large, communal rooms, soundproofed office/lesson spaces and classrooms—6,700 square feet worth—the program has a real home. “When we moved into this space, we really sort of hit our stride,” Boulanger observes. “Having a central and usual space for all of our students to come to, I think, has really allowed us to do everything we’ve dreamed about… pedagogically and community-wise and programmatically.”

The success of the program is borne out in the broader lives of its students. So far, 100% of Music Haven graduates are attending four-year colleges. A couple of them are even studying to become music teachers themselves. A study of the program published in the Journal of Community Psychology noted gains for students not only in musical skills but also academic performance; responsibility and discipline; self-efficacy and empowerment; social competence; and even family time, when hard-working families “all come together and we enjoy each other’s company” at a concert, as one parent reported.

Concerts are given by the students themselves, but they’re also given by Haven String Quartet, which performs four times annually. This year, programming includes HSQ on Audubon, a series of shorter concerts featuring brief lectures on the composers and instruments and a Q & A with audience members, great for anyone who has never experienced chamber music before, Jackson says.

As Harmony in Action gets down to work this afternoon, Boulanger helps students think about the balance point of their bows, then runs them through two tricky measures of Mozart again and again. The kids approach the challenge earnestly; when they’re here, they’re musicians first. “They know that the people around them can see them, see their talent, see their capabilities,” Jackson says. And they can hear it, too, in the sound of their music.

Music Haven
315 Peck St, Bldg 5, 2nd Floor, New Haven (map)
Office Hours: Mon-Thurs 9:30am-4pm, Fri 9:30am-3pm
(203) 745-9030
www.musichavenct.org

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 1 features Philip Boulanger. Image 2 features Annalisa Boerner. Image 3 features Mandi Jackson.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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