Wooster Park / Charles Murphy, co-chair, 39th Annual Cherry Blossom Festival

Sunday, with a Cherry on Top

Wooster Square is a quaint, quiet, calm, leisurely, gentle, friendly, sweet, warm, charming, homey, wanderable residential neighborhood just a few blocks from downtown. It’s a world unto itself. This Sunday, Wooster lets a few thousand other New Haveners in on its special secrets for the 39th Annual Cherry Blossom Festival.

Despite food and activity booths lining every path of Wooster Square Park, a giant metal platform in the park’s center, and ten times as many folks as might ordinarily be found there even on a beautiful April Sunday, it’ll still seem like Wooster. What keeps the festival feeling friendly rather than frenzied are its titular cherry blossoms, those gorgeous harbingers of Spring. Charlie Murphy, who’s co-chairing this year’s festival with Peter Webster, says the timing is sometimes tricky. “Most years, we’re aiming at the third Sunday of the month. But it also matters when Easter is.”

Last year’s festival fell ahead of the cherry blossoms, Murphy recalls. “They popped on April 4 and lasted five days. 2009 was a late year, as usual. 2010 was early. 2011 was back to late…” This year, the trees bloomed nearly two weeks ago, and will be decidedly less lustrous by Sunday. But the aura endures. “It’s our theme, yet we can’t control it,” Murphy demurs. “When it’s early, it’s a great ad for us.”

Wooster Square Park is a regular city park,

The 39th Annual Cherry Blossom Festival
Wooster Square Park, New Haven (map)
Sunday April 15 from noon to 5 p.m. (free admission)

overseen by the Parks & Recreation Department. But the neighborhood takes an important role in its upkeep. “The biggest private aspect of it is that we have a Historic Wooster Square Association,” Murphy explains, “which pays for things the city can’t, like having the grass aerated.” There’s also a Wooster Square Watch, like a block watch but which does a bit more than that, and the Friends of Wooster Square, which is now mainly trying to get a dog park in the neighborhood.

There are a lot of pets in the neighborhood now, and a large influx is expected from the pet-friendly 360 State apartment complex a few blocks away. The 2012 Cherry Blossom Festival promises “more pet-friendly things than ever,” Murphy says, including a “New Haven Dachsund Meet-Up” and a “Pets Without Partners” gathering.

Murphy and his wife Charlotte, who’s handling this year’s festival publicity, moved to New Haven nine years ago from Wallingford, since “whenever we went out, we came to New Haven—for theater, restaurants, music concerts—so we decided to live here. The scale of New haven is great. There are very few neighborhoods

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Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven

that allow you to walk downtown as conveniently as this one does.” He likes to quote longtime Wooster resident Ezra Laderman, the esteemed composer and Yale professor. “He says that one of the things he likes about the neighborhood is that it’s only a 10-minute walk to his office. He’s 87. Isn’t it great to be 87 and walk to work?”

The walk for a concert Friday night is even shorter than usual. The festival begins unofficially with the annual “Pre-Festival concert” on Friday night. The performers are Wooster Square residents, many of them associated with the Yale School of Music. Two of them, Martin Bresnick and Jack Vees, are also composers, and have pieces on the program alongside works by Telemann, Beethoven, Bach, Ingram Marshall and Leos Janacek.

The festival itself, which consumes the park on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. furthers the classical music quotient with a chamber concert and an opera recital, adds art exhibits, salsa and flamenco dancing, museum displays, authors, and representatives from Spring Learning Center and Knit New Haven.

Dozens of volunteers are involved: 15-20 (including representatives of New Haven Parks and other city agencies) to help with the months of planning and organizing, plus the couple dozen who staff the booths and assist with setting things up and taking them down on festival day.

“It’s so different when you put this on a piece of paper,” Charlie Murphy marvels, comparing the trim lay-out grid on the clipboard with the expanse of grass, trees, squirrels and, yes, cherry blossoms all around him. “We need to see how much more we can possibly handle.”

Written and photographed by Christopher Arnott.

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