“I want to tell you that my heart is very full. It’s very full of joy, and also full of sorrow. I am very humbled and so grateful to have been allowed into all of your lives,” said Tina Lee Hadari, her voice carrying to the back of Charles Garner Recital Hall at Southern Connecticut State University. “I’m so proud to watch all of these musicians ... not only are they expressing themselves, but they have a sense of belonging, and they have an awareness of their contributions to community.”
Already, something had caught in her throat. Now tears were beginning to well up in the audience. Parents, friends, and board members glanced at each other from on and off the stage with that I knew this was going to happen look. A hush fell over the room, close to 100 small bodies stilling at the urgent shushing of their parents and Hadari’s last “courteous coyote” (because his mouth is closed and his ears are open) of the performance season, and perhaps of the year.
“Music Haven has taught me how to commit, what it means to commit,” Hadari continued. “It’s taught me what it means to push for excellence, what it means to give ... and most importantly it’s taught me how to love wholeheartedly and to be loved wholeheartedly.” She stopped as the audience broke into thunderous, cheering applause.
The speech, a short but very sweet goodbye to Music Haven as Hadari prepares to step down from the position of executive director, came during the organization’s summer performance party, held last Friday evening on SCSU’s campus. Her husband, Netta Hadari, is stepping down as well, as the organization’s development director.
Like those held last June and December, the party was a chance to celebrate Music Haven’s students, who all have a chance to perform, some multiple times, before the evening is over. But this party was different, and bittersweet. Among bold new compositions and trusted old favorites, musicians were learning to say goodbye to the team that has helped many of them learn instruments, practice compassion, and cultivate skills like public speaking and performance etiquette.
“I didn’t know how hard it was to teach a child how to play an instrument they’d never played before. I was so excited, and no matter how much of a pain in the butt I was to Ms. Tina, she still stuck by my side,” said Tahnele Everett, who has been playing violin with Music Haven for seven years and called Hadari “a second mother to me.”
“She has taught me that you can have more than one family,” she added.
Everett’s words rang true of what Hadari, who moved from Colorado to found the organization in 2006, has sought to create during her tenure as executive director. Music Haven is an extraordinary kind of family –– one where hard work is stressed, victories are celebrated, and difficulties are troubleshot promptly and holistically. No surprise, then, that staff and students alike knew only one way to start saying goodbye to the Hadari duo and integral member Miki Sawada: with one glittering aural explosion after another. Touching and heart-tickling surprises popped up throughout the program, showing that the group, impossibly, still manages to mature with age.
Take new compositions like Ben Wallace’s “Welcome to the Poketoads Battle Center,” written for the NewMusic4Us pilot program that Sawada pioneered last fall. A welcome if unexpected cousin to “Violet Stars Happy Hunting!,” the piece (video above) is buoyant and anticipatory, building to a high-stakes, otherworldly ending waiting just beyond the sheet music.
Or West Side Story‘s famed “One Hand, One Heart,” performed by the Phat Orangez Quintet. In a display of teamwork that felt meta for the piece — and the organization — Noel Mitchell introduced the piece in musical-cum-familial terms, saying that “we all have to blend together.”
There were also a few surprises, like the delightful, ebullient score to Giles Andreae’s children’s book Giraffes Can’t Dance, written by Netta Hadari for his wife several years ago. Narrated by Music Haven students and played by the Haven String Quartet, the score brought to life the story of Gerald, a giraffe who is told he can’t dance and overcomes bullying to prove the universe wrong, moving in rhapsodic motion to a cricket’s song by the end of the story. Hadari said that the theme, which ends with the lesson that “we can all dance / when we find music that we love,” resonated with him on a personal and professional level.
Also delightful were pieces like “Rain Dribs” and “Water Colors/Basketball Bounce,” which sounded exactly like you’d expect them to. An older, wiser Mello Cello Choir reappeared on stage; there were some student conducting basics; and there was a finale from Project YOURchestra, which invites musicians from the audience up on stage to play along.
In goodbye, Tina Hadari stressed, was also a celebration of hello. Following a recap of last year’s accomplishments –– another spot on the National Arts and Humanities Youth Programs Awards’ list of 50 finalists and several students who placed at the Yale Solo Competition and Showcase –– were formal introductions of new Executive Director Mandi Jackson and Director of Development Marcia Winter, who embraced members as they came up to the stage. It was, at once, a moment in which the audience could see clearly where Music Haven had been, where it was, and where it was going, captured as the board of directors’ President Wendy Marans, just back from a trip to see family and friends in London, took the stage.
“One thing that made it possible to come back was the sense that I was coming back to a family,” said Marans. “You see someone who has actually made her dream come to life, and now we can follow in her footsteps.”
Music Haven has lots of events during the Arts & Ideas festival. To find out more, visit their calendar.