Noel Mitchell walked to the middle of the bright, white entertainment room at Casa Otoñal, sucked in a deep breath, and prepared to make an announcement. As one of Music Haven’s three high school fellows, it fell to him to bring the “Legend of Zelda” back. And he was going to bring it back strong, through the singing, shrill belly of his violin.
It was another quiet evening, the room filled with about 20 of the center’s elderly inhabitants, speaking quietly to each other in Spanish. A number of pink and red hearts, mounted just in time for Valentine’s Day, glinted as they twirled and bounced from the ceiling.
“Zelda,” Mitchell explained before he began the theme-song-cum-duet with Music Haven director Tina Lee Hadari, “is a very, very, very old video game.”
Then he started on the piece, his whole body leaning into the music as if he could see the game’s initial sequence — bright colors, a far away fairyland, high stakes in another universe — unfolding as he played.
Mitchell’s performance came as part of Music Haven’s studio recital at Casa Otoñal Friday night. Featuring close to twenty students of Gregory Tompkins and Tina Lee Hadari, the recital was a chance for students to perform a range of pieces and practice their professionalism for a new audience. Hadari and members of the Haven String Quartet see the latter — a quick introduction of name and piece, a polished, practiced performance with a few expected road bumps, and a swooping final bow — as integral to their students’ growth, a display of confidence and form that can transfer from practice space to classroom, recital hall to real world.
“I see Music Haven’s mission of ‘building community through music’ in the framework of three concentric circles,” Hadari wrote. “The innermost circle represents the relationships our professional musicians build with our kids through the music instruction and mentorship; the second circle represents the relationships our Music Haven students and families build between each other. Then the final outermost circle represents the relationships our students build as musicians with their neighborhoods and community at large. We try to encourage our young musicians to cultivate the same kind of civic responsibility and commitment to public service that our professional musicians practice and model. So sharing our music at Casa Otoñal, Mary Wade Home, and 180 Center is the small kernel of a seed that we plant to inspire our students to think about the role of music in their lives and how it may serve their community.”
That’s also the approach Music Haven has taken to its nontraditional performance spaces, which prodigiously expand the organization’s mission of making music accessible in some of New Haven’s more underserved communities. Describing the organization Friday night as standing at the intersection of “passion and contribution,” Hadari has very literally placed a transitioning, growing Music Haven at the center of its own mission statement, adding venues like the Mary Wade Home, 180 Center, and Casa Otoñal to a list that already includes the five branches of the New Haven Free Public Library.
Friday’s performance seemed a testament to the organization’s attempt to challenge and reinvent itself in new places and for a wider constituent base. Students Reign Bowman, Caleb Cruz, and Liam Blessing led the charge with traditionalist favorites like “Go Tell Aunt Rhody,” “See Saw Duet,” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
A particularly small virtuoso had audience members on the edge of their seats as he held a tiny violin with his chin for 35 seconds.
Mitchell and fellow high school fellow Sofia Galvan stunned with J.B. Accolay’s Concerto in A Minor and Concerto for Two Violins and Two Violas, respectively.
This is what makes Music Haven a larger-than-life Link, its instruments like one big Triforce as it tries to rescue the underloved parts of Hyrule and its beloved princess Zelda.
Music Haven’s next performances are today, Feb. 11, at Wilson Library and the 180 Center at 6 p.m. For more, visit their calendar.