New Music Skills, Same Music Haven

Prince Davenport lifted his arms artfully over the taut, tan skin of a pint-sized drum, looking out determinedly out into the audience as he positioned it gingerly between his knees. Having just finished a wild, rousing rendition of “O Tannenbaum,” he needed a moment to rest. He adjusted the crisp sleeves of his blazer. The music to “Joy to the World” began. And Davenport — all three feet of him — went to town. 

“O Tannenabum,” “Joy to the World,” and a few other holiday hits comprised just one portion of Music Haven’s annual winter performance party, held for the organization’s families, board members, and advocates Friday night at Lincoln-Bassett school on Shelton Avenue and Bassett Street. Drawing a crowd of over 100, the end-of-year recital stood out as the first major Music Haven event — barring a flash mob the night before —with new Executive Director Mandi Jackson at the helm. In the months since she has taken over, she told the audience, the organization has had opportunities to change and grow, adding new classes and new instruments to favorites like Project YOURchestra and the New-Haven-famous Phat Orangez Quintet, a tight grouping of students that are growing quickly into mature musicians and young adults.

One new class is “Music 101,” a weekly string, guitar, and drum collaboration that Music Haven teacher and former Haven String Quartet member Colin Benn has brought to the organization. The class allows students like Davenport to experiment with not only the organization’s core group of instruments — viola, violin, bass, cello, and piano since 2014 — but also guitar and drums, sometimes for students who have never picked up an instrument before and were performing in front of a live audience for the first time Friday night.

The new music groups are a sign of the organization’s staying power, and the strong guidance of teachers Yaira Matyakubova, Gregory Tompkins, Annalisa Boerner, and Philip Boulanger. As its students get older, Music Haven is adjusting to reflect that creatively. New names — like the Vobisago Quartet — appeared alongside now-familiar ones, suggesting that students are really in it for the long haul.

Of course there were also some additions in the spirit of the season ...

... festive outbursts, practiced and improvised, from both the students and members of the audience ...

... and a few costume changes from aspiring professionals to Santa’s elves.

“It’s been amazing to see the kids from even the beginning of his school year when I came in to now, to see how much they’re grown and how much they’ve learned,” said Jackson after the concert, praising Benn for the work he, as well as teachers David Mills and Nick D’Errico, have put into new initiatives. “It’s just so wonderful to see these kids perform ... we had kids who were on stage tonight who really have only had a couple of group lessons and they were just completely fearless and their families were so excited to see them.”

“That’s what this is all about,” she added. “Letting the kids have a chance to shine and letting their families celebrate all the hard work they’re doing. They practice every single day, and they’re able to come and show off what they do, and it’s wonderful.”

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