Behold The “Dominant Tonic”

Kathleen Cei PhotoNetta Hadari lifted a “Dominant Tonic” – his first of the evening – triumphantly in the air. Behind him, a string quartet of Music Haven instructors adjusted their bows and music stands one final time, ready to begin Paquito D’Rivera’s fanciful “Wapango” as photographs of their students gleamed in the background.

The setting Tuesday night: 116 Crown, the restaurant and bar in the Ninth Square.

The occasion: A unusual brew of live music, photography, mixology, and schmoozing—part fundraiser for Music Haven, part exhibit, part social gathering, part very-happy hour. All under the name “Dominant Tonic.”

The players: The string quartet of instructors from Music Haven; Music Haven photographer and general manager Kathleen Cei, whose photos were on display; 116 Crown owner John Ginnetti; and the bar’s dedicated bartenders and mixologists, who poured and repoured the Dominant Tonic – a swoon-worthy concoction of broker’s gin, yellow chartreuse, grapefruit juice and tonic water –  for eager patrons throughout the evening.

Music Haven and 116 Crown may seem, as Cei herself pointed out, quite different: the former benefits New Haven’s children, providing tuition-free lessons in violin, bass, viola and cello to 75 students, while the latter is known around the city for its stiff, inventive drinks and posh but cozy atmosphere.

Where they overlap is in their desire to build community and foster relationships, or as Ginnetti put it: “People getting together over food and drink, and the trappings that go with it.”

“This is one of the corners that we haven’t really infiltrated yet ... [the] nightclub scene, maybe a younger crowd,” added Hadari, Music Haven’s developmental director (who’s pictured at the top of the story with the Music Haven String Quartet: Yaira Matyakubova, violin; Gregory Tompkins violin; Phillip Boulanger, cello; and Colin Benn, pictured, viola). As an organization that draws half its budget from individual donors, Music Haven was doing what some not-for-profits must in a tough economy: finding new and exciting ways to branch out and diversify its donor base.

After joking to Hadari that “dominant tonic” – two musical terms – sounded more like a libation than a mixing of melodies, Cei brought the idea of a cocktail fundraiser to Ginnetti. “It started as a joke,” she said. “I’m a big fan of puns, but I came to ask John, presented the idea to him, and he was amazing. And he came up with the idea for the drink.”

Ginnetti said he jumped at the chance to help Music Haven. “What really got me was that string quartet truck,” he said, describing a beloved vehicle in which Music Haven’s string quartet performed throughout the community over last summer’s sweatiest weeks.

As the string quartet played an impressive lineup of Errol Garner, Harold Arlin, Maurice Ravel and others, old friendships were rekindled; “Why hello again!” and “It’s so good to see you!” seemed to be the phrases of the evening. Memories flowed freely: in the seductive orange light of the bar, a group of Cei’s colleagues discussed how much New Haven had changed since the days that they worked together at the recently expired New Haven Advocate. Beyond them, a table of twentysomethings laughed, pausing for a break in “Stormy Weather” that had even mixologist Josh Kelley nodding along as he poured gracefully. As the evening wore on and attendees began to step back out into the cold, a sense of community – new, old, and still forming – lingered in the air, something just shy of music, and the mellifluous swirl of ice, clink of glasses.

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