Stage Presence Taught, Note by Note

Just past closing, the Hill’s Wilson branch library was undergoing a strange change. The librarians, packing their bags and putting on their coats, could hear rustling coming from the basement. An occasional giggle or squeal of delight floated up the narrow stairs, joined by the soft pitter-patter of doll-sized gym shoes and mini ballet flats. Someone rummaged around for a pint-sized cello.

Lucy Gellman PhotoA week after Halloween transformations could be named responsible, it was Music Haven that took the credit for this literal shift in the library’s tune. This past Thursday evening, students of violinist Yaira Matyakubova and pianist Miki Sadawa performed at the Washington Avenue branch, a recent effort on the organization’s part to get into the greater New Haven community that included performances at several NHFPL branches last week and will include an upcoming performance at Columbus House.

One of Matyakubova and Sadawa’s goals is to teach not only mastery of the instruments their students play, but also the stage presence that it takes to become a consummate performer.

Unlike the organization’s summer and winter performance parties, where all of its students perform, this recital placed the spotlight on students who are just starting to master the basics of instrument playing. Mid-recital, Matyakubova introduced a group (Janalya Avila, Samaage Brown, Takeira Brown, Chanell Fountain, Siobhan Cox, Mariapaz Tomaguillo, and Eri Zunn) who had just begun lessons two or three weeks before, singing with them as they showed the audience their mad skills with standard scales.

Or intermediate students like Jailene Resto, (in the video at the top) who was a little timid before launching into “Lightly Row.”  Do you hear Matyakubova ask the audience “can you hear her?” and urge the student to present the title of her piece again? That’s because she believes “part of their education is delivering their work to people ... it takes a lot to go on a stage, but those are the skills they really can apply to whatever they do in life.”

Teaching in a deeply supportive environment and expecting students to take on the responsibility of playing and practicing is what Music Haven is all about. In providing tuition-free lessons in viola, violin, bass, cello, and piano to elementary, middle, and high–school students in Newhallville, Dixwell, Dwight, Hill, West Rock, and Fair Haven, the organization’s teachers and outgoing director Tina Lee Hadari aren’t messing around. They expect their students to take music as seriously as they do.

Their approach is working. While some students are still learning—note the second start that Sadawa’s students take in the video above—it’s clear that the organization fosters tremendous confidence. Older students began their pieces with loud, perfectly pronounced introductions and ended with graceful bows.

And from the audience response, it wasn’t hard to see that Music Haven is also a family and community effort. Shaking off the rain, the crowd—mostly parents and siblings, and a few hardcore groupies—let out whoops and hollers for the players, many of whom haven’t hit four feet yet. When a tiny musician stumbled or hit a wrong note, a chorus of you got this! erupted from the seats packing the basement. If a player pounded out a slightly sour string of notes on the piano, audience members nodded and applauded a redo.

“We want music to be available for everybody and to be very easily accessible. We thought the best place to start is with libraries and here in town. The students work so hard, and this is a great chance for them to present their hard work,” Matyakubova said after the concert.

“A musician is only half a musician if he does not share his music with the public,” she added with a smile.

To find more about Music Haven events in the community, visit their calendar.

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posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on November 12, 2014  9:49am


Neighborhood Music School began as a settlement house for immigrant families, teaching sewing and English, and music lessons for enrichment.  It evolved and inevitably became more established, and has found its niche as a top-notch general music school with a diverse enrollment and a broad curriculum.  Meanwhile, a thousand cheers for Music Haven for seeing a new opportunity to step in as a nimble, flexible new force, to start the cycle again with creative outreach to new generations of marginalized kids, and bring music to the ... neighborhoods.