Summer Enrichment Program

Rabbi Jon Hadden

Summer fun for teens

Rabbi strings together a dream with violin lessons at age 59

By Nanci G. Hutson
THE NEWS-TIMES   (from Sep. 4, 2004)
Rabbi Haddon and Priyanka Altman
Chris Ware
Rabbi Jon Haddon, right, and Priyanka Altman, both from Danbury, have recently started playing the violin.

DANBURY - Rabbi Jon Haddon of Ridgefield earned a music degree in college, served as a cantor in a synagogue and has always sung with some kind of glee club or choir.

Yet his lifelong dream was to play in an orchestra. The sticking point was that, other than strumming a guitar, he never learned to play an instrument.

When he saw this year's annual brochure for the Danbury Music Centre's six-week, $100 beginning summer strings program for "children entering grade 3 and higher, including adults," he knew this was his chance.

Never mind that the bulk of his class was likely to be in elementary school. At age 59, Haddon said he was pumped to be the "living example of (former New York Yankees legend) Yogi Berra's famous dictum, 'It's not over until it's over.' "

Always intrigued with the violin, Haddon decided that would be his instrument, noting some of the greatest violinists in the world are Jewish. The violin appealed to him as an emotional instrument, evoking sorrow and joy, the story of his religious heritage.

So right after the Fourth of July holiday, Haddon arrived at the Danbury Music Centre for his hour-long weekly lesson with the beginner violin he bought more than a year ago but had used more as a "coat rack" than as an instrument. He was enrolled in a class of six beginning violinists and a cellist, with Haddon and a 75-year-old Episcopalian nun the elder students.

He quickly realized that as beginning violinists they were all equals regardless of age, religion, hometown or socio-economic background. Indeed, at the final recital and concert Aug. 20, Haddon played a duet with 7-year-old Immanuel Lutheran third-grader Priyanka Altman.

"This instrument is very humbling," said Haddon who did advance enough in his beginner class to join the novice orchestra. That, too, was predominantly child performers.

Executive director Nancy Sudik said the beauty of the summer strings program that has been a tradition since the 1950s is that, though geared toward children, it is equally appropriate for beginning adults.

"Age is irrelevant when it comes to making music," Sudik said. "Some adults didn't have the opportunity as children to learn an instrument, and it's never too late."

Instructor Allison Breisler said this year's summer program, - which included not only the beginning orchestra, but also summer band, drumming and chorus - attracted more than its usual share of adults. Throughout the year, more than 1,000 community performers from more than 20 towns participate in the music center's various musical groups, including the Danbury Symphony Orchestra, the Danbury Community Orchestra, the Danbury Preparatory String Orchestra and the Danbury Concert Choir. The center also produces the annual Christmas performance of "The Nutcracker Ballet."

"It was quite an experience," she said as Haddon quickly noted that Breisler has "infinite patience" with all of her students.

The ultimate for everyone, though, was the final concert, when the new musicians played together in duets and as an ensemble.

"To see them up there together (on stage in the Rogers Park Middle School auditorium) was so cute," Sudik said of Haddon and Altman.

Priyanka said she enjoyed Haddon's presence, and now considers him a fellow budding violinist and friend.

"It was fun," the 7-year-old said.

"I loved it,'' Haddon said, of the class and orchestra. "The first time we made music, tears came to my eyes. I was playing first violin in an ensemble, and we were playing real music. No we weren't the New York Philharmonic, but everyone played their heart out, and the fact we were playing real five-part music was really exciting."

Haddon intends to continue his studies.

With the fundamentals behind him, the rabbi will now enroll in the Danbury Preparatory String Orchestra, an orchestra for students entering sixth grade or higher.

"It's a real hoot," he concluded.

Summer fun - with strings attached

For these teens, summer means more time to practice

By Eileen FitzGerald
THE NEWS-TIMES   (from July 20, 1999)

The casual jeans and sandals that Christina Palmer wore belied the seriousness of the 15-year-old who gently drew a bow across the strings of her polished violin.

Palmer and 14 other middle- and high school students nursed lyrical sounds from their violas, violins, cellos and bass instruments during a concert practice at Danbury Music Centre recently.

Gray skies curtained the windows but failed to dampen the spirited rehearsal of the advanced strings group in the centre's summer music program. The students were practicing a piece Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote when he was 12.

Palmer, who will be a junior at Newtown High School this fall, plays the violin in the school orchestra and the Danbury Community Orchestra, as well as in a string quartet at the music centre.

Music gives her a chance to meet different people and have fun; summer gives her more time to play.

"This is a way to have fun and a way to express myself. If I'm having a bad day, I can go to my room and forget about things for a little while," Palmer said. "I feel respect from other people for being able to play and it feels good to give other people happiness when I'm playing."

Perseverance through brisk, tight group rehearsals and hours of practice in solitude should bear fruit for the students at a concert Aug. 13 at Rogers Park Middle School.

They'll share their hard-earned interpretation of Mozart's Symphony Number 12 in G Major and Gustav Holst's Brook Green Suite for string orchestra.

Conductor Richard Brooks cajoled, pleaded, and demanded the notes, yet managed to elicit continuing smiles from his musicians during rehearsal.

"This is a relaxed, fun experience but very worthwhile. They can improve and reinforce their skills,'' Brooks said of the summer program. "They can meet other kids that do what they do. It's a good network for these kids."

The Danbury Music Centre was founded in 1935. It rehearses and presents concert performances by the Danbury Symphony Orchestra, the Danbury Community Orchestra and the concert chorus.

In the 1950s, it started a summer music program so students would have a chance to rehearse and perform in a public concert.

This year, 350 students from 20 local towns are enrolled in programs for chorus, strings, concert bands, and steel drums. They all will culminate in concerts.

Brooks teaches the strings program, Margaret Winters teaches a young people's chorus and a teen-age chorus, Steven Chetcuti teaches three levels of concert bands and a jazz band, and Harold Proudfoot teaches steel drums.

Nancy Sudik, the centre's executive director for the past 15 years, said it's nice that students from different towns have the chance to work together.

"The children learn from each other," she said. "In the summer, we focus on kids but we do invite adults to take part. We have several families who are doing this as a family activity. They are having fun with summer music and it's lovely to see that."

Palmer's colleagues included Ben Kugielsky, 16, who will be a senior at Newtown this fall, and Elliot Isaacson, 15, who will be a sophomore at Danbury High School. The three attended a workshop at Western Connecticut State University offered by the Manhattan String Quartet earlier this summer.

Summer is a chance to forego structure, said Kugielsky.

"This is a time to do whatever we want, not to worry about school work,'' he added.

He's played the violin since fourth grade, though not seriously until three years ago, and now also plays the electric violin in a rock group, Sci-fi Lullaby.

He appreciates Brooks' intensity as a conductor.

"He's a good teacher and you try to get the most from him,'' Kugielsky said. "For me, music is something I have that is steady in my life . . . it's a firm foundation I can hold onto when everything else is pretty turbulent.

"It's an escape from the rigors of society," he said an insight that elicited teasing from his friends.

Summer means four hours of practice on the viola for Isaacson, who has played the viola for seven years and attended the prestigious Interlaken Music Camp in Michigan last summer.

He appreciates the group and individual efforts that concert music requires.

"It's very individual and it's also group oriented,'' Isaacson said. "It's different from anything else because you can't just play with other people without practicing by yourself. It's a personal commitment to myself to see what I can do, and it's a personal commitment to other people to do the best I can."