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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    The new Mystic Chamber Music Series is the brainchild of a 23-year-old from Mystic

    The American String Quartet performs with Thomas Readett, third from left, during his graduation recital from the Manhattan School of Music. (Submitted)
    Thomas Readett performs on cello at a recent Mystic Chamber Music Series concert at Mystic & Noank Library. (Submitted)
    Thomas Readett (Submitted)

    Thomas Readett started playing cello in third grade at S.B. Butler Elementary School in Mystic for a reason anyone who’s ever been an 8-year-old can understand: the cool kid in class was doing it.

    Readett, who grew up in Mystic, said, “I wish I had this flowery, amazing story about how music touched me. I really don’t. What happened was the coolest kid in my class in elementary school wanted to play the cello. I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t the coolest kid in elementary school — kind of a little weird. So I decided, ‘Oh, I want to play cello, too, because he’s going to do it.’”

    It might not have been the most profound impetus for taking up an instrument, but it’s worked out really well for Readett. He is getting his second masters degree in music education, with an emphasis on early childhood development and motor learning, at Columbia Teachers College, after earning his bachelor’s and masters degrees in cello performance from the Manhattan School of Music. (He also studied at the New London-based Thames Valley Music School in his younger years.) He hopes to teach and play music as a career.

    Readett has also, at the age of 23, founded a new music series in southeastern Connecticut.

    The Mystic Chamber Music Series debuted in April, and it is staging its next concerts this weekend: one on Friday in Noank, and one on Saturday in Mystic.

    The Mystic Chamber Music Series consists of young musicians who met in New York City and bonded over their love of playing chamber music. Their mission is “to make the highest caliber of classical chamber music artists accessible to a wide variety of audiences in southeastern Connecticut.” The group is bringing chamber music to schools as well as giving concerts.

    The musicians are an international lot. Readett noted that, for a recent show, he was the only American onstage. The pianist was Turkish, one of the violinists was from the country of Georgia, and the violist and the other violinist were both from Venezuela.

    This weekend’s concerts will also feature the American String Quartet, which Readett said is “one of the world’s best string quartets.” The ensemble, which is celebrating its 50th year, “are basically our teachers and our mentors. …They agreed to come out, which is such a wonderful thing, and play with us,” Readett said.

    The Friday offering is titled “Finding a Mentor,” and Saturday’s is “Generations.”

    Speaking of the latter, Readett said that is “where we will have four generations onstage at the same time, which is a really cool thing we wanted to do, to show that music is a multi-generational language. We can all communicate, and we can all play together and make music together past generational lines.”

    Friday’s program includes Strauss’s Sextet for Capriccio, Op. 85, and Brahms’ String Sextet No. 2, Op. 36 in G Major. Saturday’s features Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 7 in F sharp minor, and Mendelssohn’s String Octet, Op. 20.

    Creating a music series

    The inspiration for the Mystic Chamber Music Series can be traced back to Jan. 2023 when Readett approached the folks at Mystic & Noank Library with an idea for a performance, and they helped mold that concept. The result drew 50 people — the equivalent of the room being sold out.

    “I was like, ‘OK, maybe this is something,’” he recalled.

    They staged another concert earlier this year at the same library, this time as the newly minted Mystic Chamber Music Series, and again, it was packed.

    “It kind of took off. … So we’ve been putting on concerts semi-regularly throughout the year, trying to make this into a thing where kids and parents can experience live chamber music,” he said.

    Since Readett is getting his masters of education, teaching is in the forefront of his mind, and so the nonprofit group’s proceeds go toward the children’s events it does. They have offered those children’s events at the Mystic & Noank and New London libraries, as well as the Friendship School in Waterford, where they played and taught about 500 kids throughout the day.

    Later this year, they are going to the Ocean Avenue LEARNing Academy in New London.

    “Overall, that’s kind of what we want to aim to do, being able to take these wonderful musicians who are world-caliber and put on a phenomenal concert but also take them into the community and bring them to school districts,” Readett said, adding that they also gave a free Mother’s Day concert for the seniors at Masonicare in Mystic.

    Back to the beginning

    Readett explained his journey after that fateful decision to pick up the cello as a third grader. He came home and convinced his mother to let him play the instrument. He acknowledged that she probably thought he’d quit after two weeks.

    (Neither of his parents have a music background; his father David works at Pfizer, and his mother Connie is a physical therapist through LEARN, which is a magnet and outplacement school for southeastern Connecticut.)

    “I get the cello the first day and I sit there for two hours plucking a singular string, supposedly. It kind of snowballed from there,” he said.

    Discussing what kept him interested in it, Readett said, “I struggled a little bit in school in my early years, in elementary school. I have very bad handwriting and I struggled to get my thoughts down onto a page sometimes. I then found the cello and found that I could convey what I was thinking through music to a certain extent. So I was able to speak through music. That fueled me to practice and fall in love and play so much.”

    When he was about 16, he decided he wanted a career as a cellist and went to New York City to audition for the Manhattan School of Music Precollege program.

    “I got a wake-up call. To play the cello, you have to be really good at the cello. I realized, ‘OK, I have to start practicing (more),’” he recalled.

    He said he spent his undergraduate years behind the standard of where he needed to be for his age. He put in a lot of work as he tried to catch up.

    Another aha moment was discovering the joys of chamber music, which is played in small groups, usually of two to four instrumentalists.

    “To play chamber music well, you have to communicate. … You breathe and you look at each other, and you know each other so well, you can read body language, non-verbal cues, stuff like that. It’s like having a conversation. Really, it’s like writing an essay — it’s like a group project almost,” he said.

    With exuberance

    Chris Coyle taught Readett at the Thames Valley Music School from the time he was in third grade through high school, and she recalled, “He had an exuberance and an enthusiasm and a love for music since the first lesson. When he got to learn something new, it was just so exciting to him. He dove in wholeheartedly.”

    And as a person, she said, he was also “ebullient, just a spitfire, a lovely, smiling and enjoyable person.”

    With his infectious enthusiasm and his ability to play in such an organically musical way, she always felt he’d do well in a music career.

    Community impact

    The president of the Mystic Chamber Music Series board is Jennifer Schwindt, who has known Readett for most of his life; the families are friends, and her son Alexander (who is now a sound engineer) grew up with Readett. Schwindt has been involved in nonprofit management and so offered to work with Readett as they get this nonprofit launched.

    “I am incredibly impressed at the quality of music that he and the other musicians bring to the area. It’s like nothing we’ve had for many, many years,” Schwindt said.

    She said that, as a kid, Readett was very much like he is an adult: energetic, enthusiastic, extremely positive and ready to take on anything — as well as being very talented.

    “What I think is remarkable is that he grew up in the Groton public school system and he’s been able to achieve this level of musicianship with a very humble start,” Schwindt said. “Many years ago, they tried to eliminate the strings program from the Groton public schools music curriculum, and a number of us who saw the value in all the students that were involved launched a campaign to keep it, and we were successful. This is a very good example of how that can make an impact in the community.”

    For the audience

    Readett said that, with the Mystic Chamber Music Series, he is trying to make classical music accessible to all the people who aren’t very familiar with it. He proudly noted that his high school track coach — Readett was track captain and was an all-state cross-country runner at Fitch Senior High School — comes to all of Readett’s concerts, even though he had known little about classical music.

    He loves teaching and also said, “Playing in small chamber settings like we do and the chamber music experience is kind of a dream, a dream come true, because I get to play with people who I love to play with, some of my closest friends, and we get to put on music we love to do for audiences who are truthfully very captivated by it. I think that’s the dream as a musician.”

    He’s hoping that it will help interest youths in classical music as well. He noted that children under the age of 18 are admitted for free to the Mystic Chamber Music Series concerts.

    “We want the next generation to be there. … Music is not just for people of a certain age or a certain economic class or whatever. We want it to span generations. So we’re going to children’s events with 500 3- to 5-year-olds, and then we’re going to a nursing home where people are 98. We’re playing the same music and it’s done in a little different way so they can access it,” he said.

    If you go

    What: The Mystic Chamber Music Series

    Who: American String Quartet and young performers they mentor

    When: 5 p.m. Fri. and 7 p.m. Sat.

    When: Friday is at Noank Baptist Church, 18 Cathedral Heights, Groton. Saturday is at Union Baptist Church, 119 High St., Mystic.

    Tickets: $28 for one concert, $45 for both; children do not need a ticket

    Visit: mysticchamberseries.com

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