I am well acquainted with the abiding concern that Somers Town Justice Michael McDermott harbors for young people and their families. At his invitation, I have sat as an observer on his bench in the town of Somers. I have watched, with a mix of admiration and amazement, how he deftly and firmly lectures young motorists who stand before him in traffic court to plead to a moving violation summons.
It’s not just about endangering lives—including their own—the paternal judge (with four sons of his own) cautions them. It’s about respect, gratitude and love for parents who work hard to pay bills and who trust that car privileges will not be abused. The defendants may walk into court with head bowed, but those young people who listen closely to Judge McDermott’s wise words leave court with uplifting life lessons to which they can aspire.
What I didn’t know about Judge McDermott is an out-of-court skill that graphically shows a different side of his affinity for young people. One day, as I was visiting him in Yorktown’s town hall, where he recently ended a tenure as town attorney, the judge gave me a copy of a children’s picture book, “The Concert Hall Cats.” The cover reads “Written by Fausta R.L. McDermott & Michael J. McDermott. Illustrated by Joseph A. McDermott.” Fausta is his wife and Joseph one of the couple’s four sons.
The book tells of a family of cats who reside in the attic of a grand old concert hall. They are befriended and fed by Jimmy the Janitor, who lives in the basement. With movie multiplexes and sprawling malls now the popular destinations in town, audiences for the concert hall have dwindled, and it is about to be replaced by a parking lot. The landlords say that the only chance to save the hall is if all the seats are filled for the final performance. That presents the feline family with a purr-fect opportunity to spring into action!
The story teaches children the importance of culture in society and the need for members of a community to pull together in a time of crisis.
Earlier this month, the McDermotts got to see something that not many authors of any kind are fortunate enough to savor: An adaptation of “The Concert Hall Cats,” with a cast of students, played to an enthusiastic audience on the huge stage at Peekskill Middle School. On hand were parents, educators, creative arts people and city officials, including Peekskill Mayor Andre Rainey and City Manager Richard Leins.
I never had been in that auditorium, with stadium seating providing excellent sight lines, and marveled at its epic amphitheater scale. Even though it was a challenge to hear every word because the students were not miked (most likely because it would have been financially impractical), it didn’t deprive the audience of seeing quite the ambitious performance, complete with live and recorded music, colorful costumes, acrobatic choreography and hand-made scenery.
Judge McDermott and Fausta McDermott are partners in a private law practice. Along with son, Joseph, they all appeared on stage at the curtain call.
The family who wrote about a family of cats was beaming proudly. They were visibly grateful for the unique experience of watching their creation come alive on stage, thanks to the dedication and talent of student performers and performing arts professionals.
Judge McDermott introduced in the audience to several family members after whom, he told the audience, all of the book’s characters were modeled. He said it was an honor that Wilfredo Morel, who is executive director of Arts 10566, considered “The Concert Hall Cats” worthy of a stage adaptation, adding it was “overwhelming” to see the finished product, ending with “From our family to your families, thank you very much.”
The production was directed by veteran Hudson Valley youth arts champion Scarlett Antonia. The lead producer was Arts 10566 (arts10566.org), whose mission is to address the varied interests and needs of Peekskill’s diverse youth community through the arts. Co-producers included Peekskill Middle School, the city of Peekskill and the Peekskill Youth Bureau.
Copies of the book and Arts 10566 T-shirts were sold in the lobby as a fundraiser for the nonprofit organization that is one of the jewels of the community for the great work it does. According to its website, Arts 10566 creates “an open community forum where skills and ideas are exchanged, individuals are connected and resources can be used to stabilize, rejuvenate, and unify the city.”
“The Concert Hall Cats” book can be purchased at select bookstores and on Amazon.com.