SHRUB OAK, N.Y. – Seven graduating seniors from Yorktown, Lakeland, Mahopac, Somers, Hendrick Hudson and Newtown, Conn. were honored with a $1,000 music scholarship, and a personally inscribed metronome, at the 2017 Justin Veatch Fund scholarship awards in Yorktown.
The Justin Veatch Fund honors the legacy of Yorktown High School senior Justin Veatch, who died from an accidental drug overdose in 2008. Veatch’s story is told in schools in hopes of preventing other such tragedies.
Jeffrey and Marina Veatch, Justin’s parents, founded the Justin Veatch Fund to honor their son and to raise money for other future musicians in the form of an annual music scholarship for college-bound high school seniors.
The first ceremony was in 2009 during Senior Awards Night at Yorktown High School; now the scholarship is offered to eligible students within a 25-mile radius of Yorktown. The 2017 recipients are Cooper Aquilino from Mahopac, Grace Dashnaw from Somers, Emily Fareed from Hendrick Hudson, Ellen Gruber also from Hendrick Hudson, Trevor Legeret from Newtown, Gabrielle Sansone from Lakeland and Victoria Vespucci from Yorktown.
“It’s kind of a process because we want them to get into the hands of kids that deserve them,” Jeffrey Veatch said. “It’s not a slam dunk by any means; it’s almost like a job application.”
Students are required to send links to their performances, write essays and include information about themselves such as resumes. This year, Veatch said, there were more than 40 applicants from 11 schools.
Dashnaw has been playing the cello since third grade, she said.
"I just got hooked on it,” Dashnaw said. “It’s awesome.”
Not only did she get hooked, but she’s gotten the endorsement of the Justin Veatch Fund and other established musicians such as Daisy Jopling, a British violinist, who is currently creating music out of Peekskill. Both spoke on her behalf at the scholarship awards ceremony.
“I was blown away by the sounds she created on the cello,” Jeffrey Veatch said of her submission tape, which included some looping.
Dashnaw said she has played many classical pieces in various orchestras, but has recently been involved with more modern and experimental groups. She recently took part in a string quartet that recreated the sounds of the ocean in a modern piece. Her cello produced the sound of a seagull and the bass player recreated the sound of a whale using a stick and a bouncy ball, which she said he dragged against the back of his bass.
As mentioned by Veatch, she also uses a loop pedal, and has covered modern songs such as Ed Sheeran’s, “Shape of You,” as well as some originals, which she debuted as part of a senior class project.
Dashnaw auditioned to play in Daisy Jopling’s 2016 “String Pulse Experience,” a concert at the Paramount Theater in Westchester. Jopling said the show was so well-received that her group, the Daisy Jopling Band, which blends a wide variety of musical styles including classical, pop, reggae, Irish folk, gypsy violin and rock, was invited to play at Lincoln Center this summer, where Dashnaw will join them on stage.
“We auditioned many cellists and then luckily Grace came along,” Jopling said. “Her sound is incredible and everything about her attitude toward the cello made us say immediately, with a big resounding yes, ‘Please can you come play in our orchestra.’”
Public officials also recognized the students. Sen. Terrence Murphy, County Legislator Michael Kaplowitz and Yorktown Town Supervisor Michael Grace awarded them certificates of recognition. Sal Lagonia, a Yorktown justice, Fox News aviation consultant, and musician, was the keynote speaker.
“Clearly I haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up,” Lagonia said of his many hats. He shared a story with the crowd of an interview he was recently the subject of. The reporter asked him how he finds time for music. He said the question confused him.
“Music is what allows me to do all the other things that I do,” he said.
He shared stories from his music career, such as the influence his parents had on his choice of instrument, the trumpet, and imparted words of wisdom to the young musicians. He said that as musicians, it is their obligation to hone, practice and pass on their talents to other musicians and audiences.
“My message to our newly inducted to the Veatch Hall of Fame is: hold music close to your heart, whether it’s your career right now or not, never give it up, share it at every opportunity that you have and when you’re in your practice room never, never, never practice,” he said. “Always perform.”
Jeffrey Veatch has presented the multi-media talk, “A Message from Justin,” to more than 30,000 students with the goal that Justin’s story will inspire them to take better care of themselves and watch out for their friends when it comes to drugs and other substances, according to the foundation’s website. Justin’s story is also told in the independent documentary film, “Whispering Spirits,” which has been recommended by The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) and sent to its 80 affiliates in 29 states. Sean Gallagher, the producer and director of the film also attended the June 14 ceremony.