Arts & Entertainment

Yorktown's Justin Veatch Fund Honors Musically Talented Teens


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. He was a gifted musician whose original music has been recorded by other artists and enjoyed worldwide.

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.

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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. Since 2003, there have been 29 scholarships donated in his honor to promising music students, according to the foundation. This year, recipients were from Westchester and Connecticut. 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.

Victoria Vespucci is graduating from Yorktown High School and plans to major in music education at Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam. Vespucci said she wants to become a band teacher and also perform professionally. Her main instrument is the flute but she is also proficient on the piccolo, saxophone, clarinet and piano.

“Something that’s unique about Victoria is that she’s very welcoming and she really makes other people have a great time through music,” Emily Kluga, band director and music teacher at Yorktown High School, said

Kluga said Vespucci has demonstrated excellent leadership skills and as section leader of the band, made this year’s flute section one of the best ever.

“She’s given so much to the band program and I’m really proud of her,” Kluga said.

Vespucci said she initially chose the flute in third grade and has stuck with it ever since. True to Kluga’s comments, Vespucci said the group dynamics of her music career have had a big influence on her music experience so far. She said she prefers playing with a band or orchestra to playing alone, and has also played in Lincoln Center with the Greater Westchester Youth Orchestra.

“I’m very excited and definitely honored to have this award,” she said. “So many people have influenced my music career and I could not be where I am without all of their help.”

Gabrielle Sansone is graduating from Lakeland High School and hopes to pursue musical theater as a performer on Broadway.  Sansone is a vocalist with a long list of on-stage credits, and has performed in a variety of productions in the greater Westchester community and in off-Broadway shows in New York.

 “One of her teachers calls Gabby ‘a stand out in every way,’” Marina Veatch said. “From musical ability and technique, to sight reading and quick learning of repertoire.”

Additionally she said Sansone is kind, generous and mentors younger performers.

“We’re proud to present this award to Gabby Sansone,” she said.

John DiChiaro, who runs the Winery at St. George in Yorktown, with his brother, Tom, where Sansone has performed, said her singing is “beyond her years.”

“What Gabby has is really a gift, and what’s wonderful is Gabby looks at it that way; as a God-given gift, without conceit and without pretense,” DiChiaro said.

Sansone said she felt privileged to receive the award and felt it was “a huge honor.”

“Music is a very important piece of my life and I’m so blessed to be able to share it with other people,” she said. “I think this is an amazing recognition of how big of an impact music has on everyone.”

Public officials also recognized the students. Sen. Terrence Murphy, County Legislator Michael Kaplowitz and 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.

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