Teaching teenagers how to overcome adversity and embrace the performing arts may seem like disparate goals.
But The Justin Veatch Fund (TJVF) has fused those two objectives while touching the lives of youngsters throughout the tri-state area and its reach continues to grow. Since its inception, the fund has organized programs and scholarships to encourage and support emerging musicians.
Jeff Veatch heads the group, which establishes outlets for young musicians to perform and provides lessons and experience that may not be available in school. It is named for his son, Justin, a Yorktown High School senior who died from an accidental drug overdose in 2008. Known for his musical gifts, his family started the fund to honor him and provide teenagers with an alternative to substance abuse.
“Our slogan is ‘things your teacher never thought of,’ and it is not meant to be a negative,” Veatch said. “They do not have time to teach stuff in the school such as stage performance and how do you prepare to go before an audience.”
Through open mic nights, which TJVF has held jointly with the Yorktown Teen Center on the first Friday of each month since last year as well as through the organization’s assortment of workshop programs, teens refine their skills and develop a support system.
“There was this vacuum for kids in the performing arts,” explained Veatch. “While there were outlets for them in theater and dance, there really was not anything for those who performed music. Our musicians are not necessarily coming through the school band or orchestra; a lot of them are self-taught. They may have had music lessons for guitar but then have started writing songs and had no way to share them with their friends.”
The open mic nights highlighted how well the youngsters interacted with each other.
“They treat each other so well. They understand that they are putting themselves on the line and they know it is okay to make mistakes,” Veatch said. “I think we filled a niche in Yorktown and I think every town has that niche. That is why we decided to do the workshop.”
Last year, the two-day workshop at Briarcliff High School attracted students from Westchester, Orange, Putnam and Rockland counties. During the sessions, the musicians had the opportunity to write, record and perform two songs with the help of singer/songwriters Jon Gailmor and Brian Joyce. They also received practical advice on how to make professional quality recordings of their music on computers with a bare-bones budget during a digital recording technology workshop led by Greg Dunn, founder of Moving Mountains. In addition, the students received one-on-one vocal performance training in a three-hour session with renowned artist and vocal coach Sloan Wainwright.
This year, The Justin Veatch Fund Summer Music Workshop will be held at The Bedford Road School in Pleasantville on July 14 and 15. Wainwright and Gailmor will be returning and they will be joined by Hudson Valley performer TJay and internationally recognized violinist Daisy Jopling of Peekskill.
“Every town has a handful of kids that really want to be a part of this,” Veatch said. “We only fill the need for a few kids in every town, but they are the ones who really want to do this. The kids come to us with skills, but we feel we can teach them a few more skills and motivate them as well.”
“The Justin Veatch Fund is going to do all it can to draw talented young people into performance, nurture their confidence to do so and then find ways to have them live that dream if only for a few times,” said Thom Ianniccari, a director for the organization. “We may produce some future rock stars, but every one of them will have the abilities of a leader. This is our way of investing in the future and we will leave them with the gift of making music whether they do it full time or as a hobby.”
For more information about the workshop and the organization’s other programs, visit www.thejustinveatchfund.org.