While some knew him as Jonah and others as Mac, we all loved and respected him. And we miss him dearly.

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Reflections on Jonah as Musician – Part Three

So when were those rare moments that Jonah would sing in public?

Well, they weren’t quite as rare as the moments he would do homework, but they weren’t so easy to find either. Lucky you, you’re reading this blog entry and are now among the fortunate few to access Jonah Maccabee Dreskin’s performanceography (or parts therof).

All-County Choir (March 2002) Jonah's right smack in the center!

All-County Choir (March 2002)
Jonah’s right smack in the center!

Jonah appeared in a reasonable number of group performances throughout his childhood. These included the Ardsley Middle School Chorus and the more select Madrigal Choir. I can’t remember him ever having a solo, but he also never missed a performance. And if you ever get a chance to watch the videos (I have plenty!), he’s pretty definitely the cutest kid there – never stops smiling, even if he never stops chatting up the kids around him either. In March 2002 (seventh grade at Ardsley Middle School), Jonah got to sing with the Westchester All-County Chorus, maybe a thousand kids gathered to perform at SUNY-Purchase. Again, no solo, just a member of a very sizeable “pack.” He loved being part of it.

A shout-out to Jonah’s AMS music teacher Mr. Frank Squillante, who was always an encouraging presence in both Jonah’s and Aiden’s lives. There are teachers who squash kids’ natural interests and teachers who coax those interests to blossom. Frank is definitely one of the good guys. Ellen and I include him among that select group of adults who looked after Jonah and helped transform his brief life into a pretty wonderful one. Thanks, Frank.

Jonah (far right) sings with Pete Seeger at the Clearwater Festival (Jun 15, 2002)

Jonah (far right) sings with Pete Seeger at the Clearwater Festival (Jun 15, 2002)

Somewhere in time, Frank connected with Pete Seeger and, in June 2002 (age 12), the Ardsley Middle School Madrigal Choir trekked up to Croton and sang backup for Pete at the Clearwater Festival. Jonah and his friends “got” that this was something very special (their parents swooning on the grass in front of them was probably something of a giveaway). We got a great photograph of the group singing with Pete Seeger that day, as well as Pete’s autograph. These were carefully tucked away so that Jonah would have them as prized mementoes from his childhood. Every now and then, when I come across them, I sigh as I note that the autograph survived while Jonah didn’t.

Jonah’s Play Group Theatre years (2004-2008, age 14-18) certainly placed him onstage (and often in the spotlight), not just acting but singing and dancing in shows like “Grand Hotel,” “The Secret Garden” and “Hair.” I’ve written extensively about these experiences elsewhere. If you’re interested, read “The Clown Mensch of White Plains,” parts one and two.

As noted in the previous entry (“Reflections on Jonah as Musician – Part Two”), Jonah learned how to songlead by apprenticing with Kenny Green in the years 2006-2008 (age 16-18). But he first studied songleading with Chana Rothman, Rabbi Jen Gubitz and Cantor Zoe Jacobs at URJ Kutz Camp during the summer of 2005 where, reportedly, the first piece he led in front of the camp was “Makom Shelibi Oheyv” by Cantor Leon Sher. Leon’s a good friend of ours from the Neolithic Period and our performance group, Beged Kefet, sang “Makom Shelibi Oheyv” about a million times. Can you imagine Jonah’s parents’ excitement and pride in learning this was his first foray into the world of songleading?

Makin' a Motzi (Nov 2006)

Makin’ a Motzi (Nov 2006)

But as we were to see many, many times throughout Jonah’s life, even though he clearly possessed the skills and the character to perform in front of people, again and again he chose not to. Chana Rothman, remembering her student, had this to say about him:

One thing which struck me about Jonah was his relationship to the spotlight. As a songleading “coach,” it was my job to convey to his group the importance of the community and not to be a rock star while leading music, but to be a vessel bringing the group together. Jonah understood this concept, perhaps better than I did! It was crystal clear to me that he was in it for the love of music and nothing else. Case in point: After Kutz, Jonah could easily have gone on to be a successful songleader with NFTY-NAR but he didn’t pursue it. I asked him why, and he shrugged. At some point, I remembered the first time I saw him do “Makin’ a Motzi.” It was at that moment that I realized Jonah wasn’t doing anything to fit any mold; Jonah went in front of the group when his soul called him to, and he did it in his own way. As much as he loved and respected the rules and world of songleading, he had a different calling. He knew it, recognized it, and honored it. He didn’t do it for the spotlight which fit into a mold; he did it because it called to him and he responded. And oh, did it bring joy to people! I loved watching people’s faces when he picked up the mic. We all became, as I later heard at the funeral, “Maccabee’s children.” And we loved him – grown-ups too!

Chana was correct. Jonah was in it for the love of music. It motivated every note he ever played or sang. Ellen was perhaps his most frequent audience as she was lucky enough to receive personal performances of the songs he loved playing the most, like Extreme’s “More Than Words,” Tommy Emmanuel’s version of “Day Tripper,” and of course, “Over the Rainbow.” Whether he played for her because he preferred really small audiences or because he adored his mom (which he did), I don’t know for sure. But she loved that boy, and anything he sang for her might as well have been Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra (okay, or Usher).

In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, book one of a series that teenaged Jonah devoured, Prof. Dumbledore, headmaster at Hogwart’s says (“wiping his eyes”) to his young charges at their sorting banquet, “Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here!” Whether by voice, by guitar, ukulele or mandolin, Jonah Maccabee understood the magic of music. And who knows if somewhere inside him there was an understanding that his years were to number fewer than twenty and that perhaps the places to which music transported him would be among his most important (and certainly, his favorite) journeys. All I can say for sure is that when Jonah made music, we were carried on the wings of his melody and of his love.

Billy

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