Playing a song to honor vets

Legion thanks teen for sharing his musical talent

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Fourteen-year-old Connor McKevitt remembers how hard it was to master the first three notes on the trumpet, which he started at age 9. Playing five different notes was tough, too. Now the engaging East Meadow teen can play lots of notes on a challenging instrument where lips, cheeks and lungs all come into play. So do proper posture and breathing.    

Taps is a total of 24 notes in length, so it isn’t particularly long. The somber tone that it is meant to convey, however, is difficult to master. Connor, though, decided to give it a try when no one else could perform taps at last year’s Memorial Day ceremony in East Meadow.

The community’s usual parade was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, but a small ceremony was still held. Connor said he wanted to help because, he said, “I know all the hard work veterans do for our country.”

After performing taps on Memorial Day last year, Connor returned to play it again this May. Only a handful of veterans could attend last year’s ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park, but many more came this year.

On Aug. 10, East Meadow’s American Legion presented Connor with a plaque to thank him for stepping in and performing on Memorial Day. “It touched us for a young boy to come and do this,” said Dolores Rome, one of East Meadow’s Memorial Day Parade organizers. “And it was special for me personally, too.”

Having Connor play taps meant a great deal to the veterans. Playing it is the ultimate way to honor and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, said Pete Wenninger, commander of the East Meadow American Legion Post 1082.

“Connor’s a young man who learned from his parents about dedication and honor. He played his heart out,” Wenninger said. “It’s one thing to hear taps played on the radio and another to watch it played live.”

Connor’s private music teacher, Michael Blutman, a professional musician and East Meadow High School graduate, told him taps is “the most important 24 notes you can play.” Connor said he needed two weeks to learn the piece originally, but much longer than that to master it.

The East Meadow School District is known for its musical prowess. When children enter the fourth grade, Connor said they are not asked if they want to play an instrument. They are asked which instrument they would like to play.

Music stimulates the mind and helps make students well-rounded, said Connor’s father, Tom McKevitt, a Nassau County legislator representing District 13. McKevitt, a lifelong East Meadow resident who played trumpet in school, said he never pushed his son into music, noting Connor loves his instrument. McKevitt was saddened, he said, when he heard that the high school’s marching band would be unable to play again this year at the Memorial Day parade because, he said, it is the one event at which hundreds of community members can hear how talented the students are.

McKevitt’s wife, Samantha, said, “Playing music is also good for discipline. Connor likes playing for people. I hope he sticks with it throughout high school.”

Two years ago, before Covid-19 hit, Connor belonged to the non-profit Nassau-Suffolk Performing Arts concert band, an elite Island-wide band that requires an audition. Among the venues where Connor performed was the famed Tilles Center on the LIU Post campus in Brookville.

One of Connor’s favorite activities is listening to movie themes on Youtube, which he said, “not all kids like to do.” He enjoys playing music from movies too, including pieces from “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars,” which he learned with Blutman.

Like so many other young people, he loves Legos, and joined Woodland Middle School’s Lego Robotics Club, which took first place in May in an Island-wide competition. His winning robot was made of Legos and had to perform a number of challenges within a time limit.

“I also like computer science,” he said. “I’m taking computer programming this year in school and want to be a computer engineer when I grow up.”

He is hoping school will be in person full time this year, he said. It was not the same learning experience for him last year being home. Conducting experiments in class is far more enjoyable than doing them at home, he said.

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