John-Michael Brooks, 27, passed away unexpectedly at home due to a tragic fall. John-Michael was an accomplished musician from San Diego. His primary instrument was the violin and he enjoyed classical and jazz, but had a special love for old-time fiddling.
John-Michael began violin lessons at five years of age while living in Longview, Washington. He studied classical music but was soon introduced to fiddle-style. Within a short time, he began public performances, playing at restaurants, local fairs, schools and churches. As a member of the Longview Washington Youth Symphony, John-Michael served in the second chair position. At age eight, John-Michael’s first contest experience was at the state Old Time Fiddling Championships in Prosser, Washington, where he placed first in the Small Fry Division. He went on to place third at the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest and Festival in Weiser, Idaho.
Upon returning to San Diego, John-Michael continued his musical studies. He was a 2009 graduate of the San Diego School of Performing and Creative Arts (SCPA), where for four consecutive years, his peers voted him the Ludwig Van Beethoven award for Musician of the Year. He served as concertmaster of SCPA’s orchestra and in 2008 he was awarded the Itzhak Perlman award for best musician in the SCPA orchestra.
John-Michael performed with the San Diego Youth Symphony from 2000 until 2009. For the 2008-09 season, he was awarded the position of “Maurice Kawashima Associate Concertmaster — San Diego Youth Symphony Orchestra.” In 2015, John-Michael was invited back to the San Diego Youth Symphony Orchestra for its 70th anniversary celebration trip to China, performing in Beijing, Yantai and Shanghai.
John-Michael attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston and graduated Summa Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in violin performance in May 2013. He served as concertmaster of Berklee’s Musical Theater Orchestra and first violinist for Berklee’s string quartet.
In recent years, John-Michael taught violin and viola, jazz and classical theory; performed in many local venues, including the Sapphire Theatre Company in Escondido, the La Jolla Music Society’s summer production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; and was a fiddle player with The Desperados and for Shawn Rohlf and the Buskers.
John-Michael leaves behind his loving father, Michael R. Brooks and stepdad, Dan M. Gilbreath; his maternal grandmother, Isabel Hall, as well as a large extended family.
John-Michael was predeceased by his mother, Roberta Ann Brooks, who passed away in 2008. Roberta worked tirelessly during John-Michael’s formative years to give him the exposure to the violin and music that he so desperately craved.
Many people throughout John-Michael’s life contributed significantly to his love of music. These include Maxine Johnson and Matt Mandrones in Washington state; Steve Luchs, San Diego Unified School District; Dr. Philip Tyler, Point Loma Nazarene University; San Diego Youth Symphony Conductor Jeff Edmonds; SCPA music teacher and best mentor ever Tamara Paige; Mark O’Connor, preeminent fiddler and classical violinist, avid teacher and mentor; and the late Sam Necochea of Lakeside, California, a great friend and fellow fiddler.
Plans are in the works for a summer memorial concert. Donations in John-Michael’s name may be made to the San Diego Youth Symphony.