By Sue Wahlert
It’s quite possible that Mount Sinai’s Johnny Cuomo lives, breathes and sleeps music. Added to his life’s obsession are his love of cultures, nature, children and storytelling. He is a multidimensional music man who is lovingly known to many as “Mr. C.” As he says in his online introduction video, he is “deeply connected with nature, music, children and stories for children.”
However, there is even more to Cuomo than his guitar or his penny whistle. There is a wisdom that lives within him. It is a culmination of family vacations to the National Parks, his time spent volunteering on Indian Reservations in California and backpacking and studying abroad in Ireland, his dedication to religion and his need to make music. With all of this information, he has made it his life’s work to share his knowledge with children and adults through his musical storytelling profession and his performances in Irish Pubs.
At a very young age, Cuomo’s Stony Brook family began laying the groundwork for the man he has become.
“My parents had me interested in wolves, birds and bears,” said Cuomo. In college, Cuomo discovered the world of bird watching and is now an avid watcher. He uses his knowledge to incorporates tales of birds into some of his early childhood education programs.
Because Cuomo was exposed to history at a very young age, he was open to the experiences of volunteering at the Vieajas and Barona Indian Reservations in San Diego. “At night I would hang out with the elders. This enabled me to learn about their cultures and share my culture,” reflected Cuomo. This was also the first time Cuomo had the opportunity to work with children. “It solidified my love of working with children,” he said.
Cuomo’s love of Irish music was ignited during the two months he spent backpacking in Ireland, where he carried his belongings and a guitar. “I wanted to learn stories, music and history of the Irish,” he said. Upon returning home, he knew he had to go back, but this time would be via a study abroad program. During his eight months of study, Cuomo learned to play the tin whistle, banjo and mandolin, and began performing Irish music.
In the late 1990s, Cuomo formed the popular Irish band, Gallowglass. Although they are no longer together, the musicians sometimes collaborate. Currently you can see Cuomo on most Sunday nights performing Irish music at the Pig ‘n’ Whistle on 2nd Ave. in New York City.
Cuomo understands the vital importance of music in the life of children and adults. He offers private instruction and also has a wide range of children’s programs for Preschoolers through 12th grade. For more than seven years, Cuomo has been doing a weekly music program at the Chatterbox Day School in East Islip.
Director Lindsay Parker said of Cuomo, “The children look forward to their weekly music classes with “Mr. C.” They are fun, creative and exciting. Johnny brings a new dimension to children’s music that is rare to find!”
You might also find Cuomo on stage at the outdoor classroom at Play Groups School in East Setauket, strumming on his guitar while the preschoolers act out musical stories as they sing and dance. Educational Director Maddy Friedman applauds Cuomo, saying “he is an exceptional music educator who brings his joy and love of music to our school.” Cuomo is scheduled to perform at the school’s annual May Fair on May 30.
Since 2000, Cuomo has also shared his talents at the Comprehensive Kids Developmental School, a public, special needs preschool on the lower east side of Manhattan. The opportunity to work with the special needs population has impressed upon Cuomo the importance of therapeutic music. “I can reach these kids with my music,” said Cuomo. “I have a special drum I use, where they can feel the vibration, and also a whistle, so they can feel the air move. It is a gift to be able to work with these kids.” Annemarie Fuschetti, the school’s former psychologist, said of Cuomo, “Everyone lights up when Johnny comes. Even those with the most difficult behaviors.”
One might wonder how one person can do all of this? Cuomo laughed as he said, “I have a number of part-time jobs that add up to more than a full-time job. I have traded sleep for time with my family.” His two boys, Johnny, 7, and Paul, 6, are also music lovers and have been to hundreds of their father’s gigs. Recently, Cuomo was invited to play at Walt Disney World with a group of fellow Irish musicians. Fortunately his wife and sons were invited to be part of this journey, to experience the park and see Cuomo play an Irish music and dance show at Raglan Road Irish Pub in Downtown Disney.
More recently, Cuomo signed with manager Jean Marie Keevins of Little Shadow Productions. Keevins will serve as a liaison to other writers and companies with whom Cuomo might be able to collaborate and sell his original ideas to. The professional arena is wide open, from books to theater to animation. It is an exciting time for the artist.
Additionally, Cuomo is excited to be heading off to Alaska this July for the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, where he will be teaching workshops and playing concerts focused on traditional Irish and American Folk music.
To top it off, the never weary Cuomo and his wife Kristin will be running their weeklong summer program, “Birds of a Feather Nature Camp.” Based out of the Setauket Neighborhood House, they have been running this outdoor program for more than 13 years. “We want to get kids to go outside and observe all that is here locally. It is an opportunity to see what’s in your backyard,” said Cuomo. The camp combines music, nature, crafts and hiking, all of which encourage kids to connect with nature and music.
Check out Cuomo’s website at www.johnnycuomo.com to learn more about his programs, listen to some of his CDs and check on upcoming shows. Any time spent with Cuomo is a time to remember, as his stories and music live on in the minds and hearts of many.