Domingo Mancuello told the Homeland Center audience that he would play three songs by a little-known songwriter names Isham Jones.
“One is called ‘Sweet Man,’ and the other is called ‘Sugar,’” he said. “And I’m not going to tell you the name of the third song because you’re going to know the title, and when you recognize that song, I want you to shout it out. Shout it out loudly, because this piano is loud.”
As the medley approached the end of the second tune, Mancuello burnished a few chords on the piano, slowed down the pace, and launched into a song that was recognizable in the first three notes.
“Sweet Georgia Brown!” Homeland residents shouted with delight.
On a Monday afternoon in early March, the young Mancuello brought an old form of music to Homeland. Under his fingers, the sounds of ragtime practically exploded from Homeland’s Steinway grand piano, a gift from a former resident.
“This is a great piano,” he said during his presentation. “It was definitely made in the 1920s because it feels good under my fingers.”
The large crowd of Homeland residents gathered in the Main Dining Room appreciated the serendipity. Toes tapped and heads nodded as Mancuello played familiar tunes and introduced lesser-known compositions, almost all from ragtime’s heyday in the first half of the 20th century.
Mancuello has played piano since age 4 – he’s now 25 – and discovered ragtime when his grandfather sang with a barbershop quartet. He and his grandfather were prowling antique shops, hunting for phonograph needles, when he heard a player piano for the first time. He was transfixed.
Today, he is production assistant at Fulton Theatre, Lancaster, while also pursuing his passion for ragtime. He tries to preserve an old tradition while refreshing it for the 21st century. He even played two of his own compositions for Homeland residents, including one soon to appear on “Ragtime Wizardry 2,” a compilation of new ragtime pieces from Rivermont Records.
“I don’t frown on modern music because what I’m playing was once the loud music,” he said.
Music wasn’t Mancuello’s only early love. As a child, he was obsessed with Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, not only watching the show but delving into its origins.
“I read books on how it was made, the animation process, how it was produced, and how the producers lived their lives to be the people who made Rocky and Bullwinkle,” he said after his performance for residents. “The show itself brought me so much joy that I thought, ‘How do I create something like that?’ My whole M.O. is, let’s just try to make people feel happy.”
During his Homeland performance, residents happily sang along when they knew the words to the songs. They joined in with “Ain’t She Sweet,” “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby,” and “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?” When Mancuello played “Sweet Georgia Brown,” someone whistled the tune, just as it’s been performed for decades as the Harlem Globetrotters’ theme song.
Mancuello, veteran stage manager of many theatrical productions, has a quick smile and a relaxed manner. He thanked the residents and the sponsors who made his performance possible, Donna K. Anderson, president and CEO of On-Line Publishers, Inc., and her husband, Stan Anderson.
“It gives me such great pleasure to get to play this music for people because normally it’s just me in my apartment with a piece of sheet music,” he said.
Resident, Naomi Packer, called the performance “wonderful.”
“He brought back memories of my mother,” she said. “She was quite a piano player. She played all of this ragtime, but she also played very soft, smooth music. She was a great person, too.”
At the conclusion, resident Phoebe Berner stood up to thank Mancuello on behalf of everyone in the room.
“When this young man plays on Broadway, we can say we saw him at Homeland,” she said.