When John Schwartz was born, there were serious health concerns. He had a combination of Cerebral Palsy and hydrocephalus. Shortly after birth he experienced a brain hemorrhage and required a shunt to be installed in the left side of his brain. The medical professionals expressed doubts that John would ever talk or walk. That was almost 35 years ago, and he has shattered every expectation. He lives a full life with his parents, Mary and Chuck, participating in many programs, including Living Resources’ Day Community Opportunities Program (DCOP). One thing is for sure, music is his passion.
When John was six years old, he started taking piano lessons from Linda Fisher, the pianist at his church. He studied with her for many years, learning to play one-handed as the CP makes it difficult for him to use his right hand. John also sings, plays harmonica, guitar, djembe, and cajon making him a veritable one-man-band.
John has participated in the DCOP Chorus as their piano accompanist since the group was formed seven years ago. Prior to the pandemic, the group met weekly to learn and rehearse music. They performed twice a year at the agency wide Day Program Award Ceremonies and sang Christmas Carols at the Living Resources holiday open houses. John never missed a single performance.
Although they haven’t met in person this past year due to the pandemic, he still interacts with his DCOP friends via Zoom Tuesdays for a variety of fun activities and Fridays for music appreciation and games.
John has become a master of other communication platforms as well. This past summer, he gave live musical concerts in his front yard for his neighbors and his Facebook Live fans. Each week he created set lists including songs by artists such as The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Billy Joel, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Jimmy Buffet and modern artists such as Justin Timberlake. John said, “I loved that, ‘cause I knew that there were people watching and they knew the songs I had prepared.”
One of his most frequently requested song is Billy Joel’s Piano Man, on which he sings and plays the harmonica while accompanying himself on the piano. This piece is very special to him since he met Billy Joel through the Make- a- Wish Foundation.
John knows about giving back to his community. Prior to the pandemic, he played at a several Open Mic Night venues in the region as well as at nursing homes and a summer camp. At the later, he frequently brought a bag filled with percussion instruments so everyone could make music with him. Since all that is on hold, he currently does online music therapy with “Music Speaks” in Troy, connecting with the next generation through the universal language of music. He says that it is “very meaningful to me to play for different folks.”
Kate Bugbee, his DCOP manager praised John by saying, “John is truly talented and phenomenal musician. He has shared a lot of inspiration and shows enthusiasm when he plays music with his peers.” His father added, “John is a remarkably courageous and talented young man.” The lesson John wants to share with the world is not to let others define your life. As John frequently tells others, “You can do anything you want!”