“Jon Sundell “plays” an audience of children as well as he plays any of the instruments he brings to a concert. The pace is lively as he moves from song to instrumental to tall tale to sing-along, and the atmosphere is one of warmth and good humor where every child feels a part of the happening”.
– Lynne Crocker, journalist, Arts Council of Wyndham County, VT
You would be hard pressed to find a folk performer more engaging or more versatile than Jon Sundell. Over 45 years Jon has been interpreting traditional music, tales and dance with people of all ages and backgrounds across half of the United States and several foreign countries – in Spanish as well as English. Jon provides more than enough variety to engage and keep any audience's interest. Accompanying himself on a variety of stringed instruments or singing acapella he weaves together folk songs from the Southern Mountains and beyond with multicultural folk tales of all kinds. In storytelling with young children he sometimes adds a puppet or even creates one by twisting balloons as he narrates, then later makes individual balloon figures for the children present. Jon provides plenty of opportunities for audience participation - through singing, movement, playing rhythm instruments, and responding verbally in different ways. Taking participation to a higher level he can lead a variety of interactive workshops from storytelling to singing games. Or call an exhilarating square dance that builds an enriched sense of community.
But ultimately, a big toolbox is not the only secret to Jon's success. It's also how he uses those tools. Jon connects with his audience in a manner that is both warm and dynamic, entertaining and real. He projects a deep admiration for the cultures he represents - and a passion for bringing people together to share them.
Jon's programs run the gamut from (almost) pure entertainment to various forms of edu-tainment, whether it be multimedia school programs to encourage reading and animate the curriculum; a community concert promoting multicultural understanding; a church gathering reminding us in fresh, exciting ways to treat our neighbors as ourselves; or a coffee house concert weaving a patchwork journey through love, work, struggle, and joy.
Overlapping with Jon's performance experience are three decades of work as a public and school children’s librarian, helping him grow in his understanding of children, his storytelling skills and repertoire, and his ability to integrate folk songs and tales with reading and other educational curriculum. Also overlapping are a variety of multicultural experiences in work, study, worship, advocacy, travel and living abroad that have enriched his life and contributed enormously to his abilities as an interpreter of folk tradition.
- He has drawn on the rich folklore, humor and personal stories of his Russian Jewish grandparents and their immigrant experience.
- In the late 1960’s while spending a year abroad in France and traveling and performing extensively before, during and afterwards, he developed a personal feel for European countries, their people and stories.
- Through an undergraduate minor in Asian Studies and a year living in Japan he began developing a spiritual and personal connection with Asia, which continues to ripen through his ever-expanding repertoire of stories.
- In the 1970’s he collected songs from older Appalachian singers and storytellers, organized community festivals where they could perform, and personally shared their music and tales with young people in rural mountain schools and community centers.
- In the 1980’s and 1990’s, through many visits to Latin American communities and work at home to raise money and understanding, Jon gained a first hand knowledge of their hardships and strengths. And he expanded his repertoire to support Latin American struggles for peace and justice and interpret them for non-Hispanics in the US.
- In the 1990’s and 2000’s, as director of the public library’s Hispanic Services Department and the Hispanic Arts Initiative, a non-profit organization he founded, he expanded his Hispanic repertoire to feature children’s tales and songs, while developing a deep connection with local Spanish speaking families. In 2006 he married and began building a family with Colombian native, Vivian Dominguez and her daughter, Ana Maria.
- Jon has developed his abilities as a song leader in many settings – from library and school storytimes and concerts, to White, Black and Hispanic church services, to gatherings opposing surface coal mining or supporting human rights in Latin America.
All these people, cultures, and experiences inform and animate Jon Sundell's concerts, square dances and other activities as, in the finest tradition of folk transmission, he passes them on to the audiences who have come to see and share with him.
“Jon Sundell communicated more than the music and more than his enthusiasm for the Appalachian culture which produced it. He left the audience profoundly moved and with a sense of having shared in an aesthetic, conceptual, and musical adventure. An unforgettable evening!”
– Lisa Null, Founder of Green Linnet Records, renowned singer, and manager, Folk Cabaret, New Canaan, Connecticut