A shell of himself

Photos/illustrations provided by Thomas Amoriello Jr.

With 25 years of instructional experience, Thomas Amoriello Jr. has helped thousands of youngsters to appreciate the allure of the guitar, noting the reverberating rewards of having been a part of so many fruitful childhood journeys. Hoping to strike even more chords among curious kids, the Whitman product published “A Journey to Guitarland with Maestro Armadillo,” calling on his text and illustrations by James J. Kelewae to inspire aspirations akin to those he has nurtured for more than four decades.

“With so many problems in the world, music can be a balm,” the former Whitman resident said on a recent return trip to South Philly. “The guitar, especially, is a unifier and not a divider, and since it has sparked so many opportunities for me, I felt the need to be an advocate for such a beautiful and limitless instrument through this means.”

Since its spring release, his book, which the back cover touts as the first in an informative series, has generated great feedback thanks to its scribe’s inviting explanations and the pleasant nature of the titular character, a bespectacled mammal who owes his existence to the boyhood nickname that Amoriello bore (“Minus the maestro part,” he quipped.). As the result of 30 drafts and untiring allegiance to the task of sharing his life’s passion, the work could become a staple among introductory texts, particularly because of the inherent invitation to join other practitioners in enjoying creative bliss.

“When you begin to play a guitar, you automatically have something in common with so many other people,” Amoriello, 44, said. “You become a sponge who can go from a basic understanding to a deeper appreciation, and that can foster so many realizations.”

His brainchild, whose front features the young master flying on a flaming guitar, encourages that awareness by teaching readers the anatomy of the instrument and guiding them through the fun of owning their own ax, even down to giving the possession a name, with Maestro Armadillo dubbing his “Ruby.” With those components, drawings of children strumming their guitars, and a list of notable players capping the handiwork, it is no surprise that Brian May, who appears among the greats for his immortal contributions to Queen’s catalogue, considers the book “… very cool stuff for kids.”

“Music is about making connections, and those in turn help you to grow your confidence,” Amoriello said of what he feels has fueled the success of his written venture, which educators have also lauded. “No matter what you want out of your exposure to playing guitar, you’re likely going to get it if you remain committed, but it can be so easy to push a pursuit aside when people feel it’s not fun or enriching anymore. I don’t ever want to see that happen to someone’s understanding of music.”

The enthusiastic touter has counted himself among the resolute searchers for string-produced pride since his very early youth, when a silver tone guitar that had belonged to one of his grandfathers came to compel him to consider the intricacy and possibility of that beauty and its brethren. Becoming a fan of the individual sounds and the collective vibrations, the former John H. Taggart Elementary School student took the next few years to deepen his knowledge of music, even submitting a first-grade report on The Beatles.

“It became so therapeutic, and I could sense a longing to uncover its mysteries,” Amoriello said of his immersion into mastering the guitar, which he began to do as a 12-year-old student at the now-defunct Philadelphia Music Co. “Coming of age when I did, too, there were wonderful chances to catch great acts at The Spectrum, and that proved instrumental, too, no pun intended.”

As he approached adulthood, the highly self-aware individual, knowing he needed to think about what his vocation would be, told his parents he wanted to be a guitar player. Moving to Minneapolis in 1990, he intensified his well of wisdom under renowned classical guitarist David Crittenden and used that tutelage to pursue studies at Rowan University.

“Nothing else in life made me feel so captivated,” Amoriello said. “I don’t want to come off as arrogant, but I knew I had talent. That can’t take you all the way, though. The work ethic has to be there, too, and, fortunately, I think I’ve been blessed with a good one.”

Esteemable proof of his diligence came courtesy of a graduate assistantship through the Shenandoah Conservatory at Shenandoah University. That Virginia-situated windfall stands as the boon that further validated his boyhood ambition, and he has used the subsequent two decades to build on his early adulthood forays into education, giving Garden State residents his constant concern for their evolution.

“It’s just a wonderful, wonderful role to have in life,” the Central Jersey resident said of being a motivator for their maturation, which he achieves through the use of 23 guitars. “No matter how many lessons I give, classes I oversee, or whatever, it’s all still so fresh.”

His persistent penchant for his profession has enabled Amoriello to forge member status with The National Association for Music Education, the Guitar Foundation of America, and the Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society, which often calls upon Queen Village’s Settlement Music House as a performance location. Regardless of his titles or affiliations, Amoriello most cherishes strengthening youthful exuberance, including that of his son, Benjamin, to whom he dedicated “A Journey to Guitarland with Maestro Armadillo.” Further occasions to promote the compact and colorful creation await, and he is eager to give life to its successors. Hopeful that his additional output will meet with similar or even greater approval, he also knows that the overall promotion of music as a source of joy is a perennial delight and acknowledged its uniqueness at this time of year.

“Maybe Santa will be bringing kids all across the country a few more guitars than usual this year,” Amoriello said. “Maestro Armadillo is waiting for them if he does.” SPR

Copies of “A Journey to Guitarland with Maestro Armadillo” ($15.95) are available via amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com.

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com.