I told Paul that I felt like Forrest Gump, the movie character who was accidentally present at many historic moments. We were on our way to an event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the flag of Canada, the distinctive Maple Leaf. Paul had been invited weeks earlier to be in a commemorative photo; a living recreation of the flag; but a few days before the event had received an email saying that there was still space and a significant other could accompany him if he wished! It felt surreal, and an exciting honour that we would both be in a photograph that would be included in the public record of this celebration.
We made our way to the Mattamy Athletic Centre; the site of the old Maple Leaf Gardens, and soon joined a throng of other guests dressed in red, gathering for coffee and refreshments to start the day.
Paul was wearing a burgundy shirt, so he was offered a
tomato red one from a box of sweat shirts, and was helped to find his size by a friendly man who introduced himself as Joe and told Paul he surely didn't need XXL, he thought he could fit into an XL. He came over and stood beside us as we looked down from the top of the stadium, to the red maple leaf and red panels down below on the floor and the preparations underway for the photo later on. He folded his arms and leaned in to chat and I noticed a pin on his lapel. I asked about it and he told us that it was his Order of Canada pin, and that he was made an Officer of the Order in 2013, for his contribution to the arts. "Joe" introduced himself as Joseph Macerollo, and it soon was evident that he was a world renowned master musician and accordianist.
At the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto doctoral candidates study the physiology of making music under him. They learn how to use the machine of their body with an instrument; the accordion; to put sound out into space. As Joe explained this, he gestured with his hand as if throwing something into the air out in front of him like the sound he was describing. He said, "People usually pull from the left, but that creates a nasal sound from an accordion," and he demonstrated his technique called "the snake" where the musician moves strategically to create sound. In any orchestra in the world now, there are musicians who have studied under Joseph Macerollo, a man who had to get his degree in piano, because the accordion was not taken seriously enough.
He played the accordion with the Toronto Symphony with the great opera singer, the late Luciano Pavarotti, who was known for firing accordionists; usually within the first 10 minutes. But Pavorotti turned around to Joe, when he was playing, and gave him two thumbs up.
In 2003 during the SARS outbreak in Canada, a group of students from the Netherlands came over for classes with Joe. Joe was well known in the Netherlands, as he had been there in person. But the University of Toronto was in lock down due to the crisis. One of the students called Joe and asked if five of them might instead come to his house. Joe took pity on them and agreed, and since his son was home, he and his wife planned to feed the six young people. But to his surprise a yellow school bus rolled up to his home, with a flag in the window with an accordion on it. And there were thirty seven students on the bus, not five. Word had got around that they were going to his home and the others had begged to come along! Joe ordered pizza and Crispy Cream donuts for all of them and taught a master class; a kind and generous act that didn't surprise us after talking to Joe for a few minutes.
When Paul mentioned that he had seen some members of the Royal Canadian Air Farce; the long running CBC comedy series: in the crowd, Joe's warm brown eyes lit up. He had played for the show and said that he and Scott Irvine, a tuba player were the only two musicians that survived the cuts at CBC. He laughed at a memory of female comedian Luba Goy, who quipped as she attempted to play the accordion, "My boobs get in the way of the bellows!"
"Where did you see them?" he asked, looking around, and Paul pointed him in the direction where he had last seen them.
After he left, Paul said, "I guess it's ordinary people that do extraordinary things and don't even think about it."
Our interchange seemed symbolic of the event we were participating in; the creation of a "living flag" made of people representing many nations of the world; many abilities and disabilities; from all walks of life; young and old. It would show those who bring themselves, their art and their cultures to enrich this country; all part of a large scale unique photograph by renowned photographer Edward Burtynsky. 100 brand new citizens of Canada were being sworn in during the ceremony and in the crowd mingled both new and old citizens, along with icons such as Joseph Macerollo and members of the Royal Canadian Air Farce.
Oh, Canada! Our Canada.
If you are interested in more information on Joe, here is a link to a video Interview of Joe Macerollo by Chris Fonseca