GUELPH, Ont. — Not only did Joseph Macerollo master music enough to play with some of the world’s best orchestras, but he did it with an accordion strapped to his chest.
It’s for his tenacity, his passion and his persistence in the uphill battle to enhance the reputation and stretch the capabilities of the oft-maligned accordion that the Guelph native is being honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Toronto Musicians’ Association.
“Joe Macerollo is solely responsible for initiating change in the perception of the accordion,” said Linda Cara, the association’s vice-president.
“Most people think of the accordion for playing folk music, but Joe brought it to the concert setting.”
“For the magnitude of what he’s brought to this instrument, the association is honouring him,” Cara said.
“But from a personal perspective and as a former student of Joe, he’s an inspiring teacher who helps his students understand a different approach to things. I’ve carried his approach and concepts throughout my own career.”
Macerollo, who turns 65 this year, barrelled into the Guelph Mercury newsroom recently with a “Make way for the stomach Steinway.”
With his quick sense of humour, he explained why he goes by Joseph now instead of Joe.
“Someone stole my web domain. I’m now josephmacerollo.com,” he said. “I’m Joseph, the artist, not Joe, the guy selling women on the Internet.”
Macerollo said he’s humbled by the award, although he originally thought it was an April Fool’s Day joke when he got the call.
“It’s a nice tribute and, on the exterior, it’s for me. But it’s for the instrument too. This tells me that anyone, on any instrument, can succeed,” he said.
Like the bagpipe and the banjo, the accordion is not taken seriously by classical musicians.
Macerollo found his share of resistance from conductors who couldn’t see the point of letting an accordion play with an orchestra.
But he persevered and mastered the instrument, making it breathe like other wind instruments, sing like the voice and still be percussive like the piano.
His technique with the bellows is unique and it’s that, and his warm, amenable personality, that has allowed the accordion to be accepted, Cara said.
“No one influenced me as much as he did,” Cara said. “As you watch accordion players, you know if they’ve been through his hands.”
Macerollo had to abandon the accordion to get his first music degree, in piano, from the University of Toronto because classes in accordion were not offered.
He left it again for his second degree, in musicology, also from the U of T.
“I was actually told by a professor, ’You will never get the accordion recognized at U of T. Over my dead body.”’ he said. “It was satisfying when that same professor had to thank me years later for my contribution to the music program.”
These days he divides his time between performing, teaching and doing administrative duties for a host of boards and associations he sits on.
The three-pronged approach to boosting his instrument has been effective.
“I now have composers writing music not just for accordion, but specifically for me,” he said.
“I have students who travel across the world to study with me. And I let those musical organizations know I want to include accordion music in their business matters.”
“Being told ‘no you can’t’ can be great incentive.”