Founder of The Michael Ierullo Piano Boutique
When I opened my piano shop in 2014, I was on a mission. First, there was the practical consideration. I needed a place where I could fix, rebuild and sell pianos. But the bigger goal – the one that kept me motivated to get up every day and transform my business into something special – was much deeper than that. I wanted to bring the magic of the piano into the lives of more families. No matter the budget, I believed I could provide pianos to people from all walks of life. If having a piano to play was someone’s dream, I would find a way to make it happen. Music has meant so much to my life, and I loved that feeling of bringing the same joy to others.
I first began playing the piano when I was four, but the seeds of my passion for the instrument were planted years earlier. My father was the original inspiration. He was a jazz musician from Italy. (Incidentally, that’s where the piano was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori around the year 1700). My dad came over from the old country with my grandparents to settle in Timmins, where my grandfather worked in the mines. When my father visited Toronto with the school band as a bright-eyed 16-year-old, he was instantly hooked on the big city and decided to stay. By age 18, he had already bought his first house on Markham Street. For my dad, music wasn’t his occupation, but it was his passion. He was an entrepreneur who started with one barbershop and eventually owned a chain of 13 shops, but he never allowed his ambition to overshadow his love of music. I remember him filling our house with song. Jazz, big band, rock and roll…he loved it all.
As a toddler ripe to musical influences, I started plunking around on the piano. It wasn’t long before I was hooked too, just like my dad had been all those years ago. By the time I was 16, the same age my dad left home to settle in Toronto, I started to become more serious about my piano studies. I attended the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and began offering lessons in people’s homes. Perhaps I would have been happy teaching for my whole career.
A mentor sets the tone
But then fate had other plans for me, as fate tends to do. My career direction shifted sometime after I started hiring a man named Wayne Chen to tune my pianos. It wouldn’t be long before I figured out that I was in the presence of a master, a true piano genius. A fourth-generation piano technician, Wayne learned his craft from his father when he was just 16 years old. By age 24, he had landed the coveted position of resident tuner for the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. Since immigrating to Canada in the 1980s, Wayne Chen has worked on pianos for some of the most prestigious organizations in North America, including symphony orchestras and performing arts centres.
I was immediately captivated by Wayne Chen’s deep expertise. He was brimming with knowledge. He would sit down with his tools beside a piano, and soon the sound would start to sparkle and come alive. It was amazing to watch and hear it happen. It was like witnessing a painter stand in front of a blank canvas, adding color and texture to transform it into a beautiful piece of art. Wayne Chen’s work was art, too – it was sound art. I had played the piano almost my whole life, but now I was suddenly viewing this instrument in a whole new light. By developing a thorough understanding of how a piano worked, I was able to better comprehend the heart and soul of the music it created. I was utterly captivated and forever changed.
One day I was sitting across from Wayne as we ate lunch at the Dairy Queen, and I asked him to teach me his craft. He said if I really wanted to learn to be a piano technician, I should attend the piano technology program at George Brown College. Again fate played a part, because the year I attended turned out to be the last group of students the school accepted before terminating the program. This was the only piano technician degree offered in Toronto. Who knows what other direction my life would have taken if I had missed that final year?
Learning the ropes
Armed with my newfound knowledge from college, I became Wayne Chen’s apprentice. For six years, I worked alongside him as he patiently showed me the ropes – or, shall I say, the piano strings. I would get a call at 11 at night, and it would be Wayne calling from somewhere like the St. Lawrence Centre for Performing Arts, asking: “Do you want to learn something?” He would be tuning a piano for a famous musician in concert the next day, and I was there to witness his artistry as he played an integral role in making sure the instrument would be in stellar shape for the performer and the spectators to hear. I will be forever grateful to Wayne Chen for these experiences that changed my life and dramatically enriched my world as I knew it.
The piano has served as the central character in the trajectory of my career. From those early childhood days of plinking and plunking on the keys to becoming a teacher and then a student myself as I took the path to become a technician, this instrument has brought me a rich blend of experiences that have shaped and defined my life. Helping others find the piano of their dreams is meaningful to me. That applies whether I’m helping a young family buy their first piano, or rebuilding a Steinway grand with tender care, or fine-tuning a piano for a musician preparing to enthrall an audience. This is a passion project that will always reside at the core of who I am. There is nothing more rewarding to me than bringing more music into the world. If The Michael Ierullo Piano Boutique can help others realize their musical dreams as I have, then I’ve fulfilled my greater purpose.