Musical memories are made of this: Ottawa photographer, Fred Cattroll, parts ways with a very unusual roommate

Fred Cattroll and his now departed roommate.

When Ottawa photographer Fred Cattroll sold his house it meant he had to tell his exotic Italian “tenant,” that it was time to move on after five years.

The tenant did reply in an unexpected way, with the Moonlight Sonata.

That “housemate” was a nine-foot Fazioli grand piano once played by Herbie Hancock worth about $250,000. It was stashed in Cattroll’s Kanata home by Angela Hewitt. The piano has found a new secret home. Cattroll says he knows where it is and may visit it from time to time. But he’s not giving up the location.

Cattroll is a popular and busy freelance photographer in the Ottawa area and one of his regular gigs is with the National Arts Centre. Out of that connection he develops business relationships with a lot of performers and is often called upon to photograph them.

Five years ago he was hired to do a photo shoot with Hewitt in advance of a recording session. The piano was featured in the shoot. As is often the case in photography sessions such as this a conversation will develop and Cattroll heard Hewitt saying that she had no place to store her beloved piano. It’s not easy to stash such an instrument. After all this one is just over nine feet long, stands almost four feet high and is about five feet wide. Not only that it weighs about half a ton.

And while Hewitt has a home in Ottawa, it’s a condo and the room just wasn’t there.

Cattroll heard this and “well, I said, store it at my house.”

Angela’s father Godfrey had taught Cattroll’s uncle the organ, so there was a connection. As the photo shoot progressed, Hewitt started to trust Cattroll more.

“She came to my house and checked it out. The house was designed as energy efficient residence,” he said.

It took some time, but eventually Hewitt was convinced and the piano arrived one day with only “Fred” on the address label.

Over the past five years, whenever she is in Ottawa, Hewitt has practiced the piano upstairs.

“I photograph downstairs. We formed this odd friendship. We talk about business travel, marketing and life. I don’t know who I will miss more, the piano or Angela?

“The piano would look at me every morning, brooding in the corner, demanding that I rise to her level. In some ways, I became a better photographer. But sometimes you have to move on.”

Last week, as Hewitt was in town preparing for her Bach Odyssey concert at the National Arts Centre, she played a final concert for Fred and his entire street featuring Bach as arranged by Glenn Gould and closing with Moonlight Sonata.

“The neighbours were transfixed,” he says.
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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.