Monday, November 19, 2007

Our Hearts Are Heavy But Such Memories......

Dear All,

Our hearts still ache but it is so comforting to read the tributes, to hear the stories and to learn of the depth of impact that our beloved John has had in relation to all of you. It is a source of comfort for the family and it is not uncommon for us to read the tributes and comments repeatedly. And, we thank you for the hundreds of cards and emails-they are full of great memories and so warm and loving.

For those folks who could attend the visitation and funeral mass our family thanks you for your kindness to come to comfort us and to remember John. For those of you who could not attend or who live physically too far away I am posting here some of the tibutes to John and the Eulogy that was so beautifully read by Ms. Louise Pitre.
There is also a DVD tribute that will be posted for a few months at the Humphrey's Funeral Home Website that you might enjoy.

I hope that these tributes will also be a source of comfort for you as we look back and prepare to move forward.

With Deep Gratitude,

Mary Jane

Eulogy for John Arpin by Ms. Louise Pitre


The Monster Piano Player with the smallest hands,
The Dog Lover and Rescuer
The Composer, Arranger, Writer, Accompanist, Ragtime Authority,
Concert Performer
The Walking Musical Encylopedic Mind
The Gifted Son
The Adored Father and Grandfather
The Attentive Brother
The loving and ever so proud Husband

John, we know you have simply gone to a better place where you can continue with your total engagement in life, your youthful energetic attitude, your love of children, dogs, antiques, sports; Where you can keep raving about your wife and her impressive achievements while working a rooom full of medical professionals.

From Port McNicoll to the best concert halls and recording studios. It's been a long and impressive career. Your parents exposed you to classical music and opera. They supported your talent. Your mother even took you to Toronto from Midland on the bus so you could study with better teachers-even though she was sick all the way there and all the way back. It was either bus sickness or no lesson. You got the lessons and you flew!!

I’ve had the distinct honour of singing with John at the piano. It is a priviledge for which I will forever be thankful.

John and I collaborated on a couple of songs. I wrote French lyrics to an English song he had written. During one of our sessions at his home, he asked if I might try my hand at writing lyrics to a piece of music he had composed. He called it “Heartbreak Rhapsody" and it was heartbreakingly beautiful. John sat at the piano and I stood by his side as he played. We were both crying by the time he had finished. I told him it was the saddest melody I'd ever heard. He told me Mary Jane had said the same thing. I started working on it but was and am still having trouble finishing it because the words need to live up to the music. My husband, the writer, is now working on it with me and we are making some headway.

A few weeks ago, I went to see John at home. He was not having a good day but I did have a chance to visit and talk and tell him how much he had meant to me. I also sang him the lyrics that have been written so far to this heartbreak rhapsody. He cried and I took it to mean that we were on the right track. I had been wrong about the sad, regretful theme I had originally envisioned for this song. It is about how some might regret but not him. It's a celebration of what Mary Jane brought into his life. I'd like to read what we have so far and hereby promise publicly to finish this song. It is fitting that I should simply read since I was the words and he was the music:


The world may be missing some music now that John is gone but Heaven just got a boost in its music department. John, I know you're playing the piano of your dreams, the boys' choir is studying one of your heavenly arrangements while Polk-A-ROO hovers by; Pavi is lying a few feet away and Bing is running around and going up to total strangers without fear or reservation.

You loved your audiences and used to bring the lights up on them during concerts, so you could see their faces.
I know you can see our faces now.
We are smiling and thanking you for the music. The beautiful music.
I’ll be seeing you, John.
We’ll all be seeing you.
But we will especially always be hearing you.

Tribute by Dean Macdonald

Thank you have made a significant and good difference in my life. We have all said at one time or another, "If I hadn't been at a particular place, at a particular time, my life would have turned out very differently than the life I have lived". It was 1969, John, when you formed the John Arpin trio. As a member of your trio for all those years, you opened doors for me that would otherwise not have been opened. John, you treated me with great respect and generosity. I will always be grateful. Your enormous gifts taught me much about music, from the style and feel of a Gershwin medley to the grace and energy of classical ragtime and oh, so much more. But you were also a dear friend "off stage" as well as on. We shared many experiences all those many years ago, some hilariously funny, some sadly tragic.....John, thanks for the wonderful adventure. You made a positive difference in my life. ...I love you. I will miss you....God speed.

Tribute by Mr. Rob Natale

John Arpin

The measure of a man’s greatness is not so much in what a person achieves or accomplishes, but rather in the quality of a person’s character. Well, John Arpin had it all. He surely had great accomplishments and successes, but more importantly he had an overwhelming capacity to be genuinely concerned, interested and inquisitive about every single person he ever crossed paths with never giving a thought to social status or circumstance. He truly respected every person he ever encountered. That is grace, and surely graciousness is what characterizes John best. And his family would know this best. The intense love he always had for all the members of his family should be an example to us all. He was so proud of his family and they were always on his mind. And although he was certainly more so a lover of humanity than anything else, he went beyond that. When any of his four-legged beloved pets left this world he would weep a lot. That was John. His sensitivity in all things seemed boundless.

Those who were privileged enough to be included in his closest circle of friends long ago came to the realization that outside of his main field of exquisite expertise he seemed to know everything about just about everything. Of course if you ever expressed your amazement about his abundant knowledge he would quickly and so humbly dismiss that thought. Has there ever been a person with such enormous talent who all the while harboured such an abundance of humility.

John Arpin, the dedicated and beloved family man, the most charming and witty conversationalist, the maestro of musicians, the Chopin of Ragtime and now to be sorely missed by all of us, and especially by those who have been graced with the privilege of calling John Arpin a dear friend.

But, more importantly, John will be remembered for graciously blessing the world with his profound gift. Now may God bless John Arpin.

Rob Natale

Tribute Read by Dr. David Hurst

John Arpin

This kind, gentle, witty, enormously talented courageous, dear friend. This musical giant with very small hands which easily spanned an octave; with a smile that lit up a room.

We met at the Chelsea Bun over twenty years ago. Among his other stops were, to name a few, Ports of Call- he would always swing into "I'll Never Smile Again" when Toronto's own Ruth Lowe, the song's composer strolled in to hear John play. Also, at Mr. Tony's and the Victoria Room at the King Eddie.

I transported him to several gigs. There was never any sheet music, just lots of CD's. Once en route to the Sanderson Centre in Brantford, 700 tickets sold, I asked what he would play? The answer- "I don't know".

His wonderful stories never ended. At the King Eddie a waiter brought him a note from table 7. A nice lady wanted to chat when the show ended. It was Jane Fonda wondering if she should marry some chop named Ted Turner. Said John, "the money's right".

Once I stayed over with John and Mary Jane and after dinner, with a little prodding from me John began to play, while Joplin, their beautiful golden retriever lay asleep on the rug. Said Mary Jane, "Dave stand on the rug." John played "I've Got You Under My Skin". Joplin's ears came up. Mary Jane said, "Joplin dance.". He came to me, rose on his hind legs, fore paws on my shoulders and swayed to the music. He would only dance for his song. We were cheek to cheek. He was wonderful!

Eubie Blake, John's good ragtime pal, told him of writing- "I'm Just Wild About Harry" for a girl songer at some place of marginal repute. It was a waltz. Said she, a formidable lady, "Eubie I ain't singin nor waltz." So he changed it to the up beat number we all know. John played it both ways. Along came harry S. Trumnan, who made this his campaing song. Eubie became very wealthy on the royalties.

John came for a visit and showed me a very nasty lesion on the back of his right hand, which he'd been treating with skillful neglect. yes, it was a cancer. I told him to have it removed at once, but he said that would take many weeks in Toronto and urged me to fix it. So, I did. He then vanished for nearly a year. There was no follow-up as to possible recurrence of the tumour. John re-appeared and away we went to Buffalo in search of antique sheet music. We settled into a nice looking spot in Ellicotrille for lunch. Then we realized that the place was gay. Never mind, I was very anxious to check the hand, taking his hand in mine across the table, gently massaging it to feel for a recurrent tumour. A waitress cruised by and beamed her approval of this loving couple. John panicked and said, "Oh miss! This is my surgeon from Welland who fixed my hand". To which she replied, "We understand sir." At every concert after that John wanted to open with, "I want to Hold Your Hand."

Then there was the song, "Rialto Ripple". Enroute to his concert in Picton I found this was the only ragtime tune ever written by George Gershwin. Eureka! With this little trivia gem I would stump the all knowing John Arpin and dazzle him with my all-encompassing knowledge of the musical world. So, I threw this zinger at John, asking him to name the only ragtime tune ever written by Gershwin. John said, "Well Dave he wrote that in the back of a 5th Ave.bus one night coming home from Greenwich Village." I said, "Enough enough" and John went on to explain that "Rialto" meant Broadway and "Ripple" referred to the rain ripling down the hotel window and reflecting the light of the "great white way". I said, "Enough, enough", to which he replied, "I'll put it in the concert tonight." He did and dedicated it to me. No- I never tried that trick again!

I would like to close with a message sent to John and Mary Jane from our mutual friend Bob Bentley in Edmonton:

Dear John & Mary Jane,

Thank you for sharing the stories and keeping us abreast of John's health via your blog. It is a challenging time but I am hearten to see that you both draw strength in hearing from your friends and recounting the wonderful memories of times past. I wanted to contribute to your blog but that required some know how so here is my simple e-mail relating a wonderful memory.

The time is 5.00PM aboard the "Monet" as it headed north on the Adriatic Sea in full view of the beautiful Croatian coast. The lounge filled up early that August evening as people jockeyed for the best seats.This cocktail hour was to be special . A performance by the famed John Arpin was taking place Two and a half hours of some of the best piano music starting with Ragtime and ending with Gershwin. Each set was prefaced with storytelling and then without notes, the fingers did the rest. It was magical. Our group of sixty people sat transfixed as the maestro performed. Even the ship's pianist who gladly gave up his post stood in awe of superior talent. Dinner was delayed that night but the chef didn't mind...he was in the lounge with the rest of us. It was one of those special times in life that one treasures. Will I ever forget sitting in the lounge every night after, beside the piano (red wine in hand) and whispering to you for just a "little more Gershwin."
Yes, the trip on its own, visiting places like Mikonos, Santorini, Dubrovnik was amazing but John, your participation made our whole cruise an exceptional experience. Thank You.
Now, this is only one small memory in your massive book of memories...but it is a Big Chapter in our book.
Ruth & I send our love.

We can all be replaced....but not John Arpin.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Leaving The World Behind

Hi everyone,

It is with great sadness that I now must inform you that our dear John peacefully died at home on Thursday November, 8, 2007 with family at his side. While it was expected that he would succumb to his illness it still leaves us all with heavy hearts. John, as you know was so full of life and made such a difference in all of our lives. It will be a huge loss for us all.

John was comfortable until the end of his life and left our world with music still playing as he actively listened away. It is still unreal to our family and much too fresh for us yet to fully process, but the pain is real and we will now all mourn together. Judging by the hundreds of emails and letters that you have sent it is remarkable how many hearts he has touched and in such significant and personal ways. His children and I were just commenting on the significant impact and legacy he has left. It is rare for any one human being to have touched so many individually as well as globally, and to have left such personal imprints to such a large number of people. I always used to tell him what a lucky fellow he was to have been able to have made so many folks happy every time he works- regardless of where- just given the nature of his work which always resulted in smiles or feelings of joy. He was blessed to have been able to have been engaged in such an unique occupation all of his life which at the same time provided such pleasure to him.

The Irving Berlin song, "When I leave the World Behind" speaks of a man facing the prospect of his own mortality and the legacy that he would leave behind. The song refers to millionaires who contemplated their wealth and its distribution after death through a comparison to simpler folk, who without wealth aimed to leave behind peace and beauty. On the cover is Al Jolson, an entertainer on the American stage for several years.

From my perspective, John had the greatest wealth- in the things that matter. He had so many friends and folks who loved him, he had a family who adored him and he had talent across so many areas. To have been a performer and musician with such ability to entertain right up until the end of his life was the gift that he received. He leaves enormous wealth behind in his albums and CDs, his stories, his hundreds of concerts and their memories and anecdotes and the other very personal and unique ways in which he touched all of our hearts....

He was probably the wealthiest man that I have ever known and
I will not be the only one with tears tonight....

The official funeral announcement is posted below.
John has an email in addition to our post which is: where messages will be received.

Best Regards,

Mary Jane

Funeral Announcement:

Arpin, John Francis Oscar

Died peacefully on November 8, 2007 at the age of 70, with his loving wife and family at his side. John was born in Port McNicoll, Ontario on December 3, 1936. He was an internationally acclaimed pianist, composer, arranger and performed in a variety of settings including upscale clubs and concert halls both as a soloist or with symphonies. He also produced and wrote music for several TV series, including TVO’s Polka Dot Door. John brought joy to many through his gift of music, his passion for and engagement in life and through his charm and wit. He will be forever missed by his wife, Mary Jane Esplen and his children-son, Bob and his wife Lynne; daughter Jennifer and her husband Steve Schaefer and daughter Nadine and her husband Majid Mohammadi, all of Toronto. John also leaves 4 grandchildren- grandsons Alexander and Kurt and granddaughters Nicole and Brianna. John is also survived by his brother, Leo of Midland, Ontario. John was predeceased by his mother, Marie Emelda Bertrand and father, Elie Regis Arpin. John and his family greatly appreciate the excellent care provided by the Temmy Latner Centre for Palliative Care, and treatments at Princess Margaret and Mount Sinai Hospitals, as well as services organized by Toronto’s CCAC (e.g. St. Elizabeth’s Nurses).

The family will receive friends at the HUMPHREY FUNERAL HOME – A.W. MILES CHAPEL, 1403 Bayview Avenue (south of Eglinton Avenue East) from 2-4 & 6-9 p.m. Thursday, November 15 and Friday, November 16. A Prayer Service will be held on Friday evening at 7:30 in the chapel. Mass of Christian Burial will be held in ST. MICHAEL’S CATHEDRAL, 65 Bond Street on Saturday, November 17 at 10:00 a.m.

If desired, donations in John’s memory may be made to the St. Michael’s Choir School, 67 Bond Street, Toronto M5B 1X5, 416-393-5518; or The Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology (CAPO), 296 Jarvis Street, Unit 7, Toronto M5B 2C5, Condolences and memories may be forwarded through

Humphrey Funeral Home
A.W. Miles Chapel

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Collecting and Collecting...

The room where John is resting is decorated and colored based on ideas from our Antique Nippon Collection. Several of you have commented on the various sides of John’s personality. It is true that John has always had the energy to maintain several interests. One interest of John's that some of you may not realize (although all the antique dealers out there will know of this side of him of course) is his love for antiques.

John has always collected and maintained a collection of vintage sheet music. When I dated him it worked out great because we were both night owls and he had a nightly routine of listing or going through piles of sheet music. It worked out for us because I was always up with him doing something-studying, reading or laughing with him as we went through several of the lyrics of earlier times. As I had grown up in an antique shop with an antique dealer mother and a father who was an avid collector, collecting anything and everything, this kind of activity was something I was accustomed to and which I enjoyed. John and I had many trips to New Orleans in those early days which always culminated in dragging back sheets of music.

I should have clued in those first days together that he had that real “collector” personality and mentality, especially since I had spent all of my childhood days with collectors and characters of all sorts who were typically engaged in the “chase” for that last one piece or article!

So what of Nippon? Let me tell you that I had no idea how much I’d come to know about it or experience it. Early on I took John to an antique shop - being pretty excited that he liked old things, as most of the guys my own age had little interest in older things. John, I’d find, would never get bored despite hours in dusty old shops or out at garage sales or auctions. I was pretty pleased!

One day John asked me what type of china or glass he might consider collecting given the vast potential selection. At the time I suggested Nippon, because although we both loved Victoriana and cranberry glass and art glass it was expensive and hardly the thing to start collecting “bargain wise”. I anticipated that Nippon hand painted china had the potential to go up in value in the coming years.……Well that suggestion resulted in a decade of collecting.

Let me just say that after say the 3rd or 4th new china cabinet I began to get a little worried. Sure, at the beginning it was charming. John decided to start with cocoa sets, so off we'd go looking and found several. All were hand-painted and we found delight in the different patterns- some with birds, with flowers or even portraits. And, these sets were beautifully displayed as we bought those first few china cabinets. We were like a couple of kids inspecting them and I was very pleased that John would be the main “washer” following a purchase, insisting on the use of delicate cloths or even toothbrushes, given his need for perfection in the cleaning of them.

Over the years we moved on beyond cocoa sets to tea sets and plates, and humidors, and nut sets and juice sets and platters and celery sets……need I say more?
And, our collection grew beyond Nippon. Just to give you an example of the kind of guy or collector John was, one day when I mentioned that I wouldn’t mind a couple of “fruit” or “vegetable” salt and pepper shakers (tomatoes, or something along that line) I arrived home to a kitchen counter full of at least 50 pairs of shakers. The counter contained a display of tomatoes, cucumbers, corn sets, broccoli, carrots…you name it he had it. And, he was pretty proud of himself too!

It became a little challenging when we hadn’t yet purchased a home and I was beginning to realize we might never do so because of the size of the home that would be required for our growing pile of artifacts. At one point I had suggested to John that perhaps we’d reached some kind of a quota, and he initially agreed, however, I soon found that whenever I moved a dish in our home (because perhaps it was beginning to look a little cluttered) a new item would appear. Needless to say I learned quickly to stop doing that!

I know some women in marriages find empty bottles behind closets and doors. Not me, I’d find bags of tissue paper. I’d go to John asking if he had purchased anything, while looking around for new pieces in spots where we still had a little space. And, if I did find anything that seemed different or new he would always respond, “Oh that…I’ve had that for a long time.”

Anyhow it is all charming. I never dreamed I would find a man so interested in antiques. (Although I must admit I had moments where I wondered if I should have rather suggested that he collect stamps because at least they can be housed into a binder).

This example is one of the traits we all love about John- his huge enthusiam for anything that interests him. Over the years we have used a lot of our old things and they have provided lots of entertainment. And, John really studied his new interest. I saw first hand how he took on a new subject. For example, in the case of Nippon, he soon became a leading expert and antique dealers started seeking him out to inquire about various porcelain stamps, prices and patterns.

One friend once suggested to me that I could change the appearance of our house according to the seasons and display the antiques that reflected the season of the time. I never found the extra time for that! But we sure had fun. In fact, just recently, John and I dismantled complete china cabinets to display different collections. Each time we unwrapped a piece we had packed away we both got excited all over again!

The reflection on this hobby reminds me of the time when I indicated to my mother that we may marry (I was in my twenties at the time; John was in his fifties). My mother enjoyed John very much, however, her initial reaction was to comment on his age and respond, “I like him but he could die”. I quickly reminded her that I grew up in an antique shop and loved playing the piano and suggested that it shouldn’t be too surprising for her to see me bring home an older (antique?) musician. Anyhow, she surprised me with her comment because my dad was 17 years older than my mother (we won’t go there on the significance of that!) and I had always seen how an interest in older things and heritage pieces could be shared and enjoyed.
Anyhow, she was right “he could die” and now we are closer to that time. However, all that John has given me (and so many others) with his passion for life will never be considered a “short time” in my mind. He has provided me with a lifetime of memories and wonderful times, along with all of that glorious music.

Somehow I find it fitting that he is resting his final days in our “Nippon-inspired” room, surrounded by our china and all those lovely colors and memories. Perhaps he is now dreaming of all those collecting days, while he lies so relaxed bathing in the sound of his own piano renditions playing in the background.

John is resting more and more as he becomes weaker. He still responds to his children and I, but it is more tiring for him to do so now. However, he seems so peaceful and comfortable it makes it easier for us to accept the reality and to help him as he makes this next transition in his life.

Thanks once again- for so much. The scholarships, notes, calls, messages, emails and letters are unbelievable. He is so touched, as am I.

The tributes to him are piling up along side of his collectibles and are a salute to a passionate and generous man. It is no surprise that he has attracted the attention and care of so many endearing folks. I hear your hearts expressing and can see your tears in your reaching out… does John.

Thanks to you all for that.

Best Regards,

Mary Jane