Couple finds love and music in Newfoundland — after 35 years apart

A love of music brought Mike Herriott and Ofra Harnoy together as teenagers, but after being apart for 35 years, the couple now has a second chance at love.

'We needed to be together and make up for the 35 years,' says Ofra Harnoy

Mike Herriott is an award-winning trumpet player, Ofra Harnoy a world-renowned cellist. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

A love of music brought Mike Herriott and Ofra Harnoy together as teenagers, but after being apart for 35 years, the couple now has a second chance at love in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Herriott grew up in St. John's, but he says he first met Harnoy in Toronto in 1982 while Herriott's brother was performing with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. 

Harnoy was a friend of his brother's, with the two knowing each other from the University of Toronto conservatory.

"We all flew up to see Richard play this concert, and she and I met at the little get-together before the concert and immediately got along like a house on fire," he said.

After being apart for about 35 years, musicians Mike Herriott and Ofra Harnoy found each other again and have been together ever since. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

They quickly struck up a romance, even when Herriott went home.

"He had to come back to St. John's, and we wrote letters for many, many months — love letters — and he was going to come study at U of T for awhile," said Harnoy.

"We had all these plans."

But eventually the relationship crumbled, the pair fell out of touch and each had families of their own. Herriott went on to become an award-winning trumpet player, Harnoy a world-renowned cellist who has won five Junos.

Ofra Harnoy's five Juno awards. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

35 years later …

In all, the pair lost contact for about 35 years — until the summer of 2017.

Both Herriott and Harnoy, who are now divorced from their previous spouses, were living in Toronto and found each other on Facebook. They agreed to meet for lunch and soon realized that it was a misunderstanding that pushed them apart, and the spark was still alive.

"We'd both moved on with our lives, but during that lunch, it was like the glass shattered because we both realized what had happened," Harnoy said.

"And from that moment onwards, we basically decided we needed to be together and make up for the 35 years."

Harnoy and Herriot say they have a musical connection, as well as a romantic one. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

She said they haven't been apart for a day since that lunch, but the relationship  is more than just a romantic one. Harnoy credits Herriott with helping her play music again.

"I'd gone through a whole crisis with my shoulder, because of, over time, wear and tear. I'd severed all the tendons, I had to go for major reconstructive surgery, which was a few years ago," she said.

"But after we got together, I came to the cello again and suddenly, I was out of pain, and it was the first time in years."

Harnoy gradually built back her strength on her instrument and the couple played together on stage for the first time at her comeback concert.

I was thinking, 'This is just the mostincredible place.I want to live here.'- Ofra Harnoy

Herriott later made a comeback of his own, returning to Newfoundland and bringing Harnoy with him.

"In August, we came here for a vacation and I was blown away," she said.

"The people are just a whole different level of nice, and the stress level is not what I experienced in Toronto … and I was thinking, 'This is just the most incredible place. I want to live here.'"

'A perfect place for us'

The couple, now engaged, found a house and now call the province home.

"I went away 30 years ago to try and find a nice girl to bring back to Newfoundland, and it took me 30 years," said Herriott.

"But with what we're doing, it doesn't really matter where we live in the world.… This happens to be a perfect place for us to do the work that we need to do when we're not out on tour: recording, and writing music, and practising, and rehearsing and all that — we can do all that in this place."

Together, after 35 years, their relationship has blossomed, romantically and musically. Herriott and Harnoy are now working on a tour this fall, and have some recordings to be released in the near future.

"Finding a musician that thinks and feels and breathes the same way as you is so rare," Harnoy said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show