I was sitting in the Bloor-Gladstone Library in Toronto yesterday afternoon, wanting to write about Thursday evening’s concert with Robert Pilon. I whipped out my Android phone, went to WordPress and started inputting. Sadly though, a sentence such as “I don’t know what to say about all this” showed up on the screen as “I don’t know whawhat to say abouabout all thithis.” Wha?
Not deterred by the mysteries of technology, I went to my e-mail program and began to tell the story. An hour later, I walked over to Hugh’s Room, where I’d later be enjoying a concert celebrating the music of Leonard Cohen. Before the songs started up, I finished my blog post.
Perfect. Now all I had to do was copy and paste the groovy words from Internet Explorer to WordPress. I highlighted the whole enchilada … and watched in horror as the whole thing disappeared. Oh my God! That’s about 500 words of the best I had.
I furrowed my brow and began the rescue attempt:
Work, work, work
Grump, grump, grump
Work, grump, work
The despair arose in me, along with the anger, sadness, impotence and any other yucky word you can think of. Spiritual Bruce was stuck in a poop hole. “Maybe tomorrow morning when I fire up my laptop, I’ll find that the post has been archived somewhere.” (‘Fraid not. It’s now tomorrow morning and Robert is nowhere to be seen.)
As I sat there watching the musicians walk onstage, there was a shift. There was peace. There was a quiet voice: “This doesn’t matter, Bruce. I get that you want your words to touch people, but don’t worry – you do that with or without words. Tomorrow you’ll do your best to resurrect your thoughts. It won’t be as good but it will be good. And today’s vanishing will not diminish the whole of your life.” Thank you, dear voice.
Well … shall we get to it?
Last night’s concert was a fundraiser for the Wounded Warriors organization. It honoured Canadian veterans of combat, and first responders, who are in the throes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It was a privilege to be there.
Our host and entertainer was Robert Pilon. He was the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera. He sang in Les Miserables. And in 2017 he loved the vets in song at the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in France.
I got to sit front row centre and look into the eyes of human beings first, performers second. Robert strolled onto the stage, and from the first second I knew I was in the presence of greatness. He had a power about him – not of force or intrusion – but of grace and love. I couldn’t take my eyes off his face. The eyes shone. The smile radiated to us all. And his spoken words were a melody. He hadn’t yet sung a note.
Robert melted us with Danny Boy, and in an inspired duet of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah with the woman who directs the Laura Secord Secondary School Concert Choir. Oh … how their voices blended! Again and again, Robert let his voice soften as hers soared. He was the star of the show, but not in his mind.
And the kids! Choir members often spread throughout the theatre as they backed up the other musicians. There were young women four feet away, facing me and the audience. I beamed love at them and said words of thanks after each number. My neighbour and I briskly applauded the teens as they filed back onto the stage. Some of them smiled.
Jully Black loomed above me later in the program. She’s a soulful black singer who had us embrace all citizens of the Earth. Her eyes also spoke joy. Then there was Dr. Draw, a young man who has embraced electronic violin music. His melodies shook us down deep. Sometimes he knelt close to the floor, eyes closed, lost in his world. Stunning.
Near the end of the evening, Robert told us that he has a certain signature song. I had an inkling … “Go, Phantom, go!” He said that he hadn’t donned the mask since retiring from the role, but tonight was special. Robert turned away from us and then whirled back, half of his face covered in silver. He stood above me as a God. When he opened his mouth, The Music of the Night spilled forth. Robert snarled at us. Robert loved us. Oh my.
The songs were lovely
The voices were transcendent
And that’s fine
But the best?
The hearts were way wide open
How about that? I remembered. Thanks for listening