We stood in the foyer behind a table, smiling, chatting, signing CDs. We were flushed and warm from our performance. I was sipping on a glass of champagne but couldn’t wait to get out of my tuxedo and into my jeans. Every evening in a different town, I found myself, sometimes even before a performance, looking forward to winding down at the local pub.
People lingered and milled around the table. We posed for photos, heard about people’s dads or aunts who also used to sing, answered questions about how we met, where we lived, where we studied. Most often, we thanked people who simply wanted to tell us how much they enjoyed our show.
Out of the crowd emerged one elderly gentleman, simply dressed and slightly stooped but with a kindly countenance. He approached, smiling, hand outstretched. He shook my hand and then Hao’s. The pianist and other singers were still chatting with other people from the audience.
“Hello!” Hao said in his usual, bright voice. “I’m Hao and this is Stephen.”
“Hello!” the elderly gentleman returned. “Very nice to meet you. My name is John, but all my friends call me ‘Jack’. Please call me ‘Jack’!”
“Very nice to meet you, Jack!” we said.
He didn’t really seem to me to be the type of person who would attend one of our concerts. “Do you usually listen to opera?” I asked. Of course, we don’t only sing opera but most people who come to hear us do expect a classical concert.
“I don’t usually,” he answered, “But that was a very enjoyable show.” He again shook our hands as he spoke. “I don’t usually listen to that type of music but I wanted to tell you that, hearing you sing it, how much I realised that I could enjoy…” And then he broke off mid-sentence. I looked at his face and was surprised to see tears in his eyes. He had a look almost as if we had personally done him a great kindness.
I watched his expression, felt the warmth in his grip, heard his voice crack, and all in a single moment I saw in perspective what it was we really did every night on the road. Yes, it may indeed be tiring—even routine, perhaps—to travel so many miles and to be in a different town every evening, to sing the same songs over and over, to meet people we’ll never meet again let alone remember. Shooting pool and drinking in local pubs with each other is for sure a fun counterpoint to this “work” but, for some of the individuals who come to see us perform, we are not “working” at all the way they work. Though they never see us again, what we give them from yet another theatre stage may stay with them for a long time afterwards. Some may be touched in ways that we will never know about.
Realising this, watching Jack make not even a single move to wipe away his tears, I felt a lump come into my own throat. I sincerely thanked him for his appreciation. Understanding that our actions, which we may take for granted ourselves, could unknowingly touch the life of a stranger in this way moved me in its turn and, had it been proper to do so in a public place, I might just then have demonstrated one way a grown man may be made to cry.