Dark Road Diary, Part 36: Massey Hall

What happens when you finally get to do something you’ve long wanted to do?

A few weeks ago, somewhere in coastal Washington State, I received an email from Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden asking me if I’d like to sing a song with the Art of Time Ensemble at a benefit concert called Dream Serenade. The concert — held annually for almost 15 years — was returning to Massey Hall. That’s the Carnegie Hall of Canada. It’s also a place I’ve never sang in. Always wanted to, never been asked. Until the email from Hayden.

Schedules rejigged (it turns out the date fell on a day we were on tour but it was a travel day, making it possible for me to get to Toronto, do the gig, turn around and rejoin the tour in Washington), I get to the newly renovated Citadel of Dreams. On the backstage walls are beautiful photographs of a Who’s Who of the western music world playing on the stage. This is the allure of the hall: the people who have played here before you. This might also be the reason to get very nervous.

It was only one song. It wasn’t even my song. Officially, I will never say I’ve “done” Massey Hall. I will say, “I’ve sung in Massey Hall.” 

In the minutes leading up to my tune I had the worst dry mouth I’ve ever had that mercifully relinquished its’ grip on me 30 seconds before walking out onto stage. I was fatefully introduced as one of the other singers on the bill (admittedly, a 4-hour concert is a tough gig for any pair of MC’s to navigate) so my first official words on that stage were “My name is Sarah Slean.”

It’s not for me to say how well I did or didn’t do. I can tell you this, though: as I moved off the mic after my last note, that’s when I really realized I was in Massey Hall, and I commanded my brain to drink in the last nanoseconds of my voice ringing off the walls, the sound of the audience’s response, to tattoo the memory somewhere deep inside me, like you might do when having a last swim in a warm lake in the late, late summer, knowing it will seem like forever until you get to feel it like this again. Or, maybe, you never get to feel it again.

No guarantees: the great equalizer.

I sleep a couple hours at my daughters’ in Toronto, have an airport limo take me to Pearson International at 5:30 am (it was a full on Escalade, tinted windows and the whole nine yards. I felt like Drake). Took my seat in Business Class, which for some reason was cheaper for me to book with points than Economy, got picked up in DC, and was at the venue two hours before the rest of the band and 12 hours after I’d been singing in Massey Hall.

Jenkinson asks, “So? Worth it?”

I pause. I don’t know what to say.

“It’s that thing about doing something you’ve always wanted to do. What do you do with the done-ness of it? The other side of the imaginary mountain?”

Thank you, Hayden, for the chance for me to find out.