This is part of my story of being a young opera singer in New York.
In the fall of 1975 I made the big move to New York. Tulsa had cradled me and brought me along, but now was the time to head on up to the big time. As in everything else, I was helped by my unseen “Friend.” Things just seemed to fall into place. Lynn Fann, the same friend who introduced me to opera in seminary, had introduced me to his friends in New York who shared an apartment on the upper West side of Manhattan near Columbia University. By the time I was ready to move to New York, one of them was ready to vacate, leaving a vacancy for me. The terrible job of searching for an apartment in New York was spared me. It was an acceptable area, on the border of safety. I loved being right next to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. I spent many days meandering through the beautiful chapels much the way I had meandered through the garden during childhood. It seemed that everything was being arranged for me, including the proximity of this wonderful cathedral.
One of the first things I did in New York was to arrange for an audition with Jerome Hines of the Metropolitan Opera, that operatic basso par excellence who had provided me with the model voice during my seminary years. In theological seminary, a fellow student, Lynn Fann, had introduced me to opera. I had never really heard it before. In Carthage we knew about the “Grand Ole Opery” but that was about it. I listened to all of the great singers of the second golden age of singing with Lynn. Something in their sound made me sit up and pay attention, especially the singing of the great bass, Jerome Hines, partly because he was also a Christian who would sing at the Salvation Army on skid-row in New York when he wasn’t singing at the Met. His voice and his life became a model for me. Now in 1975 I was going to get to sing for him. My old teacher from college, Ted Harris, had been instrumental. Ted told me that Hines’ opera company was going to be auditioning for a baritone to take the place of Met baritone, Calvin Marsh, for a production of Hines’ opera on the life of Jesus, I Am The Way, to be staged in April 1976 in Columbus Ohio. Ted arranged for me to talk to the stage director, Derek de Cambra, a spunky, enthusiastic fellow with a British accent who had a love for beautiful singing. I was to go over to New Jersey to audition directly for Hines himself. I was finally going to meet the wonderful singer whose voice excited me so much in seminary. In those days I was not really nervous. I was excited and ready to go. My voice could do anything and I could pound on it for hours, if necessary, and it would still be fine for the next outing. I prepared my benchmark arias that had won the Met auditions for me and took a train, then a bus, to the New Jersey audition site. It was a small room to sing in. Hines was seated only a few feet from me. Still, I went eagerly to the task and sang Macbeth’s last act aria, “Pieta, rispetto, amore,” which had won for me the Midwestern Finals of the Met Auditions, interpolating a long, sustained, high A flat at the end. Hines was visibly impressed and began talking about his recording of Macbeth with Leonard Warren. He was warm and cordial but every bit the opera star that I expected him to be. He talked several minutes about great baritones he had known and how favorably my voice compared. I could not have asked for a more favorable review from one I idolized so. I got the part and began preparing the role. The baritone I was replacing, Calvin Marsh, was a Met baritone with a huge voice, beautiful color, commanding range, and a veteran. He was a tough act to follow. My voice was much different than his, darker, almost a bass-baritone compared to his, yet more lyrical because of youth. My old college teacher, Ted Harris, was to sing the bass part of the villain, Eliakim, one of the chief priests (a fictitious character), who conspires with Judas to capture Jesus. I was going to get to see two dreams come true, to sing with my teacher and my idol. In the spring of 1976, after performances of “Tonio” in I Pagliacci in Tucson with the Arizona Opera, and a cross-country concert tour for Columbia Artist’s Community Concerts, I headed for Columbus Ohio, my ego beginning to inflate from the heady rushes of early successes. I still heard the inner Voice, but I did not remember “who” or “what” it was, and I certainly was not cultivating a habit of reliance on it for guidance. At times I would do what it said, and at times I wouldn’t. Each time I obeyed, I was amazed at the eerie way in which things fell together for my benefit.
For example, In 1975 I had made the finals of the highly prestigious WGN-Illinois Opera Guild Auditions of the Air in Chicago but had not won. The Voice told me in strong “words” that if I entered again in 1976 I could win them. I entered and easily passed the first two rounds. The auditions director, Dick Jones of WGN Radio, Chicago, really liked my voice and thought my singing had improved over the previous year. Some time later I was notified that I was to sing in the finals at the Chicago Lyric Opera House. There was only a small problem. I was in the middle of a cross-country concert tour with a trio, performing from town to town. I discussed my feelings about the audition with my colleagues, Roger and Debbie Lucas, and they were supportive in anything I chose to do. The Voice was very strong that I had to find a way to go to the finals, and that I would win. The trio’s schedule just worked out that we had a day’s travel, no concert, on the day of the finals. After our performance in Pueblo Colorado I caught a flight to Chicago, got into the hotel about 4:00AM for five hours sleep and showed up at the stage door of the Chicago Lyric Opera House at 11:00AM, ready to sing. I sang my first aria, “Cortigiani vil razza dannata” from Verdi’s Rigoletto, and was pleased with the way it went. But for the next round, the judges got to pick an aria from my prepared repertoire. I “knew” that if they picked the prologue to I Pagliacci, I should be one of the two winners chosen. The Voice told me that I would be the second winner. The judges chose the prologue. I sang it with full gusto, including a resounding high A flat, and left the stage feeling good. I could not stay for the end of the auditions. I had to run to the airport immediately to catch a plane to Traverse City Michigan to rejoin my concert trio for a performance that night. When I arrived in Traverse City, I called back to Chicago and found that I had been named the second winner.
Wouldn’t you think that experiences such as these should have been enough to teach me to listen to that inner Voice and always obey it? Apparently they weren’t, because I didn’t. I still thought my rational intellect was the most important part of me to listen to, and I liked the heady rush of the ego as I saw my name up in lights, doing things my way, with my voice. I soon began believing all my publicity and was convinced that I belonged in the Tsar’s court in old St. Petersburg and that by divine right, of course.
By the time I arrived in Columbus Ohio in April 1976 to begin rehearsals for I Am The Way, I was full of it, and I don’t mean the way, the truth, and the life, but a substance with a lot more unpleasant odor to it! I had just gone up to my hotel room and unpacked when the telephone rang. It was one of the other cast members who wanted to come up and say hello. I felt mildly irritated at being disturbed but magnanimously allowed him to come up to the room. He was a very down to earth fellow; full of something I had once known, not too long ago, sincerity and thanksgiving. He was singing the tiny part of “Thomas”, and when I say tiny, I mean tiny. He literally had only a couple of lines to sing in the whole show! His face beamed with joy as he described his pilgrimage from the Deep South, at his own expense, just to sing his two lines. By the time he finished visiting with me I had begun to feel very ashamed of myself for the egotism I had allowed to grow inside me, replacing my gratitude to God for the voice I was given. I was making my own ego world-view of specialness, rather that viewing my voice as a gift to give to others. I prayed. I apologized and asked for renewed innocence. The Voice was right there. It had gone nowhere. Only I had changed. The Voice said, “Just keep on going the way you are going now and I will have you sing for Presidents and Kings.” It was a startling message! By this time, I was supposed to go down to the lobby to meet the Director. I grabbed my score and headed for the elevator. No sooner had I reached the elevator than did the doors open. Inside it stood Jimmy Carter. He extended his hand saying, “I just wanted to shake hands.” We rode down to the lobby together in silence. You have to understand that in April of 1976, Jimmy Carter, running for the Democratic nomination for President, was still a long-shot. Nobody thought he would get the nomination and nobody dreamed he would be elected President of the United States. As we exited the elevator, I watched him go, and said another quiet “thank you” to God for his faithfulness, and for the internal Voice which always spoke for truth, on my behalf. I knew Jimmy Carter was going to be President of the United States. And maybe if, just if, I did what the Voice said, kept on going the way I was going, then I might even get to sing for him!
During rehearsals of I Am The Way, I met many wonderful people who were going to stay with me throughout the years as close personal friends. The rehearsal period itself was rewarding because, in addition to the good staging by Derek De Cambra, Hines himself did some of the dramatic coaching, working with the singers on subtle acting points, “camera angles”, Chris Lachonas, a veteran, called them. This stayed with me my whole career as I tried to use a style of acting that was as suitable for television as it was for the stage. The music of I Am The Way, all composed by Hines himself–an extraordinary feat for a singer, not trained in composition–shows a little of every role he ever sang. The scene called “The Woman at the Well” shows a lot of the playfulness of the Bohemian characters in Puccini’s opera La Boheme, which Jerry sang many, many times. In fact during the bleak years at the Met when Rudolf Bing was trying to force him out, Jerry was cut down to one performance a season of “Colline” in La Boheme. Still, he stuck it out and had a renaissance long after Bing had retired. The scene called “The Last Supper” showed a lot of Wagner influence, especially Parsifal, in which Jerry sang the role of “Gurnemanz.” I did not view this negatively. It seemed inescapable to me that if an opera singer were to compose an opera himself, it would inevitably show the influence of everything he had sung. And the music he composed was beautiful, full of sweeping melodies and beautifully constructed scenes. What gave it an impact was Jerome Hines himself! There was that enormous, richer than rich, bass voice with incomparable grandeur, being used in the role of Jesus. What more could anyone ask for? In 1976, Hines was 55 years old and his voice was still at the peak of his powers. He sailed through the performance with ease and assurance. I used every second as an opportunity to listen, observe, and learn, how he made an entrance, how he related to the other characters on stage, most of all, how he sounded! In one scene called, “At Bethany,” my character, “Simon Peter”, sits right beside Jesus as he sings the Lord’s Prayer. Looking up at Jerome Hines, hearing that enormous voice so close to my ear, I gave thanks to God for His incredible ways. And then the performance was over and the company packed up to go back to New York, the singers back to their other careers. I went to the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York to sing with the Symphony and prepare for my first Rigoletto in the fall of 1976 for the Houston Grand Opera. As a young singer, I had no rational reason to believe I could sing this, the greatest of Italian baritone roles, but the Voice said that I could do it and I had agreed when I got a letter from the General Manager asking me to do the part. The letter came “out of the blue,” and I knew, even then, that this was something I was destined to do.
The Hines Company performed I Am The Way only once a year. The following year, 1977, Calvin Marsh returned to the role of Simon Peter, leaving me without a role. Not to be outdone, I suggested to Jerry that I play the role of the heavy, “Eliakim,” the chief priest who conspires with Judas. Jerry had always had difficulty casting it because of the way it was composed. As I was told the story, originally, the role had no aria. But when Jerry approached the great basso, Ezio Flagello, to sing the role, Flagello refused unless an aria were written for the character. Ever the one-upsman, Hines said, “All right. I’ll compose you an aria, but it’s going to be so hard you won’t be able to sing it.” The result was Eliakim’s long aria which is loud and very high for any bass, ending on a long, sustained high F sharp, not territory that basses like to hang around in, even a great bass like Flagello. He never sang the part again, and Jerry went through bass after bass trying to find someone who could sing it. I suggested that I could sing it. Even though I was a baritone rather than a bass, I had enough richness in the voice that I could carry its heavy insinuations. Learning my own one-upsmanship I said, “but you have to transpose the aria up one half step for me.” Hines laughed and agreed, so off I went to Birmingham to sing Eliakim, following in other years to different cities. In Cleveland in 1978, I was rehearsing the big aria with Hines himself at the piano, accompanying. After I finished, Hines was silent for quite a long while. Finally he said, “I wish we could have recorded that. I’ve never heard anyone sing my music the way you do.” It was the most wonderful tribute I could have been given by this man whose singing meant so much to me, and whom I had come to love so dearly. Some years were difficult though. Two years later, November 1980 in Edmonton, Alberta I had a dangerously close dovetail of engagements. I ended a string of performances of “Germont” in Verdi’s La Traviata with the Arizona Opera, the evening before dress rehearsal for I Am The Way. The Director was confident of my ability to do the role without rehearsal by this point, so I flew from the desert of Phoenix right after the last performance of La Traviata to the Nov. cold of Edmonton! I was exhausted and slept until 4:30 in the afternoon with the dress rehearsal at 8:00PM. Still, I felt ready to go, and during one scene I interpolated a high B flat! For the non-singers reading this, a high B flat is the pinnacle note for a tenor, and is virtually never attempted by a baritone. Once, the Met’s star baritone, Sherrill Milnes, had recorded a high B flat, but I don’t recall him ever singing one on stage. Why did I do it? Because I could! It was that much ego, nothing deeper. Hines was in the audience for the rehearsal and he let me know what a good note it was. I was happy, justified in my specialness. But the next night was performance. There would be no day off for rest as was usually the case, and I desperately needed a day off for rest. Edmonton in the winter is colder than anything I had ever experienced! It is so cold that the water particles in the air freeze into ice crystals which can cut your lungs when you breathe! I had known cold in Missouri but nothing like this, and I was coming straight from balmy Phoenix. My body was in shock and tired. That night after rehearsal I slept very poorly. I was too tired to sleep and wished that I had brought along the singer’s friend, “restoril”, to induce a good night’s sleep. But I hadn’t. I lay tossing and turning all night, finally drifting off to light sleep early towards dawn, only to be awakened early by the maid who did not want to believe the “do not disturb sign” posted on the door. Furious at her for disturbing my specialness, I screamed at her from the bed to get out and tried to go back to sleep, all to no avail. I was up. After two pots of coffee I began to vocalize a little and did not like what I felt. That afternoon was no better. Still, the show must go on, and my voice had never really failed me before…except on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera when I had muffed a high A flat. Still, I was seasoned now, and I had not cracked on a note in public in the six years since. Staying with my typical performance schedule, I found the nearest steak and potatoes around 4:30 PM and began to tank up for the evening performance. That evening I sang the difficult aria OK but the voice still seemed off, stiff and thick. More importantly, my tenacious clinging to ego specialness had cut off my ability to hear the internal Voice that guided me in everything. The time in the scene came where I had interpolated the high B flat the night before. Should I do it again, in performance? As soon as the question flashed through my mind, I heard the internal Voice say “No.” Oh well, I would do it anyway! I went up for the special high note, hit it…and it cracked! Not to be outdone, I tried to regain it and it cracked again!! The curtain mercifully descended and I made my way, like a scalded dog, as quickly as possible through the labyrinths of back stage corridors, eyes to the floor, to my dressing room. I was mortified, disgraced. I, Joseph Shore, one of the greatest baritones in the world, had cracked on stage! Standing in the hall, barring my refuge into my dressing room was Hines, in costume as Jesus, making his way to the stage, enormous grin on his face, laughter ready to commence at any moment. He began to chuckle, “That just makes you human,” he said. “Don’t worry about it. But remember from now on, when you crack a note, get off of it and let it go. I remember when Set Svanholm, at the Met, cracked on the high B flat at the end of ‘Celeste Aida.’ He cracked and tried to get it back and cracked again, just like you did.” Somehow it did not make me feel better. I brooded. How I brooded. I spent the night in the dressing room trying to avoid all conversation. My specialness had been wounded and I was not eager to address any re-shaping of my image. Years later, Hines said to me, “You know, I was glad to hear you crack on that high B flat because it proved to me you were human. You always sang like someone who wasn’t human.” I took it as a compliment. But for fourteen years he never let me forget that I had cracked on a high B flat. I never let myself forget it either!
I did Eliakim again the next year in Allentown Pennsylvania, and it went extremely well, but then I stopped singing I Am the Way. I told myself that I was tired of singing the villain. But wasn’t it really because I had cracked on a high note and injured my feelings of specialness? In the intervening years, I missed my friends terribly. I missed Jerry. I missed I Am The Way. During the years of 1982-1990, a lot of water went under the bridge professionally, new roles at new opera houses, but there was some lesson I was not learning. Things were not going the way they were supposed to go. The performances got better and better artistically, but the engagements were getting fewer and fewer. I thought I knew what the world was supposed to be like, but I didn’t! Then in 1994 I found myself near death. The internal Voice returned with great strength. I had a four-month-long life review as I waited, near death, for the Canadian medical system to put my name at the top of the list for surgery. Back in my hometown of Carthage my father went into the hospital at the end of June for what was supposed to be a minor surgery repair of a hernia. Something told me however that this was the end of the line for Dad. The doctors gave us a progressive litany of worsening prognoses. Finally, they told the family that he was not leaving the hospital. I knew that part of him had faith in a life after death, but I also sensed that part of him was very frightened because he felt that he had failed in some important aspects of his life, one of those being in his relationship with his son. Those failures tore at him very deeply. Involved in my own near-death struggle I could not go to Missouri to be with him. We braced ourselves for the fact that he could die at any time. But I had much unfinished emotional business with Dad which I did not want to leave without closure. I also wanted to help him in his final hours.
I prepared a special time when I would be alone in the house, and began to pray for Dad. I asked God to let him know that I forgave him for all the things between us that he held against himself. I asked God to tell Dad I that it was all right for him to let go and go on if that is what he needed to do, but if he was supposed to fight and stay with us, that was all right too. I wanted him to know that I supported him in his decision, one way or the other. For some reason it was important to me to sing my prayers for him. I do not know how long this final song lasted, quite some time I think, maybe an hour or two. I had little sense of time as I was doing it.
My son, Tom, was to have his birthday in just two days, and I really did not want Dad to die on Tom’s birthday. So he didn’t. Tom had a wonderful birthday. Dad died the following day, July 10, 1994. The night he died, I had an archetypal dream about seeing someone off on a ship. It was Dad. The next morning I thought that he had passed over. Sure enough, he had. I was somewhat disappointed that I had not had a full parting vision but I knew he understood now that everything was OK between us. I just missed the good-bye. Finally, two days later, in the early hours of the morning of his funeral in Missouri, I awoke in the spirit while my body was fast asleep.
I was in a very special kind of railroad station looking for Dad. I was pushing through enormous crowds of people who were waiting to board this train. I was in a great hurry as I knew this train was about to leave. Then I saw him from behind. I knew it was him. I called to him, “Daddy, Daddy.” He turned around with a big smile all over his face. I ran to him and jumped into his arms. I remember the feeling. I looked into his eyes. I remember those eyes. He was young and looked somewhat differently than in life, but there was no mistaking him. All of the cares and worries, doubts and fears, insecurities and self judgments, were gone from his face. Instead, there was this pure love, all throughout him which gave him his new substance. I hugged him and said, “I love you Daddy.” He squeezed me. I remember that squeeze, and he said, “I love you too.” And then he made a little joke just to make sure I knew I wasn’t just dreaming this. He knew I would remember it. He said, “You see, I’m a little thinner now than I used to be.” He was now spirit, not flesh. Then he boarded that train. A few hours later his funeral was conducted in Carthage. Even though I could not be there, we had had our farewell.
Around this same time, I got an unexpected phone call one day from my old friend, Derek de Cambra, Jerry Hines’s stage director for I Am The Way. He said that the company was doing I Am The Way in Benton Harbor, Michigan next year, 1995, and would I do the role of Eliakim again. The Voice shouted “yes,” and I immediately agreed. I was so happy to be back in I Am The Way. Jerry had done a wonderful job in keeping his voice all these years. He would be 74 years old in 1995! What a miracle to keep his voice! Few singers had accomplished that. No basses, to my knowledge. I was happy, truly happy to be back in I Am The Way. The Holy Spirit was that Voice which always spoke for truth and He must have something there for me to do, something for me to learn, some service for me to render to others, I thought. I could not know more at that point. I began to restudy the role of Eliakim and sing it back into my voice. The last time I had sung it had been the fateful performance in Edmonton! That was out of my mind now like a bad joke. I saw the silliness of the ego’s distorted view of things. I just wanted to go back to old friends! This time I took with me a young voice student who had heard all of my stories of the great singers of the previous era, called the Second Golden Age of Singing. I was passing on my love of singing and my love for Jerome Hines to another generation.
When I arrived in Benton Harbor it was indeed like a reunion with long lost friends. How I loved them. How they helped me to remember the Light. Jerome looked like a sight for sore eyes. Even his slight infirmities of age could not make him look old to me. But he was not singing in rehearsals and I could tell he was worried about his voice. He and I got together for an afternoon of vocalizing the way we had done in earlier years. They were wonderful times for me, learning experiences, as I observed this supremely great singer go through the vocal calisthenics necessary to sing grand opera. But this time Hines’ voice was not working. The whole cast knew it and we were all worried. Jerry had been in trouble before vocally and always made it through the performance. One time in Cleveland we finished a final dress rehearsal about 2:00AM. Jerry wanted to go out to an all night restaurant near the lake. It was mid winter and freezing cold in Cleveland. But what Jerry wants, Jerry gets, so off the whole crew went. I noticed that Jerry was not even wearing a coat, and I said, “Jerry, what’s the matter with you? Put a coat on!” “Ah, let your body breeeeeathe,” He vocalized in Hinse-ian tones. “I don’t need a coat!” We went to the restaurant and had a feast, whooped it up in grand fashion. The next morning Jerry called the conductor to his hotel room in a panic that his voice didn’t feel good for the show the next night. He even looked at his own vocal cords with a homemade device and saw that they were pink and swollen. Ever inventive, Jerry had taken two dental mirrors and welded them together with just the right curvature so that he could look at his own vocal cords! Panic ensued within the Directoral staff, but we all, Jerry included, managed to pull the show out of the fire.
This time in Benton Harbor was different. There was something seriously wrong with Jerry Hines’ voice. We made it to the final dress rehearsal. I had already counseled myself to end the “infamous” scene on a lower pitch than the interpolated high B flat! I would sing a high F instead, which is plenty high and would give me no trouble. I would not entertain any notions of interpolating ego notes. I had learned my lesson! Hines watched the rehearsal from out in front. At the end of my scene He came up to me and said, “Good job, Joe, but I was really a little disappointed that you didn’t take the high B flat!” I couldn’t believe my ears. He wasn’t joking. He was serious! I made a joke of it and said, “Well, I don’t know, I’ll have to ask HIM,” pointing upwards. “It’s HIS voice. I’m just the caretaker of it. I’d have to get the OK from HIM.” Jerry smiled and went back to observe the coming scene. We made it to opening night. Hines limped through the performance, sounding ill. The rest of the cast did a fine job. I ended my scene on the high F. All went well. We had one day of rest and then a Sunday matinee at 2:00PM. Matinees are difficult for all singers. We are accustomed to preparing our voices for an 8:00PM curtain, not 2:00PM! I hated matinees. In my earlier days of incessant bravado I had plunged into them full voice, thinking nothing of it. In the fall of 1979 I had performed the title role of Verdi’s Macbeth with the Arizona Opera Company. We finished the dress rehearsal about 2:00AM, and like Hines, I wanted to go out and get something to eat. I ate a huge plate of rare prime rib. By the time I arrived back at the house where I was staying, my gluttony was telling the tale. I threw up everything and continued to throw up for an hour. I got to sleep about 5:00AM., got up at 7:30AM, went to the theatre at 8:30AM and performed a “matinee” at 9:30AM of Macbeth for school children. It was one of the best performances I ever gave! But I still hated “matinees.”
This time was different. Hines was in real trouble. On his day off he had gone to a doctor to have ultra sound therapy performed on his larynx, but it was to no avail. He seemed totally laryngitic. There was no understudy. Jerry would have to go on or we would have to cancel the performance, which meant financial disaster. Jerry went on. He barely made it through his first big scene of “The Woman at the Well.” My scene as Eliakim was next. I sailed through the aria better than ever, holding a long sustained high G towards the end, finally ending on an optional low F sharp. The infamous scene was next, but I was not nervous, I had already decided not to interpolate the high B flat. I had sung the high F the previous performance and it had been more than sufficient. As Mary Magdalene sang her long monologue, I sat back in my throne-chair and played with the character, Eliakim. Finally the end of her aria arrived. I had two beats before I was to sing the infamous words which ended the scene, “Is the whole world gone mad!” Usually those two beats fly at you like the wind and you have just enough time to take your breath and sing the notes. But this time, time itself seemed to slow down. Those two beats became an eternity. What was I to do with all this luxury of time? The Voice said, “Take the high B flat.” I could not believe it. There was plenty of time for an argument. “What? I’m not doing that again, no way.” The Voice was very clear, “Take the high B flat.” Something I had learned made it easy for me to agree. I went up for the high B flat. It was not only there, it was there in spades! I held it forever. This time there would be no scalded dog, hiding his head as he crept through the halls to his dressing room. Slowly and happily I walked off stage as my colleagues said things singers say to one another after a good job: “Wow, what a note!” “Holy cow, what did you eat? I want some of it.” On my triumphant way down the hall I passed Jerry’s dressing room. The door was open. He sat disconsolate at his make-up table. I could see that he was worried and afraid of the next scene coming up. It was the “At Bethany” scene and he had to sing the Lord’s Prayer which had always given him trouble, even in good voice. I walked into his room. He smiled faintly and said, “So the B flat worked tonight?” Without thinking I said, “I sang that high B flat for you so that you would know that if I can sing a high B flat, without cracking, you can make it through this next scene!” His face dropped and showed his true feelings of insecurity. “But how am I going to make it through it?” He said. “Dear God,” I thought, “what am I supposed to say to this man, my hero and mentor?” The words came tumbling out my mouth without any thought, “Just go out there, breathe deeply and don’t push!” Those words seemed to rally him. “All right,” he said, and headed for the stage. During the scene, the Voice told me to position myself in the wings, unnoticed by the audience, but in such a way that I had clear view of the stage. The Voice said that I was to pray for Jerry to be given strength. I did, and I saw that it was helping him get through the scene. Finally he made it to the big aria, Jesus’ Lord’s Prayer. Hines did what I said. He breathed deeply, taking many more breaths than he needed, and he didn’t push! He made it through. As the curtain descended, a happy Hines almost collapsed into the arms of his colleagues as they congratulated him. “I just did what Joe Shore told me,” he said, “And it got me through.”
For the rest of the opera, since my character does not appear with Jesus, I stood in the wings and prayed for Jerome. He gained in strength. During the difficult “Last Supper” scene, the Director came into the wings with a look of worry on his face, “He’s struggling,” He said. “Don’t worry,” I said with a smile. “He’s going to make it through just fine,” And he did. I knew why I was supposed to go to Benton Harbor. It was my love for Jerome Hines that was the lesson. That love is the love Jesus would have us learn. It is the same love I received from my grandparents and parents. It is the love that God gives us as His own. Receive it. It is there, waiting for us to grasp it in every learning experience, and every experience is a learning experience. Had I learned my lesson earlier, had I not gotten off course, I am sure I would have gotten to sing for Jimmy Carter! Nevertheless, I sang for Congressmen, Senators, Governors, the Russian Diplomatic Mission to the UN, and Consuls to several countries.
Months later, the Voice told me to call Jerome and let him know that I not only wanted to perform the role of “Simon Peter” again, but that I was supposed to. I knew Jerry would understand. I made the call. It just so happened that the Hines Company was going to be doing I Am The Way in June 1996 in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, but the role of “Peter” was already taken by one of Jerry’s students from OMTI (Opera Music Theatre International). “Put me on standby,” I said, “You never know. This guy may not be able to do it.” He agreed. A short time later, the Director called me with the news that Mark Delavan could not do the part and it was mine. Twenty years had passed since I sang the role of “Peter,” but I knew it. Jerry was in fine voice. This time, my character sat at the Last Supper table with Jesus. As I looked at Jerry I knew that the love I have for him is the message of Jesus, that we should love one-another even as He loved us; and “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” The circle was complete.