November 2, 2017 - Wabash College

 

One of my favorite things about The Odyssey is the text's explicit comparison of Odysseus to a bard.

In Book 11, King Alcinous says of Odysseus "You have told your tale with the skill of a bard." 

In Book 17, the swineherd Eumaeus describes the still-disguised Odysseus to Penelope thusly: "It was just as when men gaze at a bard/Who sings to them songs learned from the gods/Bittersweet songs, and they could listen forever/That's how he charmed me when he sat in my house."

And most famously in Book 21 at arguably to most gripping and important moment in the poem: "Like a musician stretching a string/Over a new peg on his lyre, and making/The twisted sheep-gut fast at either end/Odysseus strung the great bow."

 

November 1, 2017 - Valparaiso University

 

In the last few years I've embraced calling myself a "modern bard."

This is both good marketing and largely true: I'm doing largely the same things ancient Greek bards and rhapsodes did and in the context of the same stories they told.

But I sometimes wonder (and it often comes up in discussion) about other modern performers who embody aspects of the ancient bard.  

I usually list the following:

Rapper/emcee: exhibits the same virtuosity of language, meter, and improvisation
Jazz musician: manipulates a musical vocabulary over canonized forms (standards)
Standup comic: goes town to town, varies jokes by location, truth-teller to a drunk audience, variations of stock jokes/premises  

I like these all a lot but my favorite comparison is Delta blues musician.

 

October 26, 2017 - Hamilton College

 

I wrote about my Odyssey as a two-headed monster that craves both artistic and intellectual validation HERE.

That monster has largely been sleeping peacefully since that watershed April performance at Harvard, satiated by a great 2017 and a 2018 that's shaping up to be even better. 

That being said, I am hyper-vigilant about collecting material to feed it should it awake hungry (as it often does) and I was lucky enough to get a morsel during my visit to Hamilton College.

 

October 25, 2017 - Syracuse University

 

I've done my Odyssey show so many times (Syracuse University was my 230th performance) that I sometimes lose perspective on the details of my text.

For instance, I know that the first thing the audience hears (and sees) is this:

I. Who am I?
(The Invocation)

Who am I
Mind on fire
Born of you but
Who am I?

οἴνοπα πόντον

Why are you
What you do
Name spread wide but
Why are you?

οἴνοπα πόντον
οἴνοπα πόντον

 

October 24, 2017 - Cornell University

 

Okay, let's get this out of the way.

YES, I was tickled immensely by the idea of performing The Odyssey in Ithaca (which, as you probably know, is the name of Odysseus' island home).

YES, I brought it up every chance I got and YES I made a bad joke before my performance at Cornell University, which went something like this: 

"In July I performed The Odyssey in Troy... alaBAMA, and now, three months later, I'm performing it in Ithaca... new YORK... so I beat Odysseus's Troy to Ithaca time by... 9 YEARS and 9 MONTHS!"

(A mixture of groans and laughter*)

(*Okay, mostly groans)

 

October 23, 2017 - The University of Rochester

 

The Ancient Greeks practiced a concept called "guest friendship" (xenia in Ancient Greek, the same root from which we derive words like "xenophobic").

Xenia dictated that visitors should be treated with hospitality and respect along with being provided food, drink, and gifts.

The reasoning behind this practice was rooted in what we might think of as superstition: a stranger might be a God or Goddess in disguise so it behooved one to treat all visitors with kindness.  I suspect that it was also practical: the stranger one fed and treated kindly might very well become one's host at a later date. Xenia built connections between families that might stretch for generations.

 

September 27, 2017 - The University of Illinois - Chicago

 

There is an ebb and flow to my work performing The Odyssey and it brings to life for me the theme of identity so prominent in the original text.

From September through May, I'm in the mode of being a Modern Bard, traveling the country and performing frequently. Then things lighten up for June and July with usually just a trip each month.  And then comes August: a month entirely off.

And then it all starts again in September.

 

July 26 and 27, 2017 - The National Junior Classical League Convention, Troy, Alabama

 

"What's your favorite part of the Odyssey?"

Over the course of 200 plus shows, there is no audience question I've answered more often than this one. 

And though my responses have varied, there is no answer I've given more often than "The death of Argos the dog."

 

June 23, 2017 - The Missouri Scholars Academy, Columbia, Missouri

 

I've found there's a bizarre rhythm to being a traveling bard, a cycle of arrival, interaction, performance and departure.

I wrote about it a bit in the context of how it informs my understanding of ancient bards HERE for Eidolon, but one of the facets of it that has become more and more meaningful for me is the people I meet in each city I visit, especially my hosts.

As my reputation in Classics and academic circles has grown, I've started to get repeat bookings.

 

May 20, 2017 - PAJCL Convention, Penn State

 

Classics enthusiasts will tell you that the Ancient Greeks had a story about everything.

Then they'll tell you that over and over and over until you're sick of hearing about how the Ancient Greeks had a story about everything.

But, compulsive stereotypical didacticism aside, it remains true: Greek myth has insight into every facet of human existence from the mundane to the cosmic.

And that includes the phenomenon of suicide.

 

May 1, 2017 - Montgomery Bell Academy

 

One of the things implicit to the Greek oral tradition (and really any oral tradition) is that the audience matters.  

The meaning of any piece of art as transitory as a performance is created in the air between the performer and audience and then exists solely in and subject to the memory of the audience.

It's interesting that the role of the Homeric bard is explicitly sublimated by his own words in the Invocation function of both The Iliad and The Odyssey.  The Goddess/Muse is the one doing singing (though, significantly, in The Odyssey there is a pronoun attached to the performer) and the bard exists just as a vessel for the divine to express story and song.

Intuitively every performer knows some version of this. 

 

April 27, 2017 - The University of Chicago

 

My central interest in The Odyssey is the question of identity.  

Every time I sing The Odyssey I begin with the words I wrote in December of 2001: "Who am I?"

The identity of the person singing these words is deliberately ambiguous.  It could be me, it could be Homer... it could be Telemachus, Odysseus, Penelope... 

My appreciation for the importance of identity in The Odyssey has only grown as telling the story has become a bigger and bigger part of my life.

 

April 14, 2017 - Harvard University

 

It's taken me a long time to understand a fairly simple and obvious truth: being a musician is essentially a never-ending battle for validation. It's a negotiation between one part of my brain which can list the objective accomplishments and clear successes of my various musical properties and another part of my brain that starts every sentence with the phrase "Sure, but what about..."

You can say over and over that all the validation you need comes from inside of you but the truth is that by committing to being a professional artist, you need SOME sort of external validation, if only the kind that gives you the resources to keep producing your art. And maybe even pay your mortgage.

The strength of my Odyssey is that it's equal parts musical performance and intellectual interpretation, but that also opens me up to a possible complication:  Not only do I crave the kind of validation a normal musician wants but I also need it for the intellectual component of my piece in the same way a graduate student or academic needs validation for his or her ideas and scholarship. 

This cocktail of validation is at the core of the ups and downs of the 15 year lifespan of my Odyssey.

 

April 13, 2017 - Needham High School

 

My stop at Needham High School (just outside of Boston) came after having endured a red-eye flight home from Seattle early Tuesday morning and tempting the travel gods (Hermes?) by flying to Boston early on Thursday and leaving myself just barely enough time to grab an Uber, navigate rush hour traffic, and arrive at the well-manicured suburban high school with 45 minutes to set up for the first of what were to be two Odyssey shows.

 

April 10, 2017 - Pacific Lutheran University

 

Some Odyssey shows give me human insight, like the one I wrote about here.

Some Odyssey shows give me classical insight, like the one I wrote about here.

And on some very special occasions I get a perfect example of both.

 

April 7-8, 2017 - WABCJCL Convention, Washington

 

“I am a guy who travels around telling a story that a guy who traveled around telling stories told about a guy who traveled around telling stories."

For my blog about my shows for the Washington British Columbia Junior Classical Convention, I was planning on just posting the keynote speech I gave at the Convention’s opening assembly.

But then, as it often does, the reality of my experience out on the road gave me something better to write about.

 

April 6, 2017 - University of Texas - Austin

 

I’ve been rereading The Odyssey in full for the first time in several years, a book each day. It’s been amazing to see how my perspective on a story I know so well has changed.

It’s my first full reading of the poem since I started taking a more active interest in veterans and veterans’ affairs and understanding The Odyssey as a soldier song.  Like many things in life, this development came about through an equal mix of chance and magic.

 

March 20, 2017 - Northern Illinois University

 

Seeing as my trip last week to perform two shows at Northern Illinois University involved a simple drive out to DeKalb, Illinois, I'll spare you a post about travel (short story: I-90 to I-290 to I-88) and talk a little more broadly about how I came to the story that has become such a big part of my life, Homer's Odyssey.

Where to begin?

 

March 15, 2017 - Randolph College

 

Be Where the Ides of March? 

(Okay, that was terrible: sorrynotsorry)

One of the interesting things about doing the Odyssey year after year is that it gives me natural signposts to mark the passage of time.

 

January 26, 2017 - Duquesne University

 

It seems odd to start formally blogging about a project some 15 years after its creation.  

But these are the circumstances: this post is about the 208th performance of my one-man musical retelling of Homer's Odyssey, a piece which was written in late 2001 and early 2002.

Chronicling my performances in writing is something I sometimes wish I would have done from the beginning, especially now that I'm working on writing a book about my quest to perform The Odyssey in all 50 states (I'm at 31 states as of this post with 3 new states booked before next school year) but there's also a part of me that appreciates writing about the first 200 or so with only my memories and some scattered documentation and relics as my guides.