For only the third time, I did The Blues of Achilles and Odyssey at the same place on back to back days.
I played The Blues of Achilles on the west campus of Valencia College in Orlando on Tuesday and the Odyssey on east campus on Wednesday.
Doing the shows in this order so close together showed me how different my pieces are in ways I think honor the differences between the Iliad and Odyssey.
For The Blues of Achilles, I was set up in a sun-filled sunken atrium in the middle of the campus building that is home to the Humanities department. The audience sat on three sides, my back was against a staircase that led to a second floor which functioned like a balcony. I sang without a microphone, my voice and guitar echoed throughout the building. There was a good core audience and also spectators who filtered in and out, listening to a song before moving on to another activity. It was raw and beautiful. I felt like I told the story between the songs maybe better than I ever have. Sometimes I connect to a song so deeply that the hair on the back of my neck stands up and I can feel the character inhabiting me. This happened on a couple songs and by the time I gave voice to Hecuba watching her son’s body being returned across the Trojan plain, I was nearly overwhelmed with tears.
And some in the audience were too.
It felt the most Homeric any performance has ever felt to me. It was at the same time folk and grand, personal and universal, worthy of the characters and their stories. There was a feast (of snacks) when I finished and a bunch of students and professors wanted to talk more, share more, and just hang out.
Afterwards, I went out for oysters and beer.
The next day, on the east campus, I arrived and found the performance space, which could not have been more different from the day before: it was a seminar room with a low ceiling. Quiet, dark, private. Its own little world. I had a great PA through which to sing (partially because they were live-streaming it). My host gave me an amazing introduction helping the audience understand the intellectual underpinnings of my work and I was off. My guitar boomed. Whereas I felt The Blues of Achilles songs were going out into the building and diffusing down the halls, the Odyssey was filling the entire space, surrounding the audience, washing over them like (you know it) the wine dark sea. We were all in it together, this world of Odysseus and his journey, and it was intense in a way different from the day before but appropriate to the story.
Before the show I mentioned to the audience how similar Odysseus is to a bard (and vice versa) and I really connected to that as I performed. Maybe even more so as I lead the discussion after I finished singing. Again, it felt Homeric to me, like it evoked the mystery and wonder of the text that I felt when I read it in Greek in college.
The program wrapped up and I was back into my rental car headed to the airport to fly to Texas for another Blues of Achilles show.
At this moment when Homer and the Iliad are in the news because of Emily Wilson’s new translation, I could not be prouder of these two pieces I’ve created. And I could not be more sure that I’m doing something that honors these incredible works in the same way a translation does.
Or rather, in some ways a textual translation cannot.