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.
And nothing exemplifies it better than my performance at Harvard University on Good Friday.
This was a show three years in the making logistically but emotionally it felt like the culmination of everything I've ever done around The Odyssey. I wanted it to go well musically as I do any other show, but I also felt an added pressure and hope that students and faculty at what is considered by many to be the top Classics program in the country would buy in to and connect with (and, yes, validate) the theoretical and intellectual underpinnings of my framing.
After a 6 mile run along the Charles River in the beautiful spring morning air, I cleaned up, collected my guitar from my hotel on the square, and walked the quarter mile to Harvard's famous Johnston Gate. I found the Classics department, met my contacts, and got set up in a pristine lecture hall that would serve as the venue.
I had been warned that there was a joke about Jesus giving a talk at Harvard and only 5 people showing up, but my audience quickly tripled that baseline (and allowed me to make my own joke about outdrawing Jesus on Good Friday).
I started talking.
Then I started singing.
Then the music was over.
Then the discussion started.
And it was absolutely electric.
The students (and professor) asked incisive question after question after question. They picked up on every nuance, every reference, every conceit of my performance. They were incredible.
And the discussion kept going.
For 80 minutes.
And all the crazy ideas I have in my head around The Odyssey, Homer, oral tradition, and my place in it, came tumbling out of me in long answers and these were met with more questions and thoughtful observations.
And the professor delayed leaving to teach a class because the discussion was so engrossing.
And after 15 years and over 200 performances (or maybe because of 15 years and over 200 performances) I felt absolutely certain that my Odyssey is something real, something with depth, something unique, and something valuable both musically and intellectually.
And the voice in my head started to say "Yeah, but what about-"
And I quickly put duct tape over its mouth, threw it in the Charles River, and walked back to my hotel in the late afternoon sun.