At the Orality and Literacy Conference in Austin a couple of weeks ago, a professor asked me if I remember my performances.
I've been thinking about this question since that show and as I flew from Chicago to Missoula, Montana (by way of Salt Lake City), on a Sunday morning for a Monday performance at the University of Montana, I closed my eyes and tried to remember as many of my Odyssey shows as I could.
Not just the shows but the journeys to and around the shows.
I started with the first time I performed in Missoula, in 2015, as part of what was by far the most extensive Odyssey tour I had put together up to that point: 9 shows in 8 days in 5 states.
The itinerary came back to me: An early flight out of Chicago on Tuesday to connect through Seattle to Missoula. Performances in Missoula on Tuesday, in Tucson, Arizona, on Wednesday, in Las Vegas on Thursday, a long day of travel to North Carolina on Friday and two performances at the NC Junior Classical League Convention on Saturday. A flight to Austin on Sunday. Two performances in Austin (one at a high school and one at UT) on Monday, two more (at another high school and again at UT) on Tuesday, and then an early evening flight home to Chicago.
I remember drinking afternoon beers with a college friend in Missoula, seeing a high school friend in Las Vegas, hearing music at the Saxon Pub and connecting with more old friends in Austin.
I remember a roller coaster-like descent into the valley in Montana on a small plane, the city laid out below in its spring green. I remember an early morning flight out of Las Vegas with an army of disgruntled air travelers. I remember scoffing at the constituency of my flight to Austin, unshaven slightly-graying guys in their late 30’s wearing too-small plaid short sleeve shirts… and then catching a humbling glimpse of myself in the plane window reflection.
I remember taking a run in the dry spring air in Tucson, in the surprising humidity of Chapel Hill, and in the relative quiet of mid-morning downtown Austin.
I remember a lunch burrito in Tucson, a dinner at the pub next to my NC hotel, an outdoor evening meal in Austin.
I remember the long ornate room in which I sung in Missoula, performing outdoors in Arizona in the company of hummingbirds, the small but acoustically dead lecture hall in Las Vegas where I felt like I was singing into water, the tiered 50’s style classroom in Chapel Hill, the small Classics lecture space at UT, the big auditorium at an Austin high school, the bigger lecture hall at UT, the rotunda at the other Austin high school.
I remember the faces of the audience at every performance. I remember a professor at UT reading my lyrics off a screen and saying “C’mon man, that’s great!” and another UT professor explicating one of my songs favorably in front of several hundred students, picking up on every nuance I'd layered in when I wrote it.
I remember the headmaster of one of the high schools in Austin saying that if he could only use two texts from which to teach he’d choose the Bible and the Odyssey… and in the next breath speaking favorably about arming teachers.
17 years of Odyssey-related memories filled my head as the plane careened into the valley and landed in Missoula. Exiting the terminal, the baggage area triggered more memories of the 2015 trip, as did my friend and host Matt who pulled into the airport to pick me up just as he did 4 years prior.
The next evening I set up in the same ornate long room with friendly acoustics to perform the same song I performed in 2015.
Or was it the same song?
I sang as a person who has done 150 plus performances of this “same” piece since that 2015 performance. 150 performances in 31 states since that April Tuesday.
Maybe the biggest development since that first Montana show in 2015 is that I’ve become someone who is so far away from who I was when I composed my Odyssey that I don’t have any attachment to the piece as a creator. It’s just something I’ve always known how to perform, something so ingrained in me that it doesn’t really exist as a composition in any meaningful way, just as a performance.|
So as I finished my 288th performance of a song that I wrote when I was Telemachus’ age and first performed on March 17, 2002, first singing as a bard who is now (almost) Odysseus’ age, who has been out on the sea alone, made it back to Ithaca, and then realized his destiny (just like his protagonist's) was to always be back out on the seas in some way…
As I finished my song for the night, I thought about that question from several weeks back and finally had the answer:|
Yes. I do remember my performances.
Every last one of those 288 is inside me like DNA creating the person I am today. This thing I created has recreated me and will continue to as long as I sing it.
And for that I am grateful beyond words.