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.

To wit: singing a song about identity has become my identity, something I fought for over a decade and still fight at times in my own quiet self-subversive and stubborn ways.

As I wrote in my last post, I had a monumental show at Harvard on Good Friday.  

It was dramatic, impactful, and important to me and my identity as a modern bard.

But the truth is, the more I live the life of a traveling bard, the more I realize that immediately after the glow of some particularly significant show fades, it's time to get back to work and to the next show.

And each and every show matters.  Some feel like they matter more because of how far I have to travel or how many people are there or how much I get paid, but those measures are by and large misleading.

Take for example the performance at The University of Chicago that immediately followed my show at Harvard.

In contrast to elaborate travel and exotic accommodations, I drove the 25 minutes to Hyde Park for a late afternoon show for the undergraduate Classics club.  I have fond memories of the U of C campus owing to visiting my best friend there during college and I felt the tug of nostalgia as I walked into the typically stern stone building in which I'd perform. 

My host students were incredibly gracious and the performance space was ornate and quirky with wood paneling and leaded glass windows.  I sneezed as I drew the dusty curtains to transform the room into a dark and intimate parlor.

The rows of chairs filled in and I started singing.

I spend the first couple songs of my performance trying to inhabit and listen very carefully to the room, both the physical space and the people in it, and I immediately liked what I heard.  The high ceilings and nooks created a slight echo and I could tell my voice was reaching the back of the room easily.  Then, just as I decrescendo-ed out of Who Am I, an ambulance siren blared loudly as it flew by on Ellis.  

I love moments like that when extraneous noise works its way into a performance.  It somehow reinforces the defined and protected nature of a performance space and creates a momentary awareness of the conceit of performer and audience.

The rest of the show I kept that moment in my mind and as I finished my final song I let the last chord completely decay into the silence of the room, savoring it a little more than usual.

A nice but subdued discussion followed and I drove the reverse trip to the north side thinking about the difference between the Harvard show and this one.  I possibly played and sang better at U of C from a technical standpoint but had this giant visceral reaction to the Harvard show.

Then I remembered the ambulance noise after Who am I and the protracted silence of the room as the final chord faded.

And I smiled the smile of a traveling bard.

And started thinking about the next show.

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