My first Odyssey performance took place in my parents’ living room on March 17, 2002.
My 300th Odyssey performance took place in Arlington, Texas, in a lovely parlor-style room in the University of Texas-Arlington library, on February 14, 2020.
In some sense it was very much like the first 299 performances in that I talked for a bit, played my 35 minutes of music, and then led a discussion with the audience about Odysseus and his story.
But in another sense, as milestones often are, it felt like something different.
The day before, my 299th Odyssey show was at Austin College in Sherman, Texas, about 90 minutes north of Dallas. After my weather-delayed flight landed two hours late, I had only a little time to hustle to campus, meet my host, and get set up for the show. I hadn’t performed the piece since mid-November, but I sank into the familiar feel of the Invocation and felt as if I got stronger and stronger until the final chords floated through the lecture hall and were followed by enthusiastic applause.
The next day I drove back south to Arlington and met up with my host at UTA. After lunch I walked to the library and set up in the room, trying not to think too much about what the show would be. Over the course of 300 shows I’ve gradually learned to stay open to each experience and let each be about what it wants to be about, what the audience tells me it’s about, and what I’m about as a performer, thinker, and human being on that particular day in that particular room in front of those particular people.
Learning to approach each show this way both intellectually and musically has resulted in a huge leap forward in both the quality of my performances and also the extent to which I’m able to do the thing I originally set out to do when I wrote this piece in the last months of 2001 and first of 2002: create a thread that runs back in time through the millennia to the age when the ancient epic poems we read as texts were composed in songs that existed only in the moment of performance with no records left behind other that the imprints these story songs made on the minds of their listening audiences.
In fact, though I remember writing my Odyssey and have my handwritten writing journal to prove that I did, the piece is so burned into my being that it feels as if I’ve always known how to do it, or that I learned it from someone else (which in a sense I did - my 24 year old self).
It feels as if it does not belong to me and because of that I’m able to perform it with no ego, emulating the way in which a Homeric bard strove to become an empty vessel through which the Muse would tell the story.
I often feel (as I wrote about HERE) that I become Nobody when I perform: the song fills me up and I become it in every way for the 35 minutes I sing.
And that is exactly what happened in that library on February 14, 2020.
I disappeared and the song of Odysseus flowed through me, somehow the same as the previous 299 performances but also completely unique and ephemeral in the full sense of the word.
I let the harmonics at the end decay for what seemed like a minute. The room was dead silent.
And then I snapped back into being Somebody and the audience began to applaud.
The discussion was long and enthusiastic. There was food and drink following at my host’s house. I fell asleep trying to remember as much of that first performance from 2002 as I could.
The next day I awoke and headed to Hebron High School to perform for a Texas Junior Classical League event.
My 301st performance and an excellent one at that.
And so my odyssey continued on and I began the push to performance 400...