I've found there's a bizarre rhythm to being a traveling bard, a cycle of arrival, interaction, performance and departure.
I wrote about it a bit in the context of how it informs my understanding of ancient bards HERE for Eidolon, but one of the facets of it that has become more and more meaningful for me is the people I meet in each city I visit, especially my hosts.
As my reputation in Classics and academic circles has grown, I've started to get repeat bookings.
One such repeat booking is The Missouri Scholars Academy, a camp for gifted rising high school juniors, held on the campus of University of Missouri each summer. I was lucky enough to be invited to perform there this June for what was the fourth straight year.
I first came to the attention of the Academy when I was booked to perform at the 2013 Missouri Junior Classical League Convention (held in Columbia) by a Latin teacher named Carin Allen who had seen me perform at the 2012 National Junior Classical League (NJCL) Convention. My Missouri Convention performance was attended by another Latin teacher named Jim Meyer who worked for the Missouri Scholars Academy, and at his recommendation the Academy booked me to perform for their students. Each subsequent summer I've gotten to return and developed an affinity for Columbia and its tiny waiting-room sized airport.
I spend bit of time with Jim each visit, usually for just an hour before my performance, and we've struck up a close bond over Classics, music, and teaching. He is by everything I've seen a phenomenal teacher: one of those educators whose enthusiasm for his or her subject matter and generosity with and compassion for the students is effusive and obvious from the first minute you're in his or her presence.
Carin was a similar sort of teacher and person. After my 2013 Missouri Convention performance, I saw her again at the 2013 NJCL Convention in Las Vegas and then the 2014 NJCL Convention in Atlanta. In Atlanta in particular I remember her sitting down at my display table where I was selling CD's and chatting about Classics and life.
We connected on Facebook. Not long after that, in the fall of 2014, Facebook told me that something happened: her name kept showing up in my feed and I was able to discover that she and her husband had been killed in a head-on car crash in Missouri that somehow spared the lives of their two children who were in the back seat of their car.
Tributes to her, many from her Latin students and JCL members, kept pouring in through social media.
I had such strange feelings of mourning and sadness. On the one hand I had been in this person's presence for a net of maybe 3 hours. On the other hand, we had connected through the things that we were both most passionate about: Classics and education. She had been incredibly generous to me, giving me an opportunity that had led to more opportunities, and that's why her passing was on my mind as I set up for my 2017 Missouri Scholars performance in a big beautiful auditorium on the University of Missouri campus last week. Jim was there too, and the auditorium soon filled with over 200 high school Scholars.
For the second straight performance I sang with a lapel microphone and it agreed with me again: my voice filled the room from every corner.
As I finished, the crowd began applauding. Then they rose and kept applauding, a standing ovation so generous that it drove me to the edge of tears.
The discussion was as good as it gets. Insightful questions of every sort, some I'd never heard before. One in particular stuck with me mostly because upon further reflection I think I botched the answer.
A student asked: "How do you define success as a musician?"
I weaseled around what amounted to more of a practical answer, landing on the idea that I was proud that I'd found a niche market with my Odyssey and sort of "gamed the system" with it and that I considered that a success.
Which is true but really what matters most to me as a musician is connecting with other humans through music.
With my audiences of course but also with people like Jim and Carin.
After my performance wrapped up I wandered over to what has become my usual post-performance spot, The Broadway Brewery, for dinner and a beer. Following an all-too-short night of sleep I hustled to the Columbia regional airport and onto my early morning flight back to Chicago.
As the plane lifted off the runway into the rosy-fingered dawn I closed my eyes and reminded myself to feel grateful for my life, my music, and the gift of human connection wrapped up inextricably with my pursuit of Homer's ancient tale.