September 23, 2020 - University of Illinois at Chicago (From My Home)

This is my fifth academic year of performing for students at UIC and a virtual show on a beautiful fall Wednesday was my 8th total over those 5 years.

I thought it might be interesting to look back at this group of performances...

September 2016 (show 196): I hadn't started this blog yet but was able to track down an email from my host professor with student comments: 

*******I've just read my students' written assignments about your performance.  They all thought I should invite you back.  Most understood that you had chosen to focus on emotions and relationships, and felt that your performance deepened their appreciation for the poem.  A few comments: 

"I definitely underestimated or overlooked how hard it must have been on the characters in the epic poem with the decisions they had to face.  Goodkin's version definitely enriched my understanding of Homer's work because of the emotional spin that G created in his version.  Definitely invite him next year so students can immerse themselves in the same way our class and I did." 

"I enjoyed Friday's performance because it reminded me that the epics we study in an academic setting represent ancient cultures that incorporated timeless values like love and family." 

And this is the most striking one, talking about your instrumental songs: 

"I thought this was a really neat way to reinforce what Homer already did with the suitors, or large groups of people in general: to make them into an indistinguishable herd, so that nothing really stands out, and in G's performance, this meant that they were not worthy of lyrical expression or having their perspective shared, similar to Homer's version."***********

September 2017 (show 227) in which I wrote about identity and performance: 

"And why I come back to this story and performance every year and in each particular setting can find something moving and interesting to sing and talk about: every year in September a Joe Goodkin who is both the same and different sits down in front of a crowd and tells the story of The Odyssey in a way that is both the same and different as he did it before.  

And every year it feels like home.  

No other Joe Goodkin can or will ever do that in exactly the same way."

September of 2018 (shows 270 and 271) in which I muse on my yet unwritten and unnamed Iliad piece and the future:

"As I walk to my car I wonder what the next year will bring: when I perform at UIC in September of 2019, how many more Odyssey shows will I have done?  It seems pretty likely that I'll be over 300 total as these were my 270th and 271st.  I have confirmed shows in 4 new states meaning I'll be at at least 40 total and that number could even be a little higher depending on additional bookings.   

How far along will my Iliad project be? Some days I feel on the cusp of starting to write in earnest but I'm still wading through endless source material feeling intimidated as shit at the prospect of telling the story in a meaningful way and speaking for characters going through the unspeakable horror of war. 

I smile and remind myself that a year ago I hadn't even been considering writing an Iliad.  

And a lot can happen in a year.   

Or twenty."

February of 2019 (show 282) in which I wrote about an interaction with a student in the military:

"Afterwards, as the class filed out, a student who had been sitting in front lagged behind a bit and approached me.   

He said he enjoyed the performance and that he had connected deeply and emotionally around the meaning of home and homecomings for soldiers and veterans because he himself was in the military and being deployed shortly. 

Moments like that, connections filled with meaning that stretch across thousands of years, take my breath away.  This is what lit the fire I have for this material, this powerful and humbling revelation that humanity has always been grappling with largely the same set of issues: issues of what it means to be home, issues of what it means to just plain be, issues of mothers and fathers and sons and daughters... and issues of war and warriors crying at songs about their fallen comrades, warriors going to war wishing for nothing more than a safe homecoming. 

I wish that safe homecoming to my audience member and all those like him."

September of 2019 (show 295) in which I wrote about the book Effortless Mastery and the magic in performing:

"This magic is so easy to take for granted or lose sight of when you've done a piece almost 300 times and for as many years as I have, when so much about continuing to do it is wrapped up in the mundane administration that dominates almost any professional pursuit... but I make myself a promise as I get back to my car: going forward I will try even harder to recognize explicitly the magic in every performance circumstance, the magic in the material, and the magic in the life I have built for myself around the material. " 

April of 2020 (show 307) in which I talk about transitioning to virtual performances:

"...the oral tradition and these stories are powerfully malleable and adaptable. They are little viruses themselves, changing and inhabiting humanity in new and novel ways as the times and circumstances change.  You don’t survive thousands of years without this particular type of durability.  I had a professor who posited that the written Greek language was “created” in order to preserve the oral Homeric epics, a suggestion that is generally an outlier in terms of current scholarship.  

But now, living through a titanic cultural paradigm shift and watching how effortlessly the stories compel the tellers to adapt, I wonder if there’s something to that. I wonder if the stories are so powerful and important that they spur humans to innovate in order to preserve and relay the truths contained therein."

*************

That's a pretty interesting cross-section of themes and developments... to which I can now add September of 2020 (show 312). I missed the severe architecture of the UIC campus with which I've become so familiar but the students were unmistakably the same diverse and thoughtful type of group for whom I've performed those seven previous shows. 

My host professor noticed something that I've found to be one of the biggest differences in my virtual shows (from my live performances): I perform with my eyes open now.  For in-person shows I make a point of keeping my eyes closed for several reasons: 1) to maintain my focus, 2) to avoid awkward interactions with the audience, and 3) to honor the tradition of the blind bard. 

For a streaming performance, I first and foremost have to keep an eye (not a cyclops joke) on the technical side and make sure I haven't lost my connection. I also (usually) have to switch my lyric slides.  So these performances feel very different to me by virtue of having my eyes open the whole time to manage a different set of circumstances.  

But we bards are adaptable if nothing else and even just 5 or so shows into what will be 20 (Odyssey and Blues of Achilles) this fall, I feel comfortable even with my eyes open.  In fact I kind of like it.

After the show and discussion is done, my host and I agree we hope that next September's show is in-person partially so we can go to lunch in Greek town as has been our custom in previous years.

As I wrote about my 2018 shows... a lot can happen in a year.

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