March 9, 2023 - Germantown Friends School, Philadelphia

Traveling is a muscle:  If you don’t use it, it atrophies and it takes time to reestablish yourself both practically and emotionally around the challenges of going town to town playing music.

It’s been over three months since my last out-of-town performance (a BOA show in Tulsa) and almost four months since my last Odyssey-related travel to Texas and Connecticut in November, so I experienced some travel muscle atrophy on a brief trip to Philadelphia to perform my Odyssey for Classics Day at Germantown Friends School.

I went through something similar when I started touring again after the long Covid layoff but I found that easier because traveling for everyone was weird. This episode caught me a little off-guard but like my protagonist, I got my wits about me and made it home in one piece with some good stories to tell. 

An easy flight lulled me into a false sense of security and I walked into the Hertz rental car facility confidently to find that… I had rented a car for two weeks in the future. Gah. In almost a decade of serious travel, I’ve never rented a car for the wrong day. Amateur hour! Luckily, they had something I could rent on the spot and I was on my way to the hotel where… it was now 11:00 pm and not only was the restaurant closed but any place to get food close by was closed. I hadn’t thought to check on how late I could order food on a Wednesday night and now unless I wanted to wait an hour and eat a pizza at midnight, I was out of luck. Double gah and double amateur hour! 

Another stroke of luck: the front desk hotel worker took pity on me and let me get some food out of the continental breakfast supplies. I wolfed down a bagel and a banana and crashed to get some sleep before my 6:00 am wake up call.  

After another installment of continental breakfast food (this one in the daylight), I was on my way down the road to Germantown Friends School, wary of any carryover from the (modest by annoying) inconveniences of the night before. The sun was shining on a crisp late winter morning and I got to the school with no issues.  I met my contact as well as another teacher whom I had met over the summer when I performed at a NEH institute near Philadelphia.  I felt the energy of the trip turn positive: the auditorium filled with a hundred high and middle school kids, all of whom have classes in the school’s robust Classics department.  The day was full of activities from the academic (student presentations) to the fun (Olympic games) all based around Classical culture and my Odyssey show was the mid-morning feature. 

I was set up and ready to go when the door opened and in filed twenty 4th graders who were promptly seated in the front row. My stomach sank. My Odyssey piece is fairly demanding and esoteric and I generally think middle school is about the youngest audience for whom it is intended and productive. Sitting still and staying quiet and focused for almost 40 minutes of music is hard for anyone let alone 9 year olds. The teacher assured me they were doing a unit on Ancient Greece and myth and would be into it. I swallowed my judgment (what else could I do?) and went for it.

The room was dead silent for the whole performance. Even when the microphone ran out of batteries and the sound person replaced it on the fly, the students stayed silent, engaged, and focused.

For all it takes me some time to find my travel muscles, my performance muscles are accessible immediately and I found myself submerged in the joy of doing the piece for the first time in four months.  It was old and new at the same time. My guitar felt reborn.

Energetic applause and then one of the most fun discussions I’ve ever had. The 4th graders were the stars of the show, enthusiastically asking (thoughtful!) question after question until I actually had to tell them to wait until some of the other older students had a chance.  It was entertaining, meaningful, poignant, human: exactly what Classics can be.

We had a Greek-themed feast and after spectating the Olympic games I was back to the airport. A beer at the bar turned into a great conversation with a fellow traveler which turned into a third party picking up our bar tab (that’s a story in itself) which turned into an engaging conversation with a seatmate on my flight who was a musician of some considerable success. 

A journey that started inauspiciously finished triumphantly. 

Almost all my touring this spring revolves around my Blues of Achilles piece with just two other Odyssey shows, only one of which is out of town. That’s generally by design as the fall will be dedicated to the final remaining states to round out performances in all 50.  I’m glad my first travel this year was for the Odyssey and I’m also glad it was a little rough around the edges. It’s a good reminder of how much I’ve learned and done around this piece and how much there always is to learn, experience, and do around music if you remain open and available. 

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