Water in waking
Water in dreaming
You have brought me here to…
How can I possibly write something that captures the almost 22 years of Odyssey shows that brought me to a home of sorts: performing in my 50th state, Oklahoma.
Let’s start with a timeline:
December 2001 to February 2002 - at the age of 24, I write my Odyssey from song 1, Who Am I?, to song 24, Water.
March 17, 2002: My first performance in my parents’ living room for 15 carefully selected guests.
The week of April 8, 2002: My first public performance, at Indiana University.
Fall 2002: My first high schools performances for Latin School in Chicago and my alma mater, Oak Park/River Forest.
2003-2006: sporadic performances mostly at high schools, spread over 4 states.
2007-2010: minimal to no shows: I thought I was done performing the Odyssey.
2011-2014: My step (leap?) into being a full time musician causes me to reappraise and reapply myself. I discover that my discontent with the Odyssey was more related to how I was performing it rather than the piece itself. I do a recording and release it on CD. Travel increases as I start to get more college bookings and appearances for local and national Junior Classical League events. I also start traveling to more exotic places (rural Mississippi) and begin to understand how my experiences mirror Odysseus’ and presumably the bards who first performed epic stories.
2014-2018: Methodical expansion - kind words from a host professor help me understand unrealized potential and value. I begin a dedicated pursuit of essentially every college classics program in the country. I find that audiences react not only to the emotional content of the songs but also to the way I talk about my experiences, emotions, and feelings about my work. I learn and get comfortable with acute vulnerability. I write an article for Eidolon. In late 2016 I hit 200 shows. In 2018, fueled by a fairly high profile professional partnership with a public-facing Classics organization and Emily Wilson’s new translation of the Odyssey, I work more than I ever have.
2018- early 2020: In 2018 I hit 37 states and understand for the first time that performing in all 50 US states might be an obtainable and worthwhile goal. I begin the very specific arduous process of figuring out how to make it real. In 2019 I perform in Delaware and North Dakota to reach 39 states. I book a tour for Europe. I write The Blues of Achilles. In early 2020 I reach 300 shows total and 41 states with shows in Hawaii and Wyoming.
2020: Covid. It turns out my Odyssey (and Iliad) works very well on Zoom. I cancel dozens of shows in 2020 (including my Europe trip) but still work a lot virtually both with the Odyssey and The Blues of Achilles.
2021: A gradual return to in person shows including two new states, Alaska and Kansas (states 42 and 43), and a reconstituted international tour to Greece, the Netherlands, and Italy.
2022: Two more states to bring the total to 45: New Mexico and West Virginia. At the end of the year, I write on my white board “ALL 50 IN 2023.”
2023: I scrap, I claw, I pester, I research, I apply for travel grants and more and as the year progresses, the remaining states start to fall into place. State 46 is Maryland in the spring (rescheduled from 2020). State 47 is Idaho in the summer (thanks to a travel grant from the SCS, which also supported my Alaska trip in 2021). In the fall, I put together an amazing swing to state 48 Oregon and state 49 Utah.
Which brings us to a Wednesday in early November.
I touch down in Tulsa at noon and get my rental car. An hour later I see a water tower bearing the name of my destination. Stillwater. Only then does it hit me: STILLWATER. Could there be a more appropriately named town in which to play the Odyssey (seeing as I’ve already performed in Troy (AL) and Ithaca (NY))?
A couple hours later I’m set up in the oldest education building in the state of Oklahoma, in a worn but beautiful room with all the right echoes. The audience is immediately dialed into the significance of the show. I can feel the intensity and the connection as strongly as ever. I can feel the Muse talk through me.
And then, it’s done. The applause of the couple dozen audience members roars in my ears like a stadium crowd, like a stand in for the ten thousand plus people who have heard me play my Odyssey in the last two decades.
A question afterwards: what have I learned about the Odyssey over the course of my journey to perform it all 50 states?
At 24 years old, the Odyssey was a story about identity. At 46, it has become a story about perseverance. I am routinely shocked and appreciative of how many things my 24 year old self got right when he wrote the piece, how much he gave my 46 year old self to work with. What I keep discovering about my own work. It often feels like I’m reading a note my younger self wrote to my older self.
I took this timeline back to 2001 but I could easily go back further. To a college comp lit class in 1998 about the Odyssey and its creative offspring. To the first time I read Homer in the spring of 1997. To my first Greek class in 1995. To seeing those fateful Greek words in a book in 1994. To a first guitar lesson in 1985.
The story of my journey to play the Odyssey in all 50 states is the story of me. Of who I am, which are not accidentally the very first words I wrote in my Odyssey writing book.
The characters of Greek epic don’t believe in accidents: they believe in omens.
The first line of my Odyssey is Who am I?
The final lines are:
(Still) water in waking
(Still) water in dreaming
You have brought me here to…
Of all the decisions I made in creating my songs, leaving the last line open-ended was perhaps the most wise and prescient. Wherever my Odyssey takes me next, I’m ready.