Absolutely Gushing

The highest hilltop in Greenwich, Connecticut is the location of Sacred Heart, a fine school for girls. On the sunny day I was there last week, Long Island Sound was visible in the distance. In the school’s big empty auditorium, as I warmed up my 12-string guitar to perform The Odyssey: Belly of the Beast, the doors were open. The PA was blasting and the music was lyrical, and as I played onstage I noticed girls peering in from the hall to listen. It takes me a half hour of playing to ready my hands for the seventy-minute story, and whoever’s in earshot gets to listen. They smiled and waved and I waved back. Sacred Heart School enrolls elementary through high school girls, and I’d been told by Megan, the English teacher who’d brought me in, who I’d not met before, to expect 5th and 9th graders. 5th was studying Greek mythology. 9th was reading The Odyssey.

 

So to give them something to listen to as they filed in, I decided to play them an overture. It’s a free-flowing exploration of my story’s musical leitmotifs. The 5th and 9th graders sat, but then other grades began to arrive. 4th graders, I found out later during the Q&A, 7th graders, and others. The auditorium kept filling up, which was fine with me, of course. I think it was the music’s Siren Song that wooed them in. That and a very civilized faculty willing to let them go, I suspect.

 

Afterwards I drove home on the Merritt Parkway in rush hour traffic and arrived back in New Hampshire five hours later, somewhat bedraggled and too tired to wonder how the show went. The next morning I received this email. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if things go well. That afternoon, I think things did.

Dear Odds, 

This morning all of the students arrived to school absolutely gushing about yesterday’s performance. In my classes this morning, all the girls wanted to discuss the wonder of the performance. We were all absolutely captivated. It was a magical and transportive experience. Thank you so much for giving us such a gift. We hope you will be able to visit us again. 

Kind Regards,
Megan Monaghan

 

Megan gave me permission to share her letter. Reactions like this remind me of why I got into this business, and I’m still in it, enjoying every rarefied moment. It’s an aesthetic delight for me, and kids never forget this show. If you know anyone who’d like to invite me to tell The Odyssey: Belly of the Beast at any elementary, middle school, high school or university, send them to this link. Kids don’t forget it. Why? Because their Muse has been summoned. It shocks them, since often it’s the first time they discover they’ve got one.

Telling The Odyssey to Eight Hundred High School Students

I’m looking forward to it. This coming Friday I’ll drive down to the Dana Center at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH. This is the hall used for presidential primary debates and other performances, and I’ve been onstage there many times, sometimes for the college itself, but this time to perform The Odyssey: Belly of the Beast for the New Hampshire Classical Association’s hundreds of high school Latin students for Classics Day. They come in buses from all over the state. I guess this is my 8th time doing this. Maybe more times than that, I’m not sure.

 
The stage has a thrust. Like a ship’s bow, it sticks out into the waves of seats that slope upward into the eight hundred seat space. Way up there is the balcony. And it will be filled with kids who’ll be asked to turn off their cellphones as I wait backstage, taking the last few passes at tuning the 12-string before I step out, walk to my chair there at the bow, and hit the summoning motif, which I’ll play for a few seconds before saying anything. Two elemental bass notes at the bottom with harmonic sparkles at the top. This motif is meant to launch my listeners into a receptive level of consciousness, heroic and somewhat dark as it is. The promise of things to come.

 
Briefly I’ll describe how in 700 B.C. in ancient Greece, not many people could read, books had yet to be invented, and people either told stories themselves or relied upon professional “Singers of Tales,” the most famous of whom was Homer. I’ll mention how in Homer’s time, when he was performing his Odyssey and Iliad poems with character voices and a lyre, his stories weren’t myths, but were more like forms of religious worship. How he and his listeners believed in the gods and goddesses of Olympus as surely as we believe whatever we do today. And how like William Shakespeare, writing about Julius Caesar long after the fact, the Trojan War was already five hundred years in the past in Homer’s time.

 
And then the story will begin. I’ll enter the dream, which lasts about an hour, become all sorts of characters, play the 12-string guitar like a bat out of hell and emerge at the end ready for something new this year. A Q&A. In the past I’ve just stepped offstage, but Flora Sapsin, she who arranges for my performances, has asked me to take questions from the kids and teachers this year. Usually high school audiences have all kinds of good questions. How do I remember all that? Did I make up that music? How do I change my voice? Do I have a favorite color? Do I own a dog? Why did I become a storyteller? On and on they’ll go until we run out of time, since I’ve done this sort of thing with lots of young audiences. It’s always fun and rewarding and I’ll try to crack a few jokes along the way.

 
And then I’ll pack up and drive home, too exhausted to do much else for the rest of the day. As I said, I’m looking forward to it.

 

You can purchase an mp3 of the entire four hours of The Odyssey here at my shop, if you’re interested.