Visitor stages musical Odyssey

On Friday, Feb. 27, Joe Goodkin performed his original musical version of The Odyssey. Goodkin has been performing his version of The Odyssey since 2003 for high school and college students all across the country. The Odyssey was comprised of 24 short songs and lasted only a half an hour, followed by a brief question and answer session. Song titles such as “Enough” and “So Close” described Odysseus’s trials, challenges and his return home. Goodkin’s lyrics, combined with his voice, deepen the connection between the story and the listener. Although this particular version of The Odyssey was short and may have left out some parts from Homer’s original, the audience did not leave the building unsatisfied. The performance stands well on its own and both enriches and entertains.

When Goodkin began to tell the story of Odysseus’s epic journey back to his home and to his love, Penelope, 10 years after the end of Trojan War, the audience fell silent. Goodkin’s music was enrapturing in a way that made it easy to forget about everything except the music. His guitar and his voice blended harmoniously as the story progressed and the listener really began to feel for Odysseus.

Goodkin admits to portraying Odysseus in a more vulnerable light in his version than he is portrayed in Homer’s original. Goodkin commented that one of the things that makes Odysseus vulnerable is his ability to believe the lies he tells himself. For those unfamiliar with the original story of The Odyssey, Odysseus claims to have been trapped on the island Ogygia and imprisoned by the beautiful nymph Calypso. This is just one of the so-called lies; the reader questions whether or not Odysseus was really trapped or if he had willingly stayed. Details like this are easy to miss in Goodkin’s shortened version. However, Goodkin’s rendition is a fine and well-done piece of art, nonetheless.

The performance took place in front of an audience of about 50 people in the Fosness Room of Christiansen Hall of Music. The audience was a blend of students and faculty with a passion for the classics, students of the Great Conversation program and those who simply love music. The music and the performance were well received.

During the question-and-answer session following the performance, Goodkin received questions about his methodology, inspiration and process of creating a musical version of The Odyssey. Goodkin’s responses revolved around the fact that he combined his two loves in life: the classics and music. Goodkin holds a bachelor’s degree in Classics from the University of Wisconsin- Madison. His knowledge and expertise on the subject was evident in the details of his songs.

As he answered questions and responded to comments, Goodkin’s passion and love for the work he does shone through. His enthusiasm for both music and the classics, particularly for The Odyssey, was infectious and was felt throughout the room.

Goodkin’s performance was especially unique because it included a PowerPoint with the lyrics of each song. This contributed to both the performance and the reaction of the audience. With lyrics on the screen, each audience member was able to sing along. Goodkin had previously said that this performance was for the audience, and he was true to his word.

Goodkin took the extra steps to ensure the audience was satisfied with his performance. In this way, the show was not merely an audience passively observing a performer, but instead it was a fun, interactive exchange, with the performer and the audience participating equally. Both the performer and the audience were able to take something away from the experience.

Goodkin said that he had previously played around with the idea of creating a similar performance surrounding another Homer epic, The Iliad. However, he is reluctant to do so because he feels that The Iliad‘s musical style would not match his. He imagines The Iliad to have a more rock feel to it, while his style leans to the folk side of things. He does, however, hope to continue performing The Odyssey for as long as people continue to request it – so it looks like The Odyssey is going to be around for a while.