Thursday, 21 February 2013

Plane To Canada - Ship To Ithaca

When I started writing Odyssey The Musical, I thought to myself, ‘I’ll work on it for a year and then see what happens.’ Little did I know that within two months, it would have dates for its first preview on a Canadian stage in a university I was only visiting for a year, that is Victoria College, University of Toronto. As brilliant and exciting this was, it was a little nerve wracking considering it was not actually finished yet, let alone scored and finalised for stage. And now two weeks away from opening night, I’m thinking the same thing. That’s not to say it isn’t finished (and yes, you should definitely come and watch it!) but it has not been such a smooth ride as one might think. Our optimistic thoughts of having auditions in November with a full cast before Christmas and ready to roll by January were only a little hindered when testosterone proved hard to find. When we did find ourselves an Odysseus and a full cast, the demand of the role, the reality of school work and the offer of another leading role in another play left us quite without our own lead.


Behind schedule and buried deep in midterms and assignments, VCDS and The Odyssey Team took longer than expected to find an Odysseus using up our time through Christmas and the beginning of January. We had no full cast, no read through completed and no score finished. I had never realised, perhaps naively, the difficulty of completing a year study abroad whilst putting on a musical from scratch. Often, it seemed like the gods were against us in almost everything; our dance chorus (eventually cut), the slow scoring and time being quickly eaten away by exams and papers.

Of course, there was the very slight adjustment of our male lead to a female lead, that is to say, me, changing the entire outlook of the musical as I had ever imagined it. I had never thought when writing it that I would be singing the lines of Odysseus, addressing my men and sleeping with various divine women whilst returning to Ithaca. But on the plus side, I know all the lines, which sped the process up somewhat. Our optimism was slowly crushed by reality, but the rehearsals were still keeping our hopes up. For me, I could excuse almost any tragedy with the overwhelming truth that this was my musical being brought to life before my very eyes and I was on every edge of the field watching it grow. The difficulties we faced each day left me drained and regretting placing my hands on a keyboard saying to myself ‘I’m going to write a musical today about The Odyssey’. But then, when I think about it, and I mean, really think about it, this is one of the greatest opportunities I have ever been dealt, and a student group putting on a new musical, amidst the climbing pile of work from a leading university was never going to be an easy task. The balancing of priorities was never a specialty of mine and it seems I have not changed. But, with two weeks to go until this unbelievable journey comes to an end, I wonder what other toils can be given to us and how truly spectacular the destination will be.

Join the journey...

Monday, 10 September 2012

Underworld (Do You Know?)

I've never died... surprisingly, and so I've never been to the Underworld. But then again, Odysseus hasn't died and yet he finds himself with the 24 men he has left travelling to the end of the world in order to get his prophecy from Teiresias, a blind Theban prophet (though, I'm sure there are easier ways!). So imagine thinking that you're on your way home. You've lost almost all your men and now, losing faith in the gods and yourself as a leader, you are told that your next path is not towards home and safety but to the underworld. As Odysseus remarks 'No one has ever sailed a black ship into hell' and he's right. It was not a common thing for living men to travel to the Underworld and survive with good news, if at all!

The scene begins with Odysseus arriving at 'the end of the world' and sacrificing, as instructed by Circe, a lamb. The spirits of the underworld need to drink the blood in order to be able to communicate with him and the first ghost he allows forward is Teiresias.

So now imagine a stage. It's dark, the focus is on Odysseus with a dim light, there's mist swirling around them. Imagine Teiresias, a pale colour, his eyes closed shut as he comes forward and drinks the blood, the red a bright yet dark colour against the white of his skin.

He tells him about the suitors, and the path that lies before them. He tells them about the Sun God's island and what they will face if they eat the cattle, warning them to hold on to their will. I imagine his voice to be deep and wearied with age. The lights are still dim but there is a focus on him now.

All around them ghosts swarm, wanting to drink the blood. It's a little bit like something out of an acrobatic show; maybe some are coming down from the ceiling, maybe some come from under the stage, their bodies bending and twisting as they spy out the freshly drawn blood. 

John Flaxman - Odysseus in the Underworld

Among them Odysseus then sees his mother. Until now, he did not know that his mother has died. She drinks the blood and tells her son that it was his leaving and her love for him that caused her death. Once, twice, three times Odysseus tries to embrace her but his fingers slip through her and he is bound never to hold his mother again; she is only a spirit. He cries out for her as the rest of the ghosts then come forward to drink the blood. In the book, Odysseus actually talks to a few of the ghosts that he once knew such as Agammemnon but I envisaged this section to be, rather than a long complicated sequence of information from lots of different characters, a dance sequence. I read this part of the book as a warning to Odysseus about his return to Ithaca...that not everything is as it seems and to be wary. So during this dance, it being perhaps a tango or something to that effect, we have Teiresias still singing 'Do you know' while Odysseus and his men sing 'Thanatos ouden diapherei tou zen, we are men!' It builds up as Odysseus and his men are drawn further and further in by the ghosts. As it does so, Odysseus becomes more panicked and everything gets larger and more complex until eventually it ends.

This whole song and journey is a massive challenge on both Odysseus and his men and they are pushed to the limit as they find out that they may never get home; a fact that is true for everyone except Odysseus himself. I needed to push these men to the limit by use of the ghosts and their line 'We want to try the blood, we want to taste its taste' and 'You were men once before, but at the end of the world you are dead.' It is my way of telling them, 'You will die, and you will lose your kleos and your faith' because they do; their lack of trust in Odysseus and the Gods causes them to choose to slay the cattle. They will die and they will return for the last time to the end of the world.

Monday, 20 August 2012

One And All

'Throwing off his rags, the resourceful Odysseus leaped on to the great threshold with his bow and full quiver and poured out the swift arrows at his feet. 'The match that was to seal your fate is over,' he called out to the Suitors. 'Now for another target which no man has yet hit - If I can hit it and Apollo grants my prayer.' And with that he levelled a deadly shaft at Antinous.'
                                                                                 Book 22; The Battle in the Hall

Odysseus is back in Ithaca and all this can mean is bad news for the Suitors. They've eaten him out of house and home, abused him whilst he was disguised as a beggar, plotted to kill his son and courted his wife. And some say his revenge was not justified! ;)

This song, 'One and All' takes place immediately after the archery contest which Odysseus wins (no surprise there!) but upon his victory, he throws off his rags, blood thirsty and boiling with anger and aims his first arrow at Antinous, the 'ring-leader' of the Suitors. He knows he will not miss. When they see what he has done, the Suitors look to Eurymachus to save them from their inevitable death. Eurymachus pleads with him saying, the man who did him wrong, Antinous, is already dead and asking him not to kill his own people. Odysseus bears down on him, telling him he can either stand and fight or run but either way, they will not survive. Together with his son Telemachus and his Swineherd Eumaeus he overpowers the Suitors and wins the Battle in the Hall.

'[Eurycleia] found Odysseus among the corpses of the dead, spattered with blood and gore, like a lion when he comes from feeding on some farmer's bullock, with the blood dripping from his breast and jaws on either side, a fearsome spectacle.'

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Odyssey The Musical

The epic by Homer is an intense story of nostos (homecoming), kleos (honour) and dunamis (strength). It follows the journey of one man, Odysseus and his terrible struggle to maintain his own life and that of his men on his way back from Troy as well as the trouble that builds in his kingdom, Ithaca, in his absence. 

As it stands today, the musical is in Five Acts; (1) Odysseus and the Greeks leaving for Troy and the war; (2) the start of his homecoming and the loss of 11 of his 12 ships; (3) the underworld and the loss of his remaining men (4) his final journey home (5) the murder of the suitors of Penelope and their reuniting.

Visit Odyssey The Musical for the musical sample!

Here is a music sample of a few numbers from the musical. The first thing you probably should remember when you listen is that I'm singing parts that are going to be sung by men so try and imagine my voice lower than it is! ;) I've been doing quite a lot of writing lately and have written almost all of Odysseus' travels and a little of his return home though there are a few gaps I haven't yet covered, for example, the underworld, the Phaeacians and most of the events that take place in Ithaca upon his return.

In this sample you'll hear sections from 'That is Your Duty' in which Penelope tries to persuade Odysseus to stay, 'One of Us' where the suitors first meet Odysseus who is disguised as a beggar, 'If I'm Honest' when Odysseus seeks guidance and help from Aeolus, 'When it Rains', a song that tells us Odysseus' fears after his men have eaten the Sun God's cattle, 'Kleos of War' about the War of Troy and 'Men Of The Sea' in which Odysseus tries to increase the morale of his men. It's just a small taster of what I've done so far but I hope you enjoy it!

Khamsina x

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Arma Virumque Cano

Monday 21st May saw the end of my first year university exams and with little sleep but excitement for the freedom to come I walked into my Greek Literature exam clutching three black pens (because you always need more than enough) and my ID. What now seems rather ironic is that during this exam I thought up an idea for a song based not on Greek Literature but Latin Literature. Virgil in fact. Pressure is about the trials Aeneas faced in his search for Italy after the war of Troy.

The Aeneid beings with 'arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primes ab orbs Italiam fato profugus Laviniaque vent litora' which in short means, ' I sing of arms and the man, who first from Troy, exiled by fate came to Italy and the Lavinian shores…'. It goes on to say, 'Tell me muse, put me in mind of the cause of it all, what slight to her godhead, what grievance to the queen of the gods forced to endure so many a peril…'. This is the basis to my song. It is Aeneas suffering under the pressure of the Gods, driven by land and sea to find this city for which he has no direction but misleading words of an oracle and now he asks if there is any way he can get around this. The fear of death, the leadership he has over his men and the -pressure- to get these people to safety. The whole existence of the Roman race rests on the shoulders of Aeneas - now that has to be worse than a two hour Greek Literature exam, right?! The Aeneid Epic guides us through his trials and the disasters he must face in order to succeed in finding Italy and, upon finding Italy, taking charge of the land.

Here is one of the most powerful moments when we first meet Aeneas, one of my favourites, where he is not shown as the greatest hero that ever lived but a man fearing for his life, just like any other:
'Extemplo Aeneae solvuntur frigore membra; ingemit et duplicis tendens ad sidera palmas talia voce refert: 'o terque quaterque beati, quis ante ora patrum Troiae sub moenibus altis contrigit oppetere!''

A swift and icy terror numbed Aeneas; he moaned and raised his hands up to the stars and gave a cry in such a way: 'Oh, three and four times blessed are those who perished in their fathers' sight beneath Troy's walls.'

I cannot pretend that this story is true…or completely true. I also cannot pretend that the gods are real…or completely real. I cannot pretend that I understand half these emotions described in this Epic. But I can empathise and I know that sometimes it's easier to ask for a way out, than to face the road ahead.

Check out the song "Pressure" here ->

Monday, 19 March 2012


New Song Posted - Calypso

Here's some background ;)

Calypso was a nymph that lived alone on an island which is now supposed to be Malta. As Odysseus was returning from the War of Troy he rested with his companions on the Island of the Sun God. He was previously told by Tiresias in the Underworld not to kill or eat any of the Sun God's cattle. This Odysseus did and he told his men to do the same. After a while, with no favourable wind and rations running low he and the men began to starve, and thinking Odysseus was keeping the cattle for himself, the men were driven to killing and eating the livestock. When Odysseus found out it was too late for him to stop them and all they could do was wait to leave the island, praying for safety and mercy from the gods.

It was not long before a favourable wind came and they sailed away from the island, only for their ship to be destroyed by a storm and all the crew, except Odysseus, killed by the sea. Exhausted, near death and alone, Odysseus was washed up on the shore of Calypso's island.

There he stayed for 7 years, spending his days thinking of his wife Penelope and his longing to go home and his nights in the arms of Calypso. When the messenger god Hermes delivered the message that Odysseus must now leave and go back to his home, Calypso offered him everything she could: immortality, love and herself. But driven by his love for Penelope he left and Calypso remained on the island, alone.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Love Imposes Impossible Tasks

How often have you been given a chore to do which is plainly impossible?

That's the tradition that comes with our English folk song Scarborough Fayre where a former lover is asked to perform a series of impossible tasks which, if they complete, will gain their former love back.

Scarborough Fayre is thought to be derived from a Scottish ballad, "The Elfin Knight" where an elf imposes impossible tasks upon a maid, tasks she must complete to escape him. She replies in turn with a list of her own impossible tasks he must first perform.

From medieval times many variants of the song sprung up until the 19th but only a few are sung today. The 20th century version of Scarborough Fair was sung by Simon & Garfunkel and was famously their lead track in the 1966 album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.  Many listeners encountered it first when it was featured in The Graduate of 1968 starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft.

Here is a demo of Scarborough Fayre with a new arrangement for you all. It's a traditional twist with a few cheeky puns and a modern beat. Enjoy.

Free download available for a limited period from here ->


Are you going to Scarborough Fayre?
It's a long winding road from here
Remember me to one who lives there
For he was, he was, a true love

Tell him to make me a cambric shirt
No seams or fine needlework
Remember me, or are there too many years?
For he was, he was a true love

Parsley, sage, do you remember me?
Rosemary, thyme has gone by
Parsley, sage, do you remember me?
Rosemary, he was a true love of mine

Love imposes impossible tasks
There's not too much that my heart asks
So are you going to Scarborough Fayre
My love, he was, my love, he was, my love is there

Oh, parsley, sage, do you remember me?
Rosemary, thyme has gone by
Parsley, sage, do you, do you, oh...
Rosemary, he was, he was a true love of mine

Are you going to Scarborough Fayre?
It's a long winding road from here
Remember me to one who lives there
For he was, he was, a true love of mine