Honours Thesis - Esperanza Spalding & Creative Autonomy
Around November 2020 I handed in my final assignment for university, my honours thesis. Finishing honours is my biggest accomplishment to date, and I'm going to toot my own horn and admit I'm pretty proud of myself. I was mentored by Alister Spence and without him I wouldn't have received a graduation certificate with the added "Honours Class 1". Spence was an incredible mentor; he helped me tackle very intense academic literature, supported my journey into each and every weird rabbit hole I'd fall down, help me out of the rabbit hole, and gave me the tools and motivation I needed to undertake some very draining (but rewarding...) critical thinking.
For my honours I focused on Esperanza Spalding and her 2016 studio album Emily's D+Evolution. During the process of composition, recording, and performing, Spalding cultivated an alter ego. I investigated the way in which Spalding's alter ego asserted her creative autonomy by utilising interviews and musical examples. Through those components and a fair amount of academic literature, I was able to articulate just how instrumental her alter ego was in providing her with the freedoms she needed to create the music she wanted. This accumulated to my overarching argument; that in the search for creative autonomy, the artist can create genuine and authentic art.
Before submitting my thesis I was also required to perform a recital. I performed the following pieces on electric bass and vocals:
'One' Composer, Lyricist, and Arranger: Esperanza Spalding
'Judas' Composer, Lyricist, and Arranger: Esperanza Spalding
'Unconditional Love' Composer, Lyricist, and Arranger: Esperanza Spalding
'You Know Why' Composer, Lyricist, and Arranger: Sarah Homeh
'Farewell Dolly' Composer, Lyricist, and Arranger: Esperanza Spalding
'Rest In Pleasure' Composer, Lyricist, and Arranger: Esperanza Spalding
Unfortunately I could not perform to a live audience due to COVID. However, the experience was incredibly beneficial, and also just plain old fun since I got to play with my mates.
Musicians accompanying me on the day:
Drums: Nicholas Lee
Guitar: Eitan Muir
Backing Vocalists: Jenna Lewis & Grace Easton
I'll admit as much I was relived when it was all over, I was a bit sad, and also scared. Scared of what was to come next. Spalding taught me the importance of creating, and sticking to your guts. I knew that once it was all over, I would have to - or rather need to - create something of my own. During the time of writing my thesis and preparing for my honours recital I committed to writing and recording with my band Monstress. I hope to take this further after my graduation, and continue writing and composing as much as I can.
The Importance Of Critical Thinking
Although I've graduated I know my days of learning are not over, and will never be. When Spalding was offered a job at Harvard University her first question was "Can I take the classes too?". Her desire to constantly challenge herself intellectually and remain a critical thinker is what has made for some very genuine, authentic, and fantastic music. She is also very open-minded, stating at the end of an interview that despite all that's been said "I'll change my mind in ten years." This space that she has made for herself to change and to grow is what I believe has made her one of the best musicians of our time. I hope to learn how to cultivate my own space, and to continue to work on developing my critical thinking skills. Although it can be a drain, it is an essential tool if you wish to question the world around you.
I'm grateful for the higher education I was able to receive. I know you don't have to go to university to learn and gain these skills, but it did help me develop my own and I'll be forever thankful for that.
Here is a link to my Honours thesis.