No stranger to performing, Jess Best ’14 will culminate her musical experiences at Wesleyan with her senior thesis concert, “Sanctuary Songs,” this Friday in the Memorial Chapel at 9 p.m. Best began writing songs at age 5 and is now a music major who sings in a multitude of bands and music ensembles across campus.
Writing songs to be performed at a senior recital can be unbelievably overwhelming, and Best noted it was that pressure that made the writing so difficult. Not knowing where to begin, she felt that she was going about it in the wrong way.
“Over the summer I was thinking about what I wanted to do, and thinking of it as the big culmination of all of my musical experiences at Wesleyan and everything I’ve learned, and I realized that I was never going to be able to write anything if that was how I was going to think about it,” Best said. “And for some reason I was very stubborn and didn’t want to use any material I had written previously, so everything I’ve written from coming to school to now is in my recital.”
Best explained that after talking about her writing challenges with a friend who graduated last year, she was able to produce as much as she did this first semester.
“He told me to see it more as a moment in time; whatever you’re working on, whoever you’re playing with is what you should put on stage for your recital,” Best said.
This advice is what led her to the completion of “Sanctuary Songs,” which incorporates a plethora of different styles and personal meanings within the music. The 90-minute performance will not comprise one genre of music, but rather a collective of all the music that has influenced Best over the years.
“The instrumentation [in the show] changes dramatically,” Best said. “I have a gospel choir, and for some songs there’s West African drums and horns and singers.”
But Best also insists on staying true to her musical origins.
“My roots are in soul, R&B, and jazz, and you can definitely see those influences in my songs,” Best said. “It’s where I come from.”
Best’s friend and fellow vocalist, Jackie Soro ’14, commented on the loving environment that surrounds Best’s performances.
“There are a lot of really talented people who are getting together to sing [her] amazing compositions,” Soro said.
Being a part of various music groups and ensembles throughout her years at the University has allowed Best to experiment with many different styles of music. She was a part of the a cappella group Quasimodal and is currently a part of the student band Sky Bars, one of several bands of which she has been a member. Best stated that her time at the University has helped her exponentially when it comes to creating her musical identity.
“One of the coolest things about the Wesleyan Music Department is that it put my voice in so many different contexts,” Best said. “I sang in a jazz ensemble where I was singing horn parts, and I was in an experimental ensemble, the Laptop Ensemble.”
When asked what her favorite Wesleyan music memory was, Best recounted a story that occurred her freshman year.
“I will never forget this,” Best said. “It was Josh Smith and the Concert G’s performance in Beckham [Hall], and it went too long, and we were kicked out, and a bunch of people just picked up their horns and just marched out of the concert playing with the whole crowd following them. So then, there was a parade, with New Orleans-style horns, and we were just singing and dancing down the street. We took over the street, just dancing and singing music.”
A senior nearing graduation, Best is beginning to plan for the future, and hopes to incorporate music as a major aspect of her life after graduation.
“Hopefully, I can play music everyday with people I love,” Best said. “I would love to teach music, but I don’t know—anything music-related. Except, to be honest, I’m not really interested in being a part of the music industry. It does not interest me, because although it’s the music industry, it’s just an industry. I think the amount it actually has to do with the music is so minimal. I feel like that pull [to make it big in the music industry] is always there, but once you go to that place, it’s not really music anymore. Ultimately, my dream would be to just write music. I would love to perform it too, but I would love to just write.”
Friday’s performance of “Sanctuary Songs” should be emotional, uplifting, and representative of its artist. Best sees music as a sanctuary, and she hopes that her recital conveys the emotions and experiences that she puts forth through these compositions.