On Wednesday, Dec. 8, Esperanza Spalding made her long anticipated Grinnell College debut to a packed Herrick Chapel. Spalding was originally scheduled to come on Sept. 17 but was forced to reschedule. If the crowd was any way to measure her performance, she was worth the wait.
Spalding, who is one of the youngest professors ever hired by Berklee School of Mu- sic, opened the evening with a glass of wine and a style which made the ceilings of the building lower and the walls gently squeeze closer together. Spalding has a way of making her audience feel as though they are in her living room—just them and her—and that she has a secret which she will only divulge to them.
Spalding, removed her shoes and guided her two hundred year old bass into position. From that moment on it was a nonstop jamming. She did not speak a word from the first strum of the bass to the end of the show.
“Apple Blossoms,” one of Spalding’s many compositions, showed what a truly great musician can convey with the right voice. She turned her own poetry into a lullaby of lyrics that makes you want to weep at the words. You can’t pull away from the soft melody, which talks of the way love is like the changing seasons. Like apple blossoms, life is a mixture of beautiful flowers, although each eventually falls from the tree. Spreading her voice over the soothing violin, viola and cello, Spalding shaped the song into a beautifully clear image with a dramatic narrative.
For her second number, Spalding borrowed William Blake’s poem “Little Fly.” With her astonishing voice, and perfectly matching accompaniment, Spalding guided each word and each note to paint a tapestry of slowly dancing sound. Acting as her rhythm section, “Little Fly” stood out first because it was such a beautiful showcase of Spalding’s voice, but also because of the subtle yet wonderful conversation between Spalding and the accompanying instruments. Spalding wrote the accompaniment, which is perhaps why it matched her irresistible voice with the supporting violin and bass perfectly—her voice slid between each instrumental note and landed smoothly on top.
As the final audience member began to drift away after an uproarious standing ovation, Spalding’s voice, like a pixie dancing in the rafters, left all of Herrick Chapel feeling lighter, and seemed to be a perfect close to the final weeks of the fall Semester 2010 at Grinnell College. One student voiced her appreciation of Spalding’s work in the context of Grinnell.
“This is the reason that I chose Grinnell. I can’t believe that I was sitting twenty meters from a musician this accomplished. There are few musicians who have made me feel the way she did,” Sapir Blau ’14 said.