Portrait of Jessica Walker

Jessica Walker

I am an opera singer by training; I trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I had quite a long career in opera as a soloist, and then diversified into the creation and performance of music-theatre works and staged cabaret performance.

Before I started my PhD I was involved as a creative in a joint project between Opera North and the University of Leeds called OPENCOV. I mentioned to Susan Daniels, then the head of the School of Performance and Cultural Industries that I wanted to do some research about the role of the singer in current industry practice. She was very positive about this, and I ended up applying and studying for a doctorate at Leeds. I wouldn’t have done it, had she not been so encouraging.

I enjoyed the process of critical reflection on my written and performance work. I enjoyed the rigour of analysis, and the constant questioning from my supervisors, Dr Kara McKechnie and Professor Jonathan Pitches. Without them, I never would have reached the required level to obtain a PhD. They taught me what critical reflection was, how to engage with and utilise theory, and how to frame my written work in the right register. I enjoyed every one of my supervisions with them. They taught me everything I know. My fondest memories came from the engagement with my supervisors, who have become friends.

I am still working as a freelance performer and writer. I’ve most recently written and performed pieces for Opera North and The Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester. My piece for the Royal Exchange ran at the Brits off Broadway Festival New York, where it was critic’s pick in the New York Times. My current and future writing commissions include a play with songs Not Such Quiet Girls for Opera North and Leeds Playhouse, and a new opera with composer Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian, in development with Royal Opera House. Future performances include Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest for Neue Opera Freiburg and Bernstein’s On the Town with director Antony McDonald in Hyogo and Tokyo.

I was also recently appointed as Lecturer in Professional Development at the Royal Academy of Music. It’s an exciting new position in which I can actually put into practice a lot of my findings from the PhD, about artists being more creatively engaged with their work.

The PhD steered me towards contextualising my artistic and professional practice, which in turn led to me examining performer training and how it could more thoroughly reflect industry practice. Without a doubt, undertaking the research, and being able to articulate it, gave me the specialist tools and knowledge that led to me gaining the position at the Royal Academy.