Two Veteran Musicians Create a New Sound

One of the most exciting aspects of presenting performers to the community is the opportunity to offer an event that connects artists working together for the first time. Artists are constantly creating and reinventing themselves, and when they are in the midst of a new path, they are as excited as the audience. 

Such is the case when Pedrito Martinez and Alfredo Rodriguez come to campus on Jan. 24 for the Great Performance Series. Both artists are highly acclaimed jazz musicians now working together for the first time. Not only will the audience see two leaders in Cuban jazz on stage, but they also get to see them building on each other’s skills and experience.

The Alfredo Rodriguez Trio

What makes this even more interesting is that the two men come from different backgrounds and experiences. Pianist Rodriguez, who is younger than Martinez by more than a decade, was a child prodigy who studied classical piano at the prestigious Conservatorio Amadeo Roldán and Instituto Superior de Arte. In the midst of this classical education, he was playing popular music in his father’s orchestra by night. While performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2006 he was discovered by his future mentor and producer, the legendary Quincy Jones.

Pedrito Martinez Group (NPR Tiny Desk Concert)

Martinez, meanwhile, was honing his craft on the streets of Havana,  learning the deeply-rooted percussion and vocal style of Afro-Cuban folkloric and religious music. He brought his voice and percussion skills to the U.S. in 1998 and was soon awarded First Place at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Afro-Latin Hand Drum Competition, and appeared in the documentary film, “Calle 54.” He co-founded and recorded several albums with the Latin fusion group, Yerba Buena, and begin fielding requests from Wynton Marsalis (who calls Pedrito “a genius,”) Eric Clapton, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Angelique Kidjo, Chucho Valdés, and James Taylor. He created his own quartet in 2005 and in 2013 received a Grammy nomination.

Listen to the two artists talk about this collaboration

Although they worked together on Rodriguez’s 2012 album, this new venture lets them work together in a new format. The Wall Street Journal notes that “When Messrs. Rodriguez and Martinez first performed as a duo at Manhattan’s Jazz Standard two years ago, their deep rapport and shared joy was evident. So was their intention to combine the traditions of their native island, Cuba, and their tantalizing technical skills into something accessible yet, beneath the surface, complex. “

Their 2019 album, Duologue, is winning plenty of praise. Jazz Times says “the true beauty of Duologue is the sheer joy that spills forth from every note that Rodríguez and Martinez play together. Their styles blend to create songs with aching lyricism, watercolor soundscapes that are driven by captivating mambo grooves.”

And now, at Hope College, we have the chance to see this great combination play out live on stage. Plus, our students get to participate in a workshop with both artists, something all of our visiting artists do. The concert is Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the Concert Hall at the Jack H. Miller Center. You can purchase your reserved seats online or by calling 616-395-7890.

Still not convinced? Watch this video of one track from Duologue.

The Past, The Present, and the Premiere

Hope College has the honor of being a part of the rolling world premiere of The Shakers of Mount Lebanon Will Hold a Peace Conference This Month along with four other universities nationwide. This play was commissioned by The Big Bridge Theatre Consortium, of which the Hope College theatre department is a part. This group is comprised of 12 colleges that are commissioning new plays biennially with a focus  on faith and peace. Arlene Hutton is the first commissioned playwright, and we started this process knowing that though the play has a historical basis, it has relevance for the events and issues in our society today.

The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing was a society of believers that began as an offshoot of the Quakers in Manchester, England at the beginning of 1747. Later, the group was dubbed as the “Shakers” because the believers commonly expressed their faith through dancing, trembling and shaking. 

The production is set in the early 1900s within a small community called Mount Lebanon. The plot follows Sister Anha and Brother Robert as they work to restore their community of Shakers. While they are both working toward a common goal, the two elders disagree on the best methods by which to build their community. Sister Anha takes a more liberal stance on the process whilst Brother Robert takes a very conservative view on the matter. During the time in which The Shakers of Mount Lebanon Will Hold a Peace Conference This Month was set, there was quite a bit of anti-semitism. This also surfaces in the play. Strong hatred of a religious sect is a human pattern that echoes forward throughout history to the present.

Throughout the story, we watch differing outlooks manifest as a significant conflict amongst the characters. As the play develops, the characters explore underlying issues very relevant to our world culture today, including gender equality, gun control, political division, and religion. The Shakers of Mount Lebanon Will Hold a Peace Conference This Month paints a strong picture of how our society tends to repeat patterns, helping to give another perspective on where our current culture has arrived.

The Shakers of Mount Lebanon Will Hold a Peace Conference This Month playwright Hutton spent a week’s residency at Hope College in September during which she collaboratively revised and edited the script with the cast and director Richard Perez, assistant professor of theatre. The production includes a cast of over 20 Hope students, ranging from freshmen to seniors. The creative team is made up of Caroline Dargay (stage management), Professor Richard Smith (scenic and properties design), Assistant Professor Eric VanTassell (lighting and sound design), and Professor Michelle Bombe (costume design). The production’s assistant stage managers are freshmen Emily Dykhouse, Katie Hayduk, and Jack Slevin.

Tickets to see this inspiring and thought-provoking production can be purchased at the Hope College Ticket Office, by calling 616-395-7890 or by going online. 

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, November 15 and 16, Thursday, November 21, and Saturday, November 23. There is a free Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on November 17 and an 8:30 p.m. performance on Friday, November 22.

I Traded My Holland Summer for Winter in Brazil

Ready to make music in Salvador with a Black Swamp tambourine I found there. It’s made in Zeeland, Michigan.

In the summer of 2017, I began a long wait to hear the outcome for my application for a Fulbright Award in the U.S. Fulbright Scholar Program to study Afro-Brazilian music and culture.  I don’t remember what possessed me to apply for a Fulbright, but I figured it would be a great way to fulfill my dream of living in Brazil and legitimize my 15-plus years of studying Brazilian music and culture as a performer, educator and scholar. After waiting six months to hear that my project was accepted by the three peer-reviewed committees in the U.S. State Department and the Fulbright Commission of Brazil, I got the good news. I was a Fulbright scholar so the Fashun family packed our bags to spend four months living in the Afro-Brazilian capital of Brazil, Salvador da Bahia, in the summer of 2019.

Living in and learning a foreign culture is like unraveling a mystery with no end.  It brings with it all the things shared by humans everywhere, but requires a special decoding ring of language, regional dialect, slang, cultural, social, political and religious history.  In Brazil, and more specifically, Salvador da Bahia, these ingredients make for one complicated society where music becomes that decoding ring.  

So, a bit of Salvador history . . .

My neighborhood in Salvador da Bahia

Salvador is the most African city outside the continent of Africa. Of the three million people living in the city, 82% identify as Afro-Brazilian.  Situated on a peninsula, Salvador was Brazil’s first capital, founded by the Portuguese, and was the primary city for slave trade. Of the 10 million slaves brought to the Americas, 4 million ended up in Brazil. Through years of miscegenation and cultural and religious syncretism, Brazil became a true melting pot.  They even sell crayon sets representative of the spectrum of Brazilian skin color. 

Now, back to my experience there. . . 

My official project title, “The Dissemination of Afro-Brazilian Music and Culture in Salvador da Bahia” soon became a project with a much broader scope.  A backwards scholarly approach, no? What I discovered quickly through interviews, observing and taking classes, and living in a place with such a volatile and amazing history, is that Brazilians learn and share music (folk, classical, pop, samba, etc.) on several levels-nationally, regionally, culturally, socially, and inter-generationally.  It is a river that runs through the bedrock of their culture. Since music is not taught in schools, this led me to ask the question, “How do people learn music?”  

The answer:  social projects.  

Taking part in a social project

In Salvador, music and culture are taught through social projects that have to be approved by the government.  Some receive government funding, some from private corporations/individuals, or both. When I say music, I mean all music — classical, pop, Afro-Brazilian, indigenous.  One social project I visited in the heart of a favela (a Brazilian ghetto) taught music, theater and dance. Run by volunteers and funded by private citizens, it was clear that this project was a source of pride, joy and unity for the students and community. 

It is easy to make new friends in Brazil.

On the other end of the spectrum, we had the honor of being invited to the inaugural celebration of the new NEOJIBA headquarters, a social project based on the Venezuelan El Sistema of teaching classical music to children ages 5-18.  It was a day full of performances by the top NEOJIBA orchestra, choir, and band with a special appearance by Bahian Governor Rui Costa and other political dignitaries. The brass and percussion opened the festivities with Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, and I couldn’t believe the power and accuracy that projected from the horns and trumpets.  Keep in mind that these are teenagers.  There are places in the United States where youth orchestras achieve this level of musicianship and expression, but those are students who aren’t from extreme poverty with little or no quality of education.  Not music education, just education.  

Imagine hundreds of kids doing music everyday for three to four hours. In the United States, we don’t think anything of this when it comes to athletics, but I don’t know many places where the orchestra rehearses everyday for two-and-a-half hours.

In both social projects, there was a contentedness and happiness of life among the professors, students and parents, which is generally true of most Brazilians.  They are enduring optimists always finding the best in the worst. They find joy and community despite their socioeconomic status, low income, small living spaces, and lack of systemic infrastructure for things that would agitate most Americans (insert any 1st world problem here). I would argue that the reason the Brazilians have such a strong sense of community is because they live with less.  They have each other and they share the joys and challenges of life through cultural festivals, music, political instability, racism, and soccer.

Brazilians are enduring optimists always finding the best in the worst. They find joy and community despite their socioeconomic status, low income, small living spaces, and lack of systemic infrastructure for things that would agitate most Americans (insert any 1st world problem here).

With my family at a festival in Salvador

In light of my research, I started to think about the state of music education in America.  I think that America is positioning itself ever closer to relying on social projects to inspire our children to become involved in music and the arts.  My daughter goes to a great public school that has an integrated Montessori program, but she only gets music once a week for 40 minutes.  In comparison, students in a social project like NEOJIBA have a two-and-a-half hour rehearsal everyday of the week, plus group lessons with a professional musician on their instrument.  Imagine hundreds of kids doing music everyday for three to four hours. In the United States, we don’t think anything of this when it comes to athletics, but I don’t know many places where the orchestra rehearses everyday for two-and-a-half hours.  The best part of this is that this program is funded by the government and private corporations.  The students don’t pay a single centavo.  

Needless to say, I have more questions now than when I started my Fulbright research.  Beyond the call to return to the beautiful beaches, amazing cuisine, and musical richness of Salvador, I have been welcomed into a new community to help me unravel more of the cultural mysteries of Brazil. 

Learn more about Senator Fulbright and how he created the Fulbright Program at

Kruizenga Art Museum Supports the Big Read with “Truth to Power” Exhibition

Speaking truth to power is a non-violent way of challenging political, economic, social and cultural leaders, and holding them accountable for actions and words that result in injustice, inequality and harm to others. The tactic requires courage and a willingness to risk one’s reputation, livelihood and sometimes even one’s life to express beliefs that go against entrenched interests and public opinions.

The phrase “speak truth to power” originated in the Civil Rights and Peace movements of the mid-20th century. Although the phrase is relatively recent, the idea of speaking truth to power is ancient, and can be found in cultures around the world stretching back thousands of years. The term “speak” suggests that this form of protest is primarily verbal, but challenges to established power structures can be expressed in many different ways, including art.

An upcoming Kruizenga exhibition highlights a small selection of 20th and 21st-century artworks from Europe, North America, Asia and Africa, all of which represent the spirit of speaking truth to power. The exhibition is offered in conjunction with The Big Read Lakeshore, which will soon kickoff with this year’s focus on In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.

Truth to Power runs from November 1st through December 20th, 2019. Admission to the Kruizenga Art Museum is free and all are welcome.

The Plowers. Käthe Kollwitz (German, 1867-1945), 1906. Etching and aquatint. Gift of David Jensen, 2004.6.2

The Plowers

This print belongs to a series called The Peasants’ War that was inspired by a historical rebellion that occurred in Germany in 1524-25, when hundreds of thousands of poor farmers rose up to protest the harsh conditions imposed on them by the aristocracy. Plowing is the first image in The Peasants’ War series. It depicts two impoverished farmers being used like draft animals to drag a plow through the soil. Kollwitz created the series to remind viewers about the possible consequences of similarly mistreating the working classes in the modern age.

Take Refuge in Your Heart, Poor Vagabond. Georges Rouault (French, 1871-1958), 1922. Aquatint and drypoint. Hope College Collection, 1967.2.5

Take Refuge in Your Heart, Poor Vagabond

George Rouault’s Miserere (Have Mercy) series was designed between 1914 and 1927 in response to the horrors of World War One.  The series explores the importance of maintaining faith in the face of suffering, and hope in the face of tragedy. This print is plate 4 from the Miserere series. It depicts an adult reaching out to a child with a gesture of comfort. The title and the imagery suggest that the figures are refugees, a sight that would have been all too familiar to Rouault in the years during and after the war.

Man of Peace. Leonard Baskin (American, 1922-2000), 1952. Woodcut. Hope College Collection, 1969.2.4

Man of Peace

This life-size woodcut depicts a smock-clad man standing in a tangle of barbed wire, holding a dead bird in his hands. The man represents a prisoner of war or a concentration camp inmate, while the bird symbolizes the dove of peace. Baskin created the print in response to the death and devastation of World War II, as well as the conflicts of the Korean War and the Cold War. Such an overtly anti-war image was controversial at the time the print was made in 1952, which coincided with the height of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s “Red Scare” campaign.  

Missippi. Milton Derr (American, born 1932), 1965. Brown ink and wash on paper. Hope College Collection, 2018.20.2


This drawing portrays the bodies of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, three Civil Rights workers who were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi during the summer of 1964 while campaigning to register African American voters. The bodies of the three activists were buried in an earthen dam and remained hidden for two months before their remains were finally discovered by the FBI. Public outrage over the murders fueled support for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The title of the drawing is deliberately misspelled to approximate the vernacular pronunciation of Mississippi in that state.

Tribute to Juanita. Lorraine Garcia Nakata (American, born 1950), ca. 1990. Lithograph and chine collé. Hope College Collection, 2018.26.1

Tribute to Juanita

The text written on this print reads, “During World War II, sometime after the Depression, soon after Pearl Harbor my Japanese friends were whisked away after their families sold all their belongings.” The inscription refers to a shameful episode in American history when, following the  1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States government rounded up approximately 120,000 Japanese-Americans living in the western United States and incarcerated them in military prison camps with no trials and no evidence of any wrongdoing. Many of the imprisoned Japanese-Americans were forced to sell or abandon their homes, automobiles and other personal possessions, and a significant number of them suffered physical injury, psychological trauma and even death as a result of their forced confinement.

Sun Raid

Sun Raid. Ester Hernandez (American, born 1944), 2008. Screen print. Hope College Collection, 2017.16

Ester Hernandez has been well-known since the 1960s for her mural paintings, posters and other artworks that celebrate Mexican-American identity and culture. This print parodying the imagery of the famous Sun Maid raisin brand is one of several artworks created by Hernandez to draw attention to the exploitation of migrant farm workers in the United States.

Pepsi (from the Great Criticism Series). Wang Guangyi (Chinese, born 1957), 2006. Lithograph. Hope College Collection, 2015.16

Pepsi (From the Great Criticism Series)

Wang Guangyi is a leading figure in China’s Political Pop movement, which emerged in the early 1990s in response to the contradictions between China’s ostensibly communist political system and its increasingly capitalistic economic system. Wang’s Great Criticism series juxtaposes imagery from political propaganda art that was ubiquitous in China during the 1950s and 60s with brand names and slogans from Western-style commercial advertising that began appearing in China during the 1980s and 90s. At one time the artworks in the Great Criticism series could have resulted in Wang’s arrest and imprisonment by the Chinese government, but since Wang became internationally famous the government now tolerates his work.

Justice. Lamidi Fakeye (Nigerian, 1928-2009),1993. Mahogany. Gift of Bruce M. Haight, 2017.60.1


This carving uses traditional Yoruba imagery to comment on contemporary Nigerian politics. The central figure of Justice is portrayed as a priest of Shango, the Yoruba god of thunder and lightning. The priest is blindfolded to signify impartiality, while his hands hold a sword and ritual wand to signify power and wisdom.  A guard and two prisoners appear beside Justice, but are depicted on a smaller scale to signify the comparative insignificance of individual fates in relation to universal ideals. Lamidi Fakeye was inspired to carve this panel by a 1993 democracy movement in Nigeria that aimed to end decades of military rule and restore civilian control of the government.

Mother Against War. Andrea Gomez y Mendoza (Mexican, 1926-2012),1956. Linocut. Hope College Collection, 2016.48.2

Mother Against War

From the 1920s to the 1950s, Mexican art was dominated by the so-called Mexican Muralist School. Heavily influenced by the goals of Mexico’s 1910 Revolution, the Muralists maintained that art should promote political consciousness, social justice and economic equality. This image by Muralist artist Andrea Gomez y Mendoza was used in a 1957 political poster denouncing the threat of atomic war and helped win the artist an international reputation.

A Conversation about Photography, Creative Process and Tugs

Steve Nelson, associate professor of art

Professor Steve Nelson’s exhibition Tug: A Great Lakes Odyssey is a photographic installation comprised of his most recent photographs documenting the tugboat industry in the state of Michigan. I had the privilege to listen to Nelson’s artist talk and experience the installation on view now in the De Pree Art Gallery at Hope College. To follow-up, I asked him a few questions to further the conversation and contemplation of his work.

Here’s what I asked and what Steve said.

Greg Lookerse, assistant professor of art

Greg Lookerse: Your work, on a basic level, is documentary photography, but there is something else behind each image that goes beyond just documentation. What does the process of making a photograph mean to you and how does it relate to this body of work?

Steve Nelson: I consider the work a very personal narrative in that it is an extension of my thoughts and dreams. I start with imagining images, then search for the opportunity to find them by choosing the subject, time of day/night, season or the year, along with other conditions.  

Although the style of photography may seem documentary I approach the project in a very different way than a documentary photographer would. The major difference would be that a documentary photographer would likely have tangible goal to inform or instruct the viewer about the subject of the photograph, whereas I am interested in bringing the viewer on a journey where ‘what is encountered’ brings a level of self-reflection and uncertainty with seeing something unknown in great detail.


GL: During your artist lecture you mentioned three themes in your work; artifact, apparatus and experience. How does the apparatus and aperture of the camera affect your experience of the places you photograph?

SN: By physically viewing the places through the aperture of the view camera, I see the world inverted and backwards.  Of course all images are received in our eyes this way, because of the nature of lens optics, but, for me, seeing the images presented this way is much more aligned with memory, than reality.  It feels more primal where what is encounter while under the hood inspecting the ground glass is both familiar and disjunctive. 

“As a young teen I remember carving a tug boat out of a block of wood, it was fitted with tires from my toy cars for bumpers like I saw on the real tug and was painted red, very similar to the tugs in the exhibition.” — Steve Nelson

GL: I detect a care or love behind your photographs for the subject matter in the work. Did you have a care for the subject before you embarked on this series or is that something that developed as you made the images and visited the places?

SN: Both.  

I’ve always been fascinated by the maritime industry. As a child I grew up in a major port city on Lake Michigan and lived near the channel where commercial vessels pass through, literally towering about the houses in my neighborhood.  This was a very impactful experience. As a young teen I remember carving a tug boat out of a block of wood, it was fitted with tires from my toy cars for bumpers like I saw on the real tug and was painted red, very similar to the tugs in the exhibition. 

By visiting the various sites over the two year working on this project I found great affection for the tugs.  In particular they enduring forms, as ‘little engines that could’ (move great things.) Their personal traits, with the variation of the hulls and other design features made them feel like members of a family, where subtle differences realized through close observation.  As I encountered them over time I became more aware of the differences and familiar qualities.

GL: How do you go about exploring a location to find the image you want?  

SN: Mainly through visiting the site. This was somewhat predetermined by the scope of the project as I decided to work with one fleet of tug boat because I was interested in the long trajectory of this particular fleet and the wide geographic distribution across a familiar body of water (The Great Lakes.)  Some of my access was restricted in time, because of security issues around accessing the site in major industrial complexes. Other sites were more accessible. Both presented challenges, in that I had some ideas about taking photographs in both daylight and at night. Working during the winter allowed me to access the sites at night because I could go onto the ice to take the picture, giving me more perspectives choice and working around security and access issues.  

GL: How many images do you take versus how many you exhibit?

SN: Probably one image exhibited for every two taken. 

GL: There are many ways to interpret the title of the exhibition; The odyssey of the tugs you photographed, your odyssey in going to photograph, and the narratives that the viewer can develop in a careful look at your work. What odysseys are most prevalent to you in the work?

SN: I can’t entirely separate these layers.  Maybe this is because they are all interwoven, as I am both the photographer who took the journey and the viewer.  The odyssey of tugs are probably the most prevalent, because the work would not exist without them.  

GL: The term odyssey carries with it a sense of growth. Odysseus’ journey was a coming home. Is the odyssey you have captured and created one of growing towards and end? What is that end?

SN: Yes, the journey was not planned, meaning the result was never predetermined for the work.  In retrospect, compared to my other recent bodies of work, both of industry with dealing with past operations in mining and manufacturing, this work is most satisfying for me because of my growth capturing and creating a growing narrative, in that the industry is not only the past, but also present and future, which to me is a more hopeful narrative, one that is circular in nature.

GL: Your circular photos seem to have morphed and changed over your career. I would characterize your older circular photos as little worlds. Now the circular photo has taken on a new meaning in the tugboat work. You mentioned the idea of a looking glass or periscope, I cannot help but see a porthole. Do you think that the circular format has found a new way to serve your subject matter in this series?

SN: Yes, they are both portals (into other worlds) or portholes (into a specific existence). In this context they hopefully serve to bring the viewer into the porthole to a dormant existence of a primary industrial form. This serves like a dream motif, to bring subconsciousness into awareness, to move the view from the states of sleep to clarity where the edges fade from the subject.  

“Beyond that my hope is to make work that opens up possibilities in multiple realms, both in the imaginary and real.”  — Steve Nelson

GL: You spoke of how invention is developed to address a need. Are your photographs developed out of a need as well?

SN: Maybe only in fulfilling my creative need. Possibly in that they provide an experience for a different kind of encounter, one that is physically experiential and reflective.   

GL: Speaking further of invention, you described these industrial sights and vessels as fulfillment of individuals’ dreams. Does you work further those same dreams? Augment those dreams? Take the burden of the dream to some other context?

SN: I think that it takes the burden of the dream into another context being one that could be experienced intimately with in the gallery environment.  Beyond that my hope is to make work that opens up possibilities in multiple realms, both in the imaginary and real.   

GL: This may be my own interpretation bias coming in, but do you think of the tugs as people or entities that are fallen? Are you helping sanctify them?

SN: That would not be irrelevant, mainly because you mentioned it.  My earlier comments about the familiar relationships of this particular fleet reflects this interest.  Hum…maybe not sanctify but more acknowledge their fragility and endurance, as well to recognize the limitations of physical form over time with the images of the construction of new tugs in the fleet. 

I would like to thank Professor Nelson for his consideration in answering my questions and for creating this body of work. It is both monumental and quiet. 

Tug: A Great Lakes Odyssey, is on exhibit in the De Pree Gallery until November 8th.

Inspirational Musical Globe-Trotting

As part of my musical globetrotting, I always look for exciting and appealing music from around the world that is not only a crowd pleaser but also has a transformative and enlightening effect for the mind, body, and soul. So the music for an upcoming concert, “From Armenian Dance to Argentinian Tango,” brings together Armenian and Argentinian folk and popular-inspired music written by iconic composers of these cultures. This concert will take place on Sunday, October 27 at 3 p.m. in the concert hall of the Jack H. Miller Center for the Musical Arts.

The Trio in F Sharp Minor, by renowned Armenian composer Arno Babajanian, combines beautifully the soulful touch of Armenian song in its second movement that can literally bring one to tears, with the exuberant energy of the Armenian dance rhythm which at times reaches the intensity of fireworks.

As for The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires by celebrated Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla, it has become a cornerstone of the tango repertoire. Perhaps inspired by another famous season cycle (Vivaldi’s Four Seasons), it brings nostalgia and a romantic feel framed masterfully in a sensual dance flavor of the tango. Performed in the reverse order of Vivaldi’s “seasons,” it reflects nature’s course: the reversal of the four seasons between the earth’s northern and southern hemisphere.

The Concert will also include the famed milonga, Oblivion by Piazzolla.

As a violinist, I have the pleasure to perform this inspiring program with two excellent players: pianist Christina Giuca-Krause of Chicago Lyric Opera and Northwestern University, and Alicia Eppinga, principal cellist of the Grand Rapids Symphony and cello instructor at Hope College. The concert is sponsored by a grant from The Patrons for the Arts.

Admission is free. A dessert reception follows in the lobby of Jack H. Miller Center.

Hope Theatre Welcomes Professor Andrew Dell’Olio to the Stage

Dr. Andrew Dell’Olio, professor of philosophy

Dr. Andrew Dell’Olio, professor of philosophy, is returning to the Hope College stage in the theatre department’s next production Smokefall. The play, by Grand Rapids-native Noah Haidle, will appear on the DeWitt Studio Theatre stage on Friday and Saturday, October 11 and 12, and Thursday through Saturday, October 17 to 19 at 7:30 p.m. On Sunday, October 13, there will be a free matinee of Smokefall’s at 2 p.m. 

Through magical realism, the play follows four generations of an eccentric family in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The piece explores 70-years worth of familial drama in a dark yet also comedic light. The Hope Theatre Department is thrilled to have Professor Dell’Olio back on stage playing both the Colonel and Johnny in the upcoming production. 

Dell’Olio is no stranger to acting. “I have been active in local community theatre, including the Holland Civic Theatre and the semi-professional company, Exit Left Theatre, whose co-artistic director is Hope’s own Richard Perez. I have been involved previously in a few Hope Theatre productions, including Big Love (2009), directed by Daina [Robins], and Stage Door (2013), directed by John Tammi,” he explained. 

Dr. Andrew Dell’Olio as Buddy Plummer in Exit Left’s production of Follies (2019)

Professor Dell’Olio is able to use acting as a creative outlet that “is not always available in the world of academic philosophy,” he explains. Hope Theatre is lucky to have this willing and collaborative actor from the philosophy department. 

“I was teaching Oedipus Rex in my Cultural Heritage I class the other day and as we discussed Oedipus’s failed attempt to avoid his fate, I kept hearing in my head a line from the play that my character [in Smokefall] says: ‘You can’t outrun a lineage!’” — Prof. Andrew Dell’Olio

Through these theatre experiences, Dell’Olio has been able to bring excitement and new lines of communication into the classroom that he might not otherwise have experienced. He has also found that Smokefall has snuck its way into his classroom as he compares the traits of his characters to those of the Greek classics.

“I was teaching Oedipus Rex in my Cultural Heritage I class the other day and as we discussed Oedipus’s failed attempt to avoid his fate, I kept hearing in my head a line from the play that my character [in Smokefall] says: ‘You can’t outrun a lineage!’” His experience with Smokefall has helped him create “contemporary relevance to age-old ideas” with the texts in his classes. 

Smokefall is directed by Professor Daina Robins. It touches on themes of familial bonds, mortality, and the human condition in a serious yet whimsical way. Dell’Olio hopes that the audience is able to come away from the production with the thoughts that the “brief nature of our existence is to be cherished despite the brokenness, despite the suffering; to appreciate, in the words of playwright, Noah Haidle, ‘that the greatest possible act of courage is to love.’ And that it is through such love that our lives are ultimately redeemed.”

The cast also includes junior Maxwell Lam of Holland; sophomore Ellyn Purnell of Zeeland; freshman Katy Smith of Plymouth, Indiana; and freshman Adam Chamness of Holland.

Tickets are $10 for regular admission; $7 for senior citizens and Hope faculty and staff; and free for Hope College students and students ages 18 and under. Tickets are available at the Events and Conferences Office located in downtown Holland in the Anderson-Werkman Financial Center (100 E. Eighth St.).

It is More Than a Performance

Maria, Lucia, and Angella Ahn
Maria, Lucia, and Angella Ahn

This is the story of a hat, a little boy, and three musicians…and, maybe a bit more.

For those who follow the Hope College Great Performance Series, you know the Ahn Trio. The three Juilliard trained sisters who make up the piano trio are Maria (cello), Lucia (piano), and Angella (violin). Angella is the youngest and she’ll want you to know that. Her older sisters are twins. They sold out performances in Dimnent Chapel twice, the last time being 2007. 

Ahn Trio, Nai Ni Chen and dancers with Hope College Students
Ahn Trio, Nai Ni Chen and dancers with Hope College Students after their sold-out Friday night performance.

They just performed at Hope College again in September, but this time performing live music on stage for Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, another group that sold out at Hope College 15 years ago. 

Which brings us back to the hat.

Twelve years ago, I brought the Ahn Trio to the airport after a wonderful performance and masterclass with our students. Just after I returned to Holland I had a call from them — they were bumped off a flight because of the cello [Interesting tidbit: cellists usually buy another plane ticket for their cello and it sits next to them. Some airlines don’t like that!] They were not asking for anything, just bummed because they were going to sit in the Grand Rapids Airport for about five hours before the next flight.

Five hours in the Grand Rapids airport can be rough.

Maria Ahn talks with GPS subscribers
Maria Ahn speaks with Great Performance Series subscribers after the Friday concert.

So, I offered to pick them up and take them out to eat, as long as they didn’t mind my 7-year-old son, Dov, coming along. They didn’t mind. We picked them up and went to eat at a Korean restaurant in Grand Rapids. They were quickly taken with Dov (he is pretty charming) and Dov loved the attention of all three women. They taught us about Korean food, helped us pick what to eat, and then proceeded to steal food from one another with abandon. They are sisters!

After that, we went to Woodland Mall and we split up, but when they returned they were bearing a new winter hat for Dov. He loved it, put it on, and we took them back to the airport.

Dov Emerson 2008
Dov Emerson and his “Ahn Hat” 2008

What they didn’t know was that for years Dov would wear his “Ahn Hat,” as he called it, whenever it was cool outside. He even ran a 5k wearing that hat. After a number of years, it was, alas, too small, but we’ve never parted with the hat. And an autographed Ahn Trio poster stayed on his bedroom wall the whole time.

When the Ahns returned this year, they remembered the shopping trip clearly and wanted to see Dov again. As it happened, we needed to get them lunch and Dov had just invited me to lunch (Dov is a junior at Hope College and he invites me to lunch whenever he wants me to buy him lunch). So, he joined us at Mizu Sushi on 8th Street which the Ahns, upon seeing the menu, claimed most to be owned by a Korean. A quick check with the waitress confirmed this with the added bonus of a Korean chef.

Dov Emerson and the Ahn Trio 2019
The Ahn Trio and Dov (now a junior at Hope College), reunited in 2019

As you can see from the picture, and the Ahns could see in person, their 7-year-old friend had grown up. We ended up discussing food, of course, and the Ahns and Dov’s shared love of fashion, as well the pros and cons of living in New York City versus Montana (the youngest sister is a professor at Montana State University). The photos were put up on Instagram and Facebook with texts flying back and forth, something that did not occur 12 years ago. And they still stole food from one another with abandon and nothing on my or Dov’s plate was safe.

So, there we were once again reunited around Korean food and they again helped us find new ways to expand our palettes (I can personally vouch for the Beef Bibimbop).

When artists come to campus, we meet people, not artists.  Some are in and out of Hope pretty quickly, but most spend a couple of days here. We help them find the beach, make sure they are fed, and direct them to our amazing downtown. They tell us about the families they miss when out on tour. And they seem to love talking about visits to venues that went really wrong.

Over a couple of days with the trio, I learned many interesting tidbits. Did you know the Ahns were invited to Prince’s Paisley Park mansion for a jam session with him? That the sisters were 11 and 9 when they moved to the U.S. for Juilliard and came with their mom while their dad remained in Korea? That Lucia’s husband is “half-Dutch” so she had to buy “Holland, Michigan” shirts for him? That Maria only lets her sisters carry her cello unless she really, really trusts you — I was allowed to carry it on day two (I nearly cried for the honor).

Roscoe Lee Brown in The Cowboys
Roscoe Lee Brown in “The Cowboys”

What does all this have to do with the Great Performance Series? Everything! The performance on stage takes just a few hours and in between presenters and artists make connections that make the whole experience more enjoyable for everyone. I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the merits of Somerset Maugham’s short stories with the classical guitarist Paul Galbraith, hold a Stradivarius (as did Dov!) owned by a member of the Emerson String Quartet, and discuss films with actors Anthony Zerbe and Roscoe Lee Browne (and even he quoted a famous line of his from John Wayne’s “The Cowboys”).

The artists are people with a wide ranges of tastes who don’t just want to bounce from hotel to hotel. They want to know about the communities they visit, sometimes talk about matters other than what they do all day, and love to meet people of all ages. In other words, they want to connect with people which, I believe, makes them better performers and artists. As for me, it clearly makes my work more enjoyable to learn more about people from around the world and even get to expand my culinary experiences.

Plus, sometimes we get a hat and some great memories out of the whole thing.

Hope Theatre Alums Tread the Boards Nationwide

Hope theatre majors often choose one of three large markets to start their careers – New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles.  Recently, three graduates of the theatre department at Hope have started new and promising adventures at other prominent theatre hubs.

Mollie Murk ’16 is an acting apprentice in the 2019-20 Professional Training Company at Actors Theatre of Louisville, a celebrated regional theatre, after spending a number of seasons with the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival.  Mollie clarified this shift in her training focus:

Mollie Murk as Banquo, MACBETH, Kentucky Shakespeare Parks Tour 2019
Photo credit: Kyle Ware

“I chose to pursue this particular apprenticeship because of the amount of opportunities it offers to connect with artists from across the country. I visited the Humana Festival of New Plays when I was a student at Hope, so getting to be in the building with theatre artists who are really shifting narratives in our country is such an honor. The on-the-job training at ATL prepares early-career artists to work at other top-tier regional theaters, which is very exciting, but I also sought it out for the opportunity to create and produce my own work with peers and collaborators.”

Bridget McCarthy ’15 is joining the 2019 Hatch Cohort at C4 Atlanta while launching a new non-profit, Atlanta Speaks, that will seek “to give voice to the unheard to create a more just community.”  Atlanta Speaks is an outgrowth of Bridget’s varied work as a teaching artist with incarcerated and at-risk youth, and survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking. All the while she has performed with the Atlanta Shakespeare Company and the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, among others. 

Bridget McCarthy

Bridget describes the six-month Hatch Training Intensive as “an incubator for professional artists committed to art-making that amplifies community….This work can be really lonely. It is easy to feel (as a community arts facilitator) that I am working in a vacuum. It has been so inspiring to connect with eleven artists of incredible caliber who are investing in this city. I feel so energized by our training together, and leave every intensive feeling refreshed and ready to deepen my community practice.” 

The Hatch Intensive provides its annual cohort of artists training in business management, grant-writing, cultural competency, and a network of resources and advisors as they work to make a difference in the cultural life of Atlanta.

Jocelyn Vammer ’09 has spent most of her time since graduation in New York City.  She has held numerous jobs while pursuing film and stage acting, modeling, aerial training, and yoga. Her acceptance this year into the MFA acting program at the University of San Diego’s Old Globe Shiley Graduate School of Acting is a testament to her talent, perseverance, and, as is often the case in the arts, serendipitous connections.  Jocelyn recounts her road to the Old Globe training program:

Jocelyn Vammer, right

“My grad school journey has taken a decade. I was very specific about which programs I wanted, so it took me longer than most. Right out of undergrad, I tried U of Delaware (forgot a monologue entirely), NYU, and Yale, and then focused on Yale for four years (which, after my last attempt included a flat tire in a rainstorm, never panned out). Then I met Brian McManamon, who coached and convinced me to open the lens a little wider, and two years later, I was waitlisted at Juilliard. I never made it off that list, but was invited back for an unusual third try as a waitlist is still a positive result. I went through the entire process again, and wasn’t accepted (that same year I also managed to get a callback for NYU and USD, but I was crushed). I went back and did another class with Brian, who encouraged me to try again and the next year I was a finalist at USD but no acceptance followed. Now, nine years out and getting too old for the nonsense side of acting and potential college debt, I decided on a final try for only USD (the program is free, but they only take 7 people).”

“In that room was the awesome Jesse Perez, now head of USD’s program, who I’d met through my Juilliard journey,” Jocelyn continues. “Suddenly I had hope, only to open the now-familiar letter telling me I was again a finalist, but not accepted. Jesse asked if I’d be willing to go on waitlist, and I absentmindedly agreed. I signed up to become a 500-level yoga teacher and put acting away. Then, a week before classes, Jesse called me to offer a last-minute spot. Not only that, but I am the first woman to flip their traditional ratio of three women to four men. I bought a car and drove cross-country from NY to CA in five days and am now exactly where I was meant to be.”

I asked each of these gifted young women how their education in the Hope College Theatre Department perhaps prepared them for this exciting new step.  Here are their answers:

“Hope College prepared me to wear all of the hats, learn how to wear them well, and how to find help when I need help figuring out how to wear a hat.  On a daily basis, I am a working actor, an educator, an administrator, grant writer, translator, resource connector, development coordinator, and a dog mom. There isn’t enough time in the day to pretend I have all the answers. Hope taught me to harness the assets of my circle to make good work happen.”

Jocelyn (center, white top) in a grad school class

“I think all of the performance opportunities, self-producing opportunities, and tech possibilities really instill the idea of this art as an entire craft. You come away with an appreciation for storytelling and the many facets of putting a story onstage. Any performer who can think about more than just themselves in the vast scope of a piece is a performer directors love working with. That attitude and awareness opens so many doors.”

“Hope College’s liberal arts curriculum structure encourages a curiosity in young artists that allows us to be versatile, flexible, and big-picture-minded when taking part in any area of the production process. I was taught at Hope to be a kind actor. Say “thank you” when given direction or notes; appreciate and respect technical staff, designers, and crew members; support your fellow ensemble members, etc. Hope College prepared me to approach each day with gratitude to be doing this work that I love so much.”

“I also think that the very self-led nature of Hope’s theatre training builds artists that are ready to take initiative in this field,” Mollie added. “The ability to craft my own individualized schedule and degree program, jam-packed with classes across several artistic and creative disciplines prepared me to enter this industry ready to build my own path as well. There is no one linear version of success, and Hope taught me that by allowing me to explore many winding roads in my education.”

I also asked them what advice they might have for our current students.  Their answers were so generous and insightful that I want to include them in full:


“It’s ok to give it up for a bit. Performing, unlike other careers, is not usually a linear trajectory. You have to find ways to keep your soul alive and feeling full. I trained in circus arts and stage combat. I got a yoga certification. I painted, wrote, and held a 9-5 day job amongst many random others. My point is that sometimes you have to just do things to take care of your physical, emotional, and financial health, and you shouldn’t punish yourself with this ‘starving artist’ story that for some reason is the only dang story we tell about artists, which is a complete load of nonsense. Each path is as individual as the artist who takes it. Make deals with only yourself- you didn’t miss any opportunities that were truly meant for you, and while being ready for anything to come knocking is an incredible ideal, it’s just that- an ideal. I botched an audition in front of Christopher Durang because of nerves, and still managed to get work after that. You’ll get there. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t give it up, but tend what needs tending.”

Mollie Murk as Lavinia, TITUS ANDRONICUS, Kentucky Shakespeare Festival
Photo Credit: Bill Bryme

“I would encourage Hope College theatre students to take advantage of every opportunity that gets thrown your way. The reality is, whether it’s undergrad, grad school, apprenticeship/training programs, or in the ‘real world’ — you won’t always be cast. You won’t always be working on your dream role in your favorite play. You won’t always be booked. Find ways to continue activating your creativity and feed your soul during those times. Seek like-minded peers with whom to create work. Take general education classes seriously, and learn as much as possible about every aspect of this beautiful art form (and other art forms too!) while you can. Hope College will offer you endless opportunities to be involved in producing creative work, and it will serve you so well beyond your college experience to get in the habit of seeking those opportunities out.”

“Also, on the flip side of that— any time you do find yourself working on that dream role/job/company/project, you earned it,” Mollie continued. “Be proud of the work that got you there, and let that spur you on to the next extraordinary project you’ll be a part of. Stay curious, and keep learning.”

Bridget in red

“I can only be creative when I am working from sufficiency, the belief that I am enough. Creativity and fulfillment will never come from muscling through, from desperation, or panic. Relax. Take deep breaths. Take time.  I remember looking around productions when I was in school thinking, ‘Wow, I am never going to be lucky enough to make stuff with my friends again.’  I’ve been so pleasantly surprised by how wrong I was. My favorite work (and most constant work) is with an artistic community where I feel a sense of radical belonging. I make great theatre with great people. That is incredible. I am so grateful to be able to work professionally with a community that enlivens me and supports me. Find your tribe, make good art, inject joy where possible.”

It has been a joy to hear from these fine young artists and catch a glimpse of their bright futures.  The Theatre Department is immensely proud of them.

And if you are ever in Atlanta, Louisville, or San Diego in the next couple of years, find out if they are performing and go see them on stage! 

Why Every Hope Student Should Be in a Music Ensemble

When I was an undergraduate, just after the last Ice Age, my fraternity demanded that all pledges participate in serenading at sorority houses. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t sing; the actives deemed it a capital-letter Important Experience, so I did it. Here’s a picture of one of Hope’s fraternities serenading the women of Voorhees Hall (then an all-female dorm) sometime after World War II.

Aren’t you glad you live in the 21st century? Serenades disappeared from the college scene decades ago. But even with their silliness it was, indeed, an Important Experience: it taught us teamwork.

There’s an emerging literature on the vital role teamwork plays in successful organizations. One source puts it like this: “To have a meaningful and lifelong career, you need to work well with others.” So, it’s on me: I need some teamwork practice before I join a team, to learn what teamwork is and to discern what role I can play.

Here’s where music ensembles come in. Whether it’s a small vocal group or a 50-student orchestra, students might think of ensembles as proto-workplace teams, laboratories where you can learn to work well with others, to deepen a transportable skill. Of course, being in an ensemble is about the joy of making music, but in terms of students’ future such an experience is about so much more.

Ponder two statements. The first: “You really hit that note.” Everyone on a team needs a morale boost from time to time to help achieve a common goal. Succeeding together helps grow mutual trust, deepen commitments, foster comradery, and perhaps friendships. Bonding can come from encouraging others and being encouraged by them.

The second statement: “I wonder why you played that piece so fast?” Working on a team enables us to learn from one another’s mistakes, gain insight from differing perspectives, and learn new concepts from more experienced colleagues—or performers.

In today’s knowledge economy, most of our jobs involve interacting with others who do not know what we know or do what we do.

Working alone decreases the possibility of getting useful feedback; working as part of a team means you’re less likely to go down rabbit trails. In today’s knowledge economy, most of our jobs involve interacting with others who do not know what we know or do what we do.

Encouraging others and learning from them creates a workplace environment based on fellowship, respect, and cooperation. After you graduate, wouldn’t you prefer to work in a setting characterized by those attributes?

You should join an ensemble to make great music: that is of course the end. But pay attention to the means—teamwork—as a learning experience which can be transferred to life after Hope.

There’s a term I recently encountered that has stuck with me, the “new foundational skills.” You may want to learn to code. But the article I read screamed at me, learn collaboration! Would you want to work alongside a whiz of a coder who was a total jerk, the sort of bloke who can’t stop taking selfies? You get my point: a work setting where employees become focused on trumpeting their own achievements produces an unhealthy competition. A work environment characterized by cooperation and complementarity produces joy and a sense of accomplishment.

Working on a team fosters accountability and in turn motivates us. Ask a member of Hope’s chapel choir, pictured above while in Florida touring during spring break: Was your achievement exhilarating? Did you return home with a sense of unity? Did the experience encourage you to find ways to work with fellow students in other contexts?

Next semester I encourage you to join them or another music ensemble. Having taken the plunge, you may discover that it changes your life.