Welcome Home, Dr. Sarah VandenBrink

“I’m curious to know what the post-show blues will feel like as a music director,” said Dr. Sarah VandenBrink as we chatted in the sun a few days ago.

Dr. Sarah VandenBrink

Currently the Theatre Department is wrapping up rehearsals for the musical Ordinary Days, which will be presented virtually Friday-Sunday, April 16-18, and Thursday through Saturday, April 22-24.

Dr. VandenBrink serves as music director. She is in her first year as a faculty member at Hope, but this is not her first hurrah on campus. Aa s 2011 graduate of Hope College, Dr. VandenBrink was a double major in Vocal Music Performance and Vocal Music Education. 

This track is incredibly rigorous, as many students that focus on just one of these are forced to carry an overload of credits each semester. Yet VandenBrink would not have had it any other way:. “I know people say you have to choose, but I love both. I have to teach and perform,” she told me. 

As a student at Hope, VandenBrink did (just about) everything. She served as co-president of the Chapel Choir and director of musical activities for Hope’s chapter of Delta Omicron. She also competed in competitions with the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) and Opera Grand Rapids (OGR). VandenBrink placed first or second almost every year she participated in NATS. At OGR, she placed second her junior year and first her senior year! On top of these commitments, VandenBrink also held an internship at the Second Reformed Church in Zeeland.

Dr. VandenBrink completed her final semester student teaching at The Julia Reynolds Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School in Philadelphia. From there she returned to the area to teach at Hamilton Elementary School. Though she loved her experience teaching children, there was something missing.

“So I went to grad school,” she told me. She and I had to laugh at her use of a trope of life that is said by one of the characters in Ordinary Days

Dr. VandenBrink moved to Rochester, New York, and started her graduate studies at Eastman School of Music. At the conservatory she earned her masters in Vocal Performance and Music Literature. Yet VandenBrink missed teaching, so she decided to stay to complete her doctorate in Vocal Performance and Vocal Literature with a minor in Vocal Pedagogy. “I had finally found my home, because I love to teach and perform.” 

So now Dr. VandenBrink is back at Hope. Over the course of her first two semesters she has already impacted many students and has performed numerous times. She appreciates that our school encourages students and faculty to get involved in many facets of life.

“I knew after I left the conservatory that I preferred the liberal arts atmosphere,” she says. “I love that liberal arts teaches the whole person, rather than just the focused area.”

Not only is she inspiring students in the music department, but she is also music directing the theatre production, Ordinary Days.

“I’ve been finding it really inspiring watching students learn their characters and turn them into their own,” she says, “I’ve never been on this side before. Getting to see this has been really exciting.”

Dr. VandenBrink leads rehearsals for Ordinary Days

The musical is almost entirely sung and features some numbers that are very rhythmically and musically difficult. Dr. VandenBrink has been hard at work with the cast and crew of Ordinary Days over the past few months as they have prepared for the performance, which opens this coming Friday, April 16. 

While this is Dr. VandenBrink’s first time music-directing a production at Hope, she has also previously starred on the DeWitt stage. During VandenBrink’s senior year, the Theatre Department produced the opera Street Scene in collaboration with the Music Department. Now retired theatre faculty member John Tammi directed the production, which VandenBrink describes as one of the highlights of her college career. She also had a coaching session with Ordinary Days director Dr. Daina Robins during the Street Scene process. 

As Ordinary Days slowly comes to a close next weekend, those “post-show blues” will soon be felt by all involved. Though it is sad to wave goodbye to this great project, Dr. VandenBrink is excited to continue making her mark on Hope’s arts departments. At the end of our conversation, we found ourselves talking about our inspirations. She emphasized that her students’ thirst for knowledge, her fellow faculty members’ research and musical choices, and the new and unknown composers she has discovered excite her on a daily basis.

She also talked about the importance of communication in music, saying “To me, singing has always been about communication, but also finding out why the song was written. That is kind of why I’m inspired.”  This truth can be seen in so many works, and is incredibly important to the success of Ordinary Days.

Ordinary Days is a virtual event and tickets are free. Go here to learn more.

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