It All Started Over Lunch

The usual “who-are-you-and-what-do-you-do” chatter of an introductory lunch conversation, those words of nicety that more often than not just scratch surfaces, transformed into a vision of deeper collaboration for four new Hope arts faculty members this fall.

Now, just a few weeks into their first semester at Hope, Dr. Jordan VanHemert of the music department, Greg Lookerse of the art department, Jasmine Domfort of the dance department and Eric Van Tassell of the theatre department will put their varied talents on stage, together for the first time, in “Toward Convergence: An Arts Collaboration,” a concert framed by the music of the college’s Jazz Arts Collective, Hope’s premier jazz ensemble.

Dr. Jordan VanHemert

“With this concert, we’re saying, ‘This is who we are, this is what we do,’” said VanHemert, the director of the Jazz Arts Collective and instigator of the collaboration. “That’s a really powerful way to introduce yourself, I think.”

While talking at a lunch break for Initium — the workshop for new Hope faculty — the four new professors began to share “the things that we are really passionate about and really enjoy about our respective art,” said VanHemert. In no time, that conversation took a turn away from personal generalities toward professional specificities.

“I didn’t expect it to happen this fast,” VanHemert admits, “but I think that’s really a testament to Hope College and the place that it is and is actively becoming. I don’t think that at many other institutions you would have people who are as willing to take time out of their busy lives and schedules for something like this. That takes a special kind of colleague. I’m finding that Hope is really the perfect place for a project like this to come to fruition.”

Jazz is a music that is beautifully collaborative in and of itself, VanHemert says. Add in other art forms, and a mix of creative juices not only has performance power but has pedagogical purposes, too. “This music was never, ever conceived in a vacuum,” VanHemert says. “What good does it do for my students having them learn it in one? So, I want them to collaborate not just with other musicians but with other artists.”

Cheese-cloth forest imagery in the works by Lookerse

With the Jazz Arts Collective’s performance as the centerpiece of the concert, playing a total of five works — two of which were composed by VanHemert — the worlds of dance and visual art and lighting design and poetry will converge in this way:

  • Domfort will perform improvised dance;
  • Lookerse has created temporarily installed artwork of forestry images, painted on semi-transparent cheese cloth that will hang at various depths and spacing from the ceiling;
  • Van Tassel has designed stage lighting that could be considered unconventional when compared to a “normal” concert and will give poetry readings.
  • Erik Alberg, director of design and production for the performing arts, will run the lighting board.

VanHemert says the element that brought the concert altogether was discovered when, after giving a guest lecture at the Hope Academy of Senior Professional (HASP), a HASP member introduced himself to the new prof and asked if he could share his poetry and songs. Sure, VanHemert said, unaware of its impact. Herbert Tews’ poems spoke to the music professor who then wanted to include them “Toward Convergence.”

“Creativity and creating are such personal things,” VanHemert explained. “I didn’t necessarily know if everyone (else in the concert) was going to be moved by the poetry in the same way that I was. And that kind of experience was a little nerve-wracking, but it really throws you back to the concept that art is about vulnerability and putting yourself out there. And that was one way in which I put myself out there because I thought, I don’t even know if they are going to like this. I was moved by what this gentleman was writing but I had no idea it was going to speak to anybody else.”

It did. The entire artistic result will take stage on Monday, October 21 at 7:30 p.m. in the John and Dede Howard Recital Hall of the Jack H. Miller Center for the Musical Arts.

“People experience art and are moved by the arts in different ways,” says VanHemert. “So, through this concert, I’m hoping that everybody finds a way to be moved whether it’s through the poetry readings, or through the music, or through the beautiful landscape and lighting, or the dance. There are just so many different ways someone in the audience will be able to appreciate all of the arts in one place.”

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